No. 10 overall in the 2008 NFL draft returned to the organization that picked him last week.
That title remains unofficial. But Mayo, now 33, unofficially served as one during his nine seasons on the depth chart. The defensive rookie of the year was a team captain by 2009. He was a first-team All-Pro by 2010 and the league’s leader with 175 tackles. And while Mayo’s final three seasons ended on injured reserve with pectoral and patellar tears, the green dot of communication proved instrumental in the growth of eventual Pro Bowl linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.
“Nobody works harder than Jerod does.”
That quote became ubiquitous for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. But what did Belichick have to say about Mayo, a first-team All-SEC selection out of Tennessee, before the work began?
Let’s turn back to April 26, 2008 in the Patriots.com transcript archives.
“Whipping things right along, we are excited to have Jerod join our organization,” Belichick said in his press conference that Saturday, after New England moved from No. 7 to No. 10 overall in a trade with the New Orleans Saints. “He is a pretty versatile player, did a lot of things down at Tennessee. Played inside, played outside, played in sub defense, played in the kicking game. He is a smart kid, runs well, pretty physical player and I think he will be a great addition to our football team. Where that fits, we will have to wait and see and how that goes with all the other players on our team.”
The Saints ended up taking USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis three slots before the Patriots took Mayo. As part of the swap, New England also sent a fifth-round selection to New Orleans and received a third-rounder in return.
That capital would later be used on Nebraska offensive tackle Carl Nicks and Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable, respectively.
Belichick continued his introduction on Mayo.
“He has some versatility and has played at a high level and against some great players in the SEC,” Belichick told reporters. “He has played against a lot of the best players in the country. I thought he did a real good job. We were on the clock at seven, the timing, we did a little bit of prep work with the New Orleans trade last night and a little bit before we were on the clock. Things did go a little bit quicker than they had in the past. I’m glad we got that done. I felt that that trade was one that would help our football team. I feel good about that.”
Mayo was the second linebacker taken that weekend, one slot after the Cincinnati Bengals went with USC’s Keith Rivers, who ultimately finished second in the AP polls for defensive rookie of the year while Mayo garnered the other 49 votes.
“He had a very good combine workout but he was the guy, I think that everyone that scouted the SEC, our scouts that scouted that conference knew about him,” Belichick said of Mayo. “He was a very productive player down there for Tennessee and has been for a couple of years now.”
Mayo had moved to middle linebacker and started every game for Tennessee in 2007. He posted 140 tackles, the most by a Volunteer since Earnest Fields in 1990, while serving as the defensive co-captain.
Then, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior declared and clocked the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine.
“He had a good workout and he was a productive player in every game,” added Belichick. “He is a versatile guy. We brought him up visited with him. He’s very intelligent player. He’s a good football player. He’s smart. He understands schemes and concepts. He runs the defense, makes the calls, makes adjustments and all those things. I think that he has a lot to offer.”
Veterans Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel were among those residing in the linebacker room during Mayo’s first year with the Patriots. The 22-year-old would go on to be the bridge.
“He is one of the better linebackers we have seen in a while,” Belichick said. “You know, we haven’t been picking at this point in the draft, either.”