Taylor Mays

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Taylor Mays
In practice for the USC Trojans in 2008
No. 26  Minnesota Vikings
Position: Safety
Personal information
Date of birth: (1988-02-07) February 7, 1988 (age 27)
Place of birth: Irving, Texas
Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight: 225 lb (102 kg)
Career information
High school: Seattle (WA) O'Dea
College: Southern California
NFL draft: 2010 – 2nd round – 49th pick
Career history
Roster status: Active
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics as of 2014
Tackles: 98
Quarterback sacks: 1.0
Interceptions: 0
Stats at NFL.com

Taylor Mays (born February 7, 1988) is an American football safety for the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League (NFL).

Mays won state titles in track in both the 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash as a sophomore before leaving track to dedicate himself to football. He played college football for the University of Southern California (USC), and was a three-time All-American.[1] Mays was the fastest safety at the 2010 NFL Combine, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds. Mays was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, and also played four seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Early life[edit]

Mays was born in Irving, Texas, the son of Stafford Mays, a former NFL defensive lineman, and Laurie Mays (née Black), a Nordstrom executive. He is African-American and Jewish[2] and was raised in his mother's Jewish religion.[3] Of his bar mitzvah, he said: "I don't think at the time I really understood what it meant. Now, looking back on it, I feel like I have come a long way in regards to maturity and becoming an adult. I think it helped me do that".[4]

His father played defensive tackle for the University of Washington in the late 1970s, and was later drafted in the ninth round of the 1980 NFL Draft by the then-St. Louis Cardinals and later played for the Minnesota Vikings from 1987 to 1988.

From a young age, Mays always had a deep desire to play football; his father recalls Mays, at age 14, doing homework with his football helmet on.[5] Mays also spent a lot of time as a kid watching old football tapes from when his father played. While his parents initially didn't allow him to play football, he played soccer and was noted as being very physical and much bigger than the other kids which led to his parents eventually letting him try out for the football team in the 7th grade.[6]

High school career[edit]

Mays attended O'Dea High School, a Catholic boy's high school located in Seattle, Washington's First Hill neighborhood. Before playing football, Mays joined the track & field team to work on his speed.[5] As a sophomore at O'Dea in 2004, Mays won both the 100-meter dash (10.54 s) and 200-meter dash (21.64 s) titles in the 3A State championships in the spring of 2004 before leaving track behind after his junior year to dedicate his last year in high school to prepare for football at the next level.[7][8]

As a junior in 2004, he posted 124 tackles, 5 interceptions and 75 deflections, catching 25 passes for 700 yards (640 m) with 23 touchdowns and returning 12 punts for 392 yards (358 m) with 10 touchdowns while earning Student Sports Junior All-American honors as a defensive back, wide receiver and quarterback. His final year at O'Dea, he collected 166 tackles, 5 interceptions and 5 pass deflections as a safety while catching 36 passes for 765 yards (700 m) and 15 touchdowns. As a senior in 2005, he was named All-State First-team and All-Metro League Mountain Division Offensive MVP and Defensive Co-MVP. He also returned 12 punts for 392 yards (358 m) and 3 touchdowns. Mays played for the West Team in the 2006 U.S. Army All-American Bowl game alongside future USC teammates Mitch Mustain and Stafon Johnson. He posted three tackles in the game.

On May 21, 2005, Mays participated in the 2005 Palo Alto Nike, Inc. Training Camp. Listed at 6'3", 218-pounds, Mays ran a 4.59 in the 40-yard dash, recorded 21 reps of 185-pounds on bench press and posted a 31" vertical jump. By age 17, Mays was 6' 3", 228-pounds.[9]


Rivals.com listed Mays as the No. 1 overall prospect in the state of Washington in 2006. While considering offers from USC, Washington and Miami, Mays elected to commit to the University of Southern California after being recruited by defensive back coaches Rocky Seto and Greg Burns. Mays was expected to attend Washington in the footsteps of his father, but didn't want to fall under his father's shadow and decided to build his own legacy while citing Pete Carroll's enthusiasm and coaching style as a major factor in his decision, officially committing on August 14, 2005.

