LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was one of the most electric players in the NCAA. As a sophomore, Mathieu (affectionately called “Honey Badger”) was a consensus All-American. He was the defensive player of the year in the SEC. And he won the Chuck Bednarik Award, given by the Maxwell Football Club to the kid deemed be the best defensive player in NCAA Division 1 football. In his 26 game career, Mathieu caused a total of 14 turnovers.
As a punt returner, Mathieu ranked second in the nation and first in the SEC with 17.2 yards per return.
Mathieu was the first defensive back to be a finalist for the Heisman since 1997.
Listed at 5’9 (which is a stretch), 180 lbs, Mathieu is not big. But he did post a 4.5 40-yard dash, a 34″ vertical, and a 117″ broad jump.
Size is not the issue.
Neither is talent. The kid can play. He is a ball-hawk with a high motor and a good football IQ. The problem is drugs. Or, it was. Mathieu passed the drug screening at the NFL Combine. But he was kicked off the LSU squad and had to miss the 2012 football season.
Mathieu’s problems have been well-chronicled:
BATON ROUGE, La. – The depth chart for hitting bottom was deeper than former LSU football star Tyrann Mathieu realized.
“I thought my bottom was when I got kicked out of school, but I think when I got arrested in October, that was a different bottom,” Mathieu said Wednesday at LSU’s pro day.
Mathieu, a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011 as a spectacular, game-changing defensive back and kick returner for the Tigers with the iconic nickname “Honey Badger,” sat out the entire 2012 football season after LSU expelled him for repeated positive tests for marijuana in August. In October, after a few weeks at a drug rehabilitation center in Houston, Mathieu was arrested in his LSU campus apartment for marijuana possession.
The NFL can be skittish about such character issues. A kid that would have been a top 10 pick could slide to the bottom of the first round, into the second round, or further. None of the mock drafts I have seen have Mathieu going in the first round of the NFL draft. Manti Te′o, the other high profile player carting baggage into the draft, is mostly being seen as going at or near the end of the first round, but no Honey Badger.
It makes sense that NFL teams will be reluctant to give a former pothead first round money. The party lifestyle and icon status of an NFL player can be pretty heady stuff. Temptation at LSU is one thing. Temptation in the NFL is another.
Jerry Jones will not spend his first rounder on Mathieu. He has too many other needs to fill, like offensive and defensive line slots, to do that. It is unlikely he will spend his second round pick, the 47th overall, either. But what if Mathieu has been passed over 79 times and when the Cowboys come to the podium with pick number 80 in the third round?
I would do it. In a heartbeat. Sure, it is a gamble. Yes, there is history. But there is also singular talent. You have to weigh the possibilities against the risk. Imagine a defensive backfield manned by last year’s first-rounder Morris Claiborne, last year’s big offseason signee Brandon Carr, and Tyrann Mathieu. Now, imagine them coached up and mentored by defensive legend Monte Kiffin.
I would run the risk because of the faith I have in the current coaching staff. Jason Garrett is a no-nonsense leader that will deman excellence and hold Mathieu accountable. Kiffin is the kind of coach that can instill confidence and drive. Add to those influences the leadership-by-example of Carr, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, and Tony Romo.
Jerry Jones has had some success with troubled players. Hall of Famer Michael Irvin comes to mind. Leon Lett. Erik Williams. To name a few. He has also had his misses. Pacman Jones, another talented defensive back, was never able to overcome his knucklehead tendencies enough to make a positive contribution.
But Mathieu has a lot to prove. To himself. To the world. He already played the game with a fierceness bordering on anger. Imagine the intensity with which he will approach his career.
Moreover, the only way Mathieu ever sees the big money is to produce. Since his stock has fallen, his paycheck has been massively cut. If he ever wants to see the millions he might have seen, he will have to prove himself during his first contract.
I would contemplate using the second round pick on Mathieu. If he is there in the third round, I would be all over him like a badger, honey. You bet I would. Mathieu, to me is better risk than Te′o from a talent standpoint.
So will Jerry, I bet.