This is the point where I should probably make a clever remark about the Honey Badger coming to Arizona and doesn’t care what you think, but I’ll refrain.
No, the reality is the Arizona Cardinals will have the one and only Tyrann Mathieu in for an official visit next week and that makes a lot of sense because of the needs that they have in the secondary.
While Mathieu may not make sense because he isn’t a natural safety, he is an intriguing prospect and a weapon that the Cardinals could use.
He’s a playmaker
How many freshmen cornerbacks playing behind Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne can wrestle away a bowl game most outstanding player award while coming off the bench?
That’s what happens when you just make plays, and that’s what Mathieu did at LSU.
Mathieu shows the ability to make plays when lined up anywhere, whether it’s outside, in the slot, or manning the safety position. (I’m not one to use highlight videos to make a point, but showing the different ways Mathieu makes an impact would take up too much space).
Mathieu consistently fights for the ball — whether it’s in coverage and breaking on a route to break up a pass, or attacking a ball carrier to cause a fumble — you will always see Mathieu ripping at the ball, trying to make a play.
When not on defense, Mathieu knows how to make plays in the return game as well, and as cliché as it sounds, you get excited watching him anytime he has the ball in his hands.
When it comes to having a feel for the game, and defense Mathieu shows a unique ability.
He’s a read and react type player, meaning he is always working himself into position to make a play, even if it may not seem like it was his responsibility.
In the video, we see Mathieu playing the slot wide receiver and breaking his coverage off as soon as the ball is in the air to attack the ball.
He flashes the ability to turn his hips and break on the ball and has an uncanny ability to time his jumps when going after the ball to negate his smaller stature versus bigger wide receivers in jump ball situations.
Mathieu also shows a good ability to get after the quarteback when used on blitzes. He times his jump well off the line of scrimmage and when he can’t get to the quarterback, he stops and goes after the ball trying to not just tip the ball but make a play on it.
While Mathieu is undersized at only 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds, he shows a natural feel for bringing down the ball carrier.
He combats blockers by fighting them off with excellent hands or avoiding them altogether with quickness.
When he goes after the ball carrier, he does whatever it takes to make a stop. He shows the ability to take down the ball carrier high, wrap up and finish a play or go low and chop down their legs.
He actually packs quite a punch when tackling despite his frame and knows how to bring some force behind him, getting into the ball carrier by dropping his hips and exploding through his opponents.
While he plays much bigger than his actual size, he is still slight.
He has never had to face consistently bigger wide receivers like he will in the NFL.
He may not be able to line up outside much, but will have to be used as more of a rover in the defensive backfield, splitting time between the free safety position and as a nickel corner.
Mathieu isn’t overly fast in terms of straight-line speed and can be outrun, which is a problem when you consider that he can also be outmuscled because of his size.
Shows good closing speed and a burst, but when being taken on longer routes or is dragged across the field, he can allow his man to get to much separation.
The Honey Badger
Off the Field
Mathieu is definitely a red flag player for off-the-field concerns.
Has a much publicized history of drug use. Mathieu was kicked off the LSU squad following a historic 2011 season that saw him reach a level few defensive players are able to achieve.
Mathieu will need a stable locker room with veteran influences that will keep him in check off the field.
I am not sure where Tyrann Mathieu would fit in the Cardinals defensive scheme, but I know a former defensive back like Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles would figure out how to use him.
Being able to line Mathieu up across from players like Seattle’s Percy Harvin (possibly Tavon Austin if he is drafted by the Rams or 49ers) and getting him matched up against San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Seattle’s Russell Wilson in the read-option game would be something that will obviously entice the Cardinals.
He has a mentor and someone that could keep him under control in Patrick Peterson, but I am not sure if the Cardinals have the luxury of picking a nickel cornerback and special teams player in round three of the draft, which is where Mathieu likely will be chosen.
He is absolutely a weapon the Cardinals could use, and one I wouldn’t be opposed to. But in round three, with the other holes on the roster, I just don’t know if the Honey Badger makes sense in the desert.