College career[edit]

Mays received an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Southern California, where he played for head coach Pete Carroll's USC Trojans football team from 2006 to 2009.

2006 season[edit]

Mays got the start at free safety his freshman year after Josh Pinkard went down with a season-ending injury in their first game against Arkansas. His first college career interception came in week 5 against Washington State. Throughout the year he was a solid safety recording 62 tackles in only 12 starts and an ended the year leading his team in interceptions with 3. In 2006, Mays became the third player in Trojan history to be named the Pac-10’s Co-Freshman of The Year while also earning Second-team All-American, 1st-team Freshman All-American and Defensive Freshman of the Year honors from Sporting News magazine.[10]

Mays surprised a lot of people throughout the nation when it was stated by Pete Carroll that the 6' 3", 230-pound freshman was the fastest player on a top-tier team built with some of the speediest players in the nation.[11] Teammate running back Joe McKnight stated: "He's faster than me. I wish I had it, whatever he has." According to Carroll, Mays was clocked at an astonishing 4.25 in the 40-yard (37 m) dash, .01 seconds slower than the record set at the 2008 NFL Combine by Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson. Mays also said that he models his game after former USC safety and Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott and the late Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor: "He's been my favorite player. I look up to (former USC safety) Ronnie Lott, too. That's what's special being in this program, living up to the safeties here."[7]

Mays switched from No. 29 to No. 2 after his freshman season for former Florida State player Deion Sanders and former Michigan player Charles Woodson who both wore the number while playing defensive back in college.[12]

2007 season[edit]

Mays before 2007 Notre Dame game.

After Josh Pinkard was re-positioned to cornerback, Mays returned as the team's starting safety alongside All-Pac-10 strong safety Kevin Ellison, whom he credits as his mentor.[13] His most impressive game of the season came during week 10 against California, where he posted tackles (10) and deflected 3 passes which helped hold one of the best offenses in the nation 14 points below its average in the 24–17 win. He also had a career-high 12 tackles in week 8 against the Oregon.

Mays finished third on the team with 65 total tackles, 6 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception in 13 games in 2007. He earned Third-team All-American honors from the Associated Press, First-team All-American honors from Sporting News, and All-Pac-10 honorable mention.

After the 2007 season, Mays was listed by ESPN The Magazine in an article titled "Workout Warriors", honoring college football's most physically talented players. According to the article, in the USC spring practices in 2008, Mays posted unbelievable numbers: Measured at 6' 3", 226-pounds with 6% body fat, Mays ran an electronically timed 4.32 40-yard dash, threw up 225-pounds 23 times during the bench press, and recorded a 41" vertical jump and an 11' 4" standing broad jump. When he arrived at USC, Mays weighed 215-pounds, posted a 35" vertical and 10' standing broad jump. Mays was listed at the No. 2 spot behind Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo.[14]

2008 season[edit]

Before the start of the 2008 season, Mays was honored with a 2008 Preseason All-American selection and was on the early watch list for both the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to the best defensive player in the nation, and the Lott Trophy. Mays stated in a Los Angeles Times interview on November 10 that he would decide whether or not to forfeit his senior year at USC to enter the 2009 NFL Draft after the 2008 post season, saying that a big factor in his decision would come from his father and head coach Pete Carroll[15] Mays entered 2008 as one of the nation's top safety prospects in the nation.

The USC defense turned in the second-best defense in the nation and some argued one of the best college has ever seen. Through the air, the USC defense held opposing offenses to only 6 touchdowns while collecting 19 interceptions as the best pass defense in the nation with Mays being a key factor in their success.[16] Though he didn't register an interception throughout his junior season, Mays had a team-leading 8 pass deflections with four of them coming in a week 9 matchup against California who averaged almost 40 points per game to that point. Mays had a spectacular performance in the game delivering several big hits in the game which jarred balls loose from the receiver's hands. What would have been Mays' first interception of the season was called back on a penalty by Kaluka Maiava.[17] Through regular season play, Mays collected 53 total tackles and 8 pass deflections. The Trojans would go on to face Penn State in the 2009 Rose Bowl where the defense shut down one of the most explosive offenses in the country in the 38–24 win. A memorable play in the game by Taylor Mays was a devastating helmet-to-helmet hit on wide receiver Jordan Norwood which momentarily knocked Norwood out of the game and incidentally his teammate Kevin Thomas as well.

