Here we are again, this time of the year I like to put out some articles looking at some debatable topics. Some of the points made in this article do not convey my personal feelings on a prospect or idea. I am writing this to get the other side of the coin.
The Browns have some key pieces in play in the secondary. Joe Haden is one of the most underrated Cornerbacks in the NFL. Easily one of the five best in the league, and they will realize how good he is in due time. Then you go to TJ Ward, a player that I think is underrated by many Browns fans.
Outside of those two, Sheldon Brown is a damn fine CB, but is getting up their in age and is a free agent. I would put the chances of him being in a Browns uniform next year at slim. At the other safety spot, the Browns have been trying to answer that position for years. Please come back Mike Adams!
A position that I didn't list is the nickel corner. In today's NFL, this is a starting position. Teams seem like they are in 3 WR formations almost all the time, forcing the defense to adjust. We thought we had this position filled with Dimitri Patterson last year, but that turned into a car wreck finishing with his release mid-season. Buster Skrine was okay in this role, but struggled when Sheldon Brown missed time.
At the end of the season, the Browns had two guys that we can count on going forward, one kid who shows some promise in a limited role and a mish-mash of roster filler.
I think most Browns fans want to use the first round pick on a pass rusher, so we need to look deeper into the draft at who can help the Browns. I keep looking, and one name keeps rising to the top of my board. Tyrann Mathieu.
We know Mathieu's back story. We can get to the on-field stuff in a bit, but his off-the-field issues are big. Like, possibly take off your draft board big.
It starts with a suspension in 2011 for the Auburn game for testing positive for drugs (reported to be marijuana). He got back in the good graces of LSU and continued on to finish 5th in the Heisman voting. Then came another suspension for "violation of team rules", which was later reported to be another drug test gone bad.
He was on his own, and left to his own devices. Obviously, a bad recipe. After a stint in rehab, he was busted a few months later when authorities raided his apartment that he shared with multiple former team mates. It was an arrest for a minor possession, but still, c'mon man. Be smarter.
I know what you are thinking, looking at that, why would you want this kid? Allow me to offer a name. Josh Gordon. You know the kid we are all in love with right now? Outside of the arrest, what is different about their stories? Gordon was a kid that made some dumb decisions. Once a team showed that they would take a chance on him, it paid off. Can lightning strike twice for the Brownies?
You are probably wondering if he has changed. At least from this quote, it sounds like he has:
"I’m not really looking forward to people trusting me today or tomorrow, trust takes time, especially when you’ve done a lot of things for people not to be able to trust you. It may take two years. It may take five years, it may take until I’m 30 years old for people to start trusting Tyrann again. But the truth is, I’m doing the right things and just looking forward to being a football player."
He then made comments about his nightlife habits:
"You’ve got to learn when to do things and when not to do things, when to party and when not to party. Every day is football. That’s the biggest thing I got out of it. I’m just ready to live a football life."
Outside of the third person reference, that is exactly what I want to hear from a guy looking to get back.
Another positive sign is that Mathieu is working out with Patrick Peterson, and was living with Patterson's family in Florida. Getting away from the crowd he was running with Baton Rouge, taking weekly drug tests, getting counseling and getting some much needed structure. He has been working out with Patterson, and Giants corner Corey Webster, and former LSU Tiger, stays in touch giving advice.
So lets make the massive assumption that Mathieu is ready to stay clean and get on the football field, how does it help the Browns?
So we go back to what the Browns need in the secondary. Cornerback and safety help. I actually think Mathieu could help in both areas. Let me explain.
First off, Mathieu is small. Small for a cornerback, very small for a safety. He is listed at 5'9 and 180 pounds. But before you say that is to small, let me remind you of one of the best hitting cornerbacks in the NFL, and he just so happens to hail from the Buckeye state.
While I wish he was taller and had some more meat on his bones (something that he said he will show off when working out for teams), size shouldn't matter for a playmaker of Mathieu's ability. We just came off of a year where a Quarterback that was labeled to short, took his team to the playoffs and made Pete Carrol look like a genius (excuse me while I go puke). In Carolina, Steve Smith is continuing to make people look foolish for passing on the WR because he was too small. Heck, even though I think he is vastly over rated, Earl Thomas is headed to Honolulu and he is an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier.
