We all knew this day was coming. One year ago almost to the day, I stated exactly what would happen once USC safety Taylor Mays hit the NFL Combine. Now that the world has bore witness to the most physically intriguing prospect in the NFL draft, there is but one question to ponder.
How can Al Davis resist drafting a 6’3”, 230 pound headhunter with true Raider Speed?
Sure, there are plenty of other needs to be addressed with the 8th pick in the draft. But when did that ever stop Davis – who values potential over production – from nabbing the biggest, strongest and, most importantly, fastest player on the board?
If there is one player who could disrupt Al’s perfectly laid plan, it would be Tennessee’s Eric Berry slipping to the #8 spot.
At that point Davis would look like Peter Griffin trying to decide between renting Ernest Goes to the Beach or Ernest Doesn’t Go to the Beach with two minutes left before the video store closes.
While Mays is a monster roaming the last line of defense, he’s far from a ball hawk and tries to make every hit a highlight instead of wrapping up. Berry, on the other hand, is dynamic in both pass coverage and run support. Both men possess Raider Speed. Both can jump out of the gym. Both are locks to be first round picks.
With the performances today in Indianapolis, Berry has all but cemented himself a spot in the top 10 and the contract that comes with it. Mays still has many questions to be answered but again, that has never stopped Davis from rolling the dice on a physical prospect like the Seattle native.
Both Davis and head coach (?) Tom Cable share the unified vision of resurrecting the Raider Mystique of the past. Last year Oakland made headlines by drafting Michael Mitchell in the second round. Mitchell’s athletic prowess impressed but it was his hard hitting highlight reel that sealed the deal.
While Mitchell struggled with a hamstring injury during his rookie year, he did manage to find a role in goal line packages and as a nickel corner. Perhaps he’s already been tapped to inherit the throne at free safety. In that case drafting Mays could be pointless.
However, Davis knows that his defense needs an identity.
There was once a point in time when men like Jack Tatum patrolled the last line of defense, daring anybody to step foot in their territory where pain was the chief export.
Now at days it is the other way around with Willis McGahee stiff arming fear into the heart of Hiram Eugene. For Raider Nation, the chief import has been pain these last seven years.
If history is any indicator then it would seem nearly impossible for Davis to take a flyer on Mays. Al spent the better part of the last decade drafting defensive backs (5 DBs picked in the first round during the 2000’s). While cornerback is perhaps a more pressing need, top ranked Joe Haden might just have taken himself out of the running with, well, his running (4.57 isn’t Raider Speed).
Once again it is that familiar conundrum that comes with Al Davis and his outlook on the draft. Berry has the physical tools but will most likely be unavailable at number 8. Haden has the talent but does not possess the impressive physical traits. Mays is great in the weight room but doesn’t have the game film to match.
Sit tight Raider fans; the discussion of this dilemma is just getting warmed up.