In the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft the New England Patriots selected Illinois safety Tavon Wilson with the 48th overall pick. To say this pick was a reach initially sounds like a huge understatement. The earliest Wilson was projected to go was 180th overall. I took Wilson off my final draft board after having him listed as a late round pick during the 2011 regular season because Wilson struggled against quality tight ends in the Big 10 like Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner, Michigan tight end Kevin Koger, and Michigan State tight end Brian Linthicum in zone coverage at times when watching his tape.
It’s pretty obvious that I am on the fence with the Patriots’ second round pick. Patriots fans can decide this pick for themselves as I point out a few things you probably did not know about Wilson.
Wilson has been starting at safety for Illinois since his sophomore season in 2009. Practicing against former teammate Michael Hoomanawanui, a 2010 4th round pick at tight end for the St. Louis Rams helped Wilson assert his safety role in 2010 and 2011 following Hoomanawanui’s departure. Hoomanawanui could end up facing Wilson again on a play or two when the Patriots meet the Rams in London this season.
In 2009, Wilson managed to record 74 total tackles which was a 3rd best on the team in 2009. Wilson led Illinois with 7 pass breakups in 2009. Another noticeable achievement for Wilson was his 10 solo tackles against Northwestern.
Wilson’s tackling regressed in 2010. Wilson only had 48 total tackles that year. Wilson did have 2 tackles for a loss and 8 pass breakups for Illinois. Wilson showed some flash while displaying ability to create turnovers. Wilson also recorded an interception and two fumble recoveries. Wilson had 7 tackles and a pass breakup when Robert Griffin III threw a pass Wilson’s way in a 2010 Texas Bowl win over Baylor.
Wilson was suspect in zone coverage at times in 2011, but he did finish with 81 total team tackles while being voted team captain for Illinois.
Some mocked Wilson’s pass rushing teammate Whitney Mercilus to New England in round 1 of the 2012 NFL Draft. Only four pass defenses in college football held opponents to under 160 passing yards in 2011. Alabama, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Illinois were those four pass defenses. Wilson was the best player on Illinois’ secondary.
Belichick may have been intrigued by Wilson’s active leadership role and versatility as a safety to play either free safety or strong safety. New England probably went to Illinois’ pro day just to gather final impressions on Mercilus. The Patriots probably took a huge liking to Wilson as well during Illinois’ pro day. That probably influenced New England to take Wilson this early.
I am going to give the Patriots a B- grade. I initially doubted the pick. After doing more extensive research on Wilson, it’s easy to see why the Patriots organization has taken such a huge liking to Wilson. You cannot completely fault the Patriots front office for this pick since safety was one of the Patriots more pressing needs.