Fit to be paid

Often as not, the key to success in the National Football League is finding the right situation. It appears the three former Tennessee Vols who were selected in last weekend's NFL Draft have done just that.

Linebacker Jerod Mayo, first-round pick of the New England Patriots, seems to have landed in the perfect situation. The Pats' four starting linebackers are all in their 30s. Junior Seau (38) may not be back for 2008-09. Teddy Bruschi (35), Mike Vrabel (33) and Adalius Thomas (31) aren't exactly spring chickens, either.

New England, which plays a 3-4 defense that utilizes four linebackers, supposedly views Mayo as Seau's heir-apparent at one inside 'backer spot. Seau recorded 74 tackles last season and is starting to show his age. Bruschi, the other ILB, posted a team-high 92 tackles last season. Eric Alexander (18 tackles in 2007-08) is the only other inside linebacker on the team's preseason depth chart.

Although New England drafted two other linebackers last weekend – third-round selection Shawn Crable of Michigan and fifth-round selection Bo Ruud of Nebraska – Mayo already appears to be penciled in as a possible starter for 2008-09. A recent blog on ProFootballWeekly.com reports: "According to one team insider, Mayo is an odds-on favorite to win one of the two starting ILB jobs by the season opener."

Former Vol tight end Brad Cottam appears in great shape to make immediate impact in the NFL, as well, after being selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in Round 3 last weekend.

The Chiefs boast one of the game's premier tight ends in Tony Gonzalez, but he's a 12-year veteran who doesn't stretch the field the way he once did. Still, he caught 99 passes last season, averaged 9.9 yards per catch and scored five touchdowns.

Cottam has a great chance to be the team's No. 2 tight end right away. Other than Gonzalez, the only other tight ends on the Chiefs' current roster are Michael Allen (a seventh-round draft pick in 2007), plus free agents John Paul Foschi, Joe Lobdell and Michael Merritt. None of them caught a pass for KC last season.

Finally, former UT quarterback Erik Ainge has a good shot to latch on with the New York Jets, who selected him in Round 5 last weekend. That's because Ainge shows a knack for avoiding the sack. He was sacked just three times in 2007. That's got to weigh heavily in his favor on a Jets team whose quarterbacks were sacked a whopping 53 times last season.

New York basically split the QB duties a year ago between nine-year veteran Chad Pennington and third-year man Kellen Clemens. Pennington completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 1765 yards with 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. His passer-efficiency rating was a solid 86.1.

Clemens, on the other hand, completed just 52 percent of his passes last season for 1529 yards. He threw five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His passer-efficiency rating was 60.9.


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