Until the Manti Te'o hoax was uncovered, perhaps the biggest story surrounding a single player in college football this past season was LSU's dismissal of 2011 Heisman Trophy candidate, Tyrann Mathieu, from the football program. Reportedly, the decision to dismiss the player known as "The Honey Badger" stemmed from a string of failed drug tests. Mathieu was also arrested later, in October 2012, for possession of marijuana. Despite sitting out the entire 2012 season, Mathieu decided to forgo an attempt at returning to college football and enter the 2013 NFL Draft, but it is clear that the questions surrounding his character as well as his one-year hiatus from football will scare some teams away.
Physically, there are concerns about Mathieu as well; at 5'9'' and 180 lbs he is fairly small, even for a defensive back. There were also early concerns about his speed, those concerns however were largely put to rest at the Scouting Combine where he ran a respectable 4.50 40-yard dash. The Honey Badger's true value, however, cannot be measured with a yard stick or a stop watch. Mathieu earned his nickname because he plays with a rare sense of intensity and tenacity, he always seems to be around the ball making plays, whether it be forcing fumbles, sacking the quarterback, snagging interceptions, or returning punts. His style of play isn't necessarily ideal for an NFL-type cornerback, but his versatility could be a valuable asset for the Ravens' exotic blitz packages and coverage schemes. Mathieu could be an excellent slot-defender in dime and nickel packages, he could also see a number of snaps at strong safety. Not mention, he is an explosive punt returner and would surely be a quality contributor on special teams. Mathieu could become the wild card playmaker that the Ravens recently lost in Ed Reed. During his 2011 Heisman campaign, he recorded 1.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries (2 returned for touchdowns), 2 interceptions, and 2 punt return touchdowns on his way to winning the Chuck Bednarik Trophy which is awarded each year to the most outstanding defensive player in college football.
While his potential is immense, his troubled past certainly cannot be ignored. Perhaps the easiest way to make the case for Mathieu is to take a look at Rams' cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins was dismissed from Florida in 2011 for marijuana charges and decided to play his senior season at the University of North Alabama before entering the NFL Draft in 2012. Jenkins slipped to the 39th pick, despite his raw talent, due to the concerns about his character. Jenkins would go on to lead the NFL in defensive touchdowns (4) in 2012 and tied an NFL rookie record with three interception returns for touchdowns. In the eyes of many, Jenkins should have taken home 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. While Jenkins was a bit more of a prototypical NFL cornerback and he did not miss an entire year of football as Mathieu did, I believe the Honey Badger could have a similar impact in 2013 given the chance to contribute in the right system. If the Ravens decide to take a chance on the former Heisman Trophy finalist in the 2nd or 3rd round of the draft, I firmly believe that the risk could be well worth the reward.