When a guy is drafted as high as the second round in a draft that saw more underclassmen declare than ever before, you have to assume the expectations are that he can possibly be one of the bright young stars as a wide receiver. For Jordan Matthews, that’s exactly what he faces as he tries to make a name for himself as one of the newest members of the Philadelphia Eagles receiving corps.
There’s little doubt that this well-rounded rookie can be an instant contributor to one of the league’s most fast-paced and creative offenses, but does he have the rare skills necessary for NFL stardom? There’s certainly a strong case that can be made against such a grandiose outcome.
Although, one should always hesitate before doubting a cousin of Hall of Famer Jerry Rice—even if he is a second cousin.
Off the field, Matthews is known for his hard work, focus and commitment to his craft. He is a well-rounded guy who took piano lessons growing up and was a member of the honor society at the college-prep school he attended. From a character standpoint, there’s very little risk of this guy being anything less than a great presence in the locker room and dedicated professional.
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Matthews enters the NFL as one of the most prolific playmakers in Vanderbilt history. In four years he racked up an SEC record 3,759 receiving yards at 14.3 yards per catch and 24 touchdowns. His production went up each year as he developed and become more and more a part of this offense.
At the combine he posted outstanding numbers for a wide receiver, establishing himself as one of the most physically gifted prospects in the last three draft classes. According to a metric that ranks a prospect’s physical tools across positions, Matthews currently ranks 59th over a three-year period in a list that includes over 600 prospects. From the 2014 class alone, he ranks 17th regardless of position.
At the combine he measured in at 6’3” and 212 pounds with 33-inch arms and massive 10.37-inch hands. There aren’t many NFL prospects who come along with hands this big.
In limited media access to OTAs so far, Jordan Matthews has looked like the best WR on the team, in my opinion, and it hasn't been close.— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) June 10, 2014
In the timed events, Jordan ran an impressive 4.46 in the 40-yard dash along with a 6.95 three-cone and a 4.18 short shuttle. This means he has very good speed, lateral quickness and change of direction. He put up 21 reps on the bench press, which was one of the best numbers for his position, and he showed impressive explosiveness with a 35.5-inch vertical jump and a 120-inch broad jump, as per NFL.com.
When studying tape, Jordan Matthews has good length but does not play big or physical. It appears that he lacks functional strength despite putting up those 21 reps at the combine. He uses his length fairly well by high pointing the ball, but he is not a guy who excels in jump-ball scenarios where the defender has an equal opportunity to come down with it.
Matthews is a decent blocker who does just enough to keep the defender walled off.
One of his most impressive attributes is having a nice combination of quick feet and long strides, which he uses to outrun defenders for big plays on a consistent basis.
Matthews is not going to beat many defenses generating missed or broken tackles, but he has good vision and the speed to outrun angled pursuit.
A big question mark for scouts and draft analysis has centered around his hands. You really can’t put on Jordan Matthews’ tape without him having at least one drop. An interesting note here is that the drops that do show up on his film don’t seem to be related to a fear of being hit.
Although he does drop more balls than you would prefer, his hands seem reliable enough for him to be effective in the NFL. Most of his drops seem to be the result of a lapse in concentration. That being said, the inconsistencies with catching the ball are concerning and may limit his overall potential.
One bright side to the concept of potential here is that he does have extremely large hands. That is typically viewed as an advantage for wideouts and their ability to catch.
He runs routes instinctively and knows how to separate from defenders, which helps explain how he was able to amass 3,874 yards from scrimmage over the course of his career, which is more yards than any other Division I receiver in this draft class.
But one of his weaker aspects as a route-runner is getting off the line against press coverage. This is less evident in his game tape but showed up throughout the week during the Senior Bowl.
So, will Jordan Matthews become the next big thing at wide receiver? Of course he can, as his tape reveals a guy who has a lot of promising attributes; however, his lack of functional strength, problems with catch consistency and inability to break arm tackles indicate a level of talent that suggests a solid starter over the course of his career but not a star.
How many receiving yards will Matthews have as a rookie?
With that said, Eagles fans should expect to see a high level of play early on from this kid considering he is one of the more experienced and polished wideouts to enter the league, having racked up 51 career games while at Vanderbilt. Another reason we should expect immediate production from Matthews is because of the lack of receiving talent on Philly’s roster.
Plus, when you consider how Chip Kelly’s offense helped Riley Cooper go from a career high of 315 yards to 835, you can probably imagine Matthews landed in the perfect situation.
From a statistical standpoint, his numbers will probably have a lot of people excited about his potential. But at least a substantial portion of that will be the result of scheme and opportunity.
Don’t expect the debate about Matthews’ NFL potential to be settled anytime soon.