No pick in this year’s NFL Draft — from No. 1 to No. 254 — is a sure thing. General managers and scouting departments spend countless hours evaluated prospects, but all of the Combine notes, college accolades and game tape can’t assure any team that they’re making the right decision.
Because the selection process isn’t an exact science, there is a lot of risk to the draft. Sometimes the risk involves potential ceiling, other times it involves health.
In the case of the Cardinals’ third round selection Friday night, LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, the risk rests squarely on his character off the field.
On the field, Mathieu terrorized SEC defenses and special teams units in 2011 — 77 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, 4 recovered fumbles, 2 fumble return touchdowns, 2 interceptions and 2 punt return touchdowns.
Outside the white lines, the former Consensus All-American wreaked havoc on the LSU football program. Heading into 2012, the Tigers were thought to be one of the favorites to win the BCS National Championship and Mathieu was being talked about as a popular choice to win the Heisman Trophy.
But repeated failed drug tests forced Les Miles’ hand, and Mathieu was kicked off LSU’s football team just weeks before the season opener.
Mathieu hasn’t played a competitive game since the 2012 BCS National Championship Game and there is no guarantee he’s even kicked his off-field habit, but Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said Friday that team felt confident in their selection despite the potential disk involved.
“Tyrann (Mathieu) was a unique situation,” Keim said. “It was a player that we’ve done on our due diligence on. Our scouts have gone to the LSU campus, probably talked to every staff member that has come into contact with Tyrann in his time there. We spent time with Tyrann himself. We flew him into Phoenix and had dinner with him.
“We spent time with him and Patrick (Peterson) together. At the end of the day, there’s always an element of risk to any of these picks. But with the structure we have in place and the agreement we have in place with not only Tyrann but his representative to take the necessary measures to make sure he walks the straight and narrow, we felt comfortable with the risk that was involved.”
When asked what the team would do if Mathieu has a misstep similar in nature to those he had while in Baton Rouge, Keim was rather definitive.
“If there are speed bumps, I can promise you it’ll be a short leash,” said Keim.