Posts Tagged ‘mathieu’

Winners

  • Knile Davis of Arkansas opened some eyes with his combine performance

    Knile Davis of Arkansas opened some eyes with his combine performance

    Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas – Davis has had a rough last two years, after missing all of the 2011 season with an ankle injury, he followed it up with a poor showing in 2012. Teams should realize though that Davis was sensational in 2010 before his injury and a lot of his problems in 2012 were not his fault but the fault of the entire Razorbacks team, a team that had hopes of winning the SEC before giving up after about 3 weeks. Davis had a phenomenal combine performance and showed scouts that they should probably dust off that tape from 2010.

  • Tyrann Mathieu, DB, LSU – Mathieu started off his combine well with a great press conference with the media. He followed that up by having a pitiful performance in the bench press with just 4 reps, calling his work ethic into question. But when he got on the field he showed why he was the best defensive player in the nation in 2011.
  • Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia – Austin’s stock was already on the rise prior to the combine but he really showed some elite skill in Indy. He had one of the fastest 40 times of the 4 days at any position, and showed some great pass catching ability. He even showed improvement with his route running, which for me, makes him a first round pick and a potential game-changer.

Losers

  • Manti Te'o of Notre Dame did little to help his draft stock in Indy

    Manti Te’o of Notre Dame did little to help his draft stock in Indy

    Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame – Personally, I think Te’o is going to be a fine player in the NFL. People are going to harp on him because of his slow 40 time but I don’t think it is that big of a deal. Players even at his position have run times slower than him and gone on to have good careers (Brandon Spikes comes to mind who ran a 5.0). Te’o also showed in his press conference that maturity really shouldn’t be a concern with him. When it comes down to it though, I just get the feeling NFL teams are not going to like what they saw out of him on the field and he may slip into the second round because of it.

  • Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah – Obviously this doesn’t have to do with any kind of performance issue since he was unable to work out at the combine. However, the issue that arose as of a result of a combine examination could spell bad news for Lotulelei’s draft stock. On the other hand it could be great news for a team who would never have had the chance to draft him, as he could slip to the middle of the first because of this heart problem. Lotulelei is a special player and it is going to be a shame to see him fall out of the top-10 where he rightfully belongs. (I could also put Sharrif Floyd into the “winners” category because of this)
Alabama CB runs the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis

Alabama CB Dee Milliner runs the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis

The annual NFL scouting combine came to a close Tuesday as the nation’s top defensive backs took to the field in Indianapolis to show off their talents in front of the league’s talent evaluators. There were few surprises on the last day as the top prospects showed the world why they are the best and those fighting to gain some notoriety did little if anything to help their draft stock.

Starting with the top, Dee Milliner was and still is the best DB in this year’s class; it’s really not even close. I did a profile of Milliner last week and fell in love with the guy from what I saw on film. He solidified himself as a probable top-5 pick with his performance today on the field.

Milliner started off the day right with a very impressive showing in the 40-yard dash. He officially clocked in at 4.37 seconds, just .01 seconds slower than the fastest defensive back of the day, Darius Slay of Mississippi State. Where Milliner really shined though was in drills. He showed great hands, fluid hip movement, and great ability to change speed and direction. If he doesn’t go in the top-5 in April I’d be shocked and disappointed in the NFL’s scouts. I think the Lions right at that 5th pick makes a lot of sense for both parties.

The other story of the day came from former LSU Tiger Tyrann Mathieu, the player formally known as “The Honey Badger”. After managing a pathetic 4 reps in the bench press on Monday, Mathieu needed to do a lot to prove himself in the defensive back drills, and he did just that. He ran a solid time in the 40, officially clocking in at 4.5 seconds. But, like Milliner, where Mathieu really brought it was in the drill portion of the day. He showed good quickness and hands in the drills along with good movement in his hips, something I thought he needed to work on when I watched him on film. With his performance in Lucas Oil, Mathieu might have solidified himself as a third round draft choice. He showed good speed and quickness, so at the very least he has some good value as a kick returner. And all Mathieu needs to do is make a roster so he can begin to prove to the world he can make plays in the NFL like he did while at LSU.

Tyrann Mathieu participates in a defensive back drill at the NFL combine

Tyrann Mathieu participates in a defensive back drill at the NFL combine

A couple of other names that stood out today were Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes and Washington’s Desmond Trufant. Considering his size, Rhodes ran a pretty impressive 40 time at 4.43 seconds. I didn’t realize that Rhodes brought that combination of both physicality and speed to the table, and NFL teams are really going to like that. Trufant on the other hand probably solidified himself as, at worst, the third corner in the class with his performance today. He ran an official 40 time of 4.38, one of the top marks of the day, and had some good times in the shuttles. Trufant, like Rhodes, is slightly bigger than your average corner and should be a very intriguing prospect for teams looking to add someone to their secondary.

