Philadelphia Eagles: Biggest Matchups Facing Jordan Matthews in Rookie Season
While he wasn't the team's first-round selection, Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews was arguably the Philadelphia Eagles' flashiest draft pick.
Matthews was a highly accomplished player in college, finishing with SEC career records for both receptions and yards. He put up impressive numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine and football certainly runs in his bloodlines, seeing as he is Jerry Rice's cousin.
Matthews will begin the 2014 season as the slot receiver, where he will compete for snaps behind Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin. But he has the talent to be productive on the outside, and if he plays well, he will see time there.
Rookie receivers historically make a slow transition to the NFL level. Matthews will be playing in an elite offense, one led by a Pro Bowl quarterback and coached by an offensive guru. Matthews could be the team's No. 1 receiver by the end of his rookie campaign, but these will likely be his most difficult matchups in year one.
5. Week 6 vs. New York Giants
The New York Giants vastly improved their pass defense this offseason.
They signed former Pro Bowl corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, as talented of a cover cornerback as there is in this business. The team also added Walter Thurmond from the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. And there's former Giants' first-round pick Prince Amukamara, who has started to come on as of late.
Seeing as it is a prime-time divisional matchup, this will be a difficult test for Matthews. The Philadelphia Eagles trounced the Giants, 36-21, in their first matchup last season, but they put up zero offensive points the next time the two teams met. Michael Vick was the quarterback then, but he and Matt Barkley combined for just 189 passing yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Matthews will likely still be contributing largely as a slot receiver in this contest, so he may see his snaps limited. When he does play, it will be against Thurmond, who didn't allow a single touchdown pass on 65 passing attempts his way a year ago, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
4. Week 5 vs. St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams don't have a top-notch secondary, but their front seven is as fearsome as any unit in the game. Chris Long and Robert Quinn are an All-Pro combo of defensive ends capable of making life extremely difficult for any quarterback.
Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald will bring the pressure from the inside, James Laurinaitis is a quality middle linebacker and rookie outside linebacker Alec Ogletree showed a propensity for forcing fumbles last season.
This will make the job of cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson much easier, plus new hybrid corner/safety Lamarcus Joyner. Matthews may be relied on exclusively for shorter, higher-percentage passes. After all, Nick Foles won't have all day to throw, and he will need the rookie to get open fast, along with underneath routes ran by Zach Ertz, Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy.
3. Week 11 at Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers have one of the league's most underrated trio of cornerbacks. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams are both of Pro Bowl talent, while nickelback Casey Hayward allowed a ridiculously low 44.8 completion percentage and 31.1 passer rating in 703 snaps in 2012. That year, Hayward rated by PFF as the second-best cover corner on slot patterns.
Hayward is coming off a season in which he finished on injured reserve due to hamstring issues. He won't likely cover Matthews exclusively. But wherever Matthews lines up, he will be facing a talented corner.
As a team, the 2013 Packers fell to just 25th in average net yards allowed per passing attempt, after having finished seventh the previous year. That was largely due to the Hayward injury, but also the declining play of veteran nose tackle B.J. Raji and poor safety play.
Now the Packers will get Hayward back. They added Alabama ball hawk safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in Round 1 of the NFL draft, and 2013 first-round defensive end Datone Jones will be entering his second season in the league.
Last year, the Eagles lucked out when they faced a Green Bay team that didn't have Aaron Rodgers. That won't likely be the case in 2014, which means Philly will need to score a lot of points to win. Matthews may need to come up with a big play.
2. Week 8 at Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals have one of the NFL's toughest defenses, having finished in the top seven in the league in both points and yards allowed a year ago. Patrick Peterson is the self-proclaimed best cornerback in the league, and while his numbers have never matched the hype, he's still a top-flight talent about to break out.
Last year's impressive rookie, Tyrann Mathieu, was a phenomenal all-around defensive back. He rated by Pro Football Focus as the third-best cornerback in the league, playing primarily as a nickel cornerback and safety. The Cardinals added Antonio Cromartie in free agency, and they drafted safety Deone Bucannon in the first round of the draft.
That's a difficult secondary to go with an underrated front seven that includes Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington and John Abraham. The Philadelphia Eagles barely eked out a win in this game last year.
They could potentially need a strong performance from Matthews in this year's matchup. Matthews may be covered extensively by Mathieu, which will make his job difficult. It will be a tough test for Matthews, who won't face much better competition than this game.
1. Week 14 vs. Seattle Seahawks
Who else but the reigning Super Bowl champions will be Matthews' toughest opponent?
The Seattle Seahawks are loaded in the secondary. Richard Sherman's numbers speak for themselves, as he's leading all NFL players in interceptions over the past three seasons. Last year, Sherman was almost unbeatable, allowing a mere 47.3 passer rating (per PFF) while picking off an incredible eight passes
Brandon Browner won’t be back opposite Sherman, but rookie sixth-round pick Byron Maxwell allowed a pretty impressive 47.8 passer rating himself, the second-best mark in the business. The safeties, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, are as intimidating a group as there is in this league.
And don’t forget the front seven, which rated far and away the best of all teams in terms of pass-rushing efficiency, per PFF. That will be a tough matchup for Foles, who doesn’t exactly have the functional mobility to escape the pocket when it collapses on him.
Matthews may finish that game with a handful of catches, but they won’t go for many yards. Playing against Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor isn’t something too many receivers would envy. If Matthews can come away with a good output in that contest, he’s developing much faster than expected.