Flashback one week to day two of the best Draft party ever. A three day orgy of Madden 2010, alcohol and ESPN. Well worth flying 2000 miles across country to attend. The 49ers are on the clock and Taylor Mays is on the board, I make the call.
"They're going to take Mays"
Agent Luna replies "They already have Goldson and Lewis who are basically both Strong Safeties, why would they take Mays?, they need a free safety."
"Well, we both think they should make Clements a FS and move Goldson to SS, but that's not what they want to do, I don't think they care if they have a FS, they just want big athletic Strong Safeties."
And with the 49th pick of the NFL draft the San Francisco 49ers select Taylor Mays..
At the time I was pretty happy. Not only did the 49ers select another elite athlete and the guy with the most scary size/speed combination in the draft, but also (and more importantly) that I got to be right again (I called the Iupati pick too.
After reading Barrows Article where he interviews Trent Baalke I realized that I wasn't far off on the reason for drafting Mays either:
There's been a lot written and said about the 49ers' sticking Mays "in the box" so that he's a quasi linebacker. Baalke said the objective is for both safeties to be able to play deep and close to the line of scrimmage. "We want mirror guys back there," he said. "We don't want them (the offense) to know who's going to be low and who's going to be high. The more balanced you are, the more deceptive you can be in your game plan."
Baalke could have just said that the 49ers want to use two strong safeties, but I'll give him a pass, he's new to the GM job and is trying to sound extra strategic. Assuming the 49ers start Goldson and Mays, they will be one of the biggest and hardest hitting safety tandems in league history (if anyone knows of a bigger safety tandem, post it). Will it work?, neither of them is known for their man-coverage skills, but both are an upgrade over Michael Lewis (Michael Lewis lost a footrace with Joe Nedney in practice on a bet). Mays has excelled in Cover 2 where his strait line speed allows him to make up ground on open receivers.
I think the success of the two strong safety formula hinges on pass rush because not having either safety with "strong in man coverage" on their resumes could give QBs an easy target. I think we'll see a lot of situations where the 49ers blitz one safety and let the other play center field, minimizing their exposure in man coverage (basically a 46 defense except the offense won't know which safety is staying on the line). This will put a lot of pressure on the 49ers corners and nickel back, but corner play was an area of strength last year with Shawnte Spencer staying healthy and performing at a high level.