Somewhat surprisingly, one Patriots linebacker that seems to have fallen a bit under the radar this offseason is Jerod Mayo. While his teammates continue to get accolades and honors on lists such as the NFL's Top 100, Jerod Mayo hasn't gotten much attention - if any.
After a ridiculous 175 tackle, dominating 2010 campaign that resulted in him being named first-team All-Pro, Mayo fell a bit off the map in 2011. He was projected to have an increased impact as a playmaker when the Patriots switched to the 4-3 last season (and he subsequently moved to weak-side linebacker). However, Mayo got off to a slow start to the season and was slowed even further when he injured his MCL against the Raiders early in October. While Mayo did show signs of improvement near the end of the regular season and into the playoffs (also made his first two career interceptions), it was obvious he was not the same player as he was in 2010.
All of this being said, what can we expect from Mayo in 2012?
Personally, I fully expect Jerod Mayo to return to 2010 form next year. Lets not forget that Mayo struggled in 2009 when he suffered a similar MCL injury to the one he suffered last year. Without a doubt, Mayo was playing hurt last year. If he's healthy in 2012, I expect to see him improve simply because of that.
I also think that Jerod Mayo has gone under-the-radar a bit due to the lack of big plays that he makes on defense. While his sack numbers have improved and he finally made his first career interceptions in 2011, I just don't think he'll ever make the big-time plays that a player such as Ray Lewis has made consistently over his career (or a player such as Brandon Spikes has shown flashes of being able to make).
That being said, I don't think that his lack of playmaking ability diminishes who he is as a player, even if his "ceiling" as a playmaker has been reached. Jerod Mayo is the consummate professional and unquestioned leader of the Patriots defense (next to Vince Wilfork) - he works every day not only to improve himself, but his teammates around him. He's athletic, versatile, and has an extremely high football intelligence that is constantly praised by Bill Belichick.
Although I do think that the Patriots could make Mayo into a bigger playmaker by taking better advantage of his athleticism in the 4-3, I don't think that it's necessary for him to be great. If Mayo can stay healthy, I fully expect him to bounce back in 2012, while also helping to develop the young and explosive front seven of the Patriots. While he may never win multiple DPOY awards, Jerod Mayo could very well be the most valuable piece of the Patriots' defense in 2012 and beyond. In all my years covering the Patriots, I don't think I've ever seen a Patriots player buy into the "Patriot Way" quite like Mayo has.
Put it this way: There's a reason that Bill Belichick recently signed Jerod Mayo to the richest contract for a linebacker in Patriots history (signed a five year extension with the team last December). Such a contract comes with big expectations. I fully believe he will play up to those expectations in 2012.
Lets open this up to discussion: What are your expectations for Jerod Mayo heading into 2012 and how do you think he will produce?