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NFL.com writer: Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year honor

Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson (34) is tackled by Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

When he was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals back in April with the No. 69 overall pick in the NFL Draft, the buzz words surrounding Tyrann Mathieu was 'risk' and 'locker room cancer.'

Seven months later, there are new buzz words being echoed in reference to the former LSU standout.

NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Although he doesn't have a final say in the matter, NFL.com writer Chris Wesseling believes heading into the final month of the regular season, the Cardinals safety has earned the right to be the leading candidate for the top honor awarded to defensive rookies.

In 12 games, Mathieu is second on the team in total tackles with 67 and also has two interceptions, five tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. But its his versatility and ability to play on all three downs that has impressed Wesseling most in the 2013.

What's amazing about Mathieu is that he's already one of the NFL's most versatile and well-rounded defensive backs, playing safety in base packages and switching to cornerback in nickel and dime packages. I haven't seen a single cornerback who can match the third-round rookie in run support or blitzing.

Mathieu has also shown a knack for big plays, punching the ball out of Jared Cook's hands on a would-be long touchdown and tackling Nate Burleson short of the sticks on a potential game-winning drive. The Honey Badger is a key chess piece in Todd Bowles' defense, which rivals Seattle's for the No. 1 spot in Football Outsiders metrics.

The last Cardinal to win Rookie of the Year honors was Simeon Rice back in 1996.

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