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Why did the Broncos draft Pittsburgh Cornerback Damarri Mathis?

With his third pick in the 2022 draft George Paton drafts a developmental corner.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Pitt at Georgia Tech
Is Mathis a future starter?
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 115th pick in the NFL Draft the Denver Broncos select Pittsburgh cornerback Damarri Mathis. A three-star recruit out of high school, Mathis chose the Pittsburgh Panthers over offers from the South Carolina Gamecocks and Florida Gators. He found playing time as a true sophomore and finished his career with five interceptions and 24 passes defensed in 49 games played with 25 starts.

At 23-years-old, the 5’10 196 lb. Mathis is one of the older cornerback prospects in the 2022 class. He combines good mental acuity and competitive toughness with route recognition and spacial awareness and should be an easy projection into the Fangio-esque scheme the Broncos plan to run under defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. He offers promising ball skills to go with his very good long speed and explosiveness.

Mathis makes sense for the Broncos defense because he’s a developmental starter and they entered today with a ton of questions about their cornerback room. Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, Michael Ojemudia, and Essang Bassey all spent a stint of 2022 on either Injured Reserve or the Physically Unable to Perform list. K’Waun Williams will turn 31 in July, is strictly a slot corner, and has never played a full 16+ game regular season. Additionally, Darby’s $13 million cap hit makes him a potential cap cut in 2023.

Mathis doesn’t come without some big questions. It’s notable that he skipped most of the agility drills during the pre-draft process after a so-so shuttle because he lacks top tier change of direction skills and has some hip tightness, which shows up against shifter receivers. This should improve a little if the Broncos cornerbacks coach Christian Parker can refine his footwork, but it may not ever be a strength. On top of that, he needs to become less grabby after drawing 17 defensive pass interference and holding flags over the last two seasons. Mathis also missed the entire 2022 season because of a shoulder injury he suffered off the field while boxing.

I’m a fan of this pick because the Broncos badly needed to improve their cornerback room, but time will tell if Mathis was a better selection than players like Sam Houston State’s Zyon McCollum and UTSA’s Tariq Woolen. He should be a key reserve and a special teams contributor in year one. By year two he should be pushing for playing time in sub packages at the least.


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