Tyrann Mathieu was on top of the world at this time last year. In a class that boasted Andrew Luck and RGIII, Mathieu was among the most talked about and adored players. Widely believed to be the best player on his National-Championship-bound LSU Tigers, he finished fifth in the Heisman behind the two quarterbacks, Trent Richardson and Touchdown-King Montee Ball. His ability to change a game in seconds with an electric kick return or a turnover was unmatched in college football. He was a defensive player who was a threat to score every time he touched the field. Key word: was.
Now. The 2013 NFL draft. Earlier today, Mathieu officially announced his intent to enter the draft and put the lid on his tumultuous college career. After being dismissed from LSU in August for what we all assumed to be drug (marijuana) related, Mathieu decided to pass on the FCS route and reenrolled at LSU. Then, in October Mathieu was arrested for possession of marijuana (former LSU QB Jordan Jefferson was also arrested).
Purely on football evaluation, Mathieu could be worthy of a first round pick. His athleticism is undeniable. He plays with a spark and flies all over the field. While he’s not a great coverage corner, he sees the field well and is an outstanding tackler. Mathieu could prove to be as valuable as a kick returner to a team as he is as a corner. If the ball is in his hands, he can break it loose and take it to the house. And if the ball isn’t in his hands, he’s going to do everything he can to make sure it is. In just two years at LSU he forced 11 fumbles. In addition to his physical attributes, Mathieu displays an intense competitiveness that every coach loves to see out of his players.
To combat though, there is so much about him that every coach hates to see in his players. Last season, while still on LSU, he was suspended for synthetic marijuana. He comes off as immature and never seemed truly committed to LSU football. On-field play may say otherwise, but when you’re the “best player” (I’m still not convinced that’s true) on a possible National Championship contender and you can’t even remain eligible for behavioral issues, there is a serious problem.
If I’m a GM, I wouldn’t feel comfortable drafting him until at least the fourth round (and even that might be a stretch). Off-field issues aside, I’m not crazy about his NFL potential. The man was an unbelievable college player, but that says little about the next level. He’s small (5’9” 175 pounds). There will likely never be a Honey Badger Island. At LSU, he played in the nickel corner spot. Don’t expect a shift to the outside in the NFL (I would argue that a shift to safety is more probable). A 40 time of 4.51 is alright, but not eye-popping.
I’m a Lion’s fan, so behavioral issues are not foreign to me. Your skill-set means nothing if you can’t stay on the field or you’re not willing to put in the work to improve that skill-set. Many people are projecting Mathieu to fall to the fourth, fifth, even sixth round. This is where he should be drafted. However, he’ll probably be closer to the third or even second rounds. With the natural talent he has, I’m betting that some GM is going to run the risk and pick him up early. Remember Maurice Clarett? Denver fan’s probably wish they didn’t. He had some off-field issues of his own at Ohio State and ended up having a year away from organized football prior to entering the 2005 draft. Experts were projecting him to fall to the sixth or seventh round, if he was drafted at all. Denver decided to take him in the third round. Short story short: the pick didn’t pan out.
Do I think Mathieu can be successful in the NFL? Sure. I don’t think he’ll ever reach All-Pro status, but given the right system, I think he could prove to be valuable to a team. That’s if he can find a way to control his life off the field though. I would love to see him returning punts for the Lions and even playing some nickel corner (our secondary could use any healthy bodies we can get). However, I would hate to see the Lion’s draft him anywhere before the fourth or fifth round. At this point, he is just too much of a question mark and the last thing the Lions need is another player who is going to cause problems off the field. That’s my team though, what about yours?