Heading into the offseason there were some questions about University of Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo's placement in the 2008 NFL Draft. Entering the draft after his junior season, Mayo played just 32 games (26 starts) during his college career. In those games he recorded 236 tackles (137 solo), which included his 140 tackles (79 solo) last year. These numbers came despite missing significant five games during the 2005 season with a knee injury. During his three-year career with the Volunteers, Mayo showed some versatility as he shifted from outside to middle linebacker during his junior season.
However good those stats were, Mayo has used the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine and Tennessee's Pro Day workout to catch up to the top linebackers in the draft. His 40-yard dash was a blazing 4.54, which surprised some scouts. He measured out at 6-foot-1 1/4, 242 pounds and is one of the more physically gifted linebackers in the draft. He may not have had the career of Penn State linebacker Dan Connor, but Mayo's potential is what has teams interested.
Mayo is a standout physical athlete. He is not top-heavy, but instead has good all-around thickness, a well-built frame and long arms. However, he also has speed to go along with his size. At the combine he blew scouts away with a 4.54 40-yard dash and a 40 1/2-inch vertical jump. His strength was also solid as he bench pressed 225 pounds 22 times at his Pro Day. With his combination of speed and strength, Mayo has great range and burst at the line of scrimmage.
Mayo also has the versatility to play at any of the linebacker positions. He makes his best tackles in the open field and is a stronger playmaker when he can get away from double teams and work in one-on-one situations. He can also shift inside where his intelligence and natural ability peg him as a leader. He has the sideline-to-sideline speed to cover the whole field but is more than willing to take on blockers straight up and can lay punishing hits on opposing backs.
His speed allows him to get good depth in zone coverage, and he is adept in identifying pass plays at the snap. He also does a decent job in man coverage as he is able to change direction well and can play the ball in the air.
Physical tools are not all that makes him stand out. Mayo is a tireless worker on and off the field and spends extra time studying film. He has no problem translating what he learns in the film room on to the field. He was the leader of the defense at Tennessee and can call defensive signals.
Work ethic, speed and intelligence might be there, but Mayo could still improve on a few aspects of his game. He needs to be a stronger tackler, especially in wrapping players up. Too often he tends to take sides or lead with the shoulder instead of wrapping up. This allows some ball carriers to break free and get by him. It is something that could get worse against bigger and stronger players in the NFL. He may need to add some bulk to his frame if he wants to hold up well in the running game.
He also needs to do a better job shedding blocks. He doesn't use his hands well and can be taken out of the play too easily, especially if faced with a double team or a bigger offensive lineman. This is more of a problem when he lines up inside as he will generally be facing bigger blockers. His somewhat underdeveloped lower-body strength keeps him from effectively anchoring against these larger linemen and can get driven back. It affects him on the blitz as well as he works better when rushing from the edge, where he can use his speed and rush directly at the quarterback rather than fighting through blocks.
He may have decent size, but there are some worries as to how Mayo will stand up to the pounding he'll take in the NFL. He suffered a right knee sprain in his first season with the Volunteers that knocked him out for one game. He returned for three games before undergoing surgery on the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee and missing the team's final four games. Knee problems again came up last year when he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in January 2007. A pectoral strain also kept him from participating in the bench press at the combine. These durability issues are huge flags for prospective teams, who wouldn't want to waste a high pick on a player that won't see the field.
Expected Draft Placement
Depending on the team that drafts him, Mayo could line up at outside linebacker until he puts on additional bulk or he could move inside right away. His football intelligence should help him adapt quickly to whatever kind of defense he works in. He has been a player on the rise in recent weeks and has been mentioned as high as 12th overall to the Denver Broncos, though they have other needs. The Detroit Lions are in need of a quality linebacker at the No. 15 position, but they too have many other areas that could be addressed. Other possibilities include the Philadelphia Eagles (No. 19), San Francisco 49ers (No. 29) and New York Giants - all of whom could use an upgrade at the linebacker position.
About Bryce McRae
Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.
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