He’s probably the most talked about draft prospect, and he’s the player I get the most emails about. It seems every NFL fan, whichever team you follow, is wondering whether they’ll take a chance on Tyrann Mathieu.
In 2011 he recorded 71 tackles, 1.5 sacks, five forced fumbles (two returned for touchdowns) and two interceptions. He had two further scores via punt returns. Mathieu was the very definition of a game changing playmaker. That’s not easy for a 5-9, 180lbs cornerback.
Beneath all the stats and game changing ability lay a fierce competitor. There’s no real secret to Mathieu’s success — he plays the game his way. With attitude, style and ferocity. He takes superb angles when challenging for the ball, he’s quicker than fast covering space and he’s instinctive. He can be a walking highlight reel.
That enamoured him to the TV cameras, while the ‘Honey Badger’ nickname he inherited became increasingly over-used as announcers began to mention it every time LSU’s defense was on the field. The attention worked and he was a Heisman finalist — losing out to Robert Griffin III.
The fact he had become the face of LSU’s football program perhaps masked some of the glaring issues within his game. What is he at the next level? His back pedal simply isn’t good enough to warrant serious consideration as a natural corner. Size is a major concern against the bigger receivers in the NFL. You can throw in behind Mathieu because he struggles to locate the ball when it’s not played in front. His balance is surprisingly poor given he’s compact and short. I don’t like his footwork at all.
He’s going to be a nickel corner with limited responsibilities. I understand why that makes him intriguing to Seahawks fans because the position caused a lot of problems in 2012. However… how could you possibly trust this guy at the next level?
Mathieu’s career was on life support when the Tigers basically kicked him off the team for ‘violating of team policy’ (aka, drug use) prior to the 2012 season. Rather than transfer to a small school like Janoris Jenkins, Mathieu wanted to wait it out. See if he can repair the damage at LSU and play football again in 2014. He promised to seek help and learn from his mistakes.
This had been a pretty serious issue for Mathieu previously. He’d already served a one-game ban for violating the teams drug policy. He ignored that warning before finally being dismissed Les Miles.
Time for the wake up call, Mr. Mathieu.
In August he entered a drug rehabilitation program in Houston. So far so good. He was saying the right things, he was getting support from his family. He made all sorts of vows and promises to learn from his mistakes. Could he get his career back on track? Remember, it’s hanging by a thread. Then on October 25th, he and three other LSU players were arrested for possession of marijuana. Here we go again.
Ask yourself this… at what point does a player become too much of a liability? If he’s prepared to keep ignoring warnings, continues to make the same mistakes — don’t you have to sit up and take notice? LSU were pretty emphatic when they’d had enough. Now you’re going to pay him and potentially move him to a state where Marijuana was recently legalised? I’m not sure about that.
I think he’ll ultimately prove to be the kind of player you let somebody else worry about. Let another team take a shot. Is it really worth disrupting the harmony in your dressing room, adding a bad influence and a guy who hasn’t shown he can stay away from drugs all for the sake of a nickel corner? Not for me.
There are teams in the league — such as the Cincinnati Bengals — who appear to thrive on taking little gambles like this. Vontaze Burfict is a great example and he had a terrific rookie season. But that doesn’t mean Mathieu can also perform well and stay away from trouble.
He’s doing all the right things — he visited the Senior Bowl in Mobile as part of a full-court press on the leagues reps attending the event. He managed to secure a place at the combine. He’s going to have to work extremely hard to get a team to trust him whatever he does. He has to prove he’s a changed man.
Is the upside great enough to warrant a pick on the first two days of the draft? I’d argue not. He might fall to day three (rounds 4-7). Like Burfict he might be an UDFA.
Personally I’d need to be extremely convinced he was over his drug problems to even consider taking a shot. Completely over them too this time, not over for two months. It’s not even so much him I’d be concerned about, it’s that he might drag others down with him. The Seahawks like a challenge as much as anyone — but they haven’t been reckless in selecting their players. Mathieu would be a much bigger gamble than trading for Marshawn Lynch, drafting Bruce Irvin or giving a trial to Terrell Owens.
For the sake of a decent nickel corner, I’d probably just look elsewhere. Remember this — there’s a reason Les Miles dismissed a star player and a Heisman finalist. And it’s not because he’s the ‘mad hatter’.