Watch the tape, and cornerback Tyrann Mathieu looks like a first-round pick.
As a true sophomore in 2011, he was a unanimous first-team All-American and won the Bednarik Award as the top defensive player in the country.
But with his off-the-field problems, most of them related to marijuana, he appears too risky to draft at all.
He was booted out of LSU before the 2012 season began, after repeatedly violating the school’s substance-abuse policy. Two months later he was arrested for possession of marijuana.
“I thought my bottom was when I got kicked out of school,” Mathieu said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “But I think when I got arrested in October, that was a different bottom. So, I decided to go to rehab. This time the rehab was for Tyrann. I just wasn’t going to it for publicity or because my school told me to go. I actually wanted to get my problem corrected.”
He still hasn’t corrected the annoying habit of referring to himself in the third person, but Mathieu said at the combine that he hadn’t smoked marijuana since “Oct. 26, 2012.”
Still, for him to be drafted anywhere close to what his ability warrants, the player formerly known as “The Honey Badger,” has to convince NFL decision makers that he’s a changed man.
“My best friend right now is honesty,” Mathieu said. “I want to be as open as possible because I’m trying to rebuild people’s trust and I want those guys to be able to trust me, and I hold myself accountable.
“I’m not totally asking them to trust me right now. What I have asked is for them to give me an opportunity to play the game. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on it, especially without football. It’s really given me a different outlook on life, and it’s just about being the right kind of person.”
At just under 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds, Mathieu has marginal NFL size, but that’s never prevented him from being a spectacular player. As a true freshman in 2010, he was an immediate-impact player, with 8.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, an SEC-best 5 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions and 7 pass breakups.
The next season he had 76 tackles, 9 pass breakups, 2 interceptions, 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles, an NCAA-best 5 recovered fumbles, 2 of which he returned for touchdowns. Mathieu also averaged 15.6 yards on punt returns, including 92- and 62-yard TDs.
But it has been 16 months since he played in a game. Long enough to know how much he misses it. He says his partying days are in the past.
“I know what it’s like not to have football,” Mathieu said. “I know what it’s like not to be the center of attention, and I know what it’s like to be humiliated. To go back down that road, nah, not a chance in this world. Not a chance in my lifetime again. Every day it’s a process. I’m not saying that I’m totally there, but I am taking strides everyday to be the best person that Tyrann can be.”
The best guess is that Mathieu will get scooped up in the second or third round. At that point he’ll have more money and more access to drugs than he did in college, a combination that can add up to greater temptation.
“I know there’s marijuana in the NFL,” he said. “I know there’s marijuana everywhere you go. But, at the end of the day, none of those people are Tyrann Mathieu.”
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