Former Florida Gator Janoris Jenkins can attest that FCS relegation isn't a decisive blow to NFL dreams, and Tyrann Mathieu hopes to tell a similar tale in a few years time.
After being dismissed from Louisiana State's program due to repeated abuse of the Tigers' substance abuse policy, one of the game's biggest stars is searching for a new squad. The decision sent a seismic wave through the college football landscape.
Jenkins was booted from the Gators squad by Will Muschamp in late April of last year following his second drug arrest in a three-month time period, according to ESPN's Edward Aschoff.
The similarities surrounding these two defensive backs is similar, but I do want to preface this a bit because Mathieu's current situation is sticky.
We've heard that Mathieu is down to two possible transfer destinations. According to NOLA.com reporter Randy Rosetta, Louisiana-based FCS schools Nicholls State and McNeese State appear to be the leaders at this point.
As for a time frame, there have been conflicting reports. Jim Kleinpeter of the Times-Picayune reported in the wee hours of Tuesday morning that Mathieu would decide on Wednesday. ESPN's Joe Schad then reported later Tuesday morning that Mathieu's family didn't expect a decision on Wednesday.
On top of that, WWL-TV's sports director Doug Mouton reported Tuesday afternoon that Mathieu will meet with LSU officials Tuesday evening. This could coincide with Mathieu's known desire to remain a part of LSU's program.
In other words, Mathieu's NFL path could wind up being clear-cut. It's a long shot, but crazier things have happened. That's what makes this different than Jenkins' situation.
When Jenkins was dismissed, he was gone. He transferred to Northern Alabama to play under Terry Bowden, and just like that Florida's best cover corner was gone.
He enjoyed a terrific season with his new team and looked like a man among boys at times.
There's no doubt that Mathieu will stand out like Jenkins did if he does, in fact, wind up in the FCS ranks, but that doesn't mean his NFL potential is the same.
Mathieu benefited from a plethora of talent on the Tigers defense, and, despite his superior playmaking ability, his NFL stock may not be as high as Jenkins' when all is said and done.
Jenkins wound up being selected by the St. Louis Rams in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. Jeff Fisher and the Rams' front office were willing to forgive his past troubles because of his elite cover skills and considerable potential.
Jenkins possesses the ability to play on an island. He thrives in man-to-man coverage, and that made him a tantalizing NFL option despite his questionable reputation.
Mathieu doesn't bring those same skills to the table. He's more of a wild card. He won the 2011 Bednarik Award and was a Heisman Trophy finalist because of his uncanny knack for the big play.
Mathieu had 76 tackles, forced six fumbles, picked off two passes and even returned two punts for touchdowns in 2011. He is a game-changer, but he's limited in man coverage. He's listed at a generous 5'9'', and he doesn't utilize "pure" coverage techniques.
Instead, he relies on his instincts and football savvy. His nose for the ball is unparalleled.
It's difficult to see anything but dominance from Mathieu at the FCS level if he does wind up there. He's a whirling dervish of activity on the defensive side of the ball, and I actually wouldn't be shocked to see him play both ways at a lower level.
Like Jenkins, his NFL path is not completely obstructed. He will need to toe the line from here on out and prove to professional teams that he is disciplined enough to stay on the field.
If he can do that, there's no reason an NFL team won't take a chance on him in the draft's coming years.
He may not be a lockdown corner cut from the Darrelle Revis mold, but playmakers of his caliber do not grow on trees.
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