The MYTH: In 2011, deep in the Louisiana bayou lived a snarling, ferocious, ball-hawking monster that terrorized offenses with speed and aggression, leaving countless bodies in his wake. This monster of a player, named Tyrann Mathieu, will continue dismantling offenses in the NFL and will become a valuable asset in the backfield for any team that drafts him.
The TRUTH: Well, I’m afraid the truth is a bit less dramatic, but we’ll get there in a moment. First I’d like to get his off-field history out of the way so we can focus on the good stuff. Tyrann Mathieu was relieved of his duties at LSU following multiple failed drug tests at the beginning of the 2012 season. He entered rehab, completed treatment, and then last October was arrested for possession of Marijuana. These are all serious red flags, but people can change and NFL teams take calculated risks on talented players every season. The purpose of this article is to take his off-field issues out of the equation altogether and provide an unbiased, unassuming look at the strengths and weaknesses of Mathieu’s play and whether he could fill a need on the Redskins roster.
Leon Sandcas… Err, excuse me, Deion Sanders recently shared an absolutely glowing endorsement of Mathieu with the media, possibly boosting his draft stock and definitely propelling him back into the public eye. The resurgence he has had, combined with his “honey badger” persona and his profound playmaking abilities have many Redskins fans buying into the hype and inquiring about the defensive back’s likelihood of being drafted onto the Redskins’ secondary. Unfortunately for those who have found themselves enamored with him, Mathieu would be a very unwise selection for the Redskins this April.
Tyrann Mathieu is undersized as a defensive back at only 5’9 and 186 lbs. His film, and his poor showing at the combine in strength testing showed his inability to match large receivers in their physicality. He struggles at jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage, and while he does well in open space on angling and reading his opponents body language, he gets too aggressive trying to create turnovers and ends up missing tackles. He is a middle of the pack blitzer, and was inconsistent in defending the run. Having said that, Mathieu does seem to have superb awareness for being in the right place at the right time. With four interceptions and a startlingly high eleven forced fumbles at LSU, it’s easy to see why people see him as a playmaker. I’m far from convinced that he could keep production like this coming in the NFL, but even if he reached similar numbers he isn’t the type of back the Redskins should draft.
In 2012, Washington was ranked second in the NFL in turnover differential with 31 takeaways and only 14 giveaways. They ranked third in interceptions (recording 21), falling behind only Chicago and Arizona. Despite these promising statistics, we ranked an atrocious 28th in the NFL in defending the pass. Clearly our defense isn’t suffering because of play-making ability, we’ve just lost step with the basics. Missed coverage and missed tackles led to yards and touchdowns. Mathieu’s tackling ability is simply not up to par with what the Redskins need. Despite his tenacious attitude, his size prevents him from taking large receivers to the ground. Imagine Mathieu trying to take down 6’5, 236lb, Calvin Johnson and his 43-inch vertical jump and it’s almost laughable. This match up would likely never take place as Mathieu would probably be relegated to nickel corner duties, but even against college play he had issues. In 2011, Tennessee Tech’s Da’Rick Rogers (6’2, 217lb) basically carried Mathieu fifteen yards on his back following initial contact, and only went down when Brandon Taylor saved the day with the assist. The Redskins’ front office should be looking for reliable coverage and dependable, sure-fire tacklers, not ball hawks trying to make a play at a strip.
Mathieu was an undeniable presence on special teams at LSU, throwing down 421 yards on 27 attempted punt returns, two of which were returned for touchdowns. This alone can’t be considered reason to draft him. For one the sample size is much too small. Then there’s Richard Crawford, who showed great potential finishing off the 2012 season after the benching of Brandon Banks. On eight punt returns he amassed 156 yards, including a miraculously timed 64-yard return against Baltimore, which helped shore up the Redskins’ overtime win. Crawford’s average in 2012 was 19.5 yards per return, actually besting Mathieu, who finished his 2011 season with a 15.6 yards per return average. With Keith Burns working with Crawford this off-season on improving the return game, drafting a return specialist, in what would have to be a middle round, can only be described as a catastrophic waste of a selection in a year where every pick has to count.
Tyrann Mathieu has good eyes, good hands, great instincts, and the intangibles everyone always talks about, and even so I’m praying the Redskins don’t consider him. The kid, simply put, makes me nervous. It’s a huge risk vs. reward scenario with the Honey Badger, and the Redskins should play it safe and only bet the farm on someone they know can deliver reliability and dependability to the backfield. HTTR