Taylor Mays Likely to Take On Rover Role for Mike Zimmer


Yesterday’s signing of former Bengals safety Taylor Mays won’t do much to calm down annoyed Viking fans who think the team has been too passive in free agency this year, but Mays could end up being a quietly important acquisition for Minnesota and here’s why.

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It all goes back to the 2013 season when Mays was working with DC Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati. The athletic and versatile former 49ers DB was in his third year with the Bengals and to that point had done little to impress anyone. Then Zimmer tried something new with Mays that resulted in his potential being unlocked.

Rather than play Mays as a straight safety, Zimmer began employing him as a hybrid linebacker in nickel packages, a position that proved well-suited to Mays’ skill set. Mays was on his way to a career-best season in his new rover role (12 tackles, 3 PDs and 1 fumble recovery in 8 games) when a dislocated shoulder landed him on injured reserve.

Knowing what we know about Mike Zimmer and his love of versatile players, it makes sense that he would target Mays. You’re not going to drop Mays into deep coverage as a true free safety but he does give you great flexibility in sub-packages.

The other thing Zimmer loves in his DBs is physicality. Robert Blanton did okay as an all-around player last year but he is not a thumper like Mays. Blanton still figures to be the starter at safety alongside Harrison Smith, barring a draft move that brings in a better candidate, but Mays now gives Zimmer an option in the nickel that he didn’t have last year.

All that being said, we do need to be realistic about Mays: This is potentially a good signing but it’s far from the major move the Vikings were obviously hoping to make at safety when free agency began.

The Vikings went into the offseason acknowledging their need to upgrade at safety and when they said upgrade they weren’t talking about picking up a utility player. The Vikes’ reported interest in both Devin McCourty and Rahim Moore testifies to their concern about the team’s shortcomings at the safety position.

That they failed to land either McCourty or Moore only proves that they weren’t willing to overspend even on a position of arguably serious need. Drafting a safety remains a possibility but finding a player who projects as a McCourty-type may prove difficult.

Next: Vikings Trying to Keep Peterson Away From Cowboys?

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