I wanted to write a little more about Rob Rang's first 2010 mock draft that was published recently, where he has the Seahawks taking Taylor Mays (S, USC) with the seventh overall pick. In an earlier blog post I commented that on face value I could see this happening. Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell likes to draft four year starters in round one, he's taken high profile prospects from SoCal in the past and Mays is a local product having originally grown up in the Seattle area.
Ruskell may also see Mays as the 'final piece' of the jigsaw so to speak, having invested heavily on defense over the last few years. As Rang testifies, "Seattle's undersized cornerbacks are never going to be able to truly compete with the Larry Fitzgeralds, Anquan Boldins and Michael Crabtrees of the NFC West." Mays at least offers a unique blend of size and speed that few possess at the safety position - he's often described as having linebacker size and cornerback speed.
However, I have huge reservations about Mays as an early first round pick. I've voiced these concerns quite regularly on the blog in the past - that Mays' football instincts are not up to par standard. He relies heavily on big hits to get by, usually not delivering said hit until the ball carrier has made a first down. He's often a step behind the play or reacts slowly and his tendency to hit rather than play for the ball has made him a liability in coverage.
Matt McGuire from Walterfootball.com voiced some similar concerns this weekend, even comparing him to current Bengals safety Roy Williams and Vernon Gholston of the Jets - another athletic prospect who went 6th overall in 2008:
"Mays has had his question marks for a couple years. One, he takes poor angles to the football. I see this multiple times in run support and pass coverage in the games I have taped and reviewed this season. Secondly, he has zero ball skills. He doesn't locate the football to make a play on the ball and he doesn't intercept the ball. Third, he gets out of control. Fourth, he has no tackling technique. Fifth, like Gholston, he has no instincts.
"In the Notre Dame game, I was really frustrated with his tape. His tackling technique is pathetic. He'll throw his body around. Mays thinks football is all about big hits. He doesn't use his arms or hands to wrap up, and this will cost him in the NFL.
"I wouldn't draft Mays in the top 40 picks. He's a highly overrated prospect right now. He reminds me of Roy Williams (safety, Bengals). Williams is an average starter, but the Cowboys let him go for a reason." - Matt McGuire, Walterfootball.com
I would tend to agree with McGuire's assessment here, although I think there comes a time in round one when Mays' athletic qualities will be attractive to a good team who can afford to take a calculated gamble. He's a first round pick, but I wouldn't put him in the top ten. Having said that, I completely understand why Rob Rang placed Mays with the Seahawks. After all - in a mock draft you're trying to predict what Tim Ruskell will do, not what you personally think 'should' happen.
I looked at the rest of Rang's mock and admittedly it's still early days - a lot will happen between now and April - but let's just say this is how the board falls in round one. I looked at the next ten picks after Seattle had taken Mays at #7 and tried to pin down an alternative pick I could see Ruskell making. I imagine he'd probably love to take Oregon-born Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska) the elite player in this draft for me but he goes first overall to the Titans.
Aside from Mays, the other seniors at the top of the board are defensive end Greg Hardy (severe character red flags, will not be a Seahawk on Ruskell's watch), offensive lineman Russell Okung (not a good scheme fit for the zone blocking scheme) wide out Brandon LaFell (I think this is a bit early for a player who just doesn't have a 'wow' factor) and of course Tim Tebow (a Ruskell pick in every way, but a huge project and doesn't have the same financial value as he would in Jacksonville).
Unless the Seahawks would heavily reach for a guy like C.J. Spiller (as much as I like the Clemson running back), in this scenario it would take a move away from past draft philosophy from Ruskell to select an underclassmen early. Now, from a personal point of view I would advocate a guy like Derrick Morgan (DE, Georgia Tech) who just flat out impressed me with his relentless style and superior edge rush. With both Jake Locker (QB, Washington) and Jimmy Clausen (QB, Notre Dame) going with the next two picks after the Seahawks take Mays, a lot of fans would be hoping the team drafts a long term option at the most important position in football.
But again - that would take a big shift from Ruskell's risk averse policies of the past and his favoritism towards senior prospects in round one. Whether things will change should the Seahawks finish with another poor regular season record, I'm not sure. I'm assuming at this point that Ruskell will get a new contract - his current one runs out at the end of the 2009 season although the fact he's just appointed Jim Mora as Head Coach suggests to me there won't be any big changes in the front office.
I feel like this is going to be a key debate as we go through the rest of the college football season, particularly if the Seahawks struggle over the next few weeks (quite possible considering a very tough quartet of road fixtures on the horizon).
Does another bad season force Ruskell to seriously consider drafting an underclassmen with potential, but without the same guarantees that came with Aaron Curry? He hasn't taken an underclassmen in round one since his first draft as GM - when he selected Chris Spencer. Would he be prepared to take a Jimmy Clausen, Jake Locker or Sam Bradford as the future of the franchise? Would he tap into a strong defensive line class that will be filled out with possibly four talented underclassmen - Gerald McCoy, Carlos Dunlap, Derrick Morgan and Jason Pierre-Paul?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section or email email@example.com