"He's a great ball hawk, but he won't even be the best cover corner LSU has this year," says KC Joyner, football analyst for ESPN. "If you put Mathieu on a Big Ten defense, no one is talking about him for Heisman. He wouldn't even be one of the top four corners in the Big 12."
If what Joyner is peddling seems like heresy -- he is, after all, slagging the winner of the 2011 Chuck Bednarik Award for outstanding defensive player of the year -- consider that Joyner studied film of LSU this offseason, focusing on the seven best offensive teams the Tigers faced in 2011. In those games, Joyner found that Mathieu was targeted 25 times and allowed 14 completions for 221 yards, an average of 8.8 yards per attempt. By comparison, Mathieu's teammate, Tharold Simon, was targeted 30 times and surrendered just 12 completions for 108 yards, an average of 3.6 yards per attempt.
Joyner's skepticism is shared by many NFL scouts. Says one: "He's made his name off instincts and amazing return skills. He's excellent at diagnosing plays and at covering stuff thrown in front of him. But the jury's out on him being able to run with and cover high-level receivers. He has a long, leggy body and a short torso, which makes him a wait-and-see prospect. And NFL teams don't spend first-round picks on corners who might not be able to cover."