The Honey Badger, “that kid with the yellow hair”, or Tyrann Mathieu, whatever you decided to call him, was the single most dynamic college football player last year. The plays he made were amazing and it seemed like somebody was controlling him with a PS3 controller and rampaging through “Road to Glory” mode on NCAA 12. RGIII deserved to win the Heisman, but his highlight reel plays had nowhere near the effect on the national championship race that Mathieu’s plays did. He was a little ball of energy burst onto the scene during the Oregon game with a couple of momentum changing plays and remained in the spotlight leading up to the national championship game when he walked around the french quarter in a “honey badger” costume. Unfortunately for him, and the LSU faithful, that was the beginning of the end as Alabama targeted #7 rather than throw at his gifted counterpart Morris Claiborne. Throughout the night, McCarron targeted the feisty corner and led Bama down the field slowly, but surely to an overwhelming victory (more recently they have been targeting each other on Twitter).
While I was watching him play last year, I could not help but remember another SEC cornerback that burst onto the scene making highlight reel plays one year only to fall off into oblivion the next. That cornerback was named Simeon Castille. Castille, in ’05, was a ball hawking slot corner that always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. I remember watching him trailing a receiver running a crossing route that looked like it would lead to a big play for the opponents and then getting hit right in the numbers for an easy pick. The kid was just straight up lucky. He did have some talent as a ball hawk, but that also meant he was feast or famine. In ’06, he did not do much of anything other than accumulate pre-season accolades. He was supposed to be an impact player but did not make any significant contribution to an underperforming Tide team. The key difference between the ’05 and ’06 seasons for Castille had less to do with Castille than it did with his supporting cast. In ’05 Simeon played with Roman Harper (FS, current NFL starter), Charlie Perperah (SS, current NFL starter), DeMeco Ryans (LB, NFL Defensive ROY ’06), Mark Anderson (DE, current NFL Starter), Bino (CB, NFL draft pick), Freddie Roach (LB, NFL Draft Pick), Wallace Gilberry (DE, NFL Draft Pick) and Anthony Madison (CB, Sr. and solid starter). In ’06 all but two of those players were in the NFL or training camp including three out of his four defensive backfield mates. In ’05, he was allowed to roam and make plays out of the slot, but in ’06 he was forced into a more traditional role that caused him ineffective. He didn’t have the same talent around him to play aggressively and the role that suited him best.
This year Mathieu should see a similar drop in his production. Tyrann is much more talented than Castille, but he is going to run into the same problems. The pressure to continue to make plays grew as the year went on but he also had immensely talented backfield running mates that allowed him to make the plays of which no one was greater than Morris Claiborne. Morris could be put on an island the entire game and completely shutdown a wideout. He was simply the best cover corner in College Football last year. While Tyrann will have more talent around him, and is more talented than Castille, he will see a drop off in his production this year. LSU will not be able to take as many chances with him without #17 shutting down half of the field and will force him to play a more traditional cover corner role for which he is ill suited. He is supposed to be running around the field with reckless abandon and if his ability to do that is limited by his increased responsibilities so will his production. Not to mention he must have a drop just due to the simple law of averages. I mean he caught tons of lucky bounces last year and sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. And ol’honey badger had a ton of luck last year.
Tyrann’s ’11 will not be forgotten soon. He made more big plays in more big games than I have ever seen a defensive player make. Charles Woodson in his Heisman season did not make those types of plays. But, that was last year and I don’t think we will see him repeat his amazing 2011 in the fall of 2012.