Long story short, the size doesn't matter to me. Especially when you watch him on the field. He sure as hell doesn't play small.
Could he be a safety? I think he could. Ed Reed is just a bit bigger, but when I watch Mathieu in college, Reed just keeps coming to mind. Some players have the knack for making big plays. Reed does. Mathieu does, at least in college. Some guys just make plays when their teams need the plays. Does anyone on the Browns sound like that right now? Because I can name someone on the Ravens and the Steelers. We need that.
Here are some numbers to think about. In two years, this "small" defensive back had 11 forced fumbles. He was a part of 21 turnovers at LSU in his two year career. He played in 26 games! Think about that. He was part of a turnover nearly once a game. When he was on the field at LSU, he was simply the most dominating defender in college football. Everyone loved what Manti Te'o did this past season, but Mathieu was better. What if I told you that in Mathieu's Heisman finalist season, he had more tackles for loss, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries than Te'o last year. Plus he matched Te'o on sacks. He made more plays on the other side of the LOS than a linebacker. That's impressive.
I love the idea of pairing Ward with Mathieu. Letting the Honey Badger running around making plays and TJ patrols the run game and punishing anything underneath. Imagine the gambles we could take up front with the new defense if we have Haden, Ward and Mathieu patrolling the deep thirds?
Let's say that Mathieu doesn't have the size to be a safety. Just can't handle the position. It doesn't mean that he is done. In fact, I think he could actually be better suited for another position.
I imagine it as a mixture between the "star" position at Ohio State, and the nickel corner. I don't know if anyone has ever named this position, but let me put on my Rufio hat for a second and try to explain:
Think of the position as a LB/S/CB hybrid. Mathieu would cover the slot WR in 3 WR sets. From this position, he would be more than capable of covering shifty WR's such as Percy Harvin, Andrew Hawkins, Wes Welker, etc. Plus he gives the Browns another advantage. In all my years, I don't remember a college corner being as successful on blitzes as Mathieu was at LSU. Look at the tape.
We keep hearing about an "attacking" defense, how about dropping in a nickel CB that can not only play the pass, but can bring the heat off the edge and strip sack the Quarterback? How's that for attacking?
Don't forget, Ray Horton knows something about game changing defensive backs. Patrick Peterson, (yes the same guy who has been working with Mathieu for the past few months) was in Horton's defense in Arizona. You don't think that Horton will be drooling to add Matheiu to Haden and Ward?
How nice would it to be not just take away a teams #1 WR with Haden, but to erase their slot guy as well with Mathieu?
It doesn't just end there, Mathieu is a game changing special teams player as well. Notice I didn't say just returner, go back to the 2011 LSU-Oregon game. 2nd quarter, trailing 6-3, Les Miles needed a spark. So he put Mathieu on the kick coverage team. He flew down the field, stripped Kenjon Barner and scooped it for a TD, and LSU never trailed again.
He is also one of the best punt returners I have ever seen, and that includes Josh Cribbs. Remember, Cribbs is a free agent and is a good bet to be signing elsewhere this off-season. Travis Benjamin could be an answer here, but why not add more?
Go back to the 2011 UGA-LSU game. Again, LSU is trailing in the 2nd quarter, and Les Miles again needs a play. Enter Mathieu the kick returner. Later in the game, he had another punt return that I actually thought was better than the first. By the way, I suggest you watch that entire clip. Outside of one missed tackle, it is pretty impressive.
Great risks bring great rewards. There is a very real chance that Mathieu will be out of the NFL in three years. I also think there is a very real chance that Mathieu could be an All-Pro in three year. It is a massive gamble. I like the Browns chances to keep Mathieu on the right path because of their success with Gordon and Ray Horton. He would know if this kid is worth taking a risk on.
Tyrann Mathieu is damn good. Is he worth the gamble is up for debate, and his off the field baggage makes this go from a no-brainer to major decision. But when you look at the impact he could have wearing Orange and Brown, the Browns need to take a chance.