Safety Taylor Mays and defensive end Everson Griffen entered their pro day workouts as two of the most scrutinized prospects in the NFL Draft, demonstrating unparalleled athleticism and erratic production during their USC careers. While both flashed their considerable physical gifts Wednesday, it likely wasn’t enough for the likely first-round selections to erase those doubts in one afternoon.
Looking chiseled at 268 pounds, Griffen lived up to his nickname as “The Freak,” posting a 34-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-7 broad jump and 40-yard dash time of 4.59 seconds, though some scouts had his second run as low as 4.46. The early entrant also showed excellent range of motion and change of direction, confirming that Griffen could be a 3-4 rush linebacker in addition to the 4-3 defensive end role he played for three seasons under new Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
Griffen credited the return of Jethro Franklin as defensive line coach from the Houston Texans with his improved effort last season, recording eight sacks after being benched as a sophomore.
“This all started with coach Jethro coming in,” Griffen said. “He taught me more than football. You got to do right off the field to do right on the field. It showed up in my play this past season, the pro day and combine.”
Taylor Mays goes through DB drills at USC’s pro day. (Kevin Carden Photo)
Sensitive to criticism regarding his down-to-down effort and work ethic, Griffen vowed that he wouldn’t rest.
“I’m going to keep working, this ain’t over as far as coming to OTAs, mini-camp and conditioning. I’m ready to show them that I can establish myself for a team and contribute at any time.
“I showed them I am ready to go and there’s no immaturity in me.”
Electing to stand on his much-debated 40 at the combine, Mays was solid in position drills but might have left teams wondering if he has the necessary coverage and ball skills to justify a top-32 pick.
A three-time All-American, Mays finished with just five career interceptions. He was often lined up 15 yards off the line of scrimmage, raising questions if Mays can guard slot receivers in a league that increasingly employs three or four wideouts.
“I didn’t back peddle too much on film, didn’t do too many one-on-ones and didn’t play in the slot. I just took a couple steps and ran to the ball, so showing the change of direction and ball skills is what I wanted to show,” Mays said. “These DB drills were most important to me, because that’s what I don’t show on film. They know I can run fast and hit and all that stuff, but being able to move as a bigger safety was the biggest question mark.
“In the NFL, you get paid to get interceptions. I wasn’t really coached to do that at USC,” he said.
With his former coach in Austin attending Texas’ pro day, Mays admitted his pre-draft routine is the opposite of how he was treated as a top player in high school.
“Man, when I was recruited, they were loving me up and telling me everything in the world. Now, they killing me,” he said with a laugh.
Mays has meetings scheduled with the Browns on Thursday, the Chiefs on Sunday, then on to Cincinnati, but has not decided if he will travel to New York City for the Draft.
Receiver Damian Williams was fluid in the 60-yard shuttle and caught every pass in his vicinity. Regarded as one of the top route runners in his class, scouts talked about the Arkansas transfer going off the board in the second round.
Running back Joe McKnight struggled through his workout, later attributing it to a toe injury that flared up. Offensive tackle Charles Brown pulled his hamstring while running and could not go through position drills.
The day’s biggest surprise was Kevin Thomas, a long, lanky corner in the mold of former Trojan and current New York Giant Terrell Thomas, posting a 4.43 40.
USC defensive end Everson Griffen ran a 4.59 40-yard dash.
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