Finding the Next: Tyrann Mathieu
Ever since his time at LSU Tyrann Mathieu has been making play as both a defender and a return man. At LSU he was primarily a corner but since entering the NFL he has transitioned to more of a hybrid safety/corner/slot back. His versatility coupled with his knack for making big plays has led to Mathieu becoming one of the top defensive backs in the NFL today. Like in all of our “Finding the Next…” we are not predicting that anyone player will be the exact same player as Mathieu, but we will highlight some defensive backs who’s versatility should allow them to be used in multiple ways in hopes of maximizing their individual skill sets. With that said here are some players who could be used in a manner similar to the “Honey Badger” from this upcoming draft class.
TreDavious White, LSU
Starting our list is another LSU Tiger in TreDavious White. White’s skill set is pretty similar to Mathieu’s and is one of the smoothest athletes in this draft class. White also plays with the same kind of swagger and physicality as Mathieu. Experienced as both an outside corner and as a slot man White should be a player who could succeed at either spot in the NFL and his knack for making big plays both on defense and as a punt returner will ensure that he is an early contributor to whatever team selects him this upcoming draft.
Where to get White: Late 1st/Early 2nd Round.
Desmond King, Iowa
Coming into the 2016 college football season Desmond King was seen by many including myself as a future 1st round pick. After the season King’s stock has dropped some but he is still a very intriguing prospect. King registered eight interceptions and 13 pass break ups in 2015 as he demonstrated excellent ball skills that teams will covet. While King should still be a solid corner the big knock is his lack deep speed, which showed up several times this past season. A move to free safety could maximize King’s ball skills while covering up his speed deficiencies similar to Eagles defensive back Malcom Jenkins who has been used as both a corner and a safety throughout his career. King’s experience as a corner would make him a matchup weapon for whatever team ends up with him.
Where to get King: Mid 2nd Round.
Jordan Lewis, Michigan
Sporting a similar build to Mathieu is Michigan defensive back Jordan Lewis. Lewis excelled out of the slot this previous season thanks to his tight coverage and willingness to engage in run support. Similar to Desmond King Lewis may lack the speed needed to match up with speed receivers on the outside. While he should be a very good slot man his skill set screams strong safety at the next level to me thanks to his excellent instincts and tackling ability. I could see him being used as a slot man and a situational safety at the next level.
Where to get Lewis: Late 2nd/Early 3rd Round.
Chidobie Awuzie, Colorado
An underrated prospect in this draft Chidobie Awuzie is an intriguing player who could have value as a versatile defender at the next level. Awuzie is bigger defensive back coming in north of six feet tall and also has extensive experience playing out of the slot. An underrated athlete, Awuzie’s height gives him an advantage over the stereotypical shorter slot back as he matches up better with tall tight ends. His size and athleticism will also allow him to play outside making him a versatile weapon at the next level.
Where to get Awuzie: 4th Round