Somewhat surprisingly the San Francisco 49ers e-mailed the other 31 teams in the league to let them know that safety Taylor Mays is available via trade. Now it seems like a quick fall for the 2010 2nd round pick, but that is the way the business works. The 49ers have a new G.M. to go along with head coach Jim Harbaugh, and are looking to bring in their own guys. Redskins fans can relate as they saw new head coach cut WR Devin Thomas early last year, because he determined that Thomas wasn’t good enough to beat out Roydell Williams and Joey Galloway. That was despite the fact that Thomas began showing some signs of life down the stretch the previous season and was signed cheaply for another year. It is the way the league works and can be a great way to buy low on a player with significant upside.
Mays appears to be such a player. Physically there are few that can even come close to his measurables, at 6’3″ 230+lbs he is as intimidating as any safety in the game today. Combine that with a 4.3 40 time and you have a safety who has the makings of being a star. The one problem with Mays that keeps him from being a surefire elite prospect is his instincts, which right now are more in the suspect range. Mays doesn’t have great ball skills and can get out of position at times. He also has some issues with taking bad angles or over pursuing the ball carrier, which at times can negate his impressive tackling ability. The good news is that his initial reaction is usually pretty good, in that he finds the ball carrier or spot the QB is going to throw it, but then he over corrects.
The other issue with Mays is where to play him. In college he played primarily deep centerfield, given his speed to cover anyone who breaks away deep or be the last line of defense before the end zone. Unfortunately his lack of refined ball skills and average instincts makes him a liability there. In the box though Mays doesn’t have as much experience and he has shown some trouble moving laterally and defending the short outs. He also hasn’t shown yet to be a great run defender (though he did show some promise). This lack of a natural position, is a big reason why the 49ers are looking to go in a different direction, and should keep his trade value depressed making him a nice pickup for the Redskins.
Why I want him on the Redskins:
Simply put Mays is a phenomenal athlete, and at just 23 and signed cheaply for another three years he has unlimited potential. At the very least he should be a special teams standout, and able to help out on kickoff, punt, punt return, kick return, and kick block units. His size, speed and leaping ability can make him a dangerous weapon, and a special team stud.
On top of that I do think given his physical gifts he is well worth the shot to ‘coach up’, and become a quality defender. He can offer the Redskins depth at both safety positions, which is pretty thin right now behind starters LaRon Landry and O.J. Atogwe. The Redskins re-signed Reed Doughty, who is a solid backup safety, but beyond him their depth is pretty thin. Fourth year players Kareem Moore and Chris Horton, have gotten their fair share of opportunities to become starters, but neither has proven to be healthy enough or talented enough to even be considered a significant contributor. Both make $150K more this season than Mays, so by replacing them the Redskins would be saving money and would have Mays under control for 2 more seasons. The Redskins do have rookie DeJon Gomes, but he is far from a lock and can’t match Mays’s athleticism. I believe that Mays can help in a depth role and also specialty packages that can either use him as a big fast defender against big receivers, or in the box blitzing. Given that size/speed combo the Redskins coaches should be able to find him a role in this defense.
Another thing I like about Mays is that since he is under contract for two more years, the Redskins could look to get creative after the season. If they truly believe that he can’t be a starting caliber safety, they could look at him for another role; inside linebacker. The Redskins top 3 inside linebackers based on experience, London Fletcher, Rocky McIntosh and H.B. Blades, are all free agents after season, making it a position with a lot of uncertainty going forward. Mays is just 5-8 lbs lighter than McIntosh and Blades, and could make up that weight next offseason if he shows that he can play better in the box this year. He is far more athletically gifted than just about any linebacker in the league, and probably wouldn’t lose too much of his speed. With the position change, he’d go from being a below average coverage safety to an above average coverage linebacker. I think it is an incredibly novel idea and well worth the risk for acquiring Mays.
What will he cost:
Now the real question is what will the 49ers want back for Mays. Considering that they are widely letting it be known that Mays is on the block, I can’t imagine they are expecting a big return. If I’m the Redskins I’d look to make this deal primarily involving players, and possibly add a conditional 7th rounder as icing on the cake. I would offer the 49ers a pair of depth players for Mays. While it is unclear who might stike the 49ers fancy I would give them open season on any two of the following players: WR Brandon Banks, WR Terrance Austin, RB James Davis, FB Mike Sellers, C Erik Cook, G Maurice Hurt, DE Darrion Scott, LB Rob Jackson, S Chris Horton, S Kareem Moore (as well as a handful of others). Sellers could have a particular interest to them since, they need more of a FB for their offense and currently lack one. I don’t know if that will be enough, but it could get the Redskins close enough where maybe a 7th rounder seals the deal.
Some people might look at Mays as a bust, but he seems to be willing to learn and hasn’t been a headcase in the past. I think given the potential he’d be well worth the Redskins trading for even if he never develops into a safety or linebacker. Washington could use some more cheap young talents as they look to rebuild and Mays is one you could get for pennies on the dollar.