The New England Patriots interest in former LSU Tigers star defensive back Tyrann Mathieu is indeed very serious, because Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald is reporting that the Patriots will work out the LSU product on the 5th of April. Due to the specificity of the information, it sounds like Mathieu’s visit to Foxboro is official, and a few people believe it is almost a sure thing that the Patriots will select Mathieu.
While I think it is likely that Mathieu ends up with the Patriots, I don’t think it’s a “sure-fire” thing by any means. Looking at Mathieu’s skill-set, he is a unique player who fits best as a slot cornerback with the upside of a Cortland Finnegan type player. He could also play at safety or on the outside at corner, but the Patriots don’t seem to have room at safety for Mathieu, and the most important thing to note is that Mathieu won’t transition too well at safety.
He’s also not going to be the best fit on the outside, so Mathieu is best utilized on the inside. However, the same can be said for Kyle Arrington, who is clearly in the Patriots future plans after receiving a four-year deal. A solid slot corner, Arrington is, however, a disaster on the outside in coverage- the Patriots probably have no plans of moving him back out there.
Either the Pats are content to have two slot-type CBs on the roster, or, more likely, they are willing to take the gamble on Mathieu’s character and his ability to transition to the outside. I don’t think he is best fit on the outside, and I think that’s a bigger gamble than gambling on his character concerns. Sure he makes plays, but that playmaking ability is best realized in the slot- his height and strength concerns mean the jury is still out on his ability to start outside. Mathieu’s physicality makes up for all that, though, so some of the height concerns are just crutch arguments.
But the Patriots don’t have picks between the fourth and sixth rounds (including those rounds), and they might use their third-rounder on Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Let’s just say, I would rather have a known commodity to stretch the field vertically than a nickel corner who is something of a gamble.
I know I should trust in Bill Belichick, but the counterargument to that is the recent history of defensive backs the Pats have drafted. Then again, Tavon Wilson looked solid last year and Ras-I Dowling showed talent when healthy (it’s too bad he was almost never healthy).
Tyrann Mathieu has upside, but it seems like the Patriots would be reaching if they selected him this year.
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