By John Harris
August 11, 2012
As I've listened to many and read even more opine about the loss of LSU's All-American candidate Tyrann Mathieu, I'm struck by the revisionist sort of history that seemingly applies in this situation. Now, don't let me sit here and tell you he's not worth the coverage and not worthy of the hype. Quite the opposite. But, let's discuss what the true impact is to both LSU and to his draft stock in the future?
I said this earlier today on Twitter but I feel I need to expand on my thoughts. Defensively, there wasn't a big SEC game in which Mathieu honestly impacted it. Defensively. He didn't do much against Alabama in either game. He recovered a fumble and had eight tackles against Arkansas. He didn't even play against Auburn as he sat out a one game suspension for failing a drug test due to synthetic weed usage. Against UGA in the SEC championship game? Four tackles.
Thinking of it that way, they're not going to miss him at all, right? No, not necessarily. He actually was better used in the team's Mustang package as an outside linebacker/safety. Think about it: Which defensive plays do you remember from last year? You remember the interception off the edge against West Virginia. You may also remember the strip sack and return for a touchdown early in the season against Kentucky. Both of those plays were a result of him playing a hybrid safety/outside linebacker position where he had a ton of freedom to blitz the edge and make plays in space.
From that position, he led the team in tackles and for a guy that is only 5'8"/5'9" and 180 pounds tops, he is an excellent tackler. However, he is not Deion Sanders in coverage. He's not a lockdown corner and will never be one. His football IQ is off the charts and that is what the defense will miss the most in 2012. His absence will perhaps keep Defensive Coordinator John Chavis from running his Mustang (6 DB) package more this season. That's where he'll be missed tremendously.
In my estimation, in base packages, had LSU lost S Eric Reid or either of the DE Sam Montgomery or Barkevious Mingo, the Tigers would've been in a bit worse shape. When LSU goes to its sub packages this year though, that's when LSU will struggle a bit, especially early in the season.
One final aspect of his absence that'll hurt is his ability to force fumbles. Trust me, having played for as long as I did and many others who play will second this, that's an innate ability a player has or not. He has it. Without a doubt.
Oh boy, to the LSU special teams this was the Hindenburg going down in flames, the Titanic hitting the glacier and Bruce Jenner marrying a Kardashian all rolled into one. Whether it was returning punts, covering punts or making something out of kickoffs too, he was the most dominant one man special teams wrecking crew we've seen in quite some time.
Some guys make a career out of returns. Some are demons making tackles on nearly every return team. Rarely do we ever see a guy who does both of those and also loves to be a part of both of those aspects of special teams.
He changed the Oregon game, the Arkansas game and the SEC championship game against UGA with plays on special teams.
Now, some will say that "well, teams wouldn't kick him the ball". Fine, give me 10+ yards of field position advantage on every punt and my offense will kill yours. If he's worth only that because teams won't punt him the ball, so be it, we'll take it. That's now gone and so is his magnificent coverage on punts and kicks. This is the area that'll suffer the most struggle without #7.
If we could only look into the Magic-8 Ball and see what his mindset is after today's announcement... Will this be a lesson he learns from and changes his life or just a bump in the road on his way out of football by age 24? If it's a true wake-up call, he's too good a football player to not be in the NFL, but the biggest concern right now for his next level future is the multiple failed drug tests.
Talking to many scouts, most of them have the same thought - recreational users we can live with, but if you have to have it and can't walk away from it, we'll take you off our draft board. Failed drug tests -- plural -- signify you have an issue and it needs to dealt with in a manner more so than just transferring to an FCS school.
Of course, everyone and their brother is referencing St. Louis Rams CB Janoris Jenkins, formerly of the University of Florida and the fact that he had similar "issues" in Gainesville. It's a good comparison but not a 100% analogous one.
These are still two different players, even though they're both labeled as cornerbacks. Jenkins is bigger and a more true corner talent than Mathieu. Jenkins is a bona-fide cover corner with the desire to be physical. Mathieu is not a lockdown corner in that vein, even though he's more than willing to tackle at the point of attack. Mathieu's value is in his ability to always be around the ball and make plays in space.
There's a need for that in the NFL, no question, but there have been some great college playmakers that never get a legitimate shot because of lack of size or outright speed. At Mathieu's size, some teams just won't be intrigued no matter how many impact plays he produced. Now? There will be others who turn the page quickly as well.
He'll be the most talked about prospect when he does decide it's time to head to the NFL, because for the next year or two, he'll be in relative anonymity playing FCS football, a la Jenkins.
There's little question that Mathieu's dismissal will have a ripple effect throughout college football; hopefully now you'll truly understand why and how.