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Phidarian Mathis was the right player, taken at the wrong spot

Is anyone else sensing a trend?

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Let me start by saying, I like Phidarian Mathis as a player. I’ve actually taken him in several mock drafts leading up to the real draft, and I’m familiar with his play. When the time comes, next year, I think he’ll be an able replacement for Daron Payne. My rationale for selecting Mathis was the following:

Phidarian Mathis (DT) - Alabama - At this point in the draft (the 4th round), my draft approach shifts almost entirely to a pure Best Player Available (BPA) approach, and when that happens to line up with a position of need - like it did here - it’s the best of all possible worlds.

After losing Tim Settle and Matt Ioannidis to free agency, Washington absolutely needs depth along the defensive line. Mathis was named a permanent defensive captain for Alabama in 2021 and proceeded to rack up 9 sacks and 12 TFLs. An excerpt from his scouting assessment from Bleacher Report is below:

Phidarian Mathis is the high-floor defensive lineman to target in this class. A four-year contributor at Alabama, Mathis has a thick build with surprisingly nimble feet, which allowed him to play anywhere from 0-technique to 5-technique in the Tide’s scheme.

Mathis’ game is defined by his awareness and ability to read plays instantly, as well as how to handle different blocking schemes. He can sit and anchor against double-teams just as well as he can move with the flow of the play in zone and play with his eyes in the backfield. His eyes, length and violence in shedding blocks also allow him to cross-face and play a secondary gap.

Being a fifth-year senior and only sporting average explosiveness, Mathis probably is what he is at this point. Room for growth is limited. However, in his current state, he will be a good NFL run defender with enough tools to be an effective complementary pass-rusher. Combine that with his ability to be effective all over the interior defensive line, and it’s easy to see how he should be a quality starter right away.

The “need” for a player like Mathis has been precipitated by several poor front office moves, including failing to trade Daron Payne for meaningful draft capital last offseason - once it was abundantly apparent the team couldn’t afford him long term - as well as evaporating its defensive line depth this offseason, with the release of Matt Ioannidis (which, in a vacuum, I have no issue with) and the failure to retain Tim Settle. The team now finds itself, frantic, to replace Payne, with only one year left on his deal.

None of these things are Mathis’ fault, of course, and nothing about this piece is intended as an insult to the player, but they set the stage for understanding the artificial sense of urgency that Washington’s front office imposed upon itself.

And, under those circumstances, it should be no surprise that Washington almost certainly overpaid for Mathis’ services:

Grabbed at pick #47 by the Commanders, Mathis was the third defensive tackle taken in the draft, behind Jordan Davis and Davonte Wyatt, widely considered to be the two best tackles available. Travis Jones, thought to be the third ranked DT was selected by the Ravens with the 12th pick in the third round. The next two most highly rated tackles, DeMarvin Leal and Perrion Winfrey, were selected by the Steelers in the mid-third round, and remain available going into the 4th, respectively. This was the appropriate range for Mathis, as confirmed by his agent’s preparations.

All that said, I would have had no issue with grabbing Mathis a bit sooner, if he was “their guy.” However, the appropriate way to have handled the situation would have been to “pinch” together Washington’s second and third round picks, in a trade back, sliding back the second rounder - where Mathis could be taken - and sliding up the third, where top talent still remained on the board.

Before claims of “how do you know they had any trade partners?” are issued, there were three minor trade backs, initiated by the Patriots, Buccaneers, and Bengals, within 15 picks following Washington’s pick in the second. There’s absolutely no chance that Washington could have failed to add to its number of picks, or simply improved its existing picks, AND grabbed Mathis if it had really wanted to do so.

The draft, like virtually every other aspect of the NFL team management, is about optimizing value, and while the team is to be commended for having traded back in the first round to accumulate additional picks, there’s good reason to believe that Ron and the Martys are leaving value on the table as the draft progresses.

After a solid “B+” on Day 1 of the draft, I’d give Day 2 a “C” grade. Let’s see what they can do on the final day of the draft to pull their marks up.


What do you think about the Phidarian Mathis pick?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    I like the pick at the place.
    (161 votes)
  • 63%
    I like the pick, but it was too early.
    (694 votes)
  • 21%
    I don’t like the pick.
    (240 votes)
1095 votes total Vote Now