One player who fell slightly short of expectations was Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. In what is generally considered a very deep safety class, Vaccaro has been the consensus #1 at the position. He fell short of that label in Indy, running a pedestrian 4.63 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He redeemed himself somewhat in the 3-cone drill, and looked decent in the defensive back drills. Vaccaro probably didn’t hurt his draft stock much, if at all, with his combine performance, but he needs to pick it up at his pro day if he wants to remain the top safety in this year’s class.

One of the lesser-known names who showed up in Indy was cornerback Steve Williams out of the University of California – Berkeley. Williams didn’t make any all-conference teams this season, but he did garner a lot of praise from coaches in the Pac-12. He showed that at least some of that praise was deserved at the combine, running a good 40 at 4.42 seconds, having one of the best vertical leaps at 40.5 inches, and looking solid in the defensive back drills. Williams could be a very good pickup later in the draft for a team looking to add someone with a lot potential in the defensive backfield to their roster.

The annual NFL scouting combine is a very good resource for NFL talent evaluators, but it is far from their only resource. There is still plenty to be learned about these and the rest of the player available in this year’s class. Pro days, individual meetings and workouts, and more are still to come for these players..

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NFL teams are always looking to add a little bit of playmaking ability to their defense. They look for someone who has a nose for the ball, and the tendency to make big plays in big situations. Despite off-field issues, which I believe are really overblown, there may not be a bigger playmaker in this year’s draft class than Tyrann Mathieu. Being a “playmaker” is an extremely intangible thing and can’t be determined through combine drills, but when you watch his tape it becomes clear that the Honey Badger is a difference maker when used properly.

Mathieu is not a big player, standing at just about 5’9”. He doesn’t have blazing speed. He really doesn’t even world-class cover skills. But in two years playing for the LSU Tigers, the Honey Badger earned his nickname through his fearlessness on the field. He gave 110% on every snap that I watched; he never got down on himself and always seemed prepared for the next play. He also had a tremendous knack for forcing fumbles. In his two seasons as a Tiger, Mathieu forced 11 fumbles, the most by any player in the SEC since 2000. A player with a natural ability to rip the ball loose like Tyann does is a very intriguing prospect to an NFL team.

Tyrann played a little bit of everything in his short time at LSU. Outside corner, slot corner in nickel situations and free safety were all positions you could expect to see Mathieu in on any given play. As a pure cornerback, Tyrann is not all that impressive. He often got pushed around by bigger receivers and didn’t cover all that well whether it was on the outside or in the slot. That being said I do think Mathieu is a smart football player. He’s a good tackler, reads offenses as well as anyone, and reacts to the ball faster than anyone you will see. That combination may make him a more likely fit at the free safety position in the NFL.

The Honey Badger was also a very explosive punt returner for the Tigers. In his one and only season as a punt returner, Mathieu averaged 17.2 yards per return, the highest average in the SEC since 2000, with 2 touchdowns, which was second in the SEC that season. Tyrann did make some questionable decisions on punts though, if he gets a shot to be a punt returner in the NFL he needs to learn when to just let the ball bounce in to the endzone, or be aware of when he’s actually crossed the goal line.

Just to talk a little bit about the elephant in the room of his off field issues, I think they were drastically overblown. There have been countless players who had issues in college with marijuana who went on to have successful NFL careers despite dropping on draft day. One recent player that comes to mind is Patriot’s tight end Aaron Hernandez who dropped to the 4th round after failing multiple drug tests while at Florida. Not only is Hernandez now a successful player in the NFL, he is also a model citizen and just got a big contract from the Patriots. I see absolutely no reason why Tyrann Mathieu can’t do the same thing.

I honestly feel the risk with Mathieu is very small. You’re not going to have to spend more than a 4th round pick on him and with that you’re going to get a very good player. At the very worst you’re going to get a solid special teams contributor with a high motor who could inspire the rest of his teammates.

Tyrann Mathieu is going to be a very hungry player after missing out on a year of football. I expect him to do very well in the combine, which starts tomorrow, but probably not enough to raise his stock much. In a recent interview with ESPN, Mathieu said he thinks he can be a good leader both on and off the field in the NFL, in his words “like a Ray Lewis.” Mathieu won’t be going before the 4th round, and honestly even if he didn’t have problems with weed I’m not sure if he is a first or even second round talent. What Mathieu is is a great football player, and that’s all scouts are going to care about. The Honey Badger has the potential to make a huge splash in the NFL if he gets put in the right situation with a coaching staff that will use him in the right ways.

Follow me on Twitter: @bill_slane

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