Looking to cement themselves in the minds of NFL talent evaluators as some of the best at their position, cornerbacks and safeties had their day on the field Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Former LSU safety Tyrann Mathieu might have entered the day with the most to prove of any defensive back. His off-field struggles are well-documented, but he said Sunday that those troubles are behind him. In interviews this week (he told me Sunday that he had one with the Redskins Saturday night), he has taken the approach of humility and honesty as he asks teams to take a chance on him.
But teams also have concerns about how Mathieu would transition to the NFL game. Though he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in 2011, Mathieu is small, (5 feet, 8 inches tall), not as fast as some DBs and has inconsistent coverage skills.
Mathieu said Sunday that his goal for the workouts was to prove that despite sitting out last season, he remains a play-maker with the versatility for either safety or cornerback in the NFL.
Draft analysts said Mathieu needed to run a good 40 time and do well in the positional drills. And he did have a solid day, clocking a 4.50 40-yard dash time. Mathieu also appeared fluid and quick in coverage drills.
“I think I did good,” Mathieu said when interviewed on NFL Network’s broadcast. “I came into the day extremely confident. I believed I could get a 4.4 in my 50, and in my position drills, I knew all along, I was just a natural athlete. That’s something I work on every day.”
Mathieu’s hand times were 4.43 and 4.45. Now, the remainder of his work will take place in any additional interviews and pre-draft visits, where he will face more grilling from NFL officials and coaches.
Other defensive backs stood out as well.
Alabama’s Dee Milliner was regarded as the top cornerback in the draft, and he didn’t disappoint, clocking 4.37 in the 40-yard dash. Washington corner Desmond Trufant, who had a good Senior Bowl week and is trying to climb the rankings, helped himself with a 4.38.
Meanwhile, Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Robert Alford, whom the Redskins were high on after the Senior Bowl and spoke to again at the combine, ran a 4.39 40-yard dash.
Another small-school DB, William & Mary’s B.W. Webb, appeared to do well in position drills, and clocked a 4.51 40-yard dash.
Florida International safety Johnathan Cyprien could be within the Redskins’ reach at the 51st overall pick. But he didn’t run the 40 because of a hamstring strain. He did, however, go through some coverage drills. He’ll get another chance to show what kind of speed he has at his pro day.
A trio of safeties who stood out at the Senior Bowl and could be available to Washington: J.J. Wilcox (4.57) T.J. McDonald (4.59) and Phillip Thomas (4.65) didn’t have quite the same speed in the 40-yard dash. But a lot of them are more quick than they are fast, and still seem to have playmaking ability.
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