Tyrann Mathieu (Marvin Gentry/USA Today)
The Vikings were hosting their “top 30” predraft visits Tuesday, with some notable names among them, including a talented cornerback trying to repair his reputation.
On the field, former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu has drawn comparisons to former Minnesota Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield. Perhaps that’s why the Vikings were hosting Mathieu as part of their “top 30” visit Tuesday, according to FOXSports.com.
Off the field. Mathieu hasn’t experienced the smooth ride that Winfield has carved out. Perhaps that’s also why the Vikings are interested in getting to know Mathieu during his meet-and-greet with the coaching staff, front office and other employees, and dinner with other draft prospects.
Mathieu, who became better known by his nickname “Honey Badger,” something he is trying to shed along with the spotty reputation he earned over the last two years, will also visit Tampa Bay and New England later this week, as well as San Francisco, Buffalo and Arizona next week, FOXSports.com reported.
“I really hope Minnesota is not as cold as Detroit lol,” Mathieu tweeted Tuesday afternoon.
The Vikings released Winfield just before the start of free agency last month because of a $7.25 million salary he was scheduled to make, although general manager Rick Spielman maintained the door was open to a possible return. But whether Winfield returns or not, Mathieu presents an intriguing, albeit risky, alternative this year and into the future.
On the field, there is a lot to like about Mathieu’s game, especially in a defensive system like the Vikings employ, where zone schemes that rely on physical cornerbacks are prevalent. Mathieu isn’t quite 5-foot-9 and weighs 186 pounds. But he plays with a physical style reminiscent of the diminutive Winfield and has been productive at the major college level before being dismissed from the Tigers in 2012 for violating team rules. He was later arrested for drug possession.
But before the legal troubles came he was known for his on-field acumen. As a freshman, despite starting only one game, he led the SEC with five forced fumbles and added a team-high seven passes defensed, had 57 tackles, including 8½ for loss, 4½ sacks, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
In 2011, he once again led the conference with six forced fumbles, recovered five and led LSU with 70 tackles.
He also established himself as a prolific punt returner, averaging 16.2 yards per return, second in the nation, including a 62-yard return for a touchdown against Georgia in the SEC Championship, where he earned MVP of the game.
He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the top defensive player in the country.
However, his off-the-field decisions caught up with him following the 2011 season. He was kicked off the team in August, reportedly for multiple failed drug tests, considered enrolling at McNeese State and then decided to attend classes at LSU in the fall of 2012 even though he couldn’t play football there. An October arrest for possession of marijuana further sullied his stock.
As the calendar turned to 2013, he has been working to repair his reputation. He said at the NFL Scouting Combine last month that the last time he smoked was Oct. 26, 2012, he has been to rehabilitation programs, has a sponsor and has received counseling. He also spent time with personnel from NFL front offices and coaching staffs trying to show them the changes he has made.
“First of all, I want (NFL personnel) to be able to trust me. I hold myself accountable for everything I’ve done and in this past year it’s been tough. At the end of the day I want them to know that I’m a football player. I want to be a great teammate and I want to be the same leader on the field that I know I can be off the field,” Mathieu said.
“I’m not totally asking them to trust me right now. What I have asked is for them to give me an opportunity to play the game. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on it, especially without football. It’s really given me a different outlook on life and it’s just about being the right kind of person.”
He also helped himself at the NFL Scouting Combine with a strong performance on the field, running the 40-yard dash in 4.43, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-9 broad jump.
He did well in his positional drills, too, both at the combine and again at his pro day.
Without the off-the-field problems, Mathieu likely would be a first- or second-round pick. With them, he may last until the middle rounds.
Either way, the Vikings are looking for a more complete assessment of the person with his Tuesday visit to Minnesota.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.