In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft (April 26-27), BR.com will offer a look into the top prospects by position. This week, linebackers take the spotlight. Tennessee's Jerod Mayo is Wednesday's featured player.
In 14 games last year, Ray Lewis averaged a whopping 13 tackles. Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo wasn't too far behind.
The first-round draft prospect was all over the field for the Volunteers in 2007, where he racked up 10 tackles per game, en route to 140 stops on the season. A 6-foot-1, 242-pounder, Mayo is in the mold of No. 52 - stout, smart and relentless sideline-to-sideline.
While some draftniks slot Mayo with outside linebackers, where he saw action in 17 games from 2005-06 and amassed 96 tackles on the weak side, even he admits that a shift inside was welcome.
"I'm pretty flexible. My first two years at the University of Tennessee, I played outside linebacker," Mayo explained at the NFL Combine. "This year due to team needs, I moved into the middle. After the first three games, I had to make a few adjustments, but I became settled and kind of enjoyed it."
Not only did Mayo go on to register the most stops in Tennessee history since 1990 - including 21 behind the line of scrimmage - anchoring the Volunteers' defense, he firmly planted himself on NFL radars as one of the top linebackers in the country.
An All-American and All-SEC selection, Mayo only boosted his draft hopes with a notable showing at the Combine. In Indianapolis, the 22-year-old ran an impressive 4.54-second 40, third-fastest among all linebackers, and a fifth-best 32-inch vertical.
Perhaps more importantly, Mayo was able to separate himself an at an event where USC's Keith Rivers and Penn State's Dan Connor, the two other 'backers thought to be first-round talents, opted out of the workouts because of an ankle injury and the flu, respectively.
The main question about Mayo, aside from positioning him inside or outside, is his injury history. Although he was steady on the field, Mayo played through a rash of injuries, even undergoing surgeries to his left and right lateral collateral ligaments through his three-year career.
The Hampton, Va. native was quick to deflect any focus from his bumps and bruises.
"My knees are great," Mayo said. "I've done all the physicals and things like that. The doctors are telling me good things, and hopefully it could stay that way. It was little injuries."
Still, Mayo had enough confidence in his abilities that he decided to forego his final year of eligibility at Tennessee.
After three years (and a redshirt 2004 campaign), Mayo certainly went out on a high note. The underclassman was prolific on and off the field, earning a degree in sports management with a minor in business to go along with his boatload of tackles.
"That was my ultimate goal going to the University of Tennessee," he said. "The opportunity presented itself to come out this year, and that's what I chose to do."
Now, the choice is up to NFL teams to see if this tackling machine is worth a first-round pick. Mayo shouldn't be in the top-10, but he is confident he won't be too far behind.
"I can improve in certain aspects of my game, spot drops and things like that," he humbly stated. "But at the end of the day, I feel like I am a pretty solid linebacker."