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December 3, 2008

NFL Draft: Mays looks to be special prospect

The 2008 NFL draft didn't have a defensive back selected until the 11th pick, which is the deepest the draft had gone without a defensive back being selected since 2001.

The 2009 defensive back class looks a lot more talented, especially at the front end. In fact, three could come off the board in the top 15 picks.

Mike Lombardi, Andrew Brandt and Wes Bunting of the National Football Post break down this year's top 10 defensive backs.

1. FS Taylor Mays (6-3/230), USC
: Mays, a junior, has the body of a linebacker, runs like a corner and hits like a strong safety. He is a strong, wrap-up tackler who shows good pop on contact. Mays is quick to sniff out run/pass keys. He looks natural at the line of scrimmage and does a nice job taking on blockers at the point of attack. He is fluid and light-footed in coverage and moves extremely well for a man of his size. He has a smooth and compact backpedal, and has excellent closing speed. He also has the ability to cover a lot of ground. Mays is an average man-to-man cover guy and at times is slow to redirect in and out of his breaks. But he is the total package and is the most physically gifted safety to come along since Sean Taylor.

2. CB Malcolm Jenkins (6-1/202), Ohio State
: He's a long, angular corner with good size and excellent arm length for the position. Jenkins has excellent athletic ability and exceptional change-of-direction skills. He looks natural as a ballhawk in zone coverage and is physical in man-to-man coverage. He has good instincts in coverage and does a nice job reading quarterbacks' eyes. He also can close quickly when the ball is in the air. While he lacks elite deep speed, he still looks like a 4.45 guy. He trusts his height and leaping ability too much at times, and he will lose track of receivers behind him. While it's doubtful he ever will be an elite NFL player, his combination of speed, coordination and physicality will make him a solid starter.

3. FS William Moore (6-1/224), Missouri
: A thickly built safety, Moore is a physical, punishing tackler who flies around the field and takes good angles toward the ball. He is a sound wrap-up tackler. He has a good first step and great closing speed. He always seems to be at the right place at the right time, with good instincts and a nose for getting his hands on the ball. He is comfortable at the line of scrimmage and does a nice job reading blocks and shooting gaps inside. He has the ability to run sideline-to-sideline. He looks confident and comfortable in man coverage down the field and has the quickness and burst to undercut routes and break on the ball. But he has a tendency to try to get into the backfield too quickly and will overrun the ball at times. He needs to play with a little more patience and control. He's an imposing strong safety prospect who has the body control, burst and instincts to make an impact at the NFL level.

4. CB Vontae Davis (6-0/204), Illinois
: Davis, a junior, has rare athletic ability for a cornerback and has the speed to turn and run with any NFL receiver down the field. He has a nose for the ball but at times gets caught jumping too many short routes. He needs to learn to become a bit more patient and instinctive underneath. He has the athleticism to sit on routes a little more than he does. Once he learns to trust his backpedal more, he will be dynamic. Davis has become more and more physical each season, and he can consistently reroute receivers off the line. Davis also does a nice job breaking off his receiver and ballhawking in the secondary. He still needs to become a more reliable open-field tackler, but he has the power to lay the wood when he wants to.

5. CB Sean Smith (6-2/215), Utah
: Smith is a big, long-limbed athlete who looks more like a safety then he does a corner. He loves to play press coverage and looks comfortable and natural at the line of scrimmage. He has good balance and body control and does an excellent job getting his hands on receivers and rerouting them at the line. He has fluid hips and does a nice job coming out of his backpedal and turning to run down the field. If he does have a problem with his height, it comes when he transitions from his backpedal. At times, he needs an extra step to get going. He is smart and instinctive, uses the sideline as a second defender down the field and does a great job using his length to break on balls at their highest point. He's a decent tackler who uses his length to wrap up, but he doesn't drop and really explode through his hits. He has some similar traits to the NFL's top cover man, Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha.

6. CB Alphonso Smith (5-9/192), Wake Forest
: Smith is an undersized corner who lacks height, but he possesses the overall thickness and girth to hold up in the NFL. A playmaker with elite short-area quickness, he has excellent body control and flexibility and he can turn and run with receivers down the field. Smith lacks great straight-line speed and is more quick than fast. While he will struggle consistently running with faster receivers down the field, he has the awareness and instincts to go up and get the ball at a high point. He closes quickly on balls in front of him. He lacks the power and strength in bump coverage and struggles rerouting receivers. He lacks the physical makeup to be a top-flight corner at the next level, but his elite quickness and burst will make it tough for NFL receivers to get good separation from him.

7. CB D.J. Moore (5-10/184), Vanderbilt
: He's a decent-sized corner who lacks girth and overall power. But Moore makes up for his lack of size with excellent athleticism and fluidity in coverage. He has the burst to close quickly on the ball, and he has the ability to get in and out of his break quickly. He has great closing speed and takes excellent angles in man coverage. His lack of power and size can hurt him against bigger, more physical receivers. He isn't physical in any dimension of the game, but he will stick his head in against the run. He isn't that comfortable in press-man coverage and will have a tough time against some of the NFL's physical receivers.

8. CB Trevard Lindley (6-0/178), Kentucky
: Lindley is a long, lean-looking athlete who possesses good size but lacks great bulk for the position. He will need to hit the weight room and add muscle. He has great footwork and great closing speed, and he does a nice job in his backpedal not wasting any steps and making a beeline toward the ball. He isn't that physical and struggles getting a good bump on receivers. He gives up the inside release too easily, but he has the speed and body control to work his way back inside and break on the football. He gets lazy at times against subpar competition. He isn't a physical tackler but breaks down well in space and takes good angles.

9. CB Victor Harris (6-0/200), Virginia Tech
: He's a big, physical corner who possesses a thick frame and good length for the position. He plays with great confidence and emotion, and he loves to line up in man and take on the best receivers in the nation. He is a bit raw in his backpedal; he has a tendency to get too high and needs to do a better job playing with more flexibility. He allows too many short completions underneath as he struggles planting and exploding quickly because of his long stride. He has good overall physicality for the position and isn't afraid to commit to the run game. He has average deep speed but does a good job turning and running with receivers down the field. But he will struggle making up for a false step and doesn't have the makeup speed to play from behind. He is much more quick than fast. He does a nice job in press coverage. Harris is best-suited to play "Cover 2" at the next level because of his ball skills, lack of deep speed and overall physical nature.

10. FS Derek Pegues (5-10/196), Mississippi State
: Pegues possesses a strong, muscular build, and he also has natural athletic ability with good range and burst. He is solid coming out of his breaks and plays with good balance and flexibility. He seems to have a "sixth sense" when reading quarterbacks' eyes in zone coverage. He always is flowing toward the ball and takes excellent angles in the passing game. He is dangerous after the catch and has the ability to jump a route and go the distance. He has good straight-line speed and the fluidity in space to play the center field-type role in the NFL. He lacks great power and girth and isn't much of a force at the line of scrimmage. He is an explosive safety with the instincts and ball skills to ballhawk and make plays at free safety in the NFL.

NationalFootballPost.com is a football insider Web site featuring Andrew Brandt, the vice president of the Green Bay Packers for the past nine years, and Michael Lombardi, who has worked in NFL front offices for 22 years, including nine years with Cleveland and eight with Oakland.

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