How does Mathieu fit in with what Arizona wants to do defensively?
For two seasons, Mathieu was among the best cornerbacks in the college game, earning consensus All-America honors as a sophomore in 2011. He intercepted two passes, forced six fumbles—scoring twice on fumble recoveries—and recorded 1.5 sacks from his CB spot. Notwithstanding, he returned two punts for touchdown and averaged 17.2 yards per return, which ranked No. 1 among players with at least 20 returns.
His instincts as a football player are rare. He is a smart player who knows where to be in the secondary and can feel when a receiver is breaking off a route as well as any corner in this draft.
He did not run the fastest 40-yard dash at the combine, nor did he jump the highest or show the best change-of-direction skills. But when he suits up on game day, few are better on the field than he is.
Mathieu will have to prove his worth on the field and, having Patrick Peterson as a mentor, he could not have prayed for a better situation.
On the field, Mathieu is as instinctual as any cornerback in this draft, and that led to big plays at the most opportune times while with the Tigers. NFL Network’s Charles Davis had this to say of his play live immediately following the pick:
He has that instinct a little bit like Troy Polamalu, who will break defenses at times and maybe drive some coaches batty—and then you realize he’s taken the ball from the other team and going the other way.
Craig Morgan of FoxSportsAZ.com added this quote from Peterson, who is vouching for his former LSU teammate:
Craig Morgan @craigsmorgan
Peterson told Cards RE Mathieu: "I’m willing to put my neck on the line for the kid. I promise you he will definitely walk a straight line”4/27/2013, 1:47:11 AM
If he can be trusted off the field, there is little doubt he can perform on it. A normal rookie third-round pick should be expected to earn some playing time early, perhaps growing into a role with the team as his first NFL season progresses. But Mathieu is no ordinary third-round pick. He has first-round talent to the point that if his drug issue were non-existent and he had stayed at LSU in 2012, he may have been a top-15 pick.
Therefore, he may be expected to produce early from a larger role in Todd Bowles’ defense. If he can be the same player he was as a sophomore in 2011, that should be no problem. But he has been out of the game for almost 16 full months, and while working out and doing football-related drills with a friend and his father all help, it’s not the real thing.
It may take him time to readjust himself to football—to get into “football shape,” if you will—and become the player he was at LSU. That is what teams were so afraid of, other than the drug questions.
According to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com, head coach Bruce Arians said Mathieu will begin his career as the Cardinals’ free safety. That’s an interesting choice, but it may be due to Mathieu having so much time off from football. Free safety may be a little more forgiving at times to mistakes.
General manager Steve Keim obviously is convinced the young man has turned a corner in his life. If he is sold on Mathieu, we all should be. Keim has proven to be a worthy GM early on, and until he proves otherwise, in him we should trust.
Tyrann Mathieu can be found on Twitter at @Mathieu_Era. Give him a follow and welcome him to your Arizona Cardinals.