Nicknamed the "Honey Badger," Mathieu was a top-rated cornerback and special teamer for the Tigers. In 2011, he recorded 71 tackles, forced seven turnovers and scored four touchdowns (two on fumble returns and two on punt returns). He finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting.
As college football fans know, however, Mathieu hasn't played a down of competitive football all season following his dismissal from the Tigers in the wake of a substance abuse policy violation.
In September, Mathieu chose to reenroll at LSU, rather than transfer. He could have taken a year off and played for an FBS school in 2013 or moved to a school in a lower division and played this season. Mathieu opted to spend a year away from football, with the hope of resolving his substance abuse issues and, presumably, rejoining the team.
That well-laid plan went awry in late October, however, when Mathieu was arrested for marijuana possession. That's not good.
Online draft projections now slot the Honey Badger—named thus because he took what he wanted on the field, much like the animal namesake—into the draft's third or fourth round. Though he has unteachable game-changing abilities and ball-hawking instincts, he can also overplay at times and is undersized at only 5'9" and 175 pounds.
But of course, those character issues are the big reason for his slide down the big board. The failed drug test that led to his dismissal wasn't Mathieu's first substance abuse-related incident and, as we know now, it wasn't his last.
Still, this is the right move for Mathieu. Though the former first-round projection's draft stock has absorbed some severe body blows, his legal and personal issues make leaving college a lot less complicated than staying, especially given every football player's limited career window (and the fact that his arrest probably fully killed any hope of an LSU return).
As we all know, the NFL is a business and not every employer will feel inclined to pass on Mathieu's undeniable talent, particularly at bargain-basement prices. If you're the Honey Badger, you might as well start cashing checks, and hope against hope it doesn't all happen again.