INDIANAPOLIS — Tyrann Mathieu was woken up at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning to take a drug test. He passed.
That kind of thing is standard operating procedure at the combine, but the outcome was especially good news for the talented, undersized and highly troubled former LSU cornerback who was dismissed from the football team for repeatedly violating its drug policy.
Mathieu, also known as “Honey Badger,” didn’t play football last season, and his exit from LSU was followed by an arrest for possession of marijuana on Oct. 25. He says he hasn’t smoked since Oct. 26 (puzzling timing), and has since been to rehab. He has a sponsor now, and admitted that he spent more time getting his life back on track over the last several months than worrying about how his time away from the field would hurt his career. He doesn’t know what’s ahead of him, but he promises that his darkest times are behind him.
“I know what it’s like to be humiliated,” he said. “To go back down that road? Not a chance in this world. Not a chance in my lifetime. Every day is process. I’m not saying that I’m totally there, but I am taking strides every day to be the best person that Tyrann can be.”
Mathieu, who won the Chuck Bednarik award in 2011 as the best defensive college player in the country, could have followed in the footsteps of Patrick Peterson  and Morris Claiborne as LSU cornerbacks to go high in the draft. Instead, he’s just hoping he hasn’t been taken off too many draft boards and that he’ll get a chance to resurrect his football career at the next level.
“I think my football skills speak for itself,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve lost a step, but I’m not totally focused on football right now. It’s more about the person and more about getting the things that I’ve done wrong, getting those things corrected.”
Mathieu, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds, probably isn’t on the same level as a guy like Peterson was. Not only does he have less experience, but he’s also a bit of a work in progress. Even with his college production, he’s still got a ways to go in coverage and his speed isn’t overwhelming (he’s hoping to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.4 range, but that might be wishful thinking). In that respect, and considering he’s spent the last year away from football, he should be a bit more of a project than a guy like Tennessee Tech wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, whose issues with marijuana were well-documented, but is polished and played last season after being suspended from Tennessee.
All it takes is one team to Maurice Clarett him (select a troubled player way too early), but it’s tough to project what the draft range is for Mathieu. Maybe he’s a third round pick, maybe he’s undrafted. Given the skillset but work that needs to be done, maybe he winds up like Alfonzo Dennard, a troubled second-round talent who was grabbed by the Patriots in the last round last year. For what it’s worth, Mathieu has not yet met with the Patriots, though their secondary issues and history of overlooking marijuana concerns would make the two a potential fit should they fancy what he brings on the football field.
What he brings on the field isn’t the next Peterson or even the next Claiborne, but he’s highly instinctive with great ball skills. The rest of the package, which includes the speed and footwork, makes him less than a blue-chipper, and the character concerns further cloud the situation.
So the questions are there for Mathieu, and he doesn’t blame teams for having them, saying he “respects and totally understands” teams being skeptical, saying he’s “not totally asking them to trust me right now.”
If they do, Mathieu swears that the paycheck and the limelight won’t let him stray from the sober path he’s taken.
“I know there’s marijuana in the NFL,” Mathieu said. “I know there’s marijuana everywhere you go, but at the end of the day, none of those people are Tyrann Mathieu.”