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Arizona Cardinals’ Tyrann Mathieu: a Closer Look

June 21st, 2013 at 6:53 AM
By Steve Smith

'University of Phoenix Stadium' photo (c) 2009, Dyanna Hyde - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
By drafting Tyrann Mathieu from LSU in the third round of this year's NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals improved their defensive backfield and special teams unit. Mathieu will most likely commence his NFL career as a free safety/nickel back and will team with Patrick Peterson to give the Red Birds a dynamic punt return duo.

Let's take a closer look at the "Honey Badger" per nfl.com:

Strengths: Feisty turnover machine who lines up outside, in the slot and at safety when needed. Instinctual player with very good read-and-react ability, always seems to work his way into position to make a play on the ball. Does whatever it takes to make a stop, fights through blocks using hands and quickness, goes low or high and doesn't let up after initial contact. Brings enough force despite his size to get ball carriers off balance with a glancing blow. Constantly rips at the ball while making a tackle or when others have secured the stop. Fights for jump balls with taller receivers down field. Regularly used as a blitzer due to his feel, quickness and tenacity. Very good vision and short-area quickness as a punt returner, can make the first man miss and cut back effectively against the grain. Will go outside if the space is there but also slalom through traffic up the field when necessary. Also has balance and strength to get through arm tackles. Will also be a strong tackler on coverage units if required.

Weaknesses: Mathieu's issues with substance abuse will be the primary focus of NFL teams whenever he decides to pursue a career in professional football. Possesses below-average size for the position. Usually brings down ball carriers of any size, NFL veterans might prove a bigger challenge. Quicker than fast, though his effort often masks average straight-line speed for his size. Must prove his ability to stay with larger receivers and tight end in man coverage, as they use their length advantage to separate and frame to shield him from the ball. Will take chances as a punt returner, grabbing the ball on a bounce or inside the 5-yard line.

NFL Comparison: Cortland Finnegan.

Bottom Line: The 2011 Bednarik Award winner as the nation's top defender was dismissed from LSU for multiple violations of team rules. Subsequently, he decided to enter a drug rehab center and ultimately ended up declaring for the draft instead of transferring. When on the field, the undersized but ultra competitive turnover machine (six forced fumbles, two interceptions in 2011) brings the physicality of a bigger player in his tackles, no matter where he plays. Mathieu is also a game-changer as a punt returner, ranking fourth in the country last year with 16.2 yards per attempt and scoring two touchdowns.

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Tags: Arizona, Arizona Cardinals, Cortland Finnegan, Football, NFL, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu

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