Patience pays off for Lacy, Mathieu, other SEC stars
The phrase “good things come to those who wait” was paraphrased from the Book of Lamentations by the advertising agency BBDO to sell Heinz ketchup in the 1980s and Guinness beer in the mid-1990s.
It most certainly was not written or spoken or even considered as a passing thought by anyone in the 2013 NFL Draft. For the fans on the floor of Radio City Music Hall on Friday night for the second and third rounds, the mood was more subdued than Thursday’s first-round festivities. But for those still on the board, Friday offered more than a few Maalox moments, times when anxiety reigned and the clock seemed to tick slower with each name that was called. Almost all of the SEC players ended up exactly where they needed to be. And every one of them appeared thrilled by the end result, even if the process produced something between disquiet and full-blown panic.
For former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, for example, the 9:00 p.m. call from the Arizona Cardinals was like Santa coming down the chimney. The Cardinals selected Mathieu seventh in the third round and 69th overall, a mighty fall for a kid who was a Heisman finalist in his sophomore year. But Mathieu had to feel lucky to just be on the board. Many coaches wrote him off after Les Miles booted him from the team for numerous drug violations. Jon Gruden loved him and thought he should have gone in the first round, but as a commentator that opinion was easy. Gruden didn’t have to pay Mathieu or coach him or play alongside him.
Arizona gave him a shot, in large part because of someone who has played beside him and who knows Mathieu as well as anyone. Patrick Peterson played the corner opposite Mathieu before being drafted by the Cardinals in the first round of 2011. Mathieu believes Peterson is the reason he landed in Arizona.
“I think (Peterson) had a lot to do with it,” Mathieu told the NFL Network after his selection. “He’s their premier guy. He’s definitely one of those character guys that everyone in the NFL looks up to. I think the Arizona Cardinals take his word seriously. I’m just grateful and blessed to be able to play with Patrick again, to go out there and have fun like we used to have fun at LSU.” Arizona also took LSU linebacker Kevin Minter in the second round, giving Mathieu another former defensive teammate to lean on when he makes his NFL debut. So, while the wait might have produced some angst, Mathieu’s outcome couldn’t have been better.
The same was true for Tennessee receiver Justin Hunter, who couldn’t have imagined a more perfect setting to launch his professional career. The Tennessee Titans traded up six spots to take Hunter as the second pick of the second round, 34th overall. He doesn’t have to leave the state where he went to school and he fills a need the Titans have for a receiving target with some vertical leap. Others found perfect homes as well. Florida linebacker Jonathan Bostic went to the Chicago Bears, a team that is looking to replace Brian Urlacher, while Mississippi State’s star cornerbacks Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks ended up in Detroit and Tampa, respectively. All three went in the second round. Houston might have filled a missing piece in their playoff puzzle with South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger, the 25th pick of the second round. Swearinger will join LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, who was taken by the Texas near the end of the night in the 33rd spot in the third round. The Saints definitely improved their roster with the addition of Georgia’s gargantuan nose tackle John Jenkins, who went as the 20th pick in the third round, 82nd overall. And the Redskins got another great target for Robert Griffin III when they took Florida tight end Jordan Reed in the third. But the man who had the longest unexpected wait and who benefited the most from it was Alabama running back Eddie Lacy.
Lacy was projected to go late in the first round, but no running backs were called on Thursday night, a first since 1967. Then he was thought to be a shoo-in for the first running back selected on Friday. But that honor went to North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard, who was taken by Cincinnati in the fifth spot of the second round, 37th overall. Adding insult to anxiety, Lacy had to sit and watch as Pittsburgh took Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell, and Dallas, a team in desperate need of Lacy’s bruising talents, took tight end Gavin Escobar.
But good things come to those who wait. Sometimes it’s in a ketchup bottle; sometimes in a pint glass; and sometimes it comes in 61st overall pick where Green Bay took Lacy to provide run support to Aaron Rodgers and perhaps put the Packers back on the road to another Super Bowl. “At the end of the day, it is what it is,” Lacy said of his wait on a conference call right after the selection. “You can't do anything about it, and I'm just looking forward to being part of a new team and contributing as much as I can.” That contribution should be substantial. And the fit should be perfect. Green Bay is a good thing for Eddie Lacy. In the end, it should be worth the wait.