With the NFL draft just over a month away, I thought this would be a good time to take a look back at the most controversial pick from the Cardinals 2013 draft.
Tyrann Mathieu, the “Honey Badger,” was one of the most talented players in college football during his sophomore season for LSU. He was selected as an All-American and was even a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. His junior year was not quite as successful. He was suspended for failing drug tests, arrested for possession and did a stint in rehab. Not exactly the ideal circumstances in which to enter the draft. Mathieu’s stock began to fall even before teams began truly evaluating players for the draft.
As the draft approaches teams start to really dig into players on and off the field potential. For Mathieu, the biggest question marks were surprisingly focused on his on field performance. Was he too small for the NFL? Was he physical enough to play corner against the larger NFL receivers? Could he stay healthy? All of these question marks added to an already checkered history off the field did not create a pretty picture for Mathieu’s draft stock. There was some talk that he could be looking at a Vontaze Burfict like drop. Burfict was a top prospect out of ASU before he strung together a few terrible months that resulted in him not being drafted at all. He ended up signing with the Bengals and made the Pro Bowl in his second season, so things turned out fine for him.
Rookie Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was heading into his first draft as the final voice for the team. Unlike his many previous drafts as a member of the Cardinals front office, this time his opinion would be the one the mattered most. Keim put in the work and did his due diligence on Mathieu, and what he saw was a player who was capable of making a big impact on a defense. A lot of guys are fast, but Keim saw a guy who seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to making big plays. Keim thought he had a good idea on how Mathieu would fit in with the Cardinals defense and Bruce Arians agreed. They both loved the idea of adding another playmaker in the secondary to compliment their mega-talented corner Patrick Peterson.
Patrick Peterson was important for more than just his role as a fellow member of the Cardinals secondary. He was considered as a mentor for Mathieu. The two were teammates at LSU for one season and stayed in touch. The Cardinals also drafted another LSU teammate in the second round, linebacker Kevin Minter. So when the Cardinals third-round pick came up and Mathieu was still available, the Cardinals believed they had the right support structure in place to take the gamble.
The Cardinals selected Mathieu with their eyes wide open. They knew that there was a risk of more off field problems and they were always upfront and honest with Mathieu. They included language in the contract to protect the team if there were any drug related issues, but most of all the Cardinals celebrated. They felt like they had selected the potential steal of the draft. They felt that Mathieu could really help take their defense to the next level. They were right.
So far in his young career Mathieu has said and done all the right things. After his playing time increased, the Cardinals started to see the potential that Mathieu could bring to their defense. Unfortunately he tore his ACL during the Cardinals first victory over a divisional foe when they were playing the St. Louis Rams. Mathieu missed the rest of the season and reports have him currently ahead of schedule in his rehab.
High times indeed. It looks like the Cardinals gamble paid off and hopefully the future will remain bright for the Honey Badger.