The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2013 NFL Draft with more picks than the norm, 15 picks to be exact. So with 15 selections at their disposal, the Niners have the unconventional luxury to take some risks. What type of risks you may ask? Calculated risks. Players that have top tier talent but slide due to character issues, injuries, or combination of the two. These players may have experienced a negative string of events from drug use, player misconduct, or durability concerns. So with so many red flags surrounding these talented prospects, which ones should the 49ers target? I have always believed in second chances, and think it would be wise for GM Trent Baalke to take a risk on former LSU product CB Tyrann Mathieu.
The player known as the “Honey Badger,” has all the skills needed to thrive in nickel and dime packages. He may not have the elite size that NFL scouts covet, as Mathieu only stands 5-9, but he more than makes up for it with his knack for the ball. In 2011, the Honey Badger forced five fumbles while recording two interceptions (both returned for touchdowns). He was also named the winner of the Chuck Bednarick Award, an achievement given to the nation’s best defensive player in college football.
So what’s holding the Honey Badger back from being a first-round talent? His off-field behavior. On August 10, 2012 the LSU football team dismissed Mathieu for consistently violating team rules (rumored to be failed drug-tests). Then seven days after his dismissal from the team, the Honey Badger checked into a drug rehabilitation center in Houston, Texas confirming his dismissal. After sitting out the entire 2012 season, the Honey Badger found himself in trouble once again on LSU’s campus as he was arrested on marijuana possession charges.
Those are huge red-flags for any team to gamble on, but one that would pay huge dividends if the player can turn his life around. It’s a huge risk/reward factor but one I feel the 49ers should take. It provides the Niners secondary with an aggressive press cover corner that can cover the slot and provide depth as a return specialist. Furthermore, Mathieu’s potential is similar to last year’s troubled CB Janoris Jenkins.
Like Mathieu, Jenkins was dismissed from his SEC team (Florida) for his numerous marijuana possession charges. And like Mathieu was widely considered a first-round talent. Fortunately for Jenkins, the St. Louis Rams took a chance on him in the second-round (39th) overall and has paid huge dividends for them, and Mathieu hopes for a similar path. At the NFL scouting combine, Mathieu had a solid workout, running a 4.50 40-yard dash, 34-inch vertical, and boasting a 117 inch broad jump. However, the knock on Mathieu was his questionable work in the bench press, as he completed only four reps at 225 pounds. Which then raises another question, work ethic.
However, despite these red-flags, why not take a chance on the Honey Badger? He would fill a need and provide great value if he pans out. And if he does not work out, well it was well worth the gamble, as the 49ers were stocked with 14 other picks to make up for it. In any talent evaluation, you need to take the pros and cons and risk verse reward factor when determining a player’s value, as the Honey Badger is the epitome of this philosophy.