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What does Tyrann Mathieu’s visit with the Patriots really mean?

03.29.13 at 9:20 pm ET
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The news that Tyrann Mathieu will have a pre-draft visit with the Patriots on April 5 is certainly interesting. While those visits can be for a number of reasons — a smokescreen to fool other teams, a real indication of interest, or simply a chance to ask some questions that weren’€™t asked at the combine — it got us thinking about the possibility of The Artist Formerly Known As The Honey Badger joining the Patriots.

He certainly has an impressive resume: before he was booted from LSU for repeated violations of its drug policy, Mathieu won the Chuck Bednarik award in 2011 as the best defensive college player in the country and was a Heisman finalist. In all, the 5-foot-9, 176-pounder played two seasons for Louisiana State, and had 133 tackles (93 solo) and four picks in that stretch.

But beyond the name, what does he bring to the table? Like the questions about Marcus Lattimore and his visit with the Patriots, it sparks an interesting debate: Mathieu is a high-profile name and certainly an intriguing story, but when you offer a practical examination of the New England roster, it’s probably not a good fit. While he has displayed some positional versatility in college, Mathieu likely projects as a slot corner in the NFL, and the Patriots recently re-signed Kyle Arrington to fill that role for the foreseeable future. You could shuffle Mathieu around at different spots in the secondary — he might be able to work on the outside for a time and could conceivably be a serviceable backup, but it might be a stretch to consider him an every-down outside corner at this stage of his career.

However, he does offer special teams value — he averaged an impressive 17.2 yards per punt return in 2011, a year that included a pair of returns for touchdowns. While the Patriots signed Leon Washington earlier this month to help bolster an occasionally inconsistent return game, they could also re-sign Julian Edelman, who has experience as a punt returner as well.

In addition, Mathieu will likely be available sometime in the mid- to late-rounds, which could create s situation similar to what happened with Alfonzo Dennard last season. The Nebraska corner was considered an early- to mid-round selection before running into a legal snafu in the days before the draft — he was allegedly involved in a scuffle with a police officer — which was one of the reasons he dropped to the seventh round. In the end, the Patriots found a great addition in Dennard, who became a starting cornerback by the end of the season and had one of the best rookie year’€™s on the team.

With that in mind, you cannot talk about Mathieu without bringing up his history — he was kicked out of LSU last summer after failing his latest drug test, and told the media at the combine that he hasn’€™t smoked pot since Oct. 26. It’€™s certainly worth mentioning that the Patriots have taken their chances on wildly talented college players with character questions as recently as 2011, when they selected quarterback Ryan Mallett out of Arkansas in the third round.

Regardless, he presents several intriguing questions for the Patriots: Could he rebound to his 2011 form and become an impact player in the NFL? And could he manage to keep his demons in check at the professional level — something he addressed when he spoke with the media at the combine?

For his part, he believes the answers to those questions are yes and yes.

‘€œI know what it’€™s like to be humiliated,’€ Mathieu said at the combine last month. ‘€œTo go back down that road, not a chance in this world. Not a chance in my lifetime again.’€

The Patriots aiming to get some answers themselves when they get a chance to meet face-to-face next month.

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