Tyrann Mathieu had a reputation at LSU of gambling on his instincts and natural ability to cheat on plays to put himself in position to make high-impact plays with the Tigers, and the diminutive defensive back rarely lost when he bet on himself.
After his highly-publicized dismissal from LSU in August 2012 for multiple failed drug tests and violating team rules, he needed an NFL team to gamble on him and after 10 weeks into his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals, they have the biggest steal in the 2013 NFL draft.
“The Cardinals’ defensive structure allows Mathieu to wreak havoc and come through with difference-making plays. And he can make those plays all over the field, ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper said. … “I think the sample size is great enough that we can say Arizona got a steal.”
Taken with the 69th pick, Mathieu was the 12th cornerback drafted and has so much better than first round selections, Dee Milliner, D.J. Hayden and Xavier Rhodes it’s almost unfair, especially since Mathieu was named the NFL defensive rookie of the month for October.
Playing free safety and nickelback for the Cardinals he is second on the team to linebacker Karlos Dansby with 56 tackles, showing the same knack for the ball as he did during his abbreviated career with LSU where he was a Heisman finalist in 2011. He has one sack, a forced fumble, 6 passes defensed and two interceptions, including making his first one in his native New Orleans against future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees.
One of the reasons the Cardinals felt comfortable taking the gamble on Mathieu was because his former LSU teammate, Patrick Peterson is in the same locker room and if not for him, he likely is in another city and who is to say if he would be experiencing the same kind of early success.
From Kevin Weidl of Scouts Inc. on the relationship between Peterson and Mathieu and his impact on bringing him to Arizona.
“Reports were that Peterson had multiple conversations with [Arizona General Manager] Steve Keim vouching for Mathieu. Peterson’s ability to be a mentor and teach Mathieu about how to be a pro more than likely played a big factor on Keim pulling the trigger in third round.”
Perhaps no other player was dissected more than Mathieu was a season ago, and all the due diligence by the Cardinals front office has proven to well worth it. Mathieu is playing like a first round pick and a future Pro Bowl player with his flair for making impact plays which is something you just can’t coach.
He is a great story in redemption and for the many people–including some LSU fans–who wrote him off after his legal and drug issues in the past, he’s working hard to earn your forgiveness and respect. He’s earned mine a long time ago and is one of my favorite players to root for because of what he’s had to overcome and the hard work, dedication and accountability required.
The only thing that can prevent Mathieu from being one of the best defensive backs in the NFL over the next decade is himself as there is no ceiling to his potential and could prove to be one of the biggest draft steals in recent memory.