In an NFL draft that lacked star power at the very top, the real stories came from the characters that were in it. One of those characters is cornerback Tyrann Mathieu who was selected in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. In fact, for the entire year leading up to the draft, Mathieu made lots of headlines but for all the wrong reasons. But the NFL is a forgiving league, and if a player can play, there will always be a team that will give them a shot.
Going into the Cardinals training camp, Mathieu is going to have his shot. Mathieu was an exciting and dynamic player in college and gained a reputation for making the big play at the big moment. The Cardinals’ best bet to harness some of that is likely to play him at free safety/dime cornerback. The starting cornerbacks for the Cardinals are locked in with Antoine Cason and Patrick Peterson. Both players are exceptional coverage corners with great size and speed, and Mathieu is not going to challenge either of these players’ spots on the depth chart.
Also, the starting free safety, Yeremiah Bell is fairly locked in, but if there is a spot in training camp where Mathieu could crack the starting group it’s there. Mathieu has shortcomings as a coverage player, but all of the things he does well could help him greatly at safety. He’s got nice quickness, an aggressive nature and is a very good tackler. He has very good ball skills and solid instincts, and as a deep safety who can blitz at times he could be a very good player. As a willing run defender and dime corner he would be able to be on the field for three downs, and that’s a plus as well. Bell is a nice veteran player, but you don’t draft a player, not even Mathieu with the 69th pick unless you want to try and get him on the field. If there’s to be a real training camp battle, this one might be it.
The other part of Cardinals camp where Mathieu is going to have a shot to impress is as a kick returner. A team can never have enough players who can take a kickoff or punt to the house, and Mathieu’s ability to return kicks and punts might be his true strength in the NFL. As good as Peterson is as a punt returner, the Cardinals should give Mathieu a chance to spell him so that he can focus on improving as a cornerback.
The Cardinals are going to have an exciting training camp because Mathieu might be too talented not to find a spot on the defense. He’s almost certainly talented enough to play a dime cornerback, could be good enough to start at free safety and almost has to be a starting kick returner. Mathieu is getting a second chance to turn his life around, and the Cardinals have given him their endorsement with considerable contingencies. I just hope he doesn’t screw it up.