ROY candidate Tyrann Mathieu done for year with torn ACL and LCL
Despite the off-field red flags, Mathieu possessed unquestionable talent as a game-changer both on defense and as a returner on special teams. His size (5'9'', 186) was another red flag, but he always played bigger than he looked (that's actually where the "Honey Badger" nickname came from). Thanks in large part to his history with marijuana, Mathieu dropped down to the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, being selected 69th by the Arizona Cardinals.
I have always been a proponent of putting some faith in kids who struggled with marijuana in college, and Mathieu has supported those beliefs as a rookie this season. The Honey Badger has been absolutely sensational, serving as a versatile piece on the back end of the Cardinals' fifth ranked defense. Mathieu became the Cardinals' starting free safety about a month ago, and he also plays a lot of snaps as the team's slot cornerback, starting in that spot several times before earning the starting safety gig. The 21-year-old has racked up 68 tackles, two interceptions, nine pass breakups, a sack, and a forced fumble. However, Mathieu's season came to a devastating end on Sunday.
After twisting his knee while tackling fellow rookie Tavon Austin on special teams, Mathieu tried to make his way to the sidelines under his own power. As he was leaving the field, his knee buckled and a cart was called out to take him to the locker room. Tests on Monday confirmed what the Cardinals feared most - Mathieu tore his ACL and LCL, which will sideline him for the season and make him questionable for the start of the 2014 campaign. Mathieu will undergo surgery next Tuesday.
I just told you Mathieu's numbers, so it should not surprise you that a lot of people considered him the favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors before this injury. What is shockingly impressive about Mathieu is that he has graded out as Pro Football Focus' second best cornerback in the NFL, trailing only Darrelle Revis. Mathieu has been great in every facet of the game - coverage, run defense, pass rush, he does it all. Other great rookies such as Star Lotulelei and Sheldon Richardson are also deserving of ROY consideration, so Mathieu probably is not far enough ahead of them to still win the award after missing the season's final three games.
Regardless, the Cardinals made a great decision by taking a chance on Mathieu, as they appear to have struck gold with a long-term stud in their secondary. Having cornerback Patrick Peterson (Mathieu's former LSU teammate) on the roster probably made it easier for the Cardinals to gamble on Mathieu. Peterson is a sort of big brother figure to Mathieu, who stayed out of trouble at school until Peterson left for the NFL.
While Mathieu's injury is devastating, Cardinals fans can look for solace in the fact that their third-round pick has been dominant this year, and knee injuries are not what they used to be. Mathieu should return to being one of the bright young stars in the game by the middle of next season, and he'll be making plays for a long time if he can continue to keep his head on straight.