USC's Mays heads safety class for 2010 draft

Michael Dwyer / Associated Press
USC safety Taylor Mays' speed and athletic ability put him at the top of the 2010 safety class.

Top college senior rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE | G/C | OT | DE | DT | MLB | OLB | S | CB

Editor's note: This is part of a weekly series detailing the top senior prospects, by position, for the 2010 NFL Draft.

The safety position seems to become more important every year, but it still ranks behind cornerback when it comes to the NFL draft.

In order to be a top safety, one needs to be a good tackler, as many teams now play eight defenders in the box against the run. You have to be a good blitzer and be able to cover big, fast tight ends. It also doesn't hurt to be a good special teams performer.

The highest pick used on a safety since the 1970 merger was No. 2 overall in 1991, when Cleveland took Eric Turner. In the 2006 NFL Draft, two safeties (Michael Huff at No. 7 by the Raiders and Donte Whitner at No. 8 by the Bills) were picked before the first corner was selected (Tye Hill at No. 15 by the Rams).

Two of the best safeties of all time, Willie Wood of the Packers and Cliff Harris of the Cowboys, were both undrafted free agents. Both players were selected to All-Decade teams and Wood was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I also think Harris belongs in the Hall. The two combined for 75 interceptions, played in 13 Pro Bowls and won a combined four Super Bowls.

Over the past 10 drafts, 15 safeties have been selected in the first round, with 52 going in Round 2 and 71 in Round 3.

The two leaders in all-time interceptions (Minnesota's Paul Krause with 81 and the Giants' Emlen Tunnel with 79) were safeties.

1. Taylor Mays

College: USC
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 236

Mays, a four-year player, has started 38 games at free safety. His dad, Stafford, was drafted in the ninth round in 1980 and played nine years and 119 games in the NFL. Taylor is a two-time sprint champion (100 and 200 meters) in the state of Washington. This is a driver player, who has speed, range and athletic ability. He reminds you of former Giants linebacker Brad Van Pelt, who played safety at Michigan State. He lines up 15 yards deep on most plays. Mays will be a first-round pick and play a long time.
2. Darrell Stuckey

College: Kansas
Height/Weight: 5-11, 205

Stuckey is a fifth-year player who has started three years when healthy. He was a first-team All-Big 12 performer the past two years and had 98 tackles and five interceptions in 2008. He has speed, range, and athletic abilility. He can hit and is a very good player, who should be a starter in the NFL.

3. Nate Allen

College: South Florida
Height/Weight: 6-1, 203

Allen played, but didn't start, in 2006 as a true freshman and has stared every game (25) over the past two years at safety. He was an oustanding high school quarterback and is a very good athlete who has very good range. He had five interceptions last year and returned one for a touchdown. Allen has quickness and toughness and will tackle. He has the ability to play a long time. His father played professional basketball in Europe.
4. Darian Stewart

College: South Carolina
Height/Weight: 5-11, 210

Stewart played as a true freshman in 2006. He was the "spur" -- a hybrid linebacker/safety -- in the Gamecocks' defensive scheme in 2008. Stewart has started 23 games and is a very good athlete and was an outstanding high school basketball player. He has only one career interception, but does a good job in pass coverage, plays the run well, is tough and is a very good special teams player.

5. Kam Chancellor

College: Virginia Tech
Height/Weight: 6-3, 225

Chancellor played as a true freshman in 2006 and came to Tech as a quarterback. He moved to cornerback as a freshman in 2006, started at rover in 2008 and will play free safety this season. He is big, strong, fast and a good hitter. He can be a difference-maker. Safety is his third position in three years, but he is a solid player with enough speed to cover in the passing game.
6. Justin Woodall

College: Alabama
Height/Weight: 6-1, 218

Woodall played as a true freshman. In 2006, he started 14 games at strong safety and in 2008, he had 47 tackles, four interceptions and eight pass breakups. He is a big player, who supports the run and does a good job vs. the pass. He ran a 4.62 this spring at Alabama's Pro Day. His quickness makes him faster than his timed speed. As a junior in high school in Mississippi, he had 17 interceptions. He is a very good baseball player.

7. Larry Asante

College: Nebraska
Height/Weight: 5-11 7/8, 210

Fifth-year player Asante played linebacker in junior college before coming to Nebraska. He will be a three-year starter for the Huskers at safety, but was a high school running back. He does a good job on run support and is tough and will have a good feel for the position. He covers well at Nebraska, but might have a harder time doing so in the NFL.
8. Barry Church

College: Toledo
Height/Weight: 6-1, 215

Church played and started 12 games as a true freshman in 2006 and made the All-Conference team in the MAC. He will have started 36 consecutive games going into the 2009 season and has very good speed and range for the position. He has good hands and makes big plays in big games such as road wins over Michigan and Kansas. I also have to like someone who has a sister named Brandt.

9. Terrell Skinner

College: Maryland
Height/Weight: 6-2, 216

Skinner, a fifth-year player, came to Maryland as a wide receiver. He moved to safety in 2007, started 11 games at free safety in 2008 and ran a 4.65 and 4.57 at Maryland's Pro Day this spring. He has good quickness, long arms and the toughness needed for the position. He will be a very good special teams player.
10. Kyle McCarthy

College: Notre Dame
Height/Weight: 5-11 5/8, 211

Fifth-year player McCarthy started at strong safety in 2008 and was Notre Dame's leading tackler with 110, a school record for a defensive back. He is somewhat like Tom Zbikowski, who is currently with the Baltimore Ravens. He is a very good special teams player. Though he may have trouble vs. the pass, he is a smart player.

11. Courtney Herndon

College: Kansas State
Height/Weight: 5-11 5/8, 208

Herndon is a fifth-year player who started 10 games in 2008 at strong safety. He had 61 tackles, the third-best on the team, and two interceptions, returning one 57 yards for a touchdown. He is very good at blocking kicks and does a good job in the running game as well as in special teams. The question regarding Herdnon will be how he does in pass coverage.
12. Jordan Lake

College: Baylor
Height/Weight: 6-1, 200

Lake, a fifth-year player, has started 24 games at free safety. He was named first-team All-Big 12 in 2008 and is a very good tackler, that was second on the team with 97 tackles and three interceptions. He is a very competitive player, who had nine games with 10-plus tackles. He made his first interception vs. Oklahoma in the fifth game of 2008. The Sooners had gone four games without an interception. He will be a very good special teams player.

13. Harry Coleman

College: LSU
Height/Weight: 6-1½, 209

Fifth-year player Coleman started the first time in 2008. He played 13 games at stronge safety and is an older player, who will be 24 in November. He was a high school linebacker, the team's leading tackler in 2008. Coleman does not have a single interception in his career, but is a big hitter and will play linebacker next season. He will not be big enough to play linebacker in the NFL and will have problems vs. the pass, but is a good enough athlete to deserve a look.
14. Josh Pinkard

College: USC
Height/Weight: 6-1 1/8, 219

Pinkard is a sixth-year player, who played in 2004 as a true freshman. He missed the 2006 and 2007 seasons with knee injuries, but came back to start 11 games at corner in 2008. He will play safety in 2009 and has the speed and range for the position. He will tackle and make plays with his competitiveness. His best position is strong safety.

15. Jonathon Amaya

College: Nevada
Height/Weight: 6-0½, 193

Amaya was a walk-on player who started seven games as a true freshman at safety. He has played some cornerback as well and was tied for most tackles on the team in 2008 with 68. Amaya also had four interceptions and ran a 4.45 and 4.46 at Nevada's Pro Day this spring. He has good, but not great, quickness for the position, but he can tackle effectively. Amaya is a good, solid player at the college level, but only has average athleticism.