NEW YORK (AP) - Jerod Mayo firmly answered everyone who criticized the Patriots for taking him with the 10th pick in April's draft by winning The Associated Press 2008 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Mayo was a nearly unanimous choice, earning 49 of 50 votes Wednesday from a nationwide panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the league. He was the outstanding performer on a linebacking corps that often struggled during New England's 11-5 season, leading the team with 137 tackles.
Mayo's versatility, highlighted by quickness and a physical style, made him stand out even though the Patriots didn't make the playoffs.
"Jerod's done a lot for us," coach Bill Belichick said. "We've asked a lot of him and from Day 1 he's really been a well-prepared, very mature player who can do a lot of things: play the running game, play in the passing game, blitz, helps us in the kicking game.
"He's smart, makes a lot of defensive adjustments and calls for us there. He runs well. He's tough. He's a good all-around football player, very mature, very professional. For a rookie, he's probably as professional as anybody I've coached."
The sixth straight linebacker to win the award, Mayo was a starter all season. Seven times he led the Patriots in tackles, with five games of at least 10 stops. His best work came in a 34-31 overtime loss to the Jets when he finished with 23 tackles, 17 solo. The 23 tackles were the most by a Patriot since 1994.
"Jerod's taken his leadership up," veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "I think he came in as a rookie and obviously learned the playbook and learned everything in and out and physically can go out there and make any play that we needed him to."
Mayo learned well from Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and the other New England linebackers. And if the veterans' performances slipped this year, Mayo made up for much of it with his dynamic play.
He said even after Bruschi was sidelined with knee issues, he kept the longtime star's advice at hand.
"Yeah. Ever since I came in on the first day Tedy has taken me under his wing and showed me the ropes," Mayo said. "He's like an older brother to me."
The only other defensive rookie to get a vote was Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers. Of course, the rookie crop was far deeper on offense this year.
But that doesn't diminish Mayo's work.
"He's very, very fast, very physical, he runs around (and) makes a bunch of plays for them," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of the former Tennessee star.
"As a rookie, to come in and to step up to the plate and basically been thrown into the fire, I think he's handled it pretty well," Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork added. "He's one heck of a player and he's going to get better and better as time rolls on."
Mayo is the second Patriot to win the award; defensive back Mike Haynes got it in 1976.
Last year's winner was 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis.