On Wednesday, USA Today ran a piece talking about former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu and his road to redemption. The article included Mathieu's efforts to distance himself from the "Honey Badger" nickname he earned in Baton Rouge. It also talked about how he's working with Patrick Peterson to grow up and prepare for his shot at the NFL, and the work he's putting in at the Senior Bowl in an effort to rehab his image.
If you are into redemption songs and motivational stories, that piece is probably right up your alley. However, in reality, the only things that will keep Tyrann Mathieu off an NFL roster in 2013 are his football abilities, an injury or a serious arrest.
In other words, the generously listed 5'9" defensive back, whether you buy the image fix or not, will be making a grand return to the stage starting with the draft in late April.
For all of the media speculation and fan chatter about Mathieu's character and his marijuana transgressions holding down his draft stock, the real issue for the reformed Honey Badger is the same one he had as a Heisman finalist. No, not the weed and the arrest, but the fact that he is undersized and cannot reliably cover big-time receiving threats.
The kid is a safety in a cornerback's body—that's what's holding down his draft stock.
Mathieu was never going to be a first-round draft pick. He's not a shutdown corner like Morris Claiborne. He's not a big, versatile safety like Mark Barron. Heck, until he proves it, Mathieu is not even an every-down or starting corner for most teams in the NFL.
That said, though, the kid could be a heck of a utility guy at the professional level.
He can be a nickelback or a dime safety. He can be inserted in goal line packages to play pass-to-run defense. He can play on your kickoff and punt coverage teams. He can be even be a punt returner and kick returner.
While it doesn't sound like a glamorous NFL life, this a guy that has real, tangible value to coaches and general managers that have to juggle numbers. You can only have 53 guys on the active/inactive roster during the season. If you can get a kid who can do a lot of little things for you, freeing you up to activate someone else, then you take him.
Someone is going to draft Tyrann Mathieu. If that makes you upset, you have a couple months to brace yourself for it. Personally, I'm happy for the kid. He is a heck of a football player and he'll get his shot to succeed at the highest level.
That said, getting a shot is the easy part. Sticking in the league is going to be the real task.