Tyrann Mathieu could end up as a walking, talking public service announcement -- good or bad -- for the disenfranchised youth in our society.
Smoking marijuana may be cool to some and it's certainly more acceptable than ever before, but to the movers and shakers of the world -- the one's who do the hiring and firing -- it's still frowned upon.
Mathieu, the former Louisiana State cornerback who was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011, is finding that out as he navigates through the NFL Draft process as a high-risk prospect. To his credit, Mathieu has taken the mature approach to his well-documented substance-abuse problems, admitting to at least 10 drug test failures while at LSU.
"My best friend right now is honesty," the New Orleans native said. "I want to be as open as possible because I'm trying to rebuild people's trust and I want those guys (NFL personnel people) to be able to trust me and I hold myself accountable."
It was quite the fall for the "Honey Badger," a dynamic playmaker who recorded 77 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, two interceptions, five forced fumbles and four touchdowns (two on fumble recoveries and two on punt returns) for a 2011 Tigers team which finished No. 2 in the nation after losing the BCS National Championship Game to SEC rival Alabama.
Mathieu was awarded the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player in the country. He was living on the edge, however, largely due to his drug habit. Embarrassing pictures surfaced on gossip sites around the country when a spurned ex-girlfriend accused him of being "with half of Baton Rouge," while the drug test failures continued to pile up.
Eight months after his brilliant 2011 season, LSU coach Les Miles announced Mathieu would be dismissed from the football team due to "a violation of team rules."
News outlets quickly reported that the dismissal was a result of repeated drug test failures and Mathieu eventually withdrew from the university to enter a rehabilitation program in Houston
"I don't really know exactly what Ty's specifics were, but I stand by our policy, and it really did help, in some way, identify a problem," Miles said when interviewed on NFL AM this week.
Seeking help is often the first step in turning one's life around, but Mathieu didn't take advantage of his first chance. Six weeks after being dismissed by Miles, he and three other former LSU players were arrested for possession of marijuana. With college no longer an option, Mathieu dived into the process of preparing for an NFL future by relocating to South Florida and cutting off all of the "bad influences" in his life, including close family members and ex-teammates.
He met with multiple teams during the Senior Bowl and that was followed by a so-so showing at the NFL Scouting Combine in February when he ran a 4.50-second 40-yard dash, bench-pressed 225 pounds four times and flashed a 34-inch vertical leap.
Certain general mangers have surely red-flagged Mathieu and won't even consider putting his name on their draft boards come April 25, but others will be intrigued by his upside.
A short but sturdy prospect in the mold of Antoine Winfield, Mathieu really took to the big stage in Baton Rouge.
"I think my football skill speaks for itself," Mathieu said. "I don't think I lost a step (after missing last season). I'm not totally focused on football right now. It's more about the person and getting those things I've done wrong corrected."
Like Winfield, the "Honey Badger" plays a lot bigger than he is and looks ideal as a slot defender on the next level. He also adds the potential to be an impact punt returner. His height and lack of elite closing speed could hurt him outside the numbers, however.
"He's a guy who has spectacular ball skills. I've never seen him mishandle a ball. His vision for play, he anticipates the big play," Miles said. "If I'm an NFL team I'm going to look at him first as a punt returner, I'm going to look at him as a kick returner, and the opportunity for him to play in a number of spots as a nickel/dime corner."
Skills like that would likely place Mathieu in the second or third round if he didn't carry so much baggage.
Recently, the former Tigers star embarked on a 10-stop tour with teams around the league in the hopes of selling the "Honey Badger" brand and at least explaining his troubled past.
"First of all, I want them to be able to trust me," Mathieu said. "I hold myself accountable for everything I've done and in this past year, it's been tough. At the end of the day, I want them to know that I'm a football player. I want to be a great teammate and I want to be the same leader on the field that I know I can be off the field."
Taking a flyer on Mathieu will make plenty of sense for some teams. The question is when can they afford to take a blind leap on a guy who has had to basically quarantine himself to keep temptation away.
"I've been to rehabs, I've been to counseling, I have a sponsor," he said. "I'm surrounded by people who do what I want to do and that's be a professional football player. I think the last few months have been going pretty good for me."
That kind of support system won't be possible during the NFL season, though, making Mathieu the classic boom-or-bust prospect.
"I'm not totally asking them to trust me right now," Mathieu said. "What I have asked is for them to give me an opportunity to play the game. I've had a lot of time to reflect on it, especially without football. It's really given me a different outlook on life and it's just about being the right kind of person."