PFF: Cardinals’ Tyrann Mathieu is the NFL’s best slot weapon

Jun 28, 2016, 6:25 PM
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright (17) is tackled by Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyra...

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright (17) is tackled by Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Losing defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to a torn ACL toward the end of 2015 had a visible impact on the Arizona Cardinals.

Coming off his second major knee injury, there’s a reason the Cardinals find themselves negotiating with the hybrid safety and cornerback as he continues his rehab. He’s darn valuable.

That’s because he’s unique. Mathieu’s ability to play against speedy, small slot receivers while also finding success against the NFL’s best tight ends makes him hard to sideline. For that reason, the Cardinals used him in the slot on 70.6 percent of his pass coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

That skillset produced 89 tackles, five picks and 17 passes defended during the 2015 regular season is rare enough that Pro Football Focus ranked him as the top slot weapon in the NFL on either side of the ball.

He is the defensive version of the matchup problem players that offenses have been exploiting for years to get favorable matchups in the slot, and he may be the first player to tilt the balance the other direction.

To that point, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski — himself too fast for lumbering linebackers but too big for most cornerbacks to handle — ranks No. 2 on Pro Football Focus’ ranking of slot weapons.

Rounding out the top-5 best slot weapons are Broncos defensive back Chris Harris Jr., Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin and Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry.

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PFF: Cardinals’ Tyrann Mathieu is the NFL’s best slot weapon