The Arizona Cardinals made a draft-day splash by selecting former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu in Round 3 of the 2013 NFL draft. Now reunited with former Tigers teammate Patrick Peterson, what should Cardinals fans expect from the duo?
First, we will have to know what position Mathieu will be playing. For that, we go to AZCardinals.com writer Darren Urban.
As a free safety, Mathieu will cover the deep third of the field, mostly on the side opposite Patrick Peterson. Peterson is much like Darrelle Revis in that he can be left with no over-the-top help from a safety—one-on-one with the opposing team’s top receiver—and be okay most of the time.
He will get burned on occasion, but he is very capable of handling an entire half of the field.
Mathieu will help Cardinals newcomers Jerraud Powers and Antoine Cason cover receivers most of the time. It is unknown whether he will be used as a single-high safety while either Yeremiah Bell or Rashad Johnson play down in the box, but he is a great fit for that role if the Cardinals want to go that direction.
And considering Peterson’s Revis-like coverage ability, that may be a great option to have. Having a safety with the ability to take on the entire deep half of the field allows the other safety to remain within eight yards of the line of scrimmage to help cover tight ends and defend against the run.
Mathieu did not play that role in college, but he has the traits to be a good free safety—great instincts in the passing game, tenacious in coverage, knows where to be at all times.
Both he and Peterson are phenomenal athletes who excel in the return game as well. Peterson averaged 16.1 yards per punt return his final year at LSU and tied an NFL record with four returns for touchdown his rookie year. Mathieu averaged 17.2 and scored twice his final year in Baton Rouge.
As of now, Peterson is expected to retain his role as the team’s punt returner, but you should also expect to see Mathieu back there fielding punts during the preseason—maybe even on kickoffs as well.
What can that lead to down the road? This, apparently.
The question of whether he can stay clean and off drugs has been discussed already, as you can imagine. Arizona reportedly will include a clause in Mathieu’s contract stating he will adhere to a weekly drug test to ensure he stays away from marijuana and other drugs.
General manager Steve Keim said it was necessary to ensure he keeps on track with his recovery, according to Mike Sando of ESPN.com:
We are going to take the necessary measures to make sure he walks the straight and narrow. We felt comfortable with the risk that was involved.
Peterson, Mathieu’s friend and mentor, said drugs are behind him:
The guy is ready to play football. He made a mistake, was in an unstable position where he got caught with the marijuana. But he understands the importance of being accountable and being a role model, so that stuff is behind him.
Head coach Bruce Arians said he was pleasantly surprised by the young man sitting in his office for an interview before the draft:
He impressed me so much in my office one on one, knowing at this point in time what he needs to do in his life. I was really taken aback a little bit. He knows what his problems are, but he also knows that someone will give him a chance, that he knows what he needs to make sure he succeeds.
He needs to stay clean in order to remain in the league. Second chances are rare enough in the NFL, but third chances—especially when dealing with drugs—are even harder to come by. Mathieu knows he cannot screw up, and he appears ready to be a professional football player and leave the old life behind him.
As for what to expect from him and Peterson on the field?
Considering the state of the safety position in Arizona, Mathieu has a chance to earn a lot of early playing time by showing up ready to work and proving he is the same player from 2011. If he does that, the starting free safety spot could be his for many years.
Or, at least until Keim can find a better option for the free safety position, at which point Mathieu would move to cornerback to play alongside his friend and mentor.
Peterson and Mathieu can become two cornerstones in the Cardinals secondary. They both are ball hawks who possess excellent coverage skills and the natural football instincts to produce Pro Bowl-type numbers on a yearly basis.
The only question for Mathieu is whether the drugs are truly behind him. If that is the case, the Cardinals may have gotten themselves another great defender in the third round—right up there with Darnell Dockett, Adrian Wilson and Aeneas Williams (combined 16 Pro Bowls between them).