HARRIS: ‘Honey Badger’ might be worth draft risk for Redskins

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The NFL draft will be here before we know it. The event starts April 25. The Redskins don’t join the party until the next day, since the first round is all that is done on “opening night” of the draft.

Washington, you will recall, was perhaps the biggest story of the 2012 draft because it traded with St. Louis to move into the No. 2 slot. That enabled the Redskins to take quarterback Robert Griffin III, who became the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and helped lead the team to the playoffs. This year’s first-round pick was a small part of the price Washington paid to get RG3.

So the Redskins don’t pick until 50 other players have been taken. They don’t figure to be a big story this year.

If LaVar Arrington gets his wish, they could still make some pretty big news.

Arrington, the former Redskins linebacker, is now the co-host of a local radio show. Several times in the past week, Arrington has made it clear how taken he is with former Louisiana State cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. He watched him at the recent NFL scouting combine. He heard Mathieu’s interviews. He thinks it would be a good move to take Mathieu with the 51st pick.

The first reaction? Arrington has lost his mind.

The next reaction? Maybe not. Taking Mathieu that high is a definite risk, a serious reach. But the reward could be significant.

Mathieu might not be known to many by that name. Does Honey Badger ring a bell? That was his nickname in 2011 when he was one of the most electrifying defensive players in the country. He was a first-team All-America selection. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist. He seemed destined for a huge, lucrative future.

Then he got suspended for the 2012 season. He had a problem with marijuana. He went into a rehabilitation program.

He’s a changed man now, he told everyone at the combine. Hasn’t done drugs since October. Mathieu doesn’t want to be known as the Honey Badger anymore. That was the old him, the one without a happy ending. This is a new him, the one who just wants a chance.

Should the Redskins take that chance?

Taking him at some point wouldn’t be a gigantic risk. If Mathieu is there in the fifth round, it is almost a no-brainer. Most experts see him going somewhere in the third to fifth rounds. The website nflmocks.com has him going 93rd overall, to San Francisco. Our own expert, Redskins beat writer Rich Campbell (who attended the combine), falls in with the take-the-chance-later school of thought.

Even without the drug history, there are questions about Mathieu’s value. Is he good enough to be an every-down corner? Can he handle top receivers in the NFL one-on-one? Is he better suited for safety? Do you take a possible “nickel” defensive back and return man as high as 51st?

Efforts to reach Arrington so he could expound on his thoughts were unsuccessful. Chances are, it will come up again — often — on his show.

Will Brinson, part of the NFL coverage team at CBSSports.com, was a guest on the show one time when Arrington brought it up. Brinson isn’t taken with the idea of taking Mathieu so high.

“Absolutely absurd, all due respect to LaVar,” Brinson said Wednesday. “He is a playmaker, no doubt. But is he a total difference-maker on defense? No.”

Brinson also noted Mathieu isn’t six months clear from using marijuana.

“There is a major risk here,” he said. “Someone could and should take a gamble on him, perhaps as early as the third round. But the Redskins, in the second round with their first pick of the draft? That’s far too early and far too risky.”

Count on this: As well as he played in 2011 and as sharp as he looked at the combine, some team is going to take the chance on him. Every point Brinson makes is valid, almost impossible to dispute. That said, if the Redskins, who need secondary help, are one of the intrigued teams, why not get the jump on the others and take him at 51?

Despite their playoff appearance last season, the Redskins are hardly a finished product. You can find a strong contributor at 51 and, with no first-round pick this year or next, they can’t afford to miss.

There’s a chance with every player you draft. There’s a chance involved with every player on your team. Remember late in the 2011 season, when tackle Trent Williams and tight end Fred Davis were suspended for the final four games for marijuana use? It’s a simple reality of life. You can’t control your players 24 hours a day. You have to hope they make smart decisions.

If the Redskins are indeed interested in Mathieu, they need to investigate him very carefully. They need a long sit-down with him, and others. They need to be convinced, as much as they can be, that he’s learned from his mistakes and won’t make them again.

If they are so convinced, they need to roll the dice.

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