Almost every NFL team has a player whose performance on the field can change the team's fortune for the year. Who is that player for the Arizona Cardinals? SB Nation's Danny Kelly believes it is Tyrann Mathieu.
Mathieu's shot at the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2013 was cut short by an ACL tear. He appeared in 13 games last season, but played sparingly as the team eased him back into action. The instinctive and playmaking ballhawk should find himself in a versatile role in 2015 for Arizona's new defensive coordinator, James Bettcher, and could be a big spark to what was an already dominant group. The prototypical joker piece on defense, Mathieu has an uncanny feel for where the ball is going, and in an increasingly "spread out" NFL, should play a big role matched up with slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs.
Mathieu playing at a high level does something for the Cardinals defense. He certainly is a possible X-factor.
Is he the best candidate?
Consider linebacker Daryl Washington. He is one of the best at inside linebacker in terms of production. He is fast and disrupts games. He really is an X-factor this year because we don't know when he will be reinstated from his substance abuse suspension, or even if he will. If he is reinstated, we don't know if he will be suspended again for his domestic incident. If he is, we don't know for how long. And if he returns, can he play at the same level he did in 2012 and 2013? If so, it could be a game-changer for the defense.
On offense, it could be receiver John Brown or running back Andre Ellington.
Who would you consider to be the biggest X-factor for the Cardinals?