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Mathis Rising on Draft Boards

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Dave Holcomb discusses the momentum around Pittsburgh cornerback Damarri Mathis.

Every single year there are NFL draft prospects that raise their stock by performing well at the NFL combine and other offseason draft workout events.

In the ACC, that player this year appears to be Pitt cornerback Damarri Mathis.

NFL writer Ian Cummings of Pro Football Network wrote that entering the offseason Mathis was “largely regarded as a Day 3 pick.” But after playing well at the Senior Bowl and then running the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the combine, Mathis has seemingly gone from borderline draft pick to possible Day 2 selection.

Where he ultimately lands will depend on what NFL scouts believe – is Mathis just a good tester or is he capable of displaying his elite traits on the field?

A few of the top draft analysts in the media appear to be overlooking what Mathis has done this offseason. NFL scout Cory Giddings of Bleacher Report still has a seventh-round grade for Mathis while NFL analyst Lance Zierlein of NFL.com has Mathis in the “traits or talent to be above-average backup.

“Mathis plays with good anticipation and ball skills but lacks the top-end speed and coverage tools needed to play pure press-man coverage,” Zierlein wrote. “While he’s played Cover 3 with some modest success in college, he lacks the traits and poise to do so in the pros.”

Cummings, who’s draft profile on Mathis is updated as of March 22 (the profiles from NFL.com and Bleacher Report don’t have the dates they were released), wrote that a “dive into the tape” showed Mathis’ testing numbers “translate on film.”

“Athletic testing merely confirmed what’s visible on tape for Mathis,” Cummings wrote. “While he’s fallen under the radar for a large part of this cycle, Mathis was quietly one of the better cornerbacks in the league last season.

“Mathis is explosive, fluid, twitchy and physical. On top of that, he flashes great press technique at the line, can run with receivers downfield and has the ball skills to be a playmaker and turnover generator.”

Playing in Pat Narduzzi’s defensive system at Pitt certainly prepares cornerbacks for press-man coverage. The Panthers design their defense to feature defensive backs in man-on-man situations very often.

Mathis posted six pass breakups and two interceptions last season. He also had 45 total tackles and returned one interception for a touchdown.

Over his four-year career at Pitt, Mathis recorded 19 pass breakups and five interceptions in 47 games.

In addition to the physical skills he displays in single coverage, Mathis seeks contact while defending against the run. Giddings called him a “secure tackler who limits extra yards.”

Having something positive other than offseason testing is a great thing. Still, Mathis’ measurables are what stand out the most.

After showcasing his speed at the NFL combine, Mathis posted a 43.5-inch vertical jump and 133-inch broad jump at Pitt’s pro day.

Those measurables are outstanding. That plus the fact that he is a hard worker and active in run defense could help change the narrative around Mathis in the final month before the 2022 draft.

On the heels of his strong offseason and underrated regular season performance, Cummings projects Mathis to “easily” be worth a Day 2 selection.

“His elite athletic makeup and steely physicality would be maximized in a press-heavy scheme, but he has the traits to become a relatively scheme-versatile starter on the boundary.”

As is the case for every prospect, the consensus doesn’t matter. If one team believes in Mathis, then he may very well become a Day 2 pick. Based on his measurables, he’s a prospect that teams can be confident in drafting after the elite cornerbacks are gone.

But should he fall to Day 3 as some experts predict, Mathis could become one of the greatest secondary steals of the 2022 class.