Sep 21, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals free safety Taylor Mays (26) against the Tennessee Titans at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 33-7. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
After yet another solid, if unspectacular season, the Bengals should re-sign linebacker/safety hybrid Taylor Mays.
Mays was originally drafted by the 49ers in 2010 as a second-round pick. He was seen as a physically-gifted safety who could make a real impact as a safety in the NFL. After struggling for a couple of years in San Francisco, the 49ers decided Mays wasn’t for them.
The Bengals acquired Taylor Mays in August 2011 for a seventh-round pick from San Francisco; ironically, this happened only after Donte Whitner chose to sign with the 49ers over the Bengals. Upon acquiring Mays, the Bengals chose to continue training him as a safety. Despite their knack for reviving the lost careers of once promising players, the Bengals never were able to do so with Mays.
Yet, due to some chance occurrences, the Bengals were forced to improvise at linebacker in 2013 due to injuries to both Emmanuel Lamur and Sean Porter in the preseason. They turned to Taylor Mays in their moment of need at cover linebacker. With both of theirs out for the season, the Bengals gave Mays a crash course in linebacking.
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For the first seven weeks of the 2013 season, Mays performed well in his new position. Other than the game against the Browns where Jordan Cameron had 10 receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown, Mays helped the Bengals solve their persistent problem with covering tight ends. In fact, the best game any tight end had against the Bengals, other than Cameron’s, was likely Martellus Bennett‘s three receptions for 49 yards and one touchdown performance in Week One. Unfortunately when Week Eight rolled around, Taylor Mays suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and his remarkable impromptu linebacking performance was over. It was an ill-timed injury as Mays was set to be a free agent in the spring of 2014.
The Bengals chose to sign Mays to a one-year “prove it” deal this past off-season. Yet, with the return of Emmanuel Lamur, he has yet to get the kind of opportunity he earned in 2013. This year, Taylor Mays only participated in 61 defensive snaps the entire year (5.4%). But this didn’t deter him from making an impact on the team.
Mays participated in 67.7% of the Bengals’ special teams snaps. This was a huge increase from last year when he played in only 28.3%. He finished the year fifth on the team for special teams tackles and had a blocked punt against the Jaguars, which resulted in a safety.
This absence from the defense and focus on special teams also didn’t keep Mays from being prepared when his only opportunity of the year arrived.
When the Bengals squared off with the Broncos in Week 16’s Monday Night football action, Lamur sat out the game with an injury. His absence created a vacancy in the defense and the Bengals again turned to Mays. After the Bengals had struggled with covering tight ends for much of the year, Mays helped cover Julius Thomas that night. Thomas finished the evening with just two catches for 33 yards. Mays also accounted for a sack that evening; the first of his career.
Mays’ impact on the defense seems undeniable. When March rolls around this year, Taylor Mays will once again be a free agent. His performance these past few years says that he deserves to be re-signed. Not only that, but the Bengals should consider giving Mays a larger role within the defense. He possesses great size, speed, and athleticism. He has proven his ability to cover tight ends and could be a great addition to the Bengals’ linebacking corps; actually, his size and athleticism mirrors that of Steelers’ rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier.
When the time comes this off-season, the Bengals should take a long look at Taylor Mays’ body of work over these past few years. Hopefully, they’ll realize Mays’ impact on this defense could be significant in the years to come.