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Summary: In 2010 and 2011, Mathieu was one of the best players in the SEC and all of college football. He was a consistent source of splash plays and was a game-changer for LSU. Mathieu compiled 57 tackles with 8.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, two interceptions, seven passes broken up and two interceptions as a freshman in 2010.
Mathieu was one of the best defensive players in college football in 2011. The sophomore was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and he had a massive impact for LSU. Mathieu led the Tigers in tackles with 76. He also had 7.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, two interceptions and nine passes broken up. Additionally, Mathieu served as a punt returner in 2011, averaging 16 yards per return with two brought back for touchdowns.
The unique attribute that allows Mathieu to be such a force are his instincts. He does a tremendous job of readying an offense and getting in position to make plays. Mathieu is always around the ball. He is a physical hitter who plays much bigger than his size. Mathieu has a real knack to strip the ball free from ball-carriers.
In the college game, Mathieu had generally good coverage as a cornerback. He rarely was beaten deep or allowed separation. Mathieu would be best as a hybrid safety and cornerback in the NFL given his size. He could serve as a slot corner who covers smaller receivers. Mathieu could also operate well as a roving free safety on some snaps. His instincts could let him run around the field and make splash plays.
LSU moved Mathieu around to protect him and put him in the best position to make plays. That worked well for the Tigers, and his pro team should use him in the same way.
Mathieu is also a special teams weapon in coverage and returns. The troubled play-maker could also be a punt returner in the NFL.
The big question with Mathieu is the off-the-field problems. There are some teams that have doubts that he can stay out of trouble and avoid positive drug tests. If Mathieu stays clean, he could turn into a good NFL player. Mathieu needs to land in a strong locker room that has leaders to help him adjust to the lifestyle of the NFL. He needs good coaches and mentors at the next level.
There is a possibility that Mathieu could sneak into the second day of the 2013 NFL Draft, but it looks more likely that he will fall to the third day.
Player Comparison: Ronde Barber. There are a lot of different players who Mathieu has been compared to. The list includes Ed Reed and Antoine Winfield (5-9, 180). Like Barber, Mathieu has tremendous instincts to put himself in position to make splash plays. Barber always seems to be "Johnny on the spot," and Mathieu was like that in college. Barber (5-9, 185) is identical measurements to Mathieu.
Coming out of Virginia, Barber was a third-round pick. He was able to be a good corner on the outside and has been a real weapon as a slot corner. Mathieu could play that role in the NFL and go in a similar range in the 2013 NFL Draft.
NFL Matches: St. Louis, Baltimore, Washington, Detroit, Oakland
The vast majority of teams in the NFL will consider drafting a cornerback in the mid-rounds, so there are a ton of possibilities for Mathieu. These five teams could make sense as destinations for him.
The Rams could be a nice fit for Mathieu. They have a coaching staff who could handle him and benefitted from taking a character risk last year with Janoris Jenkins. St. Louis could use secondary depth and Mathieu could be flexible with how the team uses him.
Washington needs secondary help at cornerback and safety. General manager Bruce Allen, head coach Mike Shanahan and defensive backs coach Raheem Morris have given chances to troubled players in the past. Mathieu could be a good play-maker in the Redskins' secondary.
The Lions have to improve their secondary, and they could use a play-maker like Mathieu to make plays off their pass rush. Detroit's regime has drafted players with character issues in the past.
Oakland needs secondary help at corner, and Mathieu could be a nice value pick for the Raiders in the mid-rounds. However, their coaching staff and front office may not want to take a risk on Mathieu in their locker room.