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Tyrann Mathieu has most to prove among Cardinals in 2017

TEMPE, Ariz. -- This might be one of the toughest yet most important questions of the offseason.

Both Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, in their own ways, have plenty to prove in 2017. But I think it's more urgent for Mathieu.

The fifth-year safety is coming off a third season (out of four) that ended with him on injured reserve. Despite his immense talent, he’s injury-prone. And with that comes a constant concern about his next issue. When Mathieu is healthy, he’s proved he’s one of the best defenders in the NFL and, arguably, the best safety. One area where he’s risen above all other defensive players is his ability to find the ball. No one defender in the NFL has the ball-hawking skills of Mathieu, just another reason why having him on the field has been a significant benefit to the Cardinals.

Mathieu needs to prove he can stay healthy. If he were to suffer another major injury this season, it would be interesting to see how the Cardinals approach his future. They invested in him long-term contract, giving Mathieu $21.25 million guaranteed. That’s an expensive risk. But it also means the Cardinals want to see a return on their investment, which won’t happen if he’s on the sideline rehabbing yet again.

As for Nkemdiche, he needs to prove he was worthy of a first-round pick. Thus far, all reports from coach Bruce Arians out of OTAs have Nkemdiche performing up to expectations. But that was the narrative last season, too.

While Nkemdiche has plenty to prove, it’s Mathieu who has more. Much more.