It was a typical start for a Bill Belichick draft. The Patriots once again traded down in the first round, stockpiling picks as they searched for the best value they could find. But that search ended with a very un-Belichick-like decision, as the Pats used the 10th overall pick to select Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo.
It was a typical start for a Bill Belichick draft.
The Patriots once again traded down in the first round, stockpiling picks as they searched for the best value they could find.
But that search ended with a very un-Belichick-like decision, as the Pats used the 10th overall pick to select Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo.
In Belichick’s first eight drafts in New England, he had never selected a linebacker higher than the fifth round, preferring instead to augment his linebacker corps with veteran free agents whose experience would help them pick up the Pats’ complex defensive schemes.
But at some point, experienced just becomes old, and the Patriots had reached a point where they desperately needed an infusion of young legs at the position. The dilemma was finding a young linebacker with a high enough football IQ to be able to step right into New England’s system.
That’s where Mayo comes in.
“He’s a very intelligent football player,” said Belichick. “He understands schemes and concepts. He runs the defense, makes the calls, makes adjustments, all those kind of things. I think he has a lot to offer.”
Mayo won over Belichick by offering some of his thoughts on the game during a pre-draft visit with the club.
“I had a great visit when I came down there,” said Mayo on a conference call with the Boston media. “The coaches and I sat down and talked football for a long time. I felt like we clicked. I’m just excited. I can’t even explain it. I’m pretty much speechless.”
Mayo found enough words to express his surprise at going as high as he did.
“I was definitely surprised,” he said. “This is a winning organization and for them to have a pick this high surprised me, I’m just overwhelmed, but I’m ready to get to New England and play for a great coach and a great team.”
Mayo was projected to go later in the first round, and the Pats felt safe that they could drop a few spots and still get him. So they dealt the seventh overall pick, along with a fifth-rounder (164th overall), to New Orleans for the 10th pick and a third-round selection (No. 78).
They might have been able to swing another deal to drop down even further, but the Pats weren’t willing to take the risk of losing a shot at Mayo.
Fortunately for the Pats, they were able to find a willing trading partner in the Saints, staying within their comfort zone to land Mayo while adding a third-round pick and lessening the cap hit for the linebacker by getting him three spots later.
It took some work get that all done. With the time for picks in the first round reduced to 10 minutes this year, the Pats had to lay the groundwork for this deal before the draft even started.
“We did a little bit of prep work with the New Orleans trade (Friday) night and a little bit before we were on the clock,” Belichick said. “Things did go a little bit quicker than in the past, which is fine. But I’m glad we got that (prep work) done. I felt that trade is one that will help our football team and we feel good about that.”
The Saints were feeling pretty good too, as they were able to move up for the defensive lineman they coveted, taking USC’s Sedrick Ellis at No. 7. Ellis still being available when the Pats’ turn came was just the carrot Belichick needed to dangle to complete the deal.
“We kind of anticipated a scenario,” Belichick said. “New Orleans certainly was looking for Sedrick Ellis. That was no big secret. When he was still on the board there, that kind of led to the next step of going through with that trade.”
With the trade in the books, Belichick could turn his attention to grabbing the guy he wanted at 10. Selecting a linebacker that high may have been uncharacteristic of Belichick, but everything else about Mayo fits the Patriot mold perfectly.
New England has prized versatility in all of its players, and Mayo has experience playing both inside and outside linebacker at Tennessee. The Volunteers even use a 3-4 package at time in addition to their usual 4-3 base defense.
“He’s got some versatility,” Belichick said. “He played at a high level of competition in the SEC. He played against all the best players in the country.”
The Pats have mined the Southeastern Athletic Conference for talent many times before, with the likes of Richard Seymour (Georgia) and Jarvis Green (LSU) already entrenched in New England’s defensive front seven.
“That’s pretty much the minor league for the NFL,” said Mayo of playing in the SEC. “But at the same time the NFL is a whole new game. The game-speed changes. Everybody’s good. It’s more of a mental thing I think. Hopefully it won’t be a major adjustment for me.”
The Pats are counting on Mayo making a quick adjustment and contributing right away. Mayo thinks he can make an immediate impact.
“I’m really confident,” said Mayo. “When people hear ‘contribution’ they think this guy’s going to come in and win defensive rookie of the year and things like that. That’s a goal of mine, but at the same time you can make a contribution on special teams. That’s one-third of the game.”
Defense is another huge element in the game. And realizing the need for help on that side of the ball helped make the decision to grab a linebacker so high easy for Belichick, though he didn’t see the selection as such a major departure from his draft philosophy.
“He’s one of the better linebackers we’ve seen in a while,” Belichick said. “But we haven’t been picking at this point of the draft either. But I’m glad we were picking where we were and for the right reasons. Sure, there have been other good players coming through in the last couple years, but really we were so far away from where they were getting picked it wasn’t much of a consideration.”
That wasn’t the case with Mayo. This time, the Pats were positioned to take the guy they wanted. It just so happened he came at a position they needed.
Leave it to Belichick to get his way, even when he’s not doing it his usual way.
Douglas Flynn covers the Patriots for the Daily News. He can be reached at 508-626-4405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.