Question of the week: Eric Berry or Taylor Mays?
It isn’t hard to identify the top safeties in college football. One can be found in Knoxville Tennessee, and the other in Southern California. What may not be as easy is naming the better of the two. Eric Berry and Taylor Mays are masters at their positions, but each plays with a different style. And to find one to be clearly a cut above the other, raises a debate similar to the NFL’s ongoing bicker over Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed.
Just as the NFL answer will depend on whom you’re talking to, it’s likely to be the same at the lower level. But for the sake of asking, which is the better safety, Tennessee’s Eric Berry or USC’s Taylor Mays?
Unlike some positions, statistical numbers won’t prove one to be better than the other. Eric Berry will have the interceptions and returns, while Taylor Mays will lead in knockouts. Berry may strike fear in opposing quarterbacks thinking of throwing in his direction, and Mays is feared by receivers extending to catch passes in his vicinity. One may get you a possession, and the other can eliminate possession targets for the duration of a game.
One common misconception of Mays is that he’s the slower of the two. It’s his 6’3, 230 pound frame that contributes to that deception. In high school, Mays was a two-time state champion in the 100 and 200 meters, with a timed best of 10.88 in the hundred meter dash. At USC, he’s rumored to have run the forty anywhere from 4.25 to 4.28. And though I can’t confirm it as fact, it would make him the fastest Trojan on the field. Possessing closing speed, and carrying that large frame, he’s a defensive asset that can sit back and patrol passing areas or be moved closer to act as a hard hitting linebacker in run support. Even if the actual 40-time is in the 4.4 range, for a safety that size, a big payday awaits his future.
Eric Berry also has many dimensions. Though the Vols have toyed with using him on the offensive side of the ball in the past, if Kiffin is a smart man, we should see more of it. His vision and great hands, coupled with the agility after the catch, would make him a weapon equally dangerous on either side of the field. Berry stands just 15 interception return yards shy of breaking the NCAA record in the category, currently held by Florida State’s Terrell Buckley (501).
Physically, Taylor Mays is a freak of nature, and in that aspect, clearly has an advantage. But Eric Berry possess the better ball skills, which is equally important to the NFL. Both names will be tossed around throughout the 2009 season. And if Berry opts to enter the 2010 draft, the debate ignites again.
Either safety is a “can’t miss” prospect, capable of making an immediate impact upon arrival. But as for choosing one over the other, without being a homer, I can’t do it. So instead, I’ll allow you to do it for me.
Who is the best safety in college football, Eric Berry or Taylor Mays?