To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.
Total Score: 65/100
Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 57/100
Teams he is starter: 21 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 2 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +5
Positional Bonus: +4
Matthews is the shining gem of the Falcons 2014 draft class and will have plenty of expectations on him, not only for this season but his career in Atlanta.
As the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, arguably one of the great offensive linemen to ever play in the NFL, Jake is no stranger to expectations. Bruce played 19 seasons at guard, tackle and center and was voted to the Pro Bowl 14 times.
Frankly, if Jake is able to achieve half of those accomplishments, he’ll go down as one of the best Falcon blockers in team history.
But in many cases, we might be getting a bit ahead of ourselves with projecting Matthews’ career path. While there is no doubt that Matthews is a talented prospect, he’s also by no means a slam dunk to be a successful NFL player.
An area where Matthews will have to improve upon is his strength. While Matthews has some of the more polished footwork and technique I’ve seen over the past decade in a collegiate tackle, those things can only take you so far in the NFL. Being able to use your upper body and hands are just as important at the pro level due to the skill of edge-rushers he’ll face.
Matthews is pegged to be the team’s long-term left tackle, but at the outset he’ll be playing right tackle for the Falcons. It’s not really a question of whether he’ll win the job, since it’s already his, but how well he’ll handle the job as a rookie.
He’ll have some early tests in the regular season, which matchups against Cameron Jordan, Carlos Dunlap, Lamarr Houston and Elvis Dumervil. Later in the season, he could be facing the likes of Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson.
Thus, Matthews will have several opportunities to sink or swim. And while expectations are high, they should not be so high that people expect Matthews to come in right away and be great. That is a possibility but unlikely. As nearly all rookies suffer from, Matthews will likely have his ups and downs. How that balances out will be the thing to watch during Matthews’ rookie season.
Last season, we saw the top three tackles taken in the draft: Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson struggle early on. All three were playing right tackle in the pros after spending most of their college careers on the left side. The positive for Matthews is that he played right tackle for three years opposite Joeckel at Texas A&M, and thus his stint on the right side of the Falcons line should be like putting on an old shoe.
But it’s certainly possible that just like his predecessors, Matthews struggles initially in Atlanta. If he can manage to improve as the season wears on, then things are going to be right on track for his development.
Matthews forms a large piece of the Falcons’ puzzle when it comes to their revamping of the offensive line to try and protect quarterback Matt Ryan’s future. Ryan has blossomed into one of the league’s premier quarterbacks in recent years, which has also coincided with a significant downturn in play among the team’s offensive line. The hope is that the team can get even more from their quarterback if he can remain upright.
Matthews is the biggest part of that effort, and whether it’s at right tackle this year or left tackle in the years beyond, he’ll be that stabilizing force that can allow the team to better protect their $104 million asset.