Here’s my breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons top 2014 NFL Draft selection, offensive tackle Jake Matthews.
College: Texas A&M
40 Time: 5.07 seconds (Combine)
Bench Press: 24 reps (Combine)
Matthews hails from a football-rich family with practically every male member having NFL experience for three generations. Grandfather Clay Matthews Sr. played defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers (1950-55). His father, Bruce, played offensive line for Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans from 1983-2001 and was inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007. His uncle, Clay Matthews Jr., played linebacker for Cleveland Browns (1978-93) and Falcons (1994-96). Brother, Kevin played center for Titans from 2010-13. Cousin, Clay III, plays linebacker with Green Bay Packers since 2009. Cousin, Casey, plays linebacker for Philadelphia Eagles since 2011. Has a younger brother, Mike, that is currently at Texas A&M.
Matthews is a three-year starter that spent the beginning of his career playing right tackle before moving to left tackle as a senior. He started the final seven games of his true freshman year at right tackle, playing opposite 2013 first-round pick Luke Joeckel. Started every game as a sophomore and junior at right tackle (26 total). Moved to left side upon Joeckel’s departure in 2013, and started 13 games there. He earned All-SEC honors as a junior and senior, and was an honorable mention candidate for All-Big 12 as a sophomore. He was a finalist for the Outland Trophy as a senior, and won the Bobby Bowden Award that same year. That award honors players for their high performance on the field, in the classroom and community.
Full name is Jacob Matthews, and was born on February 11, 1992. He attended Elkins High in Missouri City, Texas.
2013 GAMES WATCHED
|Date||Opponent||2nd Lev||Pull||Cut||Screen||Key Blk||Miss Blk||Sack||Hit||Press||Pen||Pen Type|
|Oct-12||at Ole Miss||1/1||0/0||1/1||0/0||3||1||0||0||2||1||holding|
|Nov-23||at LSU||1/2||0/0||0/0||0/0||0||0||0||0||2||1||ill. block|
The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.
Strength (6.0) – Shows decent strength but certainly has the potential to get much stronger. Measuring in at 308 pounds at the Combine, that’s about seven pounds lighter than the NFL average. Could potentially add another 10-15 pounds to his frame easily, particularly to improve his upper body strength. Rarely dominates opposing players with his strength alone. He lifted 225 pounds 24 times at the Combine, which is adequate for a tackle of his caliber.
Pass Blocking (8.5) – He is a very effective pass protector that will get beat from time to time, but rarely ever does he get beat cleanly. At Texas A&M, has grown comfortable with blocking for several seconds due to the propensity of quarterback Johnny Manziel to hold onto the ball for a long time and/or scramble. Consistently asked to block on an island and comfortable doing so. Does very well against inside pressure, but has had some issues with outside speed.
Run Blocking (6.5) – He’s an effective run blocker that consistently gets position and hits most of his assignments. Generally takes good angles and knows how to get leverage in the run game however. When he can lock on, shows ability to drive defender downfield and typically very effective at doing so against smaller linebackers. However again, he suffers from lack of power and is unable to create consistent push or spacing in the run game against bigger defensive linemen. Rarely asked to block out of a three-point stance, but was mostly effective on those rare occasions. Did not consistently win in short-yardage situations.
Footwork (9.5) – Has very polished feet and plays very well balanced. From the waist down, his play and technique are about as good as it gets. Smooth kick-slide and balanced, allowing him to adjust easily to inside moves. Handles stunts very well because he always is balanced and under control.
Technique (9.0) – Polished with his technique, knowing how to use his hands although he needs to get stronger. Sets up quickly and plays with his hands high and tight ready to deliver punch. Understands how to get inside position with his hands and use them. Needs to get better and stronger using his hands, but from a technical point he is rock-solid.
Mobility (7.0) – Isn’t asked to pull or block on the move very often, but tends to do a good job when he’s given that opportunity. Asked to block quite a bit on the second level and usually hits his assignments, but will occasionally take a bad angle or struggle to lock onto a moving target. But he adjusts well in space and should become more effective on screens and blocking in space at the next level.
Mean Streak (6.0) – Occasionally will show some violence in his game and does a good job finishing his blocks. But is not the type that is going to play beyond the whistle and get feisty with defenders. Lacks ideal edge to his game.
Based off my own grading system on a 9-point scale.
Top Level Prospect (7.7) – Has the skillset and tools to be considered one of the best players at his respective position and will be able to take on most top-level opponents and more than hold his own. Typically a player that falls into one of two categories: (1) possesses rare athletic potential but have major character question marks or (2) does not stand out athletically from other top picks but grades very highly in terms of character. Ideally will be targeted with a Top 10 selection.
Overall, Matthews is a solid left tackle prospect at the next level. He is by no means an elite prospect, but has the ability to be one of the better left tackles at the next level.
To be honest, if his last name was Abernathy, I might not grade him as highly. His bloodlines certainly do influence his grade and make me more optimistic than I would be for a similar player from a different family tree.
He is very well-coached, but he has yet to hit his peak ability. He will do so once he gets stronger and learns how to use his hands more effectively. In that arena, he’s better than most college tackles entering the league, but there is still room for improvement.
But his feet and ability from the waist down is outstanding, and it should allow him to make a smooth transition at the next level. There are however a few concerns about Matthews and his transition to the NFL.
