Third Round: 69th Pick
"Honey Badger" don't care about much, but the player that goes by that iconic nickname was forced to care about his substance-abuse problems off of the field that eventually caused him to be dismissed from LSU. What about his game on the field would make a team invest a pick in this player who is so risky off of the field?
Mathieu is an aggressive, physical defensive back with the quicks, speed and feet to mirror gifted wide receivers. His combative nature and trash talk gets under the skin of his opponents, and his knack for forced turnovers is even more irritating to the opposition. He is a gutsy player who has no fear of bad outcomes, and his bold decisions also create plays when he is returning punts.
As an athlete, Mathieu is explosive and agile. He can use his tools to bail himself out when he is out of position. With great instincts to sniff out a play and terrific closing speed, Mathieu creates chaos for the offense, and he's the type of player that can light the fuse of his defensive teammates with his intensity or spark a rally with a big play on special teams.
Big receivers are going to have a field day pushing Mathieu around. He can't bang in the air with larger wideouts, and his attempts to jam at the line of scrimmage can be futile when he is at a size disadvantage. He can get pinballed around in a crowd like a junior varsity player. Sometimes, Mathieu's bids to tackle an opponent consist of throwing a shoulder at them, and he can take poor angles or even stay out of the fray altogether against the run. Being aggressive is a double-edged sword, and Mathieu will get beaten when he guesses wrong or gets caught peeking in the backfield.
Mathieu measured in at 5'9", 186 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, but his four bench reps highlight how he plays like an even smaller player. He plays faster than his 4.5 40-yard dash time and quicker than his 6.87 three-cone time, which are both pretty good times on their own. You'll often see Mathieu able to keep pace with the fastest player on the opposing offense. His body is very flexible and loose, especially in the hips. Mathieu is very light and quick on his feet and his leaps are better than his 34" vertical would suggest because he times them so well.
On the field, there's a lot to like. Mathieu plays all out with a rugged, bold style. He can help on special teams, both as a returner and on coverage units. His knack for big plays and intensity leads by example. He is also a big trash talker.
Off of the field, Mathieu might be the riskiest player in the 2013 draft. He was suspended for one game during his 2011 Heisman candidate season and then was dismissed from the team before the 2012 season. He then checked into drug rehab and re-enrolled at LSU for the fall semester. In October, he was arrested on marijuana possession charges, and a scale, grinder and 10 bags of marijuana were found at the apartment he shared with three other players.
He reportedly responded well to character questions at the combine, but some teams will probably still take him completely off of their boards.
Mathieu lined up as a slot corner, but he also lined up against outside receivers and even played a little bit of free safety.
Playing the Ball
Even though he is only 5'9", Mathieu does well to get his hands on the high ball in flight because he times his leaps well and is excellent at extending at the last second. He is also very active with his hands at the moment the ball arrives, which results in plenty of deflections and incompletions. He is generally able to disrupt the receiver's attempt to catch the ball without drawing penalties. Mathieu can also track the ball like a wide receiver and will win contested balls despite being a small corner.
Against the Run
Sometimes, you see a very willing player in run support who can single-handedly blow up a play. At other times, Mathieu will stay alert just beyond the area of action. He can be shrugged off as insignificant with poor tackle attempts, which relegates him to ankle-biter status on some plays. Mathieu does avoid blocks with his quickness, and he can cover a lot of ground on the run.
When it comes to mirroring receivers in their routes, Mathieu is one of the best in the 2013 draft class. He has the foot quickness to stay with shifty receivers and match breaks in routes, and he also can flip his hips and run with faster receivers. Mathieu will press, but he fails to re-route or disrupt the receiver's route on most attempts. His recovery speed and quickness are outstanding, allowing Mathieu to make plays when he is initially beaten or otherwise thrown off. He does a good job anticipating routes, but this will also make him bite on double moves.
Mathieu is very good playing downhill, and he can click and close on plays in front of him with ease. He is excellent at reading the quarterback's and receiver's body language and will gamble when his instincts tell him to. "Honey Badger" is decisive and fast enough to destroy screen passes and other slow-developing plays when he is in space at the snap.
For a little guy, Mathieu can hit with a thud, but his fixation on making big hits results in more missed tackles than opponents stopped in their tracks. He is maybe the best defensive back in the entire draft at attacking the ball and forcing a fumble, although this can also result in missed tackles. Mathieu must do a better job of wrapping up in the NFL. Even if he does, he'll still have a lot of his tackles broken by the elite athletes at wide receiver in the big leagues.
On the whole, Mathieu seems to play by the seat of his pants, but it works because his motor runs so hot and he is so physically talented. He can turn and sprint with speed receivers but not because of precise backpedal technique. He mirrors slot receivers by instinct more than practice. His quick feet help him get away with a lot.
Scheme Versatility/Future Role
Mathieu would drown against the big receivers of the NFL. He has to be kept in the slot or, even better, at free safety. He can blitz versus the run or the pass, so he projects well as a player that can be moved around the formation, especially in a league that is becoming more pass-heavy.
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