LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu certainly didn’t make it any easier for teams to take him off of their draft boards with an outstanding performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. He looked smooth and confident during on-field drills and he ran the 40-yard dash in a respectable 4.5 seconds. For a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers, was his showing at the combine enough to make them overlook his lengthy list of red flags?
Mathieu was jettisoned from the LSU football program after repeated drug-related issues. Before that, though, the 5’9” defensive back was the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year in college football. He is tenacious against bigger players and he has a major knack for creating turnovers. For a team like Pittsburgh that is in need of splash plays, a playmaker like Mathieu must be on the radar. Why?
In 2012, the Steelers intercepted the ball 10 times and forced 15 fumbles. In 2011, Mathieu’s last collegiate season, the defensive back formerly known as “The Honey Badger” forced six fumbles and picked the ball off twice. With Keenan Lewis putting at least a toe in the waters of free agency, the Steelers find themselves in need of a cornerback, and Mathieu could be a dynamo at a discount.
Steelers fans have gotten used to watching their team’s cornerbacks drop interception after interception, but if an upgrade is available, why not add a difference-maker, especially in rounds 3-5? Cortez Allen gave the Steelers a glimpse of what it looks like to have a player with soft hands at the cornerback position last year, and the team might have gotten used to the idea. They could look to add another one this year in Mathieu.
Obviously, if Mathieu’s off-field problems didn’t exist, he’d be an obvious candidate for selection. However, now the Steelers are charged with evaluating the risk/reward ratio that comes with giving the talented defensive back a shot. If Keenan Lewis decides to head for greener pastures, the concept of adding Mathieu to a defensive backfield featuring Allen, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark has to be tempting.
The experts are conflicted on where Mathieu projects best. Mike Mayock suggests that he would be a nickel corner at the next level, while Deion Sanders things that Mathieu could hang outside with the big boys. Still others suggest that he could be a safety. Either way, Pittsburgh could benefit from adding a turnover machine at any of those positions.
My vote is to give him a shot at the right price. Obviously if Lewis leaves, the pressure to land a corner in the draft grows. His size might scare some away, but I think it’s given him a chip on his shoulder. Watching him snatch passes out of the air and return them at the combine jogged my memories of Mathieu being the most exciting defensive prospect in college football. Adding that player to Dick LeBeau’s defense would give opposing teams one more player to find and identify at the line of scrimmage. Fortunately for the Steelers, at LSU, finding Mathieu rarely prevented him from impacting the game.
Just like the honey badger, Tyrann Mathieu takes what he wants.