One of the most polarizing prospects in the draft due to his off-field issues, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu had the potential to fall into the late rounds of the draft. All it takes, however, is one team to deem even the riskiest of selections to be worth a chance — that team proved to be the Arizona Cardinals, who selected "Honey Badgers" as the No. 69 overall selection.
In his sophomore season at LSU, Tyrann Mathieu showed his ability to be a special playmaker on the field. He is an instinctive cornerback who has great ball skills, and when the ball is in his hands, he is a threat to take it all the way to the end zone.
Mathieu is a hard-hitter who tackles well, and a dynamic athlete who has good speed but better lateral agility. He is a turnover machine who is great at breaking on the ball for interceptions, and ripping the ball out for fumbles.
That said, Mathieu is very small for an NFL player (5'9", 186 pounds), and he does not have great hip fluidity or technique. Those factors could limit Mathieu to playing in the slot, though he also has potential at free safety and should be a special teams standout, including as a punt returner.
The biggest concern for Mathieu's pro outlook, however, is whether he can keep himself out of trouble and on the field. Mathieu has had a history of marijuana-related problems. Failed drug tests led to his dismissal from LSU prior to last season, and he was later arrested on marijuana charges last October.
Mathieu is a true wild-card selection whose value in his rookie season is hard to project, but if he can keep himself on the field, he is an intriguing late-round sleeper in IDP leagues. He is a special playmaker with the ball in his hands who could be a source of defensive and special teams touchdowns off of interceptions, fumble recoveries and punt returns.
Mathieu's best chance to get on the field quickly may be to make a move to free safety, as the Cardinals have solid depth at cornerback between Patrick Peterson, free-agent signings Antoine Cason and Jerraud Powers, and 2012 third-round pick Jamell Fleming.
That said, Mathieu is unlikely to ever be a starting cornerback on the outside, but a role player who can line up in the slot or as a third safety, while contributing on special teams as a punt returner and on kickoff/punt coverage teams.
Mathieu's road to contributing early could also be set back by the fact that he did not play a single down of college football last season after being kicked off of the team at LSU.
Mathieu is a very risky selection in Round 3, especially with some very solid cornerbacks lacking off-field concerns such as Logan Ryan (Rutgers), Jordan Poyer (Oregon State) and Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Connecticut) still on the board.
That said, the Cardinals drafted Mathieu to be a unique player—comparing him simply to the other cornerbacks in the draft class does not make much sense, because of his unique playmaking ability, likely role as a niche player and special teamer and his major off-field concerns.
Mathieu would have been a safer pick on Day 3, especially with the chance to draft an impact-free safety like Georgia's Bacarri Rambo or a quarterback in USC's Matt Barkley or Syracuse's Ryan Nassib at the No. 69 overall pick. He could turn out to be well worth the risk if he can find a role on the defense and excel on special teams, but the chances of him not producing for the Cardinals is also unusually high for a third-round pick.