In a campaign that has centered around the exponential rise of Pitt Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett, it’s time we turn our attention to the opposite side of the football, where one of the ACC’s premier boundary corners calls home. Absent the entire 2020 season, Damarri Mathis entered the fall with the heaviest of chips on his broad shoulders. A three-year starter in the Pitt secondary, the former South Carolina commit has progressed into a defender NFL scouts have begun to turn their attention to when Pickett is on the sideline.
Behind an average build, what Mathis lacks in stature, he makes up for in his aggressive, physical style of play that you simply can’t teach. Targeted nine times in Pitt’s recent win over Clemson, Mathis allowed just three receptions for 18 yards, including an interception of Tigers quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei. An in-your-face style of corner with excellent mirroring ability and outstanding hands, his ever-growing skill set as a 205-pound defender is awfully enticing considering what works in today’s NFL.
As offenses continue to diversify themselves in both the run and pass games, the importance for teams to acquire talent with the fundamental ability to not just compete but win with consistency in both facets has become paramount for defenses around the league. And while you surely don’t want your corners to be overly involved in either facet, similarly to how Los Angeles Rams corner Jalen Ramsey makes his impact felt when put on an island, deploying an outside presence who isn’t afraid to stick his face in the mud and compete from whistle to whistle—someone who enjoys the violence of the LOS—has become an ever-important asset for general managers to place stock in.
Mathis fits the script.
A secondary that has produced five drafted secondary defenders since 2018, Mathis looks next in line to hear his name called. One of the more underrated prospects in the entire class, Mathis has seen his name slipped under the rug due to the blue-chip talent set to come off the board on night one. From LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. to Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. and Cincinnati's Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, the impressive traits shown from Mathis have the chance to represent one of the more high-value selections come the end of Round 7 in April.
An outside defender with the ability to remain on the hip of opposing wideouts, Mathis thrives best when confined to a phone booth on 50/50 balls. His suddenness and physicality both at the start of the route and through the stem often allow him to remain chest to chest with pass-catchers, presenting him with a clear window to bat down passes with regularity or take it the other way. While he has room to grow in his fluidity and can get flagged for being too grabby at times, it’s a simple fix, and corners like the Lakeland, Florida native are few and far between.
While his initial projection as a pro could see him allotted in the slot, his physical nature and alpha-mentality could see him dominate initially on special teams if he finds himself in a crowded room for snaps. With the third-lowest completion percentage allowed since 2019 heading into the fall—higher than that of the aforementioned Stingley, Booth, and slew of potential future first-round corners—the floor for Mathis continues to rise as the weeks churn on.
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