Firstly, his shorter arm length is a bit troublesome. He measured to have 33 3/8″ arms at the Scouting Combine. Typically most first-round tackles will have 34″ arms or longer. Arm length can be somewhat overrated, but it is a factor at the next level. The longer your arms, the better you’re able to shield defenders from getting into your body. Because once they do, they have gained control over you. Often times last season, I would see instances where Matthews would let defenders get into his body. He would win most of those instances because he wasn’t facing elite competition, but that will change once he gets to the next level.
What helps a shorter-armed tackle is if he can have a powerful punch, which Matthews lacks. That is an area he’ll need to improve upon if he wants to counter his shorter arms. That should come with more work in the weight room and better coaching in how to position his hands.
The other issue I noticed is that almost all of his pressures came when he was beat to the outside. He was very good working against the inside move and does an excellent job countering a defender’s initial move or adjusting to stunts and the like. But he had his most trouble against Shane Ray in the Missouri game as he was the player with the best first-step quickness he faced in the games I saw. Because of his shorter arm length, he may have trouble with speed rushers that know how to use their arms and get long leverage on the outside. But again, with better hand technique, and strength he should be able to somewhat counter this.
As a run blocker, Matthews is adequate. He worked primarily out of a two-point stance in Texas A&M’s uptempo pass attack, but will be asked to play out of three-point stance at the next level. But unlike a lot of past collegiate tackles, I don’t see that being a huge transition for him. He would play in a three-point stance in short-yardage and goal line situations at A&M, and he was able to quickly get into his set.
Matthews doesn’t have great pop or power off the snap as a run blocker, but he can get leverage and positioning on a relatively consistent basis. As far as that goes, I would compare him to Tyson Clabo. Like Clabo, he won’t consistently push defenders off the ball, but can use his size and ability to get consistently leverage and positioning. That should make him a consistent run blocker that can hit his assignments, but he’s not the type of guy that you’re going to want to run behind and is able to consistently create push. But once again, with more strength he should be able to get better there.
As a pass protector, Matthews’ upside is far better than Clabo’s because he has much better feet. Clabo was able to compensate from his lack of ideal foot quickness with excellent hand use, so that once he was able to get his hands on the defender, he was able to control him. Matthews hasn’t quite mastered that but can improve in that area in time. If he does, then he’ll be a far more effective pass protector than Clabo ever was.
In Atlanta, Matthews is expected to start at right tackle from the outset. Not only did he play right tackle for several years at Texas A&M, but this should allow him a smoother transition in the pros. He won’t have to deal with as much speed playing on that side and it will force him to get stronger and learn how to battle bigger players. He should also get help against edge speed because he’ll get many opportunities where he’s covered up by a tight end.
Due to the situation with Sam Baker’s contract, Matthews could be afforded at least one if not potentially two years of playing right tackle before he’s asked to transition to left tackle. With two seasons to bulk up and polish his technique even further, he should be able to make that transition seamlessly.
The worst-case scenario for Matthews is that he struggles at right tackle and doesn’t get significantly better than he is right now. If that is the case, then he’ll be an effective starter but not a great one. If that is the case, then the Falcons could tinker with the possibility of moving him inside to center. As a junior at A&M, he did handle long-snapping duties.
The transition from tackle to center is a relatively smoother and easier one than tackle to guard. Several players have made that transition in the past, including Matt Birk, Justin Hartwig, Jamaal Jackson and Max Unger. His own father, Bruce, made the transition inside to guard and center in the latter half of his career.
Inside, Matthews’ shorter arms won’t be as much a liability and his size, toughness, and feet will make him better than most centers if asked to block on an island against a powerful defensive tackle.
But the best-case scenario is that Matthews comes in and plays well as a right tackle similar to Clabo over the years. Like Clabo, he won’t be a dominator, but should be consistent and reliable. Then when he makes the transition to left tackle, he does have the potential to become one of the best left tackles in the league. I wouldn’t say that Matthews is the next Joe Thomas, but he does possess traits that remind me of Jake Long, who also reportedly didn’t have the longest arms (although there is some confusion to his exact arm length).
Like Long, he sets up quickly and can match up with top pass-rushers. He’s not as physical or powerful as Long was in his prime, but compares more to the Long that had been limited a bit by injuries later in his career. But that version of Jake Long was still one of the better left tackles in the league. Long too had his fair share of struggles against elite speed rushers like John Abraham and Dwight Freeney, but was rarely a liability.
Assuming Matthews can make improvements and is durable, he should be a fixture along the Falcons offensive line for many years, possibly a decade or more. Matt Ryan finally has a protector that is worthy of him. Matthews should also benefit from the fact that Ryan is prone to getting rid of the ball a lot earlier than Manziel was.
Often times, Matthews was asked to protect for five seconds or more for Manziel due to his scrambling ability. In the pros, that should change as Ryan is likely to get the ball out in under three seconds almost every snap. Because of the extra seconds, there were times where Matthews was flagged for holding penalties because Manziel would change direction while moving in the pocket, and Matthews was now in the wrong position against the defender.
Matthews has room for growth as a tackle, but as is, should at the very least be an above average starter on either side of the line. Again, if he came from a different family, I might be pessimistic about his ability to make that growth. But since he does come from the right family, I’m a lot more optimistic that he will take well to Mike Tice’s teaching in Atlanta and blossom into one of the better blockers the team has had over the past two decades.