Tyrann Mathieu's High Upside Will Pay Dividends for Arizona Cardinals

Benjamin KleinContributor IIIMay 25, 2013

Taking Tyrann Mathieu in the NFL draft was a bold yet smart move by the Arizona Cardinals.
Taking Tyrann Mathieu in the NFL draft was a bold yet smart move by the Arizona Cardinals.Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals took a risk selecting former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft, but he'll make sure they won’t regret it.

Mathieu had an impressive career with the LSU Tigers on the field. In 2011, he took home several awards including SEC Defensive Player of the Year, SEC Championship Game MVP, Cotton Bowl Defensive MVP and, of course, the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player in the country.

Clearly, Mathieu knows how to play football. The problem, however, was that he had issues off the field, which plagued his draft stock considerably. Mathieu was suspended from LSU after failing the team’s drug policy and was later dismissed from the team for violating team rules. An assistant coach told Jarrett Bell of USA Today that the corner failed at least 10 drug tests.

After missing all of what would’ve been his junior season, Mathieu declared for the NFL draft, hoping that a team would see what he could do on the field while trying to prove that he could control himself off of it.

The Cardinals did just that, taking Mathieu with the No. 69 pick in the draft. The two sides came to an agreement on a four-year deal on Thursday, according to the team’s official website.

But Mathieu isn’t out of the water just yet, as the Cardinals have a strong interest in keeping him clean. That’s why Arizona is only giving him an initial signing bonus of $265,000, according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com. Mathieu can earn $662,500 through the second, third and fourth years of the deal if he stays on the roster.

As Hanzus reports, “The only way Mathieu won’t receive the full payment is if he’s dismissed from the team for drug use.”

Sources have told NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport that Mathieu has already entered the league’s drug-testing program, which means he could be tested up to 10 times per month, according to Hanzus.

It seems as if Mathieu is already on the right track to getting his life back in order. But not everyone is sold that Mathieu in the NFL is going to work out. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King wrote that the Cardinals don’t have a history of taking players with character problems and that the team will regret drafting Mathieu.

This is a specific situation, though, and not one that can be stereotyped. It doesn’t mean anything that Arizona hasn’t taken a bunch of players in years past with off-the-field issues. Mathieu isn’t going to get paid if he fails a drug test. Isn’t that incentive enough to stay clean?

Mathieu will surely get the help and attention that he needs to stay on the field.

And on the field is where Mathieu will make the other teams in the NFL ask themselves why they didn’t take a chance on him. He was an incredible college talent—as shown by the awards won that were previously mentioned—but just needed a bit of a reality check.

Mathieu is a very good tackler that can lay quite the hit if a receiver doesn’t know he’s coming. He’s quick, which makes him valuable in man coverage, and has a great eye for the quarterback, which Arizona will benefit from when playing zone.

In 26 games at LSU, Mathieu had 136 tackles, six sacks, four interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. If those numbers can translate to some degree to the NFL and he stays clean, Mathieu will turn out to be one of the best picks in the draft.

Don’t worry, Arizona, Mathieu will be just fine.