I know, they've yet to put pads on and they've yet to start hitting. We should know better than to get carried away regarding rookie performances in any camp, Philadelphia Eagles included.
Two years ago in Philly, at around this time, hype was building around second-round pick Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks then went on to have a terrible rookie season, earning the second-worst Pro Football Focus grade at his position in a campaign replete with mental mistakes, coverage gaffes and missed tackles (subscription required).
That should be a cautionary tale as the excitement builds regarding this year's second-round selection, Jordan Matthews.
The 6"3' wide receiver out of Vanderbilt has reportedly been putting on a show during organized team activities. Philly.com's Jimmy Kempski has raved:
And so too has NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks, who this week compared Matthews to Terrell Owens:
Like Owens, Matthew stands 6-foot-3. Also like Owens, Matthews is known for being a hard worker and a workout nut. Throw in the fact that they both wear No. 81, and it is hard not to think it is Owens out there catching passes during Eagles practices.
Matthews has been very impressive during Eagles' offseason workouts so far, despite the fact he is still running with the second team on offense. The rookie receiver had a number of nice catches on Monday afternoon, including one over two defenders in the middle of the field.
Now, Matthews isn't even working with the first team yet, but starting quarterback Nick Foles is already a big fan.
"I love him," Foles said of Matthews this week, per Rob Edwards of the South Jersey Times. "I think he’s a great addition to the team. He’s doing a really great job buying into what Chip wants and what the coaches want. He’s doing a great job."
And, if head coach Chip Kelly's words are to be taken at face value, Matthews is expected to be the regular slot receiver this season, according to NJ.com's Matt Lombardo:
We're probably going to start him inside...If we've got Jerry Maclin on one side and (Riley Cooper) on the other side and throw him inside, and he has experience. So I think the kind of thing that would separate him from some other people is he does have experience.
This offense is crowded with Maclin and Cooper as well as tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz and running backs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles, but Kelly still managed to use a slot receiver on 633 of 1,128 offensive snaps in 2013. That means that as a regular slot receiver Matthews could be on the field more than half the time.
Is that enough to contend for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors? Possibly. While there are plenty of other weapons in this offense, there'll likely be a lot of catches to go around now that DeSean Jackson is gone.
And unlike Jackson and Maclin, Matthews is a big, reliable target who can make tough catches in traffic.
As a result, look for the 21-year-old to play a major role in the red zone. He had 16 touchdowns during his final two years at Vanderbilt and could be a popular end-zone option for Foles. That would presumably help his case for NFL Rookie of the Year.
Sizing up the competition
Amazingly, only four of the last 33 Defensive Rookies of the Year were drafted outside of the first round. But on the offensive side of the ball, picks after the first round have fared very well in taking home ROY honors.
As you can see, 27 percent of the last 33 Offensive Rookies of the Year came from Round 2 or beyond. That's enough to keep Matthews in the conversation, but the recent pattern of winners tilt the odds away from his favor: Nine of the last 10 ROY winners on offense came from the first round.
Moreover, only four receivers—Carl Pickens, Randy Moss, Anquan Boldin and Percy Harvin—have won the award in the last 28 years. And this year's wide receiver class is stacked as any in recent memory. Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin were all drafted in the first round and Marqise Lee also went ahead of Matthews in the second round.
Fair or not, an offensive lineman has literally never won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and running backs might not factor in very much this season. Still, those six receivers along with quarterbacks Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr and tight end Eric Ebron are all threats to win the award.
All 11 of those rookies were drafted ahead of Matthews.
But while Cooks also is being talked about as a ROY candidate, there isn't an offensive skill position rookie being hailed right now as much as Matthews.
So far this offseason, Watkins injured his shoulder. Evans injured his hamstring, as did Beckham. Lee has an ankle injury. Ebron has reportedly struggled. Bortles has reportedly been inconsistent. Reports are that Manziel has struggled. Those two rookie QBs might not even start, and it's the same story for first-year signal-callers Bridgewater and Carr.
But it's been nothing but sunshine and lollipops regarding Matthews. As NFL Network analyst and former Eagles offensive lineman Brian Baldinger gushed this week, per Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News.
I think you just have to look at everything about him—the size, the character, the person. You can see him being successful here...There's something special about the kid...I think what we've seen this offseason is that divas don't win championships, and this kid I think is about as far away from a diva as there is.
No Eagles player has ever won a rookie of the year award (something the franchise has in common with only the Jacksonville Jaguars). But even if Matthews fails to change that, the glowing early reviews indicate Philly fans could be very happy with this kid for years to come.
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