Are The Pats Sweet For The Honey Badger?
As far as taking chances on players with questionable backgrounds goes, the Patriots are one of few teams in the league that have been known to not only take chances, but openly engage these players.
Recent years certainly suggest this trend (see Chad Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth, etc.). And this April’s NFL draft is starting off no different, as the Patriots have hosted pre-draft visits and workouts with South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, and LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.
Lattimore, who was thought to be one of the top players coming into the 2012 college football season, has a questionable background for different reasons than Mathieu. Lattimore suffered a second serious knee injury this past season, and NFL teams began to seriously question his durability as a running back.
Reports came out at the end of March that Lattimore had scheduled visits with the Patriots and Rams – the Rams seeming to be a more suitable option for the future rookie after Steven Jackson left to sign with the Falcons.
The Patriots really discovered what they had in Stevan Ridley last year, after Ridley registered 12 rushing touchdowns. And once Shane Vereen regained his health, he showed flashes of promise both on the ground and through the air. Even though Danny Woodhead departed for the Chargers this offseason, the addition of Leon Washington rounds out what appears to be a strong rushing corps.
It’s all about value for coach Bill Belichick, and he knows that Lattimore, if healthy, could be a serious contender in the NFL for rushing time.
Mathieu, on the other hand, seems more up the Patriots’ alley in terms of team needs. But his off-the-field issues are well-documented as well.
Mathieu is a smaller cornerback by comparison; he stands at 5-foot-9 and weighs 189 pounds. Despite previous being known as a good coverage corner with decent speed, an entire year away from LSU football leaves some giant question marks about what kind of player (and person) he could be.
Mathieu was kicked off the Tigers’ football team after failing multiple drug tests – over 10, according to a USA Today report. But despite not playing for over a year, Mathieu showed up and opened a few eyes at the combine in February, especially after running a 4.43 40-yard dash. So his speed hasn’t taken much of a hit. It’ll be the coverage drills that New England focuses heavily on.
A large number of Mathieu’s failed drug tests were for marijuana use – something the Patriots haven’t seemed concerned with in the past. In 2010, New England selected tight end Aaron Hernandez from Florida in the fourth round, which was lower than originally predicted for the former Gator. Hernandez admitted to marijuana use before the draft, and teams began to shy away.
Three seasons later, Hernandez has racked up nearly 2,000 yards receiving with 18 touchdown receptions.
So as long as Mathieu can play – and maybe show some versatility in the return game – the Patriots should be willing to give the Honey Badger a second chance, especially if he will help patch the questionable secondary.