Imagine you’re a first-year NFL general manager, and in the midst of making your first batch of draft picks for a team that went 5-11 (after starting off 4-0) in the previous year. Maybe it’s just me, but the last thing I would be considering it taking one of draft’s most controversial players.
But, Arizona Cardinals GM Steve Keim is not me, and that’s precisely what he did in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft when gave the green light to pick former LSU standout DB and nickname king, Tyrann Mathieu.
This seemed a particularly odd pick to me, not because Mathieu is a high-risk player (which he is), but because of all the deficiencies the Cardinals had in 2012, they were actually very good in pass defense. Even with a new coaching staff in place, I see little change coming to their scheme when it comes to how they approach defending the pass. They have one of the best shutdown corners in the league, another LSU product, Patrick Peterson.
The Cardinals also picked up Antoine Cason from the San Diego Chargers and Jerraud Powers from the Indianapolis Colts in free agency, so really the only place for Mathieu to play is over the slot and in sub packages.
Mathieu excelled when he was in more of a free roaming DB type position. He’s got natural ball skills and amazing big play ability, but did struggle at times when he was forced to lock in coverage man to man. Perhaps some mentoring from his former teammate Peterson will help bring along that part of his game.
Special teams is where I see Honey Badger making his biggest contribution to the Cardinals, both in coverage and in the return game. If the Cardinals devote kickoff returns to Peterson (who is quite an electrifying return man as well), and punt returns to Mathieu, they could have perhaps the best return game in the league.
The biggest concern for Mathieu isn’t when he’s on the field, however, it’s whether or not he’s still on the grass. Having been kicked off of Les Miles‘ LSU squad for multiple violations reportedly dealing with marijuana, and then a stint in a drug rehab program and an additional arrest for marijuana possession, it’s unclear whether or not Mathieu is ready to be handed a fat paycheck and some freedom.
The Cardinals have some good people–both in coaches and teammates–to surround Mathieu with, and that may help develop some character in a talented football player. But if Mathieu gets involved with the wrong crowd, he’s shown in the past that he can be easily swayed to return to his former behavior. The kid has a demon to battle, and the Cardinals can only hope that they get a lot of reward for the risk they took in picking him.