Mathieu Declares for NFL Draft: Redskins Should Take Chance on Honey Badger

Joe VersageCorrespondent IINovember 30, 2012

Photo courtesy of: Streeter Lecka (Getty Images)
Photo courtesy of: Streeter Lecka (Getty Images)

The life of Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu has had its share of twists and turns, much like the meandering animal he is often compared to. But on Thursday, the former LSU cornerback looked to put a shaky past behind him, by announcing his intention to enter the 2013 NFL Draft

Mathieu's choice to go pro was not surprising, but if he hopes for a chance at redemption, he'll have to earn the trust of teams like the Washington Redskins.

Mathieu's past includes his dismissal from LSU's football program, his rejection to play at a lower level and the Tigers' refusal to take him back. 

In April, numerous teams will pass on the 20-year old, whose dismissal from Division I was caused by three substance abuse violations. The Redskins already possess two violators of the NFL's drug policy in offensive tackle Trent Williams and tight end Fred Davis. But potential rewards may outweigh Mathieu's risk for the Redskins.

Washington would surely benefit from using one of its seven picks on the speedy corner, who excels at tackling and creating turnovers. This season, the Redskins have been badly burned in pass coverage and its secondary has struggled to take down running backs and receivers. Injuries have played a role in the unit's ineffectiveness, but overall, it lacks the killer instinct necessary to strike fear in opponents.

With draft slots in Rounds 2 through 7, including a pair in Round 5, the Redskins could pluck Mathieu off the board. But first, coach Mike Shanahan will study Tyrann, to see if his mental state has been affected by his fall from grace.


Did Troubled Past Catch Up to a College Star? 

As a difference-maker at LSU, the 5'9, 180-pound Mathieu was nicknamed the Honey Badger because his height and play drew comparisons to the small, weasel-like animal that defends itself with fearlessness and ferocity.  

Some believe Mathieu was born with those traits, but in reality, his aggressiveness stems from a life of uncertainty.

Prior to LSU's loss to Alabama in last year's BCS Title game, writer Thayer Evans wrote a touching piece about Mathieu, whose mother disowned him after his drug-addicted father murdered a man in cold blood.

Then, when Tyrann was 5, his grandfather died of complications from a heart attack and he was taken in and adopted by a loving aunt and uncle.

To this day, Shelia and Tyrone Mathieu recall Tyrann's fragile childhood, when he turned to athletics to curb his confusion. 

The second chapter of Mathieu's story is inspiring, as he grew to become a high school star and later, one of college football's most recognizable talents.

As a sophomore at LSU, the Honey Badger dominated his opponents and went viral in the world of electronic media. Mathieu also became a Heisman finalist and won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player.


Sudden fame had its benefits, but Tyrann seemed grounded when asked to describe how his past played a role in motivating him.

"It teaches you to fight for everything," Mathieu said, via columnist Mark Schlabach. "Nothing is going to be given to you."

I'm not afraid of it. I'm not backing down from it. I think a lot of things I experienced in my life helped me get to this point.

Tyrann was right to think that way, but he quickly learned how life can turn sour when bad decisions are made.

The spotlight on Mathieu abruptly faded when he was kicked off the Tigers' squad on August 10, 2012 for failing multiple drug tests. Shaken by his sudden dismissal, Tyrann struggled with the media, withdrew from LSU to enter a rehabilitation program and then re-enrolled for fall classes. But after the team refused his plea to return, Mathieu stumbled again, when he and a group of friends were arrested and jailed for marijuana possession at his apartment in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


Rebuilding a Shattered Image

In the months following his incarceration, Tyrann has thought long and hard about his future and the mistakes he has made. He also understands that trust will forever be an issue for him in his future endeavors. But he has taken full responsibility for his actions and has apologized for them. He has also tried to warn others about the dead-end path that drugs can lead to.

The question now is: Who will take a chance on a fallen star?

Washington seems like an ideal place, especially after the progress and performances of current rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris.

The Redskins also have defensive leaders who can take Mathieu under their wings. Even if an elder statesman like London Fletcher moves on, veterans like Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo can act as role models to Tyrann.

Current cornerback DeAngelo Hall has had his share of troubles lately, but they may be something Mathieu can learn from, as he tries to earn respect as a rookie.

Hall's on-field antics and misbehavior may lead to his dismissal when his contract expires at the end of next season. So, that too, could be a reason for Washington to take a hard look at Mathieu.

In the meantime, Tyrann will continue to battle his personal demons. In addition to attending a drug rehab program, he has been counseled by former NBA star John Lucas and supported in his recovery by his aunt and uncle. 


One Day at a Time

"[Tyrann's struggle] isn't about smoking weed," Lucas told's Thayer Evans and Pete Thamel. "This is about what life shoots you and how you handle it without medicating your failures or medicating your success."

While providing details of Tyrann's rehab, Lucas noted how important it will be for Mathieu to push aside family and friends who have taken advantage of him in the past.

"It's a very difficult thing to prioritize success, education and football above your family and friends," adds Lucas. The ability to say, 'No, I can't be with you now,' and what they want to say is, 'Now wait a minute, I grew up with you. This is who I am. This is who we are.' That evolution is a very tough one."

Tyrann also must deal with life's unexpected twists. Several family members told SI that Mathieu will father a baby boy in January. So, if he lands on his feet in the NFL, he'll be a young man with adult responsibilities.

Mathieu will also be expected to follow stringent guidelines in a league that is cracking down on substance abuse.

Numerous NFL teams have dealt with troubled college stars, but players who enter the league with character issues are often on a short leash (i.e. former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett).

The last time Tyrann walked off of a football field, he hung his head following LSU's 20-0 loss to Alabama. But that disappointment paled in comparison to what happened next.

Now, the Honey Badger has no choice but to claw and fight his way out of the mess he has put himself in.

Mathieu ran out of second chances in college. In the NFL, he'll be lucky to get just one.


Joe Versage is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He previously covered the Buffalo BillsWashington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens as a television beat reporter. Follow him on Twitter at: @JoeVersage