Thursday, July 2, 2015

tyrann mathieu

Much is being made about a recent report from Peter King noting that Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman dined with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o on the eve of the college’s pro day.  The Vikings also reportedly interviewed Te’o at the Scouting Combine and invited him to their “Top 30″ event at Winter Park.

Some are going to take the seemingly excessive vetting process as a sign of the Vikings level of interest in Te’o, but it may be a better indication of the level of concern teams have with Te’o’s plentiful question marks.  I have been spouting off all offseason about how much sense a marriage between the Vikings and Te’o makes, and I don’t mean to send mixed signals here, but I would caution the readers of VT to not read too much into these visits.

The truth is that the Vikings probably have some level of interest in the players they have interviewed, including Te’o, but are trying to dig as deep as they can into some of these red flags to try and find out which ones are worth the investment of a high draft pick.  The list of attendees that visited Winter Park, or at least the ones we know about, should be all the evidence you need to consider these visits as the Vikings simply doing their due diligence with guys carrying some baggage.

Manti Te’o:  The whole fake girlfriend thing.

Alec Ogletree:  Injuries and arrests in the past.

Keenan Allen:  Worrisome knee injury.

Tyrann Mathieu:  Dismissed from LSU, history of drug issues.

We have profiled each of these prospects as we view them as potential targets for the Vikings later this month, and their visits make sense, but how the visits went is far more important (and secretive) than the fact that these guys visited.

[Note:  Want to see a list of every player featured in our “Draft Target” segment?  Click here to visit the Offseason Tracker where there will be a list of all these players.  Check back often as there are plenty more to come!]

With or without the possibility of resigning cornerback Antoine Winfield, the Vikings could use some more young, promising talent in their defensive backfield.  Both safety and cornerback are positions of need and the team will likely look to the Draft to add some help.

One of the most interesting prospects in this class is former LSU defensive back Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu, who was reportedly a part of the Vikings “Top 30″ event they host annually in an attempt to get to know certain prospects better.  His inclusion in the event makes a ton of sense considering he has about as many question marks as any prospect in this Draft class.

Mathieu’s college career went from a peak to a valley very quickly when he was booted from the LSU team in April of 2012 for violating team rules, and then was subsequently arrested along with former teammates for drug related activity.  Mathieu then decided to check himself into substance rehabilitation, but the prospect that was once viewed as a sure-fire first round prospect had already done too much damage to his reputation to fully recover his draft stock within only one year.

In 2011, Mathieu was widely considered the best defender in college football, and was a rare defensive back Heisman Trophy candidate.  He led his team with 76 tackles and tacked on 1.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for a loss, six forced fumbles, nine defended passes, and two interceptions.  Despite being only 5′ 9″ and 186 pounds, Mathieu was certainly a defender with knack for the big play and someone to be feared.

Equally as impressive was his versatility, something which is as popular as ever in the NFL, as LSU moved him all around the secondary and he was a dangerous player on special teams.  He averaged 16 yards per punt return and scored twice in 2011, and was equally as effective in keeping opposing return men from scoring as a part of LSU’s coverage squad.

After not playing football in 2012, teams are trying to get a feel for Mathieu’s commitment to being a professional, and most of those questions are going to center around his off the field woes.  At the Scouting Combine, he was at least able to make it clear that he is still the same athlete that we saw on tape from his time at LSU.

Like his nickname would indicate, Mathieu plays football with a certain amount of tenaciousness and his presence on the field far exceeds his physical size.  He can play man or zone coverage, he can tackle very well, has incredible instincts, and seems to constantly make plays on the ball.

Mathieu is expected to start getting attention from the teams that haven’t taken him of their board in the second round, but concerns about his character and his size could keep him waiting even longer to hear his name called.  If the Vikings are the team to take that chance at some point on Draft Weekend, he could immediately compete to fill Antoine Winfield’s role as a nickel corner or the starting safety spot across from Harrison Smith.  He also would be a strong candidate to dethrone Marcus Sherels as the top punt returner on the roster.

Winfield’s absence, however, also means Mathieu would be joining a secondary with very little veteran oversight.  Both he and Chris Cook would feel like weekly liabilities in terms of being able to suit up every Sunday.

I can see the attraction here, and some analysts in Minnesota feel he is well worth the risk, but I also just can’t see the team spending anything more than a third round pick on someone so seemingly undependable.

I chose the following highlight video for two reasons.  First, most of the other options were filled with foul language in the music choices which didn’t seem appropriate for these pages.  Second, ont he plays were he ends up with the football I want to to watch his eye/helmet… notice how great he is at anticipating where the football is going to end up.  Footballs are fairly unpredictable by nature, but he just seems to know.

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