You can call Louisiana State University cornerback Tyrann Mathieu a lot of things, but apparently you cannot call him 'Honey Badger' anymore. Nickname notwithstanding, Mathieu can be called one of the most intriguing and polarizing NFL prospects for this year's NFL Draft.
Two seasons ago, Mathieu was a dynamic player for the LSU Tigers. The 2011 Chuck Bednarik Award winner (nation's top defensive player) and Heisman Trophy finalist was an explosive, instinctive, and ball-hawking cornerback. As a special teamer, Mathieu was a speedy gunner and averaged over 15 yards, with two touchdowns, per punt return. Don't take my word for it, watch the video.
You can see what makes Mathieu so special. He's a natural on the field and doesn't shy away from contact. The guy is always looking to make a play and often makes it due to his quick acceleration, his aggressive play, and instincts and recognition skills that are among the best I've ever seen.
Of course, Mathieu's 5'9'', 175-pound frame makes one wonder if he can take a pounding over 16-20 NFL games every season. It also, potentially, limits Mathieu from being an outside cornerback. Then there is the whole 'haven't played football in a year' issue.
Everyone knows about the dismissal due to failing drug tests. Everyone has heard about how he relapsed after his rehab and was arrested for marijuana possession. It has made a guy who was talked about as a first-round talent a huge question mark. People have him mock drafted him anywhere from round three to round seven. It only takes one team to like you, but no one knows which team that will be and when.
To his credit, Mathieu is saying all the right things. He has ditched his "Honey Badger" persona, he's making the circuit to meet with teams, he's claiming he'll be honest about his past and future, and he's working with Arizona's Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, a former teammate, to train and keep on the straight-and-narrow. Trust is not earned overnight, but Mathieu appears to be working hard to earn it back and prove he has learned from his mistakes.
For Mathieu's future, a locker room with strong leadership and a real sense of camaraderie would probably help him. A locker room like the one your Houston Texans have. Houston has done such a good job of building a roster of character guys and leaders that it could definitely be capable of keeping a guy like Mathieu on the path to living right.
Likewise, Mathieu would offer Houston a lot on the field. The Texans' special team woes are legendary. Mathieu would be able to step in on coverage teams and punt returns due to his speed and aggressive nature. Again, he averaged over 15 yards per punt return. That's five yards more than Houston did as a team this past season, Keshawn Martin's improvement notwithstanding.
Additionally, Mathieu would look good as a nickel corner-safety for Wade. His ability to drop down and play man coverage, blitz off the edge, and/or diagnose plays in zone would make him just the kind of versatile player that Wade likes. It would also keep Shiloh Keo and Quintin Demps on the sideline where they belong.
Houston has the roster and draft picks to take this kind of gamble. We're not talking about depending on Mathieu as a starting cornerback. We're talking about a special teamer and nickel defender role. We're talking about a team who will receive compensatory picks in addition to their seven picks. As long as you pull the trigger in the right round, your reward will heavily outweigh the risk.
What would be the right round then if someone doesn't jump too early? Mathieu's certainly not going in the first round and I can't see him being a second rounder, not with the role he's projected to play. I think teams will start considering it in round three and he comes off the board no later than the middle of round four due to his high ceiling. With two third-round picks, assuming Mario Williams nets pick 97 as everyone assumes, I think Houston can afford the gamble there if Mathieu's available.
Given the locker room, roster make-up, and his ability and potential, I think Mathieu's worth the risk for the Texans. Again, this is another suggestion to break from past tendencies, but I legitimately think Houston's in a spot where they can take a few more chances in the NFL Draft to find a few special players who could put them over the top, while their window is opened, as opposed to just a simple restock.
h/t lfe159 for putting the idea in my head in this thread.