Tyrann Mathieu's performance at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine gave his draft stock a tremendous boost.
The young man from LSU missed the entire 2012 season after two impressive campaigns in his freshman and sophomore year. In his two years with the Tigers, Mathieu intercepted four passes, defended 19 more, forced 11 fumbles and recovered six fumbles—two of which he returned for touchdowns.
He was booted off the team by Les Miles before the 2012 season began after failed drug tests, and the combine was his chance to flip the script on the narrative surrounding his name.
Boy, did he ever accomplish this goal in Indianapolis.
Not only did Mathieu look good in the drills, but he also received a ringing endorsement from none other than "Prime Time" Deion Sanders (h/t NFL.com), who called him "a leader" and "a baller, immediately, in the NFL."
Mathieu is an intriguing pro prospect. At just 5'9" and 186 pounds, he isn't a prototypical cornerback. Despite his diminutive stature, he thrived as a cover corner in the SEC, where his tenacity and pure skill was enough to overcome any physical limitations.
It was crucial for him to have a banner day at the combine to ensure his stock as a player worth gambling on, considering his past character issues.
Here's how he performed in the drills on Tuesday.
Pure speed is a coveted attribute in the NFL, and cornerbacks need it more than just about any other position on the field.
Slow cornerbacks don't get drafted high. Period.
In order to keep up with the speedy receivers flooding the NFL, it's imperative that teams possess not only skilled cover men, but also men who won't be a liability down the field.
Mathieu wasn't the fastest man on the field on Tuesday, but he didn't disappoint, running an unofficial time of 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
NFL Network's Bucky Brooks wrote:
Bucky Brooks @BuckyBrooks
Mathieu's 4.43 will certainly help his chances of moving up draft boards. Most scouts expected him to run high 4.5s today.2/26/2013, 2:25:52 PM
When the official times came in, it was determined that Mathieu ran the 40 in 4.50 seconds. This number is not quite as impressive, but it's still better than what scouts were expecting.
This display of speed means there aren't many receivers in the league who can get past him in a straight line—a huge boost to his draft stock.
If Mathieu impressed scouts with his raw speed, he blew them away during the field drills.
His footwork was crisp, his hips were fluid and he caught the balls thrown his way. He was smooth while backpedaling, and his ability to flip his hips and change direction with ease marks him as a pure athlete.
More than speed, Mathieu possesses elite quickness and a sudden burst. He can change directions with the best of them, and his smaller frame really gives him an advantage in tight spaces.
A former NFL scout, Brooks made this observation while watching him work out on the field:
Bucky Brooks @BuckyBrooks
Matthieu is having a great day. Very natural in positional drills. Great hands and ball skills.2/26/2013, 3:31:59 PM
Mathieu's performance on the field was impressive, and the way he was able to play with such confidence and ease shows how focused he's been in preparation for the most important job interview of his young life.
Broad Jump/Vertical Jump
These two events measure a player's explosiveness and core strength.
For Mathieu, the vertical jump is more important, since he's already at a disadvantage when it comes to height. This year's draft class is loaded with elite athletes, and four cornerbacks topped 40 inches in the vertical jump, which is an amazing feat.
Mathieu didn't bomb the event, but his 34-inch vertical isn't great, either. As a comparison, Manti Te'o jumped 33 inches on Monday, and he's far from an explosive athlete.
The diminutive cornerback also struggled in the broad jump, posting a mark of 117 inches, which was the sixth-worst total of all the cornerbacks at the combine.
Three-Cone Drill and 20-Yard Shuttle
These two drills help scouts determine how quick a player is and how quickly they can change directions. As Bleacher Report's lead NFL writer Michael Schottey points out:
Scouts often distinguish between linear and nonlinear (dynamic) athletes...Nonlinear athletes often find themselves at the top of their position. Jerry Rice is a perfect example of a guy who wasn't explosive in a straight line but was able to cut in and out of his routes with precision and without losing speed.
Players who perform well in these two drills are nonlinear athletes.
Mathieu ranked No. 10 in the three-cone drill, coming in with a time of 6.87 seconds—nearly one-tenth of a second faster than No. 1 prospect Dee Milliner.
He also ranked No. 10 in the 20-yard shuttle, posting a time of 4.14 seconds. This time was also better than those of many of this year's top-ranked corners.
The only thing Mathieu could have done better on Tuesday is run faster, but the time he put up in the 40-yard dash was phenomenal.
Simply put, the young man known in the past as "Honey Badger" proved he cares deeply about his future in the NFL. His draft stock is as high as it could be at this time, and a strong showing at his pro day on March 27 will further boost his stock.
Given Mathieu's character concerns and lack of size, he's not likely to be drafted until Round 3.
That said, this young man has an excellent chance to carve out a niche as a dominant nickel cornerback in the NFL, and his performance at the combine has only encouraged his progress.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78