Top-Five Bengals Players With The Most To Prove: Number Three

Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

Counting down the top-five players with the most to prove in 2013. Next up, No. 3.

Taylor Mays' NFL career hasn't gone as planned. A former second-round pick that went from starting during his rookie year, to an eventual demotion as a backup and special teams contributor... all within a few months. Then within a year of drafting him, the 49ers traded Mays to the Cincinnati Bengals... for a seventh round pick. Take him, please, the 49ers pleaded.

Before starting two games for the Bengals in 2012, he contributed with only 61 defensive snaps in 2011. Coverage ability is a significant concern, forcing the team to abandon Mays as a starting safety last season, relying on free agent Chris Crocker, who they signed during the regular season. In fact Mays doesn't extensively figure into the team's long-term plans. Not at this pace. Not at this rate.

The Bengals needed a solution, using their third-round selection on Georgia safety Shawn Williams -- who ironically also carries with him questionable coverage in secondary. Of course, the team drafting Williams wasn't a direct relation on Mays' contributions, but it does factor.

That's not to say that Mays won't have his opportunities. He does. Minicamps, OTAs and training camp leads to a preseason and if that production carries with it remarkable improvement for the the fourth-year player, he'll figure into the team's defensive plans. Maybe even challenging for a spot in the starting lineup, but at that point we're exploring non-fiction with a twist of fantastic hope.

Mays likely remains with the Bengals in 2013 as a backup and special teams contributor, provided Williams makes the progression in coverage that Mike Zimmer is hoping for. Even if he doesn't, the team is more likely to re-sign Crocker than they are placing Mays in the secondary.

If he's unable to break into the defensive lineup with significant contributions and impressive production, Mays' NFL career could be defined as a body on a team's respective depth chart without many chances to break into the starting lineup. Currently Mays is entering the final year of a four-year contract. He needs a great season to find decent money on his next contract. He needs an even better training camp and preseason to have the opportunity for a great season.

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