Taylor Mays went to high school in Seattle, attending O'Dea. The Seahawks own two of the first 14 picks in this year's draft, and his college coach Pete Carroll just so happens to be in charge of the Seahawks now.
MOBILE, Ala. — Taylor Mays didn’t have to be here.
Not in the draft this year, and certainly not in Alabama this week.
He could have sat out the Senior Bowl. Plenty of other prospects are absent: Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh, Stanford’s Toby Gerhart and Texas’ Colt McCoy.
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“I want to be able to compete against the best,” he said. “It would feel awkward turning down the chance to play football.”
Mays could have entered the NFL a year ago. He would have been a top-15 pick, perhaps top 10, which left plenty of people saying he should have come out.
Not Mays. He went back to USC.
“I just wanted to get better,” Mays said. “I knew I could get better. That was important to me to take all the chances I had to be the best.
“I don’t regret any of it.”
And now Mays is here at the Senior Bowl right in front of his hometown NFL franchise.
Mays went to high school in Seattle, attending O’Dea. The Seahawks own two of the first 14 picks in this year’s draft, and his college coach Pete Carroll just so happens to be in charge of the Seahawks now. Team representatives met with Mays Tuesday night in Mobile.
Should Seattle pick Mays, he won’t have to worry about lodging. His parents still live in the area. His father, Stafford, attended Washington and went on to play nine seasons in the NFL as a defensive lineman. He now works at Microsoft.
“I’d probably stay with my parents,” Taylor Mays said, smiling. “For the first month.”
That’s an easy joke about a hard question.
Seattle has holes at some of the most important positions for any football team. Left tackle Walter Jones has missed 20 regular-season games and undergone two knee surgeries since he last played, and the Seahawks started four players at his position last season. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is 34 with one year left on his contract. And the Seahawks managed a not-so-grand total of one sack over the final four games of the season.
Can Seattle afford to take a safety in the first round? The Seahawks probably won’t have a chance to land him in the second round.
Mays is one of the most impressive physical specimens in this year’s draft, an anomaly even in a league full of physical marvels. At 6 feet 3 and 231 pounds, he’s as big as a linebacker and faster than just about anyone in Seattle’s secondary.
This is football, but he hits hard enough to be confused with a middle-of-the-order slugger. On the first day of Senior Bowl practice, he drew the loudest reaction from the crowd when he flattened Andre Roberts of the Citadel, preventing a reception.
Scouts have questioned his instincts, and his reactions aren’t always fluid. The departure of USC’s linebackers Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga last season left Mays holding the bag and the Trojans failed to win the Pac-10 for the first time since 2001.
Some have wondered if Mays cost himself by staying for his senior year.
“That’s just guys yapping,” Carroll said as he left Wednesday’s practice. “That’s not guys that are evaluating it, saying that. It’s not guys that are going to put money on it.”
Only the draft will answer that million-dollar question, and Mays’ stock will only increase as teams see his physique. If he runs 40 yards in 4.3-something at the scouting combine next month, as many expect, NFL scouts will drool so much it will take a snow shovel to clean up the mess.
Mays doesn’t have the same ball skills as Tennessee’s Eric Berry, considered the top safety, but he does have 20 pounds or so that Berry doesn’t. Mays also comes from a school that produced Ronnie Lott and played for the coach who ushered Troy Polamalu into the NFL.
After a year of answering why he decided to forego the NFL, Mays is here at the league’s doorstep and knocking — rather loudly — with every hit this week.
“I don’t regret coming back or regret any of it,” Mays said. “I feel good about where I’m at.”
Now that Mays is here in the draft, it’s just a question of where he will go.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org