NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken
Despite no actual football games being played, this is a very exciting time of year for football fans. Next week, the Scouting Combine starts up. This will be the last time we get a public view of the draft prospects before we see them in NFL camps. Inevitably, there will be some players that fans fall in and out of love with because of their performance in the “underwear olympics.” Right on the heels of the Combine will be the start of free agency which will help answer some of the questions about what the Patriots still need and might target in the NFL Draft. One position the Patriots will need to address before next season is Defense End. This might be in the form of a pass rushing edge player or a hybrid type player to be the successor to Rob Ninkovich. Maybe they can find a guy that can do both. That is where today’s scouting report comes in.
Name: Joe Mathis (#5)
School: University of Washington (Sr.)
Height: 6’2″ (unofficial)
Weight: 255 Lbs. (unofficial)
The 2016 Husky football team was loaded with future NFL talent and as I was watching some of their secondary prospects, this #5 guy kept flashing. I found myself watching him more than the guys I had intended on scouting, then poof!!! He was gone, but we will get to that later. One thing that I was taught to look for when scouting front seven player was guys who could convert speed to power, and when I watch Mathis that is exactly what I see. He plays with great leverage and explodes of the line at the snap, making life very difficult for typically taller Offensive Lineman. Mathis has heavy, active hands that consistently get his opponent off balance. He shows a quick first step and good bend to run the arc as a pass rusher. Mathis does not just rely on his speed to get after the QB though. He has a variety of pass rush moves (shoulder dip, inside swim, rip) and he mixes them up well throughout the game to set up his opponent. He is a very smart player that recognizes plays and reacts quickly. Mathis plays with great discipline and is excellent at setting the edge on run plays. He also looks comfortable moving in space and dropping into coverage.
I was hard pressed to find any on field issues that really stuck out to me. While I think he shows a nice variety in his pass rush moves, none of them are fully developed. Physically, he does not have ideal length to play as a traditional edge rusher that many teams look for these days. The real reason that Mathis is not being talked about more is because of lack of production/experience due to injury. Until this season, Mathis was a rotational player that had some attitude issues, but from interviews with coaches, those seem to have been a product of immaturity, but have all but been eliminated and now Mathis is considered a leader in the locker room. This year, Mathis earned a starting role and was thriving until a foot injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. That means, Mathis only has 6 games of college tape for teams to review. This limited sample size could give teams cause for concern and drop him down draft board.
If you have not watched any of Mathis, I recommend you do so. To me, his game translates really well to the NFL and with his skill set, he seems like an ideal Patriot. Mathis brings intelligence, position flexibility, versatility, work ethic, and a high football IQ to the table as a rookie. I love how quickly he processes the game and shows good technique and discipline, especially as a run defender. He does not have ideal size as a true edge pass rusher, but he has that rare combination of speed and power and uses them well. I think he would be a guy who could come in as a rotational player in several different situations and positions even as a rookie. He can learn and develop to take over for Ninkovich as well as be a 3rd down pass rusher. While the foot injury did sideline him for over half his Senior season, it doesn’t seem to be an injury with long term implications. In a deep Defensive End class, a guy like Mathis could fall through the cracks and become a great value. I personally have him as a late 2nd/early 3rd round value, but he might be able to be had later, which would be an absolute steal in my opinion. Mathis gets the prestigious binkie status for me.