Most people looked at me like I had two heads when I selected Tyrann Mathieu with the No. 21 pick in the first round. Why would I take a player in round one who has had off-the-field issues and is projected to be available in round three? People didn’t understand why the Cincinnati Bengals would draft a defensive back so early?
Their biggest needs are running back, safety and offensive tackle. Most people didn’t think it was a good fit in the first round. But, after looking at him on film, it became clear Mathieu could play multiple roles at a high level for the team that selects him.
Every NFL team could use a player like Mathieu. He’s as versatile as a Swiss-army knife. Name another player in this draft that can play corner, safety, return punts and excels in punt/kickoff coverage? He makes plays, regardless of his position. Mathieu would instantly make an impact at safety and on special teams for the Bengals.
He plays big, despite his 5’9″, 186 pound frame. His footwork is exceptional; which helps him keep up with faster receivers and he can change direction quickly.
Mathieu has a nose for the ball and instincts that can’t be taught. He’s always around the ball itching to make a play. He forced 11 fumbles in his two seasons at LSU. That’s two more than former Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones forced in the past two seasons with the Bulldogs. Jones is projected to be a first round pick.
Mathieu rushes the passer well and gets off of blocks very quickly. He has good balance coming off the edge and rarely gets blocked out of the play. He doesn’t back down to anyone, which is important considering he will likely be the smallest player on the field.
At LSU Mathieu was the best playmaker in a secondary that included Morris Claiborne, Patrick Peterson and Eric Reid. Claiborne and Peterson were both picked in the top-ten of their respective drafts and Reid may also join them as a first round selection this year.
Most believe Mathieu is too small be dominant in the NFL and on paper, they’re right. He looks too little to even attempt a hit on an NFL running back. But, he’s never strayed away from contact. Instead, he initiates it. He will do whatever it takes to take down the ball carrier and strip the football. He’s scrappy and very competitive, which makes his honey badger nickname so fitting.
Mathieu played elite college competition in Southeastern Conference and excelled. He led his team in tackles in 2011 with 76. He served as a punt returner in 2011, averaging 16 yards per return with two touchdowns.
Adding Mathieu would give the Bengals a steady punt returner, who has big-play potential. Against Arkansas he avoided five potential tacklers en route to a touchdown and in the SEC Championship against Georgia he returned a punt 56 yards for a touchdown where he made six potential tacklers miss.
His off-the-field issues are a concern. He reportedly lost count of how many drug tests he failed when he was at LSU and was dismissed from the team in 2012. He hasn’t played football in over a year, but claims that he hasn’t used drugs since October.
The Bengals have had success rehabilitating another defensive back that has had more issues than Mathieu. Since then, Adam “Pacman” Jones has rebounded with the Bengals and recently signed a three-year contract.
If the locker room can handle Pacman and help turn his life around, what’s stopping them from taking Mathieu? He can be a star if he lands on the right team. Mathieu has been on the road visiting ten different NFL teams, including the Bengals. Head Coach Marvin Lewis, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, along with other NFL teams must see the potential he has.
Although Mathieu may not fill a pressing need, every team can use a playmaker. Owner Mike Brown will make the final call and there are other players the Bengals like. Mathieu was a do-it-all guy at LSU and can be the same player in the NFL. Few players are as competitive as Mathieu.
“I feel like if I was to check somebody like a Calvin Johnson, he’ll make his plays, but I’m definitely going to get mine, too,” he told NFL Network back in February. “He’s going to catch his five balls, but I’m going to get my two turnovers, so we’ll be even.”