Jerod Mayo came to the Patriots as the tenth overall pick in the 2008 draft. The Patriots drafted Mayo less than three months after a painful loss to the Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl. Mayo was drafted to come to the Patriots to play beside Tedy Bruschi and learn the ropes from a veteran Patriot great. Mayo just needed to watch and learn while helping out as much as he could on a team that was nearly perfect a season earlier.
Mayo performed very well in his first season with the Patriots and he won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008. The vote was not close. Mayo garnered 49 out of 50 votes for the award that year. He had answered the draft pundits that criticized the Patriots for taking him 10th overall in the 2008 draft with an excellent rookie campaign. He was a tackling machine in 2008 and he is again in 2010. Mayo currently leads the NFL in tackles with 96.
However, Mayo has long been criticized for his inability to play solid pass defense. In fact, that was the major knock on Mayo coming out of college. He was not used very often on 3rd down when playing at the University of Tennessee because he was not very good in pass coverage. Bruschi took care of the majority of the pass coverage in Mayo’s rookie season and that allowed Mayo to roam free and make a lot of tackles. Now Mayo is the lead middle linebacker and the Patriots defense currently stands at 32nd in the NFL on 3rd down. They allow an alarming 48% of 3rd downs to be converted by opposing offenses (the Giants lead the NFL at 29%).
Many NFL experts look at Mayo’s tackle total and immediately see a Pro Bowl caliber linebacker. I would agree with that assessment but it’s hard to not draw the comparison between Mayo’s weak pass coverage abilities and the poor 3rd down performance for the Patriots. The defense seems to get torched over the middle week after week. Now this is not entirely Mayo’s fault. The injury to Chung seems to have really hurt this defense and Spikes is not very good in pass coverage either. It’s difficult for me to call Jerod Mayo a Superstar though. He can tackle, there is no doubt about that, but what good does that do the Patriots if many of his tackles take place after he has blown a pass coverage and the opposing team converts a 1st down? To me, a Superstar has to be among the best in the NFL at their position and Mayo is clearly in the conversation for top middle linebackers. A Superstar also has to be a playmaker. A Superstar has to be able to do everything that is required of them at an elite level. Mayo has a glaring weakness in pass coverage ability. He also doesn’t get to rush the quarterback very often, therefore, he doesn’t get the chance to get many big sacks. A Superstar steps up and makes great plays game after game. Mayo doesn’t do that.
Obviously Mayo is only in his 3rd year and time will tell if he can become a Superstar, but for now, he is a quiet tackling machine. A tackling machine that the Patriots are happy to have, but when Spikes, another tackling machine, lines up next to him, it leaves the Patriots with a glaring weakness on 3rd down. For now, Jerod Mayo is no Superstar much to the chagrin of Patriots fans. When Mayo blossoms into the Superstar that all Patriots fans know he can be, this defense will be considerably better and the Patriots will be back in the conversation for top 1 or 2 teams in the NFL.