The Patriots shocked the draftniks by taking Illinois DB Tavon Wilson with the 48th overall selection. Wilson was not invited to any of the main post-season events and turned down an invitation to a showing right after his Pro Day. Wilson stands at 6'0, 205 lbs, runs a 4.5 40, 4.16 20 shuttle, 7.04 three cone, has a 10'4 broad jump and a 32 inch vertical. Athletically, he falls in line with the top safeties in the draft.
Wilson played in 50 games while at Illinois, starting 39 of them. He played both safety positions and played inside and outside at cornerback. He filled his role on defense as the team needed him and was willing and able to play whatever the coaches asked of him. He was a team captain this past season.
2008: 12 games (1 start), ST + CB, 11 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PBU
2009: 12 games (12 starts), ST + CB, 74 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 7 PBU, 1 INT
2010: 13 games (13 starts), ST + S, 48 tackles, 2 TFL, 8 PBU, 1 INT, 2 FR
2011: 13 games (13 starts), ST + CB + S, 81 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1 Sack, 6 PBU, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 FR
Both Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio Director of College Scouting Jon Robinson worked out Wilson at Illinois. Seven teams worked out Wilson and one of them, San Diego, was picking next. Belichick must have believed that the Chargers were interested in Wilson, or else they would have most likely waited. By selecting Wilson at 48, the Patriots were left with one more pick, which severely reduced their leverage in trading picks.
Here are three games to watch (Wilson is #3):
2010: Illinois vs Missouri - Wilson plays a lot of safety and is rarely challenged. Going through, it seems Wilson is really only challenged once and it's a reception for 6 yards. Other than that, Blaine Gabbert doesn't really throw at his half of the field. While that could be a result of the other side being much weaker, I'm sure Wilson always being in the right position would deter some bolder throws. So while Wilson never really changes the game with a play, he effectively removes the deep ball from his half of the field- something the Patriots really need to do in the future.
2011: Illinois vs Michigan - Michigan runs the triple option quite a bit, so it's slightly more difficult to evaluate Wilson. He's clearly willing to help out in run defense, but you can see how he might not have the speed to be a cornerback. He is able to cut through blockers, if in space, and is able to hold the point against receivers and tight ends, but he struggles to disengage if blocked.
2011: Illinois vs Arizona State - Flashes his versatility against quarterback Brock Osweiler. Osweiler gets the best of Wilson a fair amount of times, which leads me to think that Wilson's best spot in the NFL is safety. He's willing to get involved in the slot role, which is what Belichick wants from his safeties.
Here's a summary of what I believe:
Versatile, plays both safety positions and all corner positions
Able to shed blocking tight ends to make a play against the run
Willing and very able to stop the run
Covers tight ends frequently
Adds ST value as a gunner and a jammer
Squares up against the ball carrier to slow them down and either makes the play, or allows another player to. and won't be faked out
Leader of the secondary and directed the players
Experienced and respected. Two time Honorable Mention Big 10, two time Illinois Outstanding Defensive Back, Illinois' Big Ten Sportsman Award honoree
Needs to turn his head better (or might be better fit at safety)
Takes false steps when he plants from his backpedal
Lacks cornerback speed on the deep ball
Not a big play maker
Inability to stick tight with a receiver in press coverage
Wilson doesn't look to be a game changer like Ed Reed. However, he looks like a solid, reliable player with a bunch of athletic upside. He's versatile and can fill a lot of holes on the Patriots defense. While I definitely question the value of the selection, if Belichick thought that Wilson was to be drafted by the Chargers, I won't question him.
Since Wilson does everything well, but nothing spectacularly (yet), I see Wilson developing into a more physical and athletic James Sanders, except a stronger run defender. He'll be a positive presence in the locker room, and I wouldn't be surprised if Wilson was drafted to be the next Sanders for Belichick.