As the NFL hiring cycle kicks into high gear, not every outstanding head coaching candidate is a household name.
But New England Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo is not a secret in NFL circles.
As a Patriots linebacker, Mayo approached the game with speed, toughness and intelligence as he delivered punishing tackles for coach Bill Belichick.
Known for haunting darkened film rooms, Mayo immediately earned the respect of a veteran Patriots team and was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008.
He became an All-Pro linebacker and a Patriots' all-decade selection before retiring after eight seasons because of injuries.
Now Mayo, 35, is emerging as a rising star in NFL coaching circles. Many predict a fast rise from his current job to ultimately becoming a head coach.
"Jerod is a strong leader of men," one NFL source said. "He's incredibly smart with outstanding emotional intelligence and knowledge. I wouldn't bet against him becoming a head coach very soon and being very successful. Jerod is a high-character person capable of energizing a franchise."
Finishing his third season of coaching after retiring in 2016 and working in the financial sector and as a media analyst, Mayo could follow a similar fast track that another former Patriots linebacker, Mike Vrabel, traveled from Houston Texans defensive coordinator and linebackers coach to head coach of the Tennessee Titans.
"I think Mayo will be an unbelievable head coach because he learned from the best coach (Belichick) to ever coach and he ran a defense as a rookie that has so many levels of complexity to it," said former Patriots and Texans nose tackle Vince Wilfork. "It's just a matter of time when his number will be called."
As a player, Mayo became known for his prodigious and unusual work ethic. He rarely took a day off, showing up in Foxborough at the team facility for extra workouts and film sessions on his own, even when coaches weren't at Gillette Stadium.
"While it was quite spectacular what Jerod did as a player, I think he'd be a great head coach," former Patriots offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer said. "When he was hired as an assistant, I told my wife: 'He's going to either be a coordinator or a head coach in three years.' The impact that guy has, it's really hard to describe.
"He has learned from the best and can put his own style and stamp on it. If he does anything close to what he's done as a man and a player and an assistant coach and can translate that into being a head coach, that would be phenomenal. Nothing Jerod does would surprise me."
Here are four other coaches who could emerge as head-coaching candidates this year or in the future:
Indianapolis Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone
A former Patriots safety and special teams standout, Ventrone just finished his fourth season running the Colts' special teams. Known for his high-energy style and leadership qualities, Ventrone is already on the radar of several NFL franchises as someone on their short list of future head coaching candidates.
Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett
Hackett flies a bit below the radar because Packers coach Matt LaFleur is directly involved in running the offense. However, Hackett is instrumental in operating the offense headlined by star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the favorite for NFL Most Valuable Player. Hackett isn't exactly being ignored. He's a known commodity to NFL decision-makers and the Jacksonville Jaguars officially requested an interview for their vacancy.
New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham
Graham declined an interview request last offseason with the New York Jets as they hired another defensive strategist in Robert Saleh. Graham did a solid job for a Giants defense that performed at a high level despite the team's overall record in 2021. A member of the Belichick coaching tree, he is known for his defensive expertise and strong leadership style.
Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady
The Frank Reich coaching tree is a pipeline that won't be ignored after the success of Nick Sirianni with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Indianapolis offense didn't miss a beat in 2021 as Brady directed a heavyweight rushing attack built around Jonathan Taylor. Brady is a three-time CFL Grey Cup champion with the coaching chops and plan to succeed.
--By Aaron Wilson, Field Level Media