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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Should the Vikings be interested in Tyrann Mathieu?

By Matthew Coller

Whenever general manager Rick Spielman talks about his team’s roster construction, he’s sure to mention that the Minnesota Vikings have been built with head coach Mike Zimmer’s vision for each position in mind.

For example, Zimmer wanted a three-technique defensive tackle who was undersized and quick to be a situational pass rusher. The front office went out and found Tom Johnson, a former CFL player who had spent some time with the Saints. The Vikings wanted a more mobile offensive line to run outside zone scheme for Dalvin Cook, so they let Alex Boone go and started Nick Easton instead.

There are examples all over the field and the specifications come down to the letter. What type of size, what type of skill set etc.

Former Arizona Cardinals star Tyrann Mathieu, who was released for cap-related reasons, might fit that look. (There has been one hint of potential interest).

When Zimmer arrived in Minnesota, the Vikings signed Captain Munnerlyn, a competitive, 5-foot-9 slot corner with strong tackling ability. In 2016, they drafted 5-foot-10 Mackensie Alexander – another player known for his toughness and competitiveness – out of Clemson in the second round, likely with an eye on replacing Munnerlyn in that spot. Last offseason, Zimmer gave Alexander a shot to win the job, but eventually turned the spot to Terence Newman.

Mathieu, who has technically played free safety but spent a great deal of time in the slot corner position, is also 5-foot-9 and would immediately be one of the better tacklers at his position if he played slot corner full time.

In 2015, Mathieu lined up in the slot for 367 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus data. He allowed the fourth lowest passer rating against in the NFL among nickel corners. Opposing quarterbacks went 42-for-69 with 389 yards, five touchdowns, five interceptions on throws in his direction, good for a 70.4 rating against.

Last year his numbers weren’t as good – though a single touchdown allowed skews the rating against heavily. He gave up 455 yards on 47-for-64 passing with one TD and one interception.

It should be noted that QB rating against is a statistic that fluctuates for most corners.

A Pro Football Focus analysis of Mathieu found that he’s been effective on blitzes, citing this stat: “Mathieu has four sacks, eight QB hits and 36 hurries on only 175 rushes during his five-year career.”

If the Vikings were to sign Mathieu, they wouldn’t be getting a pure nickel corner, they would gain a player with a versatile skill set.

PFF author Steve Papazzolo adds:

“Mathieu played most of his snaps in the slot (696 out of 1,052), but he also spent 108 snaps close to the line of scrimmage at the linebacker level and another 175 snaps playing in a deep free safety role.”

That sounds like the nickel corner version of Harrison Smith.

The decision at nickel corner isn’t one that should be taken lightly – in fact, a recent PFF study looked into the impact of the position.

Analyst Eric Eager wrote:

“This long-term trend of efficiency and safety throwing to slot receivers has manifested itself in which receivers end up becoming stars in the NFL, with five of our top 10 highest-graded receivers (Michael Thomas, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, Larry Fitzgerald and Adam Thielen) going about much of their work from the inside in 2017. While Robinson and Fuller were top-13 players at their position a season ago, they were the only inside guys cracking that list, demonstrating the pace at which defenses have caught up.”

So as the Vikings pick and choose different areas to invest their cap space following the signing of Kirk Cousins, it might make sense to invest on a dynamic player with slot experience like Mathieu.

The reverse effect could be that quality slot corners are criminally underpaid and players like Robert McClain, an unrestricted free agent slot corner who allowed only a 78.4 rating against or RFA Bryce Callahan (who the Strib reported some interest from the Vikings) who allowed the sixth lowest rating against last year. But those players are usually limited to one spot rather than giving a defense multiple looks as Mathieu could.

The post Should the Vikings be interested in Tyrann Mathieu? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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