At a time when highly regarded defensive backs like Vanderbilt's Casey Hayward, Central Florida's Josh Robinson and Montana's Trumaine Johnson were still on the board, the New England Patriots took a leap of faith—drafting Illinois safety Tavon Wilson at pick No. 48.
According to ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss, "the 22-year-old Wilson was rated as the 24th safety by ESPN's Scouts Inc., considered more of a free agent than a draft pick."
The selection left NFL draft experts completely stumped.
Leave it to Belichick to draft 1st player I know nothing about. Not afraid to admit it. Did not study him on film. Anxious to see him.— Greg Cosell (@gregcosell) April 28, 2012
However, there's a reason why the Patriots reached for the Fighting Illini defensive back. He brings versatility to the table in his ability to play left cornerback, right cornerback, in the slot, safety and special teams.
He was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, but Wilson is blessed with impressive tangibles. He's thick at 6'0", 205 pounds, and he ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at Illinois' pro day.
“I watched every rep of it,” Wilson said of the combine workouts. “I took it all in. Tried to watch what those guys did, as far as their technique and stuff. Watched their times and just tried to go out there and compete against those guys and tried to make my times better. It was definitely motivating."
A team captain in 2011, Wilson is a high-character locker room presence and a three-year starter. During his collegiate career, the Washington, D.C. native switched between corner and safety because he felt it was in the team's best interest.
Wilson's team-first mentality may have lifted him above someone like Boise State's George Iloka—who is reportedly difficult to coach. As an unselfish player, it seems as though Wilson has already bought in to the "Patriot way."
At age one, Wilson's father was murdered, and when he was 12, his mother drowned in a pool. These humble beginnings have given way to a well-rounded young man who can overcome the most difficult of obstacles.
"I overcame a lot of things in my life," Wilson told NESN.com's Jeff Howe. "And that's the reason why I'm here today, and some of the reasons why I am the person I am today."
CBSSports.com projected Wilson as a sixth- or seventh-round choice. But if the draft is any indication, head coach Bill Belichick marches to the beat of his own drum. Belichick does not care what Mel Kiper Jr. or Todd McShay think. He had Wilson as a second-round value who could contribute early.