KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Countless NFL prospects at this week’s Scouting Combine invoked the same name when asked what current player in the league they look toward as a role model and inspiration, including Olathe native and Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
“The first name that comes to mind would be Tyrann Mathieu because he bounces around, he can play anywhere in the back seven,” said Simmons, who is projected as a first-round selection in this year’s draft.
Hearing the praise from the next generation is humbling, Mathieu says. On Saturday night he accepted the Derrick Thomas Award as the Chiefs’ most valuable player during their Super Bowl championship season. Winning a Super Bowl certainly boosted his profile, putting him in a great position to serve as role model for younger players and peers alike.
“It’s a good feeling to have different people look up to me, want to be like me, try to emulate my playing style,” Mathieu said.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, the position on defense didn’t seem to matter for college players who choose to pattern their games after the Chiefs’ superstar defender. Like Simmons, Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. says Mathieu’s versatility is what he strives to emulate.
“He’s a guy like myself where he can play anywhere on the field and plays bigger than his size,” Winfield said. “That’s how I feel I play as well.”
Ohio State safety Jordan Fuller, however, appreciates Mathieu’s gritty style and aggressive attitude. He also Ravens safety Earl Thomas and Bears safety Eddie Jackson.
“Just some guys I like, some guys I feel like play the right way and really, really play hard.”
UCLA cornerback Darnay Holmes agreed, picking up on the “championship swagger” Mathieu preached during the 2019 Super Bowl season.
”I would say I definitely model my game after Tyrann Mathieu, that swagger he has,” Holmes said.
Mathieu doesn’t mind serving as an inspiration for others. He’s often served as an inspiration for his peers who seek to match his energy level. That’s why the Chiefs last offseason signed the 27-year-old to a three-year, $42 million free-agent deal to instill a new work ethic and attitude into a rebuilt defense. Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt presented the team’s MVP honor to Mathieu at Saturday’s 101 Awards.
“More than his play on the field is the impact Tyrann had on our football team,” Hunt said. “He was the heart and soul of the defense, and he provided the leadership we needed to make a championship run.”
But Mathieu says it’s different hearing he’s a role model from today’s college stars.
“It’s a good feeling to have guys that are far younger than me watching me and really studying me,” he said.
Mathieu smiles at the idea of NFL prospects at the Scouting Combine, especially since he doesn’t consider himself perfect.
“I’m not the prototypical athlete,” Mathieu said. “I’m not the fastest, I’m not the biggest, I’m not strongest. I won’t even grade well, right, if you have a combine today.
“But I think what a lot of those guys respect is I think I play for much more than myself. I think every team I’ve been on I think people have been able to see that I play for the guy next to me more so than myself, and I think a lot of young guys, I think they like that.”
Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and a contributor for Sports Radio 810 WHB. Follow him on Twitter @mattderrick.