By: Ryan Alfieri, Editor
Every year, there are a handful of prospects that are goung to split the opinions of evaluators in half (see: Tebow, Tim). So far, that player this year is LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, otherwise known as the “Honey Badger” and was the only defender to be a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy, albeit mostly for his skills as a electrifying return man.
There is little doubting Mathieu’s talent. With rare change-of-direction sills and unbelievable closing speed to compliment his physical style of play, you could not draw up a better prospect to play the slot corner position. To boot, he even boasts the ability to play in either man or zone coverage, making him scheme-versatile.
So, if Mathieu has all of these terrific traits, what is the divisive factor that will have inevitably start a world of debate surrounding Mathieu?
The only thing holding back Mathieu is his frame; at just 5’9, Tyrann is simply not big enough to match up with the larger sideline receivers, such as Vincent Jackson, limiting him to being almost exclusively a slot corner. This raises the obvious question as to how much a slot corner is worth, and more to the point, how much is a player like Mathieu worth to the Jets?
In today’s pass-happy NFL that features more three and four-wide receiver sets, the position of slot corner is becoming more and more prominient. Because of the advent of spread offenses, defenses are forced to use their sub-packages almost more often than their base packages, making a slot corner see almost as much playing time as the other base defensive starters.
The Jets clearly see this trend after selecting Kyle Wilson in the first round back in 2010 to be the slot corner, and would presumably agree with the notion that Mathieu is worth a first-round selection. Assuming the Jets are not picking in the top ten or so selections in next year’s draft, at what point is it worth not only spending a first-round pick on Mathieu, but to give up on the disappointing (although improving) Kyle Wilson in favor of one of the most exciting slot corner prospects ever to come out of the draft?
Of course, how the Jets approach this decision next spring will largely depend on Wilson’s performance in 2011. If Wilson does improve to a point to where he is considered anything near the top-echelon of slot corners in the league by the nd of next year, the Jets will likely pass on spending a high selection on Mathieu.
However, if Wilson struggles or even stays at the same level as he is right now, Mathieu’s talent will be tempting if the Jets have a chance to draft him. Also, in addition to his skills on defense, Tyraan is an electrifying punt returner.
Therefore, while I do not expect the Jets to actively pursue Mathieu in next year’s draft (unless Wilson completely falls off the map), I would not rule out the Jets spending yet another first-round pick on a slot corner if they had the opportunity, as Mathieu’s talent is too rare to pass up because of need.