In the NFL replacing an All-Pro is never easy.
When the Arizona Cardinals selected Tryann Mathieu in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Arizona thought they had a cornerstone in their defensive back field for years to come.
Initially, it looked like it payed off. Mathieus' best season came in 2015, recording 80 tackles, 17 passes defended, five interceptions including one for a touchdown. Unfortunately, injuries have plagued Mathieu for most of his career, with the aforementioned Honey Badger never playing an entire season.
Then came Budda Baker. The Cardinals loved Baker so much that they traded up for him the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Many thought that was just an insurance move just in case Mathieu was reinjured. After all, The Cardinals had just mad the Honey Badger the highest paid safety in the league at the time.
Baker looked strong in during his rookies season, accumulating 45 tackles, seven passes defended and one fumble recovery. At the conclusion of the season, the writing was on the wall for Mathieu.
Mathieu and the Cardinals could not reach agreement for a pay cut which ended with the Cardinals releasing Mathieu. Mathieu is set to start his first season with the Houston Texans.
In his second year in the NFL, Baker looks poised to fill in the shoes left by Mathieu at the safety position.
Making the most of every opportunity
The biggest difference for Baker in 2018 versus 2017 is having a full offseason to be with the team at the facility. A rule forced Baker to stay in college because he had a late graduation date.
This year Baker is able to learn and develop under the new role that was placed upon him.
Even now that Mathieu is gone, the comparisons still continue. Baker is listed at 5'10" at 195 pounds in weight. Mathieu is listed at 5'9" at 185 pounds. Both rely on their speed to get to the ball carrier while Baker tackles with raw power.
“Ty was a great player, but then again, I always tell people, ‘Tyrann is Tyrann and Budda is Budda. At the end of the day, I’m going to be trying to make plays.” Baker recently told Darren Urban of the Cardinals official website.
No longer a rookie, Baker is now able to play catch up with schemes and packaging. What benefits Baker is he is present while the new coaching staff implements their new defense.
"When Baker is away from the facility he not only texts questions but sends accompanying video from his iPad of practice reps, looking for clarification or correction. With that type of attitude, being a sponge, only helps the process,” defensive backs coach David Merritt said of Baker.
That is the strength and wisdom of a veteran leader in a young players mind. If Baker continues to establish himself the way he is now, the sky is the limit for the young defensive back.