No player at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine has more to prove than former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.
Following Mathieu's multiple failed drug tests, a resulting suspension from LSU and a later arrest, NFL teams will arrive in Indianapolis with plenty of difficult questions that need to be answered. Add in his lack of size and unlikeliness to post elite physical numbers at the combine, and you have a battle that will be all uphill for the Honey Badger this week.
That said, Mathieu can help revive his draft stock In Indianapolis by proving that his play on the field at LSU still speaks louder than his troubles or measurements off it.
For two seasons at LSU, Mathieu overcame his limited size (5'9", 180 lbs.) to become one of college football's most recognizable playmakers.
As a freshman in 2010, Mathieu played in all 13 games for LSU—despite a depth chart that included eventual first-round pick Patrick Peterson. He led the SEC in forced fumbles with five, while also contributing a team-high seven passes defensed, two interceptions, 8.5 tackles for losses, 4.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries.
The next season, "Honey Badger" was officially born.
In the second quarter of LSU's opener against No. 3 Oregon, Mathieu stripped a punt return and scored, turning the game in LSU's favor. The Tigers would end up winning, 40-27.
By the end of the season, Mathieu had forced six more fumbles, recovering four, intercepted four passes and scored two defensive touchdowns. He also defensed 12 passes and registered 7.5 tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks.
Throw in two punt returns for scores, including touchdowns in back-to-back weeks against Arkansas and Georgia, and Mathieu had earned his trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. He wouldn't win, but his inclusion among the finalists was evidence enough on his overall impact for LSU's run to the National Championship game during 2011.
Now, through the many interviews and workouts in Indianapolis, Mathieu must convince NFL teams that drafting him in April would produce that same playmaker at the next level—not another troublemaker who isn't worth anyone's time or money.
Interviews will be the primary tool used to help clarify his many mistakes at LSU.
Will Mathieu be able to talk his way through all the problems he created? No. Probably not by a long shot. But he can certainly calm some nerves of the decision makers, both by instilling confidence that his drug days are in the past and that he's matured as a person while away from football.
Tough questions will need more-than-sufficient answers, and it's on Mathieu to provide them when the eyes of NFL teams are centered directly on him in the hotels of Indianapolis. What they find between the ears will likely make or break his stock.
The workouts, however, might be just as important.
Mathieu can do very little about his size—he's always going to be undersized at 180 pounds and shorter than ideal at cornerback—but there is more to his position than simply standing six feet tall.
For starters, producing a fast 40-yard dash time would help.
According to Jim Kleinpeter of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Mathieu recently ran a hand-timed 40 at 4.47 seconds. If he can replicate such a time at the NFL's electronically timed 40 in Indianapolis, teams will start to shy away from concerns about Mathieu's straight-line speed.
But the combine is about more than just the 40 time for Mathieu. The vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle, 60-yard shuttle and 10 and 20-yard splits during the 40 will all be weighed heavily when considering what kind of athlete Mathieu really is. He'll need to prove he can be explosive as a small player to compete in the NFL.
If Mathieu struggles in any of these areas, his stock could plummet. Risky players off of the field who aren't world-class performers on it don't last long at the next level.
Matured, focused and rid of the bad influences in his life, Mathieu knows this might be his last opportunity at playing in the NFL.
Via Kleinpeter of the Times-Picayune:
"I only have one more shot. This is my last chance. I don't have any more after this, or I can't get accepted to the NFL. This is truly my last shot, it's all I've got...You can't keep making the same mistakes and I understand that and accept the responsibility. I'm a better person, in a better spirit and much better place right now. Mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, I feel great in all aspects of my life.
Depending on who you trust or read, Mathieu's current draft stock lies anywhere from the fourth round to going undrafted.
The combine will likely decide what end of that spectrum he ends up on in April.
If Mathieu does well in his interviews and impresses during workouts, there's no reason to think he can't be taken in the first 125 picks. But if NFL teams don't like what they see when starting to peel back the layers, April's draft could be a long wait for the Honey Badger.
With all eyes on him in Indianapolis, Mathieu must prove he belongs.