Mays signs autographs for school children after a USC practice in fall 2008.

Mays ended his junior season as a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award after being beaten out by Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. He finished 3rd in the running, coming in behind Jenkins and Tennessee safety Eric Berry. He earned First-team All-American honors from several sources such as Sporting News, Walter Camp Football and the Associated Press as well as Second-Team All-American honors by Rivals.com and All-Pac-10 First-team honors.

On January 13, two days before the deadline for college players to declare for the Draft, Mays announced that he would return to USC for his last year. Mays was regarded as unanimous first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft but opted to return to continue to develop and to complete his education at Southern California, citing the importance of graduating to himself and his parents as well as giving his last shot at leading USC to the BCS National Championship.[18][19]

2009 season[edit]

In a Lindy's Football article, Mays stated that he wanted to play a different role in the defensive secondary that would call him to be more involved in the action. "I want to be closer to the action. People who know football know what my role on the defense is, but I'd like to be more involved this season," Mays said. The usual duties of a free safety in Pete Carroll's defense calls for him to be a center fielder preventing plays being made deep downfield, keeping him from doing much else in the box. Carroll said he agreed to tweak Mays' duties for the 2009 season, Mays' last at USC. In his last season with the Trojans, one ending with the roughest record (8–4) of his 4-year tenure at USC, he tallied a career-high 96 total tackles for the season while adding another interception to his career total.[20]

In October, he was named a midseason All-American by The Sporting News.[21] The withdrawal of several key players from last year's Trojans team was heavily felt on the defensive side of the ball, with Mays and the secondary surrendering 211.5 passing yards per game, 126 more yards than the defense surrendered in 2008.[22] The lack of playmaking and leadership-by-performance from Mays has led experts to quote his stock for the upcoming NFL draft as one that is heavily slipping, though his pre-draft workouts are expected to impress NFL managers the league over.[23] Mays was named First-team All-Pac 10 for the second year in a row and was named First-team All-America for the third consecutive season.

Professional career[edit]

2010 NFL Draft[edit]

Frequently drawing comparisons to Adrian Wilson for his size[24] and Sean Taylor for his hitting ability,[25] Mays was considered one of the top talents for the 2010 NFL Draft.[26][27][28][29] Mays was invited to the 2010 Senior Bowl, a game played by the top college senior NFL prospects. Mays played sparingly in the game, with his interception of Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike in the 2nd quarter being his only highlight.[30] According to Sports Illustrated's Tony Pauline, Mays "looked stiff and mechanical with his defensive back fundamentals and really showed limited skills in pass coverage drills," and is therefore projected to outside linebacker by some teams.[31] However, during an interview with Steve Wyche of NFL Network, Mays stated that the NFL teams he was interviewed by during the 2010 NFL Combine processes never mentioned him switching positions but that he would be willing do so if need be.[32]

Mays was the fastest safety at the 2010 NFL Combine, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds.[33]

Pre-draft measurables
Ht Wt Arm length Hand size 40-yd dash 10-yd split 20-yd split 20-ss 3-cone Vert Broad BP Wonderlic
6 ft 3 in 230 lb 34 in 10¼ in 4.43 s 1.45 s 2.46 s 4.24 s 6.98 s 41 in 10 ft 5 in 24 reps 22
All values from NFL combine[34]

Mays was drafted in the 2nd round with the 49th-overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2010 NFL Draft.[35] In an interview with the Sacramento Bee′s Matt Barrows following the draft, Mays suggested that he was led by Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll to believe that the Seahawks would select him with the 14th-overall pick, which they instead used to pick another safety, Texas' Earl Thomas. "I understand it's a business. But with it being a business, he needs to be honest. And that's all I was asking for," Mays said, but reiterated that he was exceedingly happy to be playing for the 49ers, a team close to his home state of Washington and the team his idol, Ronnie Lott, played the very same position on.[36][37]

San Francisco 49ers[edit]

In a post-draft interview, San Francisco 49ers executive Trent Baalke insisted that, despite the addition of Mays, current veteran strong safety Michael Lewis would be the starter for the 2010 season.[38] On July 30, 2010, Mays signed a four-year contract with the 49ers.

After spending the entirety of the first three games on special teams, coach Mike Singletary benched then-starting strong safety Lewis in favor of Reggie Smith and Mays who split time at the spot in the team's Week 4 match-up against the Atlanta Falcons. While garnering a team-high 11 tackles in the game, Mays' most outstanding play of the game was a special teams touchdown made off of a deflected punt. After the game, Mays was named the indefinite starter at strong safety alongside free safety.[39]

Cincinnati Bengals[edit]

On August 22, 2011, Mays was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals for a seventh round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. In 2012, he played in all 16 games, starting 3 of them.[40] After the 2013 season, the Bengals re-signed Mays to a one-year $755,000 deal, with a $40,000 signing bonus.[41]

On March 11, 2014 the Bengals re-signed Mays.[42] He played in all 16 games for the Bengals in 2014.[43]

Through the 2014 season, he started 10 of the 66 games he played, with 98 tackles on defense (71 solo) and 6 pass-breakups.[44][45] He had 21 tackles on special teams with the Bengals.[46] He played both safety positions for the Bengals, as well as special teams which he played primarily, and played a little at linebacker.[47]

Minnesota Vikings[edit]

On March 24, 2015, the Minnesota Vikings signed Mays to a one-year contract.[48] Mays had played under Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer for three seasons when Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals.[49][50] A primary reason Mays chose the Vikings was to rejoin Zimmer.[51] Mays' father played for the Vikings in 1987-88.[52]

CBS and NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots said: "I still think [Mays has] got better years ahead of him, and I think Zim knows how to use him. If Mays doesn't win a starting job, he could be a nickel linebacker."[53]


On June 26, 2011, he was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.[54]


The Mays family lives in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "USC Trojans Player Biography: Taylor Mays". Usctrojans.cstv.com. Retrieved January 5, 2011. 
  2. ^ "2011 NFL Football Preview". Jewish Sports Review 8 (87): 6–7. September/October 2011, accessed September 15, 2011.  Check date values in: |date= (help);
  3. ^ Klein, Gary (December 29, 2006). "Coming of age". Los Angeles Times. 
  4. ^ "Player Bio: Taylor Mays". USCTrojans.com. Retrieved January 21, 2008. 
  5. ^ a b Ko, Michael (August 31, 2005). "O'Dea's Mays growing out of father's NFL shadow, headed to USC". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 21, 2008. 
  6. ^ Saxon, Mark (September 27, 2007). "USC's Mays returns home". OCRegister. Retrieved January 21, 2008. 
  7. ^ a b The Associated Press | Free safety Taylor Mays fastest of the fast at USC, "ESPN College Football Headlines, December 4, 2008.
  8. ^ '
  9. ^ "Taylor Mays – Football Recruiting". Rivals.com. Retrieved January 21, 2008. 
  10. ^ a b Milles, Todd, Road trip is trip home, The News Tribune, September 21, 2007.
  11. ^ Condotta, Bob (September 27, 2007). "UW Football Notebook – Carroll was key to Mays leaving". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 21, 2008. 
  12. ^ "CBS CS: Taylor Made for Success". CBS Sports (YouTube). October 14, 2008. Retrieved January 21, 2008. 
  13. ^ Klein, Gary (September 27, 2008). "Junior Taylor Mays says it's not senior night for him". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 21, 2008. 
  14. ^ Feldman, Bruce, College football's top workout warriors, ESPN The Magazine, June 9, 2008. Retrieved June 9, 2008.
  15. ^ Klein, Gary (November 11, 2008). "USC safety Taylor Mays puts off decisions on future". Los Angeles Times. 
  16. ^ "Final 2008 NCAA FBS Pass Efficiency Defense Statistics". NCAAFootball. January 8, 2009. Retrieved January 21, 2008. 
  17. ^ Peszko, Paul (November 8, 2008). "USC-Cal Bears: Defense, Penalties, and Botched Calls". Bleacher Report. Retrieved January 21, 2009. 
  18. ^ Klein, Gary, Taylor Mays to return to USC, Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2009. Retrieved January 13, 2009.
  19. ^ Lev, Michael (January 13, 2009). "USC football: Taylor Mays makes it official – he's back". OCRegister.com. Retrieved January 21, 2008. 
  20. ^ Taylor Mays  #2  S (February 7, 1988). "Taylor Mays Stats, News, Photos – USC Trojans – NCAA College Football". ESPN. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  21. ^ "SN's midseason All-Americans: Defense". Sporting News. October 20, 2009. 
  22. ^ [1][dead link]
  23. ^ Klein, Gary (December 5, 2009). "Tough season bruises Taylor Mays' NFL draft position". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  24. ^ Low, Chris (August 13, 2009). "Berry vs. Mays: Who's better?". ESPN.com. Mays is more of a Steve Atwater, Adrian Wilson sort of safety. He can play center field. 
  25. ^ Markazi, Arash (August 21, 2009). "USC Trojan Taylor Mays targeting Heisman campaign, BCS title". Sports Illustrated. His bone-jarring hits and knack for getting involved in every play no matter where he lines up has drawn comparisons to Sean Taylor, the late Washington Redskins safety who was Mays' favorite player. 
  26. ^ Prisco, Pete (April 27, 2009). "Prisco's 2010 draft preview: QB will land No. 1 spot". CBSSports.com. 
  27. ^ Perloff, Andrew (April 28, 2009). "Sam Bradford goes No.1 to St. Louis Rams in 2010 NFL Mock Draft". Sports Illustrated. 
  28. ^ Cooney, Frank (May 11, 2009). "Who's next? Looking ahead to the best of the 2010 draft class". USA Today. 
  29. ^ Rang, Rob (July 10, 2009). "Top 32 seniors: Top heavy with the heftier prospects". CBS Sports. 
  30. ^ "Tebow struggles in Senior Bowl, 'open' to work on fundamentals". Nfl.com. February 18, 2010. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  31. ^ Pauline, Tony (January 26, 2010). "Dexter McCluster, Taylor Price stand out above field at Senior Bowl". Sports Illustrated. 
  32. ^ "NFL Videos: Mays unsatisfied". Nfl.com. March 2, 2010. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  33. ^ [2]
  34. ^ "Taylor Mays Combine Profile". NFL.com. Retrieved March 3, 2010. 
  35. ^ Davis, Nate (April 23, 2010). "New 49ers S Taylor Mays hints at betrayal from former USC coach Pete Carroll - The Huddle: Football News from the NFL - USATODAY.com". Content.usatoday.com. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  36. ^ "Taylor Mays unloads on Pete Carroll | ProFootballTalk.com". Profootballtalk.nbcsports.com. April 23, 2010. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  37. ^ Muela, Jared (April 23, 2010). "49ers Select S Mays". 49ers.com. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  38. ^ "Taylor Mays". Rotoworld.com. February 7, 1988. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  39. ^ "49ers.com | Goal Posts Blog". Blog.49ers.com. October 4, 2010. Retrieved January 5, 2011. 
  40. ^ [3]
  41. ^ [4]
  42. ^ "Adam Schefter's Twitter". twitter.com/AdamSchefter. August 22, 2011. Retrieved August 22, 2011. 
  43. ^ [5]
  44. ^ [6]
  45. ^ [7]
  46. ^ [8]
  47. ^ [9]
  48. ^ "Vikings sign safety Taylor Mays". StarTribune.com. March 24, 2015.  Text "http://blog.startribune.com/sports/access-vikings/vikings-sign-safety-taylor-mays " ignored (help);
  49. ^ [10]
  50. ^ [11]
  51. ^ [12]
  52. ^ [13]
  53. ^ [14]
  54. ^ "Sports Shorts". Jewish Sports Review. July–August 2011. 

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