Young players with a troubled past are always a gamble when it comes to the NFL Draft. The risk/reward seldom leans toward the reward side of the equation. But in the case of safety Tyrann Mathieu, it might be worth exploring for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The fact is that the Bengals need help in their secondary at both the safety and cornerback positions. If they draft a cornerback, they could move last year’s first round draft pick, Dre Kirkpatrick, over to the free safety position where he might be more comfortable. It was apparent Kirkpatrick was a little overwhelmed playing corner in the NFL last season and had to learn new techniques.
But if the Bengals take the chance on the Honey Badger, it might prove to be a move that helps them even more than drafting another corner.
The upsides are the Mathieu is a natural safety and a playmaker. He’s one of those guys that has instinctive ball hawk abilities, and has been able to turn games around seemingly on his own. He’s also fast for a safety, running a 4.43 40 at the NFL Combine last month. The Bengals could plug Mathieu in immediately and improve themselves at the safety position.
The downsides are that the Honey Badger comes with baggage. After being kicked off the LSU football team for allegedly failing multiple drug tests, Mathieu was arrested for marijuana possession just a month after going into rehabilitation. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was also unimpressed with Mathieu at the combine, so it might be a hard sell either way.
It’s not often that a player with the talent of Mathieu will come as cheap as he probably will in this draft, falling to a fourth or possibly even fifth round pick. It might be worth it for the Bengals to use a draft pick (they are still thanking the Oakland Raiders for some picks in the Carson Palmer deal) to give Mathieu a shot.
At worst, Cincinnati wastes a late round draft pick, but at best, they get themselves an impact safety that will help propel the team beyond the first round of the playoffs in 2013.
Bengals owner Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis historically have no problem taking on reclamation projects, in particular on the defensive side, and it could turn out that one of these now-reformed “problem children”–Adam Jones, Vontaze Burfict–could be a good mentor for Mathieu if brought on board.