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PFF: Cardinals’ Tyrann Mathieu still among league’s elite young players

Jan 5, 2017, 9:29 AM | Updated: 6:32 pm
Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) celebrates a Tampa Bay Buccaneers turn over durin...
Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) celebrates a Tampa Bay Buccaneers turn over during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

It’s fair to say 2016 was a lost season for Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu.

After tearing his ACL late in the 2015 regular season, Mathieu was back on the field in time for Arizona’s Week 1 showdown with the New England Patriots and made a season-high seven tackles in that game.

While Mathieu was on the field, his presence was just not the same for much of this season. After toughing it out through the first half of the year, The “Honey Badger” was placed on season-ending injured reserve prior to the Cardinals’ Week 16 game at Seattle, bothered by a shoulder injury.

“He was hurting the team as much as he was taking a chance at hurting himself,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “He just couldn’t play at his level.”

Everyone has seen what Mathieu can do when he is healthy and “playing at his level,” and that’s one reason for optimism heading into 2017.

It’s also a reason Pro Football Focus still considers Mathieu one of the top young players in the league.

Writer Sam Monson ranked his top 25 players under the age of 25, and Mathieu came in at No. 4 on the list.

Injury robbed us of another display of the Honey Badger at his best this season, but before tearing his ACL a year ago, he was enjoying a Defensive Player of the Year-type of season. Mathieu is one of a new breed of hybrid matchup players that can line up all over a defense and combat what you want to do on offense. He is a playmaker at heart and one of the game’s best when healthy.

Mathieu, who will turn 25 on May 13, is the only Cardinal to appear on the list and he’s behind only Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants, Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell and San Diego edge rusher Joey Bosa.

The former LSU star has suffered two ACL injuries in his four-year pro career and now, missed time with the shoulder injury. But Arians isn’t too concerned that his prized defender is prone to serious injuries.

“No,” the head coach said Monday. “The second ACL was a freaky one, because he had that year to train. I expect, and he’s already started training like a wild man, that he’ll come back to that form. Freak injuries are freak injuries. Both his ACLs — one was contact, the other was non-contact. The rest of it, he knows how to take care of himself.”

And about the shoulder injury?

“Just one of those things,” he said.

Just missing the cut on PFF’s list for the Cardinals was running back David Johnson, who celebrated his 25th birthday on Dec. 16.

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PFF: Cardinals’ Tyrann Mathieu still among league’s elite young players