The NFL's marketing department and scheduling makers obviously lost their money loving minds the moment that Russell Wilson was acquired by the Broncos in a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Seahawks this past offseason. The Broncos doubled down on the future mortgaging draft capital haul they gave up to acquire Wilson's services by signing the proven veteran to a five-year, $245 million contract extension.
The Broncos instantly became a Super Bowl contender in the eyes of many, and a favorite to win what was perceived to be the toughest division in the NFL, the AFC West. The NFL decision makers decided that the Broncos were must-see television, and a captivated audience has been subjected to four primetime games featuring the Broncos already this season.
There has been one huge problem with the NFL's brilliant plan. The Denver Broncos are atrocious on offense. The Broncos offense is difficult to watch, even for the most passionate Broncos fans. The Broncos offense has zero chemistry or identity, and it doesn't appear capable of finding those anytime soon.
The silver lining for all the other vested football fanatics like myself is this; the Broncos defense is a joy to watch, and a beauty to behold. They are the epitome of a modern day masterpiece on defense. Space eaters on the interior, lightning fast edge rushers, aggressively mobile interior linebackers, and a shutdown secondary. All of their AFC West competitors have high profile and pricey defensive talents, whereas the Broncos have found the perfect balance of scheme and talent. The Broncos are the most complete defense I have watched this season.
Bradley Chubb would probably be the closest thing to a household name, but that is about to change in the near future. Fellow outside linebacker Baron Browning appears on the verge of stardom. His combination of athleticism, flexibility, and bend around the edge reminds me of a young Greg Lloyd, which is indeed high praise coming from yours truly. Pat Surtain ll may just be the best shutdown corner in the league, and both safeties are fast and physical.
That brings us to the inspiration behind this article: CB Damarri Mathis. Mathis is a rookie cornerback from Pittsburgh starting across from Surtain for the Broncos. That ensures that Mathis can expect plenty of action to come his way each week. He drew four pass interference penalties against the Chargers Sunday night, but could have easily been called for a few more that weren't flagged. It got so bad at one point that there were numerous fans feeling sorry for the young man on Twitter, but they were missing the obvious; Damarri Mathis never got down on himself.
Mathis has a junkyard dog mentality. He is willing to fight, claw, and grab to stay in close proximity to his assignments. He also has the speed and athleticism to shadow them all over the field. He is a freak athlete, but still extremely raw. Combine that with the short term memory loss required to be an elite cover corner, and the future appears bright for the young man. The Chargers receivers were visibly aggravated and discouraged by the second half of the game.
That got my mental wheels turning. Would the Steelers even be capable of recognizing an elite level talent at the position, and would they be willing to endure the inevitable growing pains associated with the learning curve and teaching process?
My initial and immediate answer was no.
First, Mathis isn't the kind of cornerback the Steelers look for, but that needs to change. Mathis is a cover corner with blazing 4.37 speed. Those are necessary qualities in the modern NFL, and qualities that the Steelers have been missing at cornerback for years. Mathis is the type of quick twitch athlete that possesses the explosiveness needed to excel in zone coverage.
Mathis really is the type of cornerback prospect that the Steelers need to be scouting moving forward, but here's the kicker. Would the Steelers be able to develop a similar prospect if they drafted him?
The aforementioned short term memory loss is a great quality for any top level cover corner, but I highly doubt that the Steelers coaching staff would ever allow any corner to forget and move past the type of struggles that Mathis endured against the Chargers. Inevitably, the youngster would find himself with a permanent seat in Tomlin's doghouse, probably long before drawing even the third penalty flag, much less the fourth. That type of reaction from a coaching staff does nothing to build confidence, or foster growth, in a talented prospect.
The Broncos coaches see Mathis' talent, and they fully realize that they are required to develop all of their young talent on defense moving forward, especially since they have so much of the salary cap tied up in their new franchise QB. The Broncos don't have the benefit of time and money for a rebuild. Their time is now, hence the admirable patience being displayed with a talented young prospect.
The Steelers are smack dab in the middle of a rebuild, and that mindset has to be evident in their decision making moving forward. That includes scouting, player evaluations and usage, and development. The future success of the franchise depends on it.