2011 NFL Draft: Why NFL Teams Will Regret Not Drafting Oregon's Casey Matthews
Over the past four seasons, he's matured into a first-team All Pac-10 player, and the leader of an Oregon defense that helped propel the team to their first undefeated regular season and an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game.
Yet with all these accomplishments, most experts peg him as a middle-round selection in the upcoming NFL Draft.
So here's just a few reasons why NFL teams will regret passing on Casey Matthews as they look to improve the futures of their respective franchises.
No. 1: Motivation
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In 2006, Casey Matthews was an outstanding linebacker prospect from Oaks Christian High School in Southern California. Although he had scholarship offers from various Division I schools (Arizona State, California, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Oregon to name a few), one school was missing: USC.
One would think that the name "Matthews" would have meant something to those running the University of Southern California football program. You see, both Casey's father (Clay Matthews) and his uncle (Bruce Matthews) had been All-Americans at the university and his two older brothers (Kyle and Clay III) even walked on for the Trojan football team in the years prior to Casey's recruitment.
So when USC offered scholarships to three other Los Angeles area prospects (Chris Galippo, Jordan Campbell and Malcolm Smith) perhