"I'm the best player in the world. That's how I feel."
Those words belong to Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona's most versatile defender and a player angling to make a roaring comeback in 2017.
After tearing his ACL two Decembers ago, Mathieu was never himself last season. With two major knee operations in four NFL seasons, the 25-year-old defensive back also suffered a shoulder injury that ultimately short-circuited his season two days before Christmas.
The player the Cardinals have seen this summer, though, is a different beast. Mathieu has shined in training camp sessions, piling up one pick after the next and prompting coach Bruce Arians to tell the team's official site: "He's getting back to being the player we all recognize."
Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) July 27, 2017
Last season was especially pressure-packed for Mathieu after inking a five-year, $62.5 million deal with $35 million in guarantees. After finishing three of his four NFL seasons on injured reserve, Mathieu was draped with questions about whether he'll ever return to peak form.
"There is probably public pressure, that this guy has to do it, especially with the contract and the times when he's been healthy he's shown he's one of the more dynamic players in the NFL," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. "But the great thing about him, no one puts more pressure on him than himself. There's no one who wants it more than him. He's had some real tough breaks. But I'd never bet against the guy."
Beyond the Cardinals and Mathieu, the winner here is any football fan who enjoys watching one of the game's most fascinating athletes. When healthy, Honey Badger has been jackknife used all over the field, while emerging for stretches as a legitimate MVP candidate.
He's no luxury item, though, as the Cardinals desperately need his services at the back-end of their defense. So far this summer ... so good.
"It's about gaining that confidence back in myself," Mathieu said. "Believing in myself more than others may believe."