Can Tyrann Mathieu Be a Difference Maker for a Championship Team?
If there's any player in the 2013 NFL draft that would benefit from falling into the lap of a championship contender, then it might be former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.
His chance to make an impact for such a team certainly looks like a realistic possibility, too.
According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Mathieu will make an official pre-draft visit to the New England Patriots on April 5. Four days later, per Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, he'll travel west to meet with the San Francisco 49ers.
By the start of the draft, Mathieu will have made numerous other visits, to both contenders and cellar-dwellers. But the early ties to Super Bowl-quality teams like the Patriots and 49ers are certainly intriguing.
Ex-LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu has visits set up with the Vikings, Bucs, Patriots, 49ers, Bills, Cardinals, Bengals, Texans, Seahawks & Falcons— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 29, 2013
Clearly talented and possessing game-changing attributes, Mathieu is undersized and will enter the NFL with off-the-field question marks. As a result, his draft stock ranges from anywhere between the second round and the seventh.
Talent-wise, Mathieu is most likely going to come at good value.
At LSU, Mathieu was a turnover-causing machine with a knack for finding the football. He forced 11 fumbles, recovered six more, picked off four passes and defensed 19 others and made 16 tackles for losses.
The instincts, short-area quickness (6.87 seconds in three-cone drill, 4.14 in shuttle) and ability to play several positions, including in the return game, create a talented overall package Mathieu can offer.
Championship-quality teams—such as New England, San Francisco, Denver and Seattle, just to name a few—can afford to take the risk to acquire the talent.
In such a situation, where a contending roster is already intact, Mathieu could thrive.
Out of football for over a year thanks to problems with marijuana, Mathieu now needs a location where he can blend into the background.
He needs a situation where results and impact—at least in a starring role—are not expected immediately.
He needs locker room and organizational stability, from the general manager (who is taking the risk) to the head coach (who has to deal with potential problems) to the players.
New England could certainly offer such a situation.
The Patriots have capable players at cornerback, including Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington, who can play starting roles. Mathieu could see snaps at slot cornerback or even safety, while also adding a dynamic return option.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots obviously haven't been shy in the past about adding potential locker room misfits and turning them into important contributors (Aaron Hernandez, Randy Moss, Talib etc.). Mathieu has the kind of untapped talent to become the next.
And if Mathieu drops into the middle rounds, then Belichick will have all the value incentive he needs to pull the trigger.
The 49ers offer another attractive landing spot.
While Barrows mentions that San Francisco has targeted bigger cornerbacks to play press coverage during free agency, the slot has clearly been a problem area for the 49ers in the recent past. Seattle's addition of Percy Harvin—one of the game's top slot receivers—only adds to the need to find a player that can make plays inside.
Matching the aggressive Mathieu on the versatile Harvin twice a season would make great yearly theatre. He could also take over San Francisco's returning duties for Ted Ginn, who signed with the Carolina Panthers in free agency.
Outside of New England and San Francisco, Mathieu also makes sense for the Broncos (they need cornerback help), Atlanta Falcons (they received production from 5'10" cornerback Brent Grimes) and the Seahawks, which have been willing to add talented risks.
NFL.com's Bucky Brooks also mentions the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers—each contenders or close to it—as other potential landing spots for Mathieu. His arguments for the three landing spots are hard to argue.
Overall, it's very easy to envision Mathieu landing with a contender and then sliding into a complementary but still-impacting role early on.
Several factors, including immense versatility and the potential for tremendous draft value, make Mathieu an attractive option for NFL contenders. If he does luck out and fall into the lap of a Belichick, Harbaugh or Carroll, then Mathieu certainly has the tools necessary to make an immediate impact.
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