After a less than desirable end to his LSU college career, safety Tyrann Mathieu (aka Honey Badger), landed on his feet in the third round of the NFL Draft with the Arizona Cardinals this spring. He is already off to a good NFL start after Week 1.
On Sunday, the rookie started in his first league game and made quite an impression with a big play. St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook was running toward the end zone, readying for a touchdown when Mathieu dove at him from behind and tapped the ball out of his hands as he just passed the 10-yard line.
Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby was on it and recovered the ball. A touchdown had been averted with a successful touch back for the Cardinals.
For the game, the player had seven solo tackles.
Honey Badger shrugged off the play after the game, saying that Cook never saw him but new Arizona head coach Bruce Arians said it was “one of the best plays I have ever seen at this level,” and then compared it to one in the 1993 Super Bowl by the Buffalo Bills receiver Don Beebe; he had chased down Dallas defensive lineman Leon Lett.
Additional applause came from NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders who said via AZCentral.com, “That may be one of the best plays I have seen in a long time.”
Is this just the beginning for Honey Badger? Did he launch himself into a NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Contender?
This summer the buzz already started in preseason play as the player had 12 total tackles and a sack. He also showed his versatility on special teams with his three punt returns, which averaged 7.7 yards. This launched him into a starting role and the future looks bright.
Some could say that Mathieu was a steal as a third rounder given his talent (see a SEC Defensive Player of the Year honor and a fifth place Heisman Trophy finish in 2011) but he did enter the league with some baggage.
Rewind just one year ago and Honey Bear had just been kicked off LSU’s team. He had nowhere to go but up. His time away from football last year and some soul searching appears to have helped Mathieu who hadn’t played in a “regular” football game since 2011 when he took the field on Sunday.
He’s shown he has some hustle and has been known to take risks. Sure, he’ll make mistakes but he’ll amass some nice highlight reels this year. Maybe even land the Defensive Rookie of the Year honor.
But we all know there’s some other players vying for the award. Who’s his competition?
This includes, along with their Week 1 activity, Detroit Lions DE Ziggy Ansah (didn’t play), Miami Dolphins DE Dion Jordan (one tackle, one sack), St. Louis Rams LB Alec Ogletree (seven tackles), Pittsburgh Steelers LB Jarvis Jones (one tackle) and Atlanta Falcons CB Desmond Trufant (five tackles).
After the first week, Honey Badger and Ogletree sit at the top. But will it continue? We all know every sport story likes to include a good comeback angle. Maybe this will be the difference maker for the talented safety.