Our #9 ranked player has been both a fan favorite and a lightning rod for criticism during his time as a Jaguar. It can be argued he belongs higher here, but hell, anything can be argued and it's my list.
Away we go....
#9. Rashean Mathis, CB, 2003-Present
When talking about the great Jaguars players of all-time, you cannot have a legitimate discussion without bringing up Rashean Mathis.
To say Mathis changed the atmosphere at the cornerback position for the franchise would be an understatement. Since his rookie season in 2003, after being drafted by the team in the second round, the local product out of Bethune-Cookman University shined as easily the best player in the Jaguars secondary.
He started at both free safety and cornerback in his rookie year, and tabulated 81 tackles, with 2 interceptions. Moving to the corner spot for good the following year in 2004, Mathis begun his emergence as the best secondary player in team history. He had back to back 5 interception seasons in '04 and 2005, finishing with 64 and 69 tackles respectively as well as 36 passes defended over the two year span. Mathis asserted himself as a rising star during the '05 season, making national highlights during a Jaguars overtime win in Pittsburgh in which Mathis intercepted quarterback Tommy Maddox and ran it back for the game-winning touchdown in OT. It would not be the last time Mathis killed the Steelers hopes in his career.
Mathis next season would be his career best. In 2006, he was a dominant force against the pass. He set a franchise record for interceptions in a season with 8 picks, which tied for third best in the NFL that season. Mathis also recorded 21 passes defended and 61 tackles over the course on the '06 season. For his performance, he was elected as a starter to the AFC Pro Bowl squad, and received first-team All-Pro honors from the Associate Press, as well as first-team "All NFL" honors from the Pro Football Writers Association and The Sporting News.
His play was so dominant, that teams essentially stopped throwing at his side of the field at all costs. This led to a significant drop statistically in the 2007 season for Mathis. It also marked the first time in his career he had missed any time as a pro, having started every game from '03-'06. Mathis finished the '07 regular season with a single interception, 6 passes defended, and 58 tackles, again mostly due to teams avoiding whoever he was covering. In the 2007 post-season, however, Mathis showed just why opposing quarterbacks had been looking away from him all season.
In the '07 Wild Card match-up between the Jags and the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger decided he was going to throw caution to the wind and test Mathis, as he has done to countless other corners in his day. Mathis, however, was up for the test on that January night in Pittsburgh. Mathis twice picked off "Big Ben" in the game, returning one for a touchdown, in an eventual Jags win that was decided by a last second field goal. It would go down as the finest performance in a game in Mathis' career to date, and to the joy of Jags fans everywhere, it came at the best possible time.
That playoff game appeared to have marked the peak of Mathis' career with the Jaguars. A rash of knee and groin injuries in the following year have hankered his play from a statistical standpoint as well as being able to stay on the field. He's been able to play in but one full season since '07, and coupled with a significant lack of help in the front seven as well as the safety position in the times since, his "baiting" style of play has been exposed more so than early in his career. This has led to, at times, unfair and scolding criticism among certain fans. Throughout this more troubling time of his career though, Mathis has always maintained a positive attitude towards the team and the fans.
Mathis remains the franchise's All-Time leader in interceptions, with 30 total picks as of 2011. To put that in perspective, the next guy on the list is our #25 player Aaron Beasley, with 15. He's currently second to Beasley all-time in defensive touchdowns with 3. Mathis also remains the franchise leader in passes defended with 99, as well as eleventh in forced fumbles, and third overall in tackles with 441.
In 2012, Mathis signed a one-year contract to remain with the team as he battles back from a season ending ACL injury. For the first time in his career, he will battle another player for the starting cornerback job. He will almost certainly be inducted to the "Pride of the Jaguars", when his career has ended.
The Top-25 List:
#25. Aaron Beasley, CB, 1996-2001
#24. Bryan Barker, P, 1995-2000
#23. Donovin Darius, S, 1998-2006
#22. David Garrard, QB, 2002-2010
#21. Josh Scobee, K, 2004-Present
#20. Kyle Brady, TE, 1999-2006
#19. Kevin Hardy, LB, 1996-2001
#18. Brad Meester, C, 2000-Present
#17. Vince Manuwai, G, 2003-2010
#16. Mike Peterson, LB, 2003-2008
#15. Mike Hollis, K, 1995-2001
#14. Gary Walker, DT, 1999-2001
#13. Daryl Smith, LB, 2004-Present
#12. Leon Searcy, OT, 1996-2000
#11. Tony Brackens, DE, 1996-2004
#10. John Henderson, DT, 2002-2009
#9. Rashean Mathis, CB, 2003-Present