It's still early days but strike up a conversation with a Seahawks fan about next years draft and two names you're likely to hear are Taylor Mays and Eric Berry. It's not surprising really, both are highly rated prospects at a perceived position of need (safety). Jordan Babineaux will have a chance this year to dispel that theory, but as things stand both Mays and Berry remain on the radar.
However, I watched both Mays and Berry in action on Saturday, as USC travelled to Ohio State and Tennessee took on UCLA. I have some reservations about both. I'm prepared to change my opinion over the upcoming weeks and that could well happen. But for now, here's my assessment.
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Some early mocks have Berry going as early as fourth overall (here and here) whilst it's not unusual to see Mays slotted in the top ten. I'll start with Mays and what I saw from his performance against the Buckeyes.
Make no mistake, Taylor Mays is unique. He's 6'4" and 225lbs and has supposedly been clocked in the 4.3 range. As a package, it doesn't get much better than that at the safety position. On the field, he's capable of delivering a bone crunching hit. No doubt that alone will appeal to certain NFL decision makers (namely, Al Davis).
It's previously been hard to get a read on Mays aside from the physical statistics. Often found so deep behind the line of scrimmage, getting tape on him was almost impossible. Not many teams throw deep on USC, so it's easy to explain the relatively unspectacular return of four interceptions and one forced fumble in three years as a starter.
I'm of the opinion that Mays was deep not necessarily as a precaution against the pass - as we've mentioned, not many teams go deep against the Trojans. I think Mays was positioned there as a last line of defense against the run. If a running back broke free, Mays has the speed and size to get to his man one-on-one and make a potential TD saving tackle.
This year the Seattle-born prospect is being asked to do a bit more. Against the Buckeye's he was regularly pushed closer to the action with greater responsibilities. My first impressions weren't great. This might be something that Mays develops as the season goes on, but his read and reaction skills seemed a little off. On one play with the Trojans leading 7-0, the running back found some space to the left and picked up the first down. Mays had a good view of the RB and eventually came in with a sledgehammer hit. Unfortunately, the back had already got his first down.
Now for me, Mays could have reacted to that play a bit quicker. There were 3-4 yards lost there and more importantly, a first down. It proved crucial later on when Mays made another error. Playing deeper this time, he watched the QB and locked onto the ball. When it was thrown to Mays' right, he tracked it's projection. By following the ball he lost a receiver through the middle, who simply plucked it out of the air in front of Mays for a huge gain. The safety needed to show greater awareness, that was not a pass that was going to be intercepted. He needed to make a play on the receiver to stop the catch or at least make the tackle to prevent the huge YAC.
The eventual result of that drive was a touchdown and a 7-7 tie. It didn't help that the error was compounded by a very visible Mays taking an age to react, change direction and try to recover. He was out of position, didn't read the play well and couldn't react to adjust.
It noticed less of these mistakes in the second half, but I'd already seen enough to suggest that there's room for improvement there. As I said previously, Mays is adjusting to a greater responsibility this year. There may be some teething problems that disappear in time.
But if this is a legitimate concern and Mays is not a good reader of the game, doesn't have the right kind of instincts - it severely hampers his stock. A big hit is fun to watch, but not when the other team has a first down and consistently moves the chains. Seattle moved out Brian Russell for the play making qualities of Jordan Babineaux. I'm not sure Mays fits what Seattle want at the position.
So you could argue, Eric Berry would be a better fit?
He certainly fits that play maker role a lot better. Having seen a reasonable amount of Berry now, I've come to the conclusion that he reads a game very well indeed. He almost always seems to be in the right position to make a play. When a QB drops back to pass, Berry has that knack of knowing where it's going. He's not fooled easily.
The stats back that up. Prior to the 2009 season, he had 12 interceptions in just two years. Three of those were returned for touchdowns. If Berry gets the ball in his hands he is capable of turning it into a big play. It's that ability which leads people to draw comparisons to Baltimore's brilliant safety Ed Reed.
However, I see a downside in Berry's game too.
He's 5'11" and 203lbs. Let's get one thing clear early - I know that Ed Reed is only 5'11" and that he's currently listed at 200lbs. Troy Polamalu is 5'10" and 207lbs. You don't need Taylor Mays size and speed to be elite.
But when I watch Eric Berry, I don't always see the kind of ferocious hitting witnessed by the two safety's name dropped above. Sure, he's capable of planting the odd hit. At the same time, I don't see a real physical presence from Berry or a truly aggressive demeanour. On Saturday, I saw missed tackles as Berry struggled to match up to a tight end in space.
In the NFL, those tight ends are going to be bigger and better. So are the running backs. I have some concerns that whilst Berry will always have that big play ability, he could be a liability against bigger guys on offense. Can he make a last ditch tackle on a Steve Jackson? Can he challenge Antonio Gates?
I'll admit my reservations about Berry are smaller than my reservations about Mays. But I think each safety's strengths are the other's weakness. Mays isn't the ball hawk, field general that Berry is. The Vols DB hasn't necessarily got the size or ability to deliver a thumping hit.
I'll be really honest and say that as of today, I don't think you'll see either going as high as some are predicting right now. I'd be surprised if Berry or Mays are top five picks next April. My concerns here are just some thoughts I wanted to put down in writing and things could definitely change.
But when I watch guys like Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Derrick Morgan and Carlos Dunlap - all extremely impressive D-liners - I'm not sure there's room for a pair of safety's at the very top of the draft.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below or email firstname.lastname@example.org