Everyone knew the Patriots would probably trade down from their spot at No. 7. Nobody knew it would be for linebackerJerod Mayo.
But that's exactly what the Patriots did when faced with their first top-10 pick in seven years, and once again Bill Belichick came away with the value he was looking for.
The Patriots could have used their No. 7 pick in a variety of ways.Sedrick Ellis, a talented defensive tackle out of USC, was available and based on talks the Pats braintrust had with New Orleans the night before they knew the Saints were interested. Taking Ellis themselves wouldn't have been a terrible move, but rather than pay another defensive lineman big bucks, the Patriots chose to move down a few spots.
The savings won't be huge, but swapping with New Orleans and moving to 10 did put a few bucks back in the team's pockets while also adding another third-round pick (No. 78) while only surrendering a fifth-rounder (No. 154). By doing so, they were able to select a player they felt was good value while also filling a much bigger need. And they added to that by taking Terrence Wheatley, a cornerback out of Colorado, with their second-round pick, filling their two biggest positional needs.
New England also could have moved up, which was a possibility according to some. Various reports indicated the Jets at six and the Patriots were interested in trading with Kansas City to move up to five. The Chiefs sat tight and took LSU's mammoth defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, a player some felt was as talented as any in this draft. Also, outside linebacker Vernon Gholston, who ultimately went to the Jets at six, could have been the object of their affection.
Those scenarios all would have cost the team more – both in money and picks – than the direction they chose. Time will tell if the 6-1, 242-pound Mayo, an athletic linebacker out of Tennessee, manages to provide the youth and speed the New England defense sorely lacks. But there's no denying that Belichick needed to make an attempt to fill that void, and he did.
"He has some versatility and he played against a very high level of competition," Belichick said shortly after making the pick. "He's one of the better linebackers we've seen in a while."
That's what makes this move so pleasing. Mayo represents a lot of things the Patriots defense has lacked over the past couple of seasons. For all the success the team has achieved – and they've been a whisker away from winning back-to-back Super Bowls – they've done it with an aging defense that ultimately has failed to get the job done at the biggest junctures of the season.
Two years ago the season came to an end in Indy when the defense was powerless to keep the Colts out of the end zone with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Last year in the Super Bowl, despite a subpar game from the record-setting offense, the Patriots were one stop away from their fourth title. The Giants needed a touchdown and had to go the length of the field to get it. They were playing against an 18-0 team looking to make history, and one that had an air of invincibility that seemed to be worth as much in intimidation as their actual talent.
Despite all those factors the defense couldn't get the job done, and the main reason for that was an increasingly slow core group of players that needed to be invigorated with talent. Enter Mayo and his 4.6 speed and versatility to play a variety of spots.
Mayo was the heart of Vols defense playing in the dynamic Southeastern Conference, considered to be the deepest and most athletic conference in college football. Facing the likes of Florida, Georgia, Auburn and LSU on a weekly basis, Mayo stood out as a playmaker in a playmaking conference.
Athletically he'll be able to fit in immediately inside with Tedy Bruschi and free agent newcomer Victor Hobson. Depending on the rookie's learning curve, which could be considerable in Belichick's complicated 3-4 sets, Mayo could see significant time right away in a three-man rotation.
Belichick said Mayo was an extremely bright player who made all the calls for the Vols defense and had a high aptitude for the game. If that proves correct, it might make Junior Seau's decision on whether to return much easier. And if the ageless chooses to return, Belichick will suddenly have some depth a position that has sorely lacked it in the recent past.