Throughout his collegiate career, Tyrann Mathieu made a living off creating turnovers and shining in the clutch. It was what made him a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011 and a third-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals this past April despite massive red flags stemming from a history littered with drug problems.
While Arizona isn’t exactly a dream destination, the Cardinals are a perfect fit for Mathieu on a number of levels.
First, despite their lack of recent success, the Cardinals offer a terrific support system for the troubled Mathieu. As a part of the Arizona defensive backfield, he will be playing alongside former LSU teammate Patrick Peterson, who has vowed to keep him in line. He’ll also be in the same locker room as Larry Fitzgerald, a pro’s pro who will undoubtedly act as a big brother figure to Mathieu as he makes this difficult transition.
Second, Mathieu has the versatility to contribute all over the field. Although he primarily played nickel cornerback in college, he’s making the transition to free safety with the Cardinals. Still, if the need arises, Mathieu could easily fill in at cornerback for Arizona. On top of everything else, he’s also a dynamic return man who should get an early shot at earning kick and punt return duties. The Cardinals drafted one player who could fill as many as three different roles, so the value is definitely there.
Finally, Mathieu offers the type of playmaking that the Cardinals have desperately been searching for on defense for years. Teamed with Peterson, the two will form one of the most electrifying defensive backfield duos in the NFL once the rookie gets up to speed. Mathieu might not be the most technically-sound player, but what he lacks in polish, he makes up for with instincts and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Just watch a highlight film and you’ll see how routine creating turnovers is for Mathieu.
All of these aspects are going to help Mathieu succeed at the next level. The Cardinals took a gamble in making Mathieu the No. 69 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, but the reward will be well worth the risk when all is said and done.
The most important part to this entire equation, though, is that Mathieu stays clean. As long as Peterson, Fitzgerald and the rest of his Cardinals teammates can keep him on the high road, the sky is the limit for this dynamic difference-maker.