With all apologies to Notre Dame linebacker/possible unfrozen caveman Manti Te’o, there may not be an NFL prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft harder to project going forward than former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.
The player formerly known as “the Honey Badger” was on top of the college football world in 2011, finishing fourth in Heisman Trophy voting and helping his Tigers reach the BCS Championship as a sophomore.
However, that title game would be the last game Mathieu ever played at LSU, after a few run-ins with the law cost him his spot on the football team prior to the 2012 season. Now, the 20-year-old is looking for a job in the NFL.
Considering his time away from the field, it’s hard to imagine any team taking a flier on Mathieu until at least day two or three of the draft, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t have a bright future in pro football.
To his credit, Mathieu has cleaned up his act and gotten himself on the right track, and there’s no doubting his physical gifts. He ran a very respectable 4.50 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, along with a 4.14 20-yard shuttle.
At 5’9, 186 pounds, I would love to see the New York Jets use a day three selection on Mathieu with the intention of converting the former college cornerback into a safety/nickel corner hybrid in Rex Ryan’s defense.
His 4.50 40-yard dash wasn’t in the top 15 among cornerbacks who ran at the combine, but it would’ve been fourth among the safety group. His 20-yard shuttle time was 10th among corners, and seventh among safeties.
Mathieu was feared in Baton Rouge for his physicality, which should translate well to the safety position in the pros. He’d probably need to put on a little more weight, but I don’t see that as too much of a hinderance.
The Jets’ safety depth is a question mark heading into this off-season, as LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell and Eric Smith could all test the market. There’s no such thing as too many defensive backs in today’s NFL.
Make no mistake, drafting Tyrann Mathieu does come with some degree of risk. But the potential reward is a tenacious, highly-motivated athlete with very good awareness and a nose for the football.
He’s a little undersized, but I think he’d be worth taking a chance on if he’s still available on day three of the draft.
It’s been a long fall from grace for Mathieu, but he’ll have every opportunity to redeem himself going forward.