NEW YORK -- 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 in tackles.
"I knew when they first called my name at the draft I was going to an organization that knew how to win," Mayo said. "They knew how to prepare for games and things like that. So I pretty much came in trying to learn as much as I could."
Mayo's versatility, highlighted by quickness and a physical style, made him stand out even though the Patriots didn't make the playoffs.
"My main focus coming to here (was) I wanted to win the Super Bowl as a rookie," he said. "I thank the AP for the award but I would trade it in for a Super Bowl any day."
Mayo led the Patriots with 139 tackles, according to their coaches' calculations after reviewing game tapes. The NFL credited Mayo with 128 based on statistics compiled on the day of the games.
"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."
Mayo, a star at Tennessee, expected to be drafted in the middle of the first round. But when the Patriots took him earlier, "I was overwhelmed, excited and emotions were running over," he said.
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.
"I was just trying to fly around and make plays and, at the end of the day, the stat sheet said 23 tackles," Mayo said, "but we caught a loss so I was pretty disappointed. I really couldn't celebrate that accomplishment like I wanted to."
He credited veteran linebackers Tedy Bruschi, who also plays inside, and Mike Vrabel, who lines up outside, with helping him.
"Those guys really took me under their wing and showed me the ropes on how to be a professional on and off the field," Mayo said.
When Bruschi, 35, and Vrabel, 33, retire, Mayo is confident that he'll be ready to be the defensive leader. He's already made progress toward that goal.
"Jerod's taken his leadership up," 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 said even after Bruschi was sidelined with knee issues, he kept the longtime star's advice at hand. He received text messages while Bruschi missed the last three games.
"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.
"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 said. "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 won in 1976.
Last year's winner was 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press