Raiders Draft Outlook: Safeties

With the two deep virtually set at both safety spots, it's unlikely that the Raiders will move on one in the draft. Still, you can never say never with the Raiders and there are a couple of prospects the team would seriously consider with the eigth overall pick.

While no one will confuse this current pair of Raider safeties for Jack Tatum and George Atkinson, both spots go two deep and aren't a huge need to address through the draft.

At strong safety, Tyvon Branch had a breakout season in 2009, finishing second on the team in tackles with 124. It's generally not viewed favorably when a defensive back has that many tackles, but the Raiders' aggressive defensive style often asks its safeties to play near the box and help against the run. Branch is more than just a solid player, and should be a stalwart in the backfield for the next few years.

Backing up Branch is second-year man Mike Mitchell, and although his contributions last season were limited, the staff is high on Mitchell and hopes he can take the next step in his development.

At free safety, Michael Huff finally had a season worthy of merit, finishing with three interceptions and 14 pass breakups. In his previous three seasons, Huff only mustered one interception, a stark contrast to his ball-hawking days at Texas. Head Coach Tom Cable recently stated at the NFL Combine that he believes that Huff has "finally arrived", so there's still hope for him yet.

Backing up Huff will be former starter Hiram Eugene. The former undrafted rookie free agent has been an overachiever or sorts since entering the league. Eugene is a very good backup and his status as a former starter might keep Huff on his toes.

It would be a surprise if the Raiders decided to move on a safety in the draft, but if there were any they would seriously consider, the list would be limited to Tennessee's Eric Berry and USC's Taylor Mays.

Berry is considered to be the best overall prospect in the draft, but as a safety, he is a low value pick in the top five. Still, Berry has often been compared to Ed Reed, and although there's a chance he might be available for the Raiders at the eighth spot, he will likely be off the board by then.

Mays is projected to go as high as the Raiders, but most likely somewhere in the mid to late first round. He's a real possibility for the Raiders for the same reason why Darrius Heyward-Bey was drafted last season with the seventh pick: great speed and freakish athleticism.

Mays is an athlete first and a football player second. At 6-3, 231-lbs., Mays ran an outstanding 4.43/40 at the Combine, and has been clocked at an unofficial 4.24 as well. He is a rare combination of size and speed, and that alone is enough for Al Davis to consider him.

Still, Mays isn't without his deficiencies. Mays is often noted as a big hitter at safety, but that observation is a bit overrated. While Mays definitely knows how to lay the wood, his form is poor and he needs to learn how to wrap up ball carriers instead of launching his body into them. Because Mays often goes for the big hit, he is overaggressive in pursuit and can be left out to dry. The most glaring negative of Mays' game, however, is definitely his coverage skills. If Berry is compared to Ed Reed, then Mays is most like Roy Williams.

Like Williams, Mays can be left out to dry in the secondary and could be prone to being beat over the top. In his freshman season, Mays produced three interceptions, but only added two more in his next three years. By comparison, Berry produced 14 interceptions in only three seasons. Mays hasn't shown himself to be much of a playmaker, and there's some talk of teams possibly moving Mays down to weakside linebacker.

Still, Mays' physical attributes make him a hot commodity, and knowing how the Raiders work, it wouldn't be a surprise (for the Raiders) if Mays winds up as the eighth pick.

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