Taylor Mays: Why San Francisco 49ers Biggest Draft Fail of Recent Didn't Work

Colan LamontAnalyst IIJuly 16, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 31:  Brandon Lloyd #84 of Denver Broncos catches the ball ahead of Taylor Mays #23 of San Francisco 49ers during the NFL International Series match between Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers at Wembley Stadium on October 31, 2010 in London, England. This is the fourth occasion where a regular season NFL match has been played in London.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Warren Little/Getty Images

Taylor Mays may be the most athletic player in the NFL, and I was really excited when he was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft.

I understood that he had shortcomings, but I was really excited to see an athlete like Mays fly around Candlestick Park.

Most fans of USC knew too well that Mays had little flexibility in coverage. Though, as a neutral, I thought that his tight hips and struggles in smaller spaces could be fixed in time with the great coaching of the 49ers defensive staff.

I suppose I was just enamored because there aren't many 6'3", 230-pound safeties who play like a center-fielder.

When you look at all of his physical gifts, you can understand the reason that some fans may have held beliefs that Mays could be a special player.

Opinion seemed to be split down the middle: Those who had actually watched Mays felt he would struggle to transition to the NFL, whereas those who just watched his highlights and saw his combine results thought he was a future Pro Bowler.

I fell somewhere in between the two stances, believing he wasn't yet a starter but that he could develop into a top player.

He ticked most of the boxes in that he had great speed, ball-hawking ability, unbelievable range and fearsome hitting power, and he was a good cover safety against the deeper routes.

That being said, the concerns were that he couldn't excel in man coverage and that he may grow too big for the safety position.

Unfortunately, the concerns about Mays came to fruition in the NFL and he struggled as a starter early in the season.

I don't know if it was because he was so much better than everyone in college, but I still expected him to become good eventually.

Despite his limited playing time, he showed the same problem he had in college—he ran hot and cold in that he could make a highlight play and then screw up afterwards.

The one play that showcased his athletic ability was when the team blocked a punt against the Atlanta Falcons and Mays raced to catch the ball in the Falcons end zone for a touchdown.

The ballerina feet to stay in bounds and the instincts that he usually lacked were there for all to see.

Then came the news the next season that the 49ers were actively looking for a team to take Mays off their hands.

The Cincinnati Bengals obliged and were happy to send a late-round pick for Mays.


I really thought that Mays was like a big bit of clay ready to be molded into a great player, so why didn't the 49ers keep him around?

I know the new coaching staff may like a different type of player, but I expected to see him improve under Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell.

The flaws in Mays' game proved fatal, and the coaching staff clearly felt he was never going to be an important piece to the puzzle.

But to send a second-rounder to another team only a year later seemed like a pretty drastic step.

Mays hasn't exactly been great with the Bengals so far, but he is only 24 and has plenty of time to become a good player.

I just want to know what forced the team to part ways with such a captivating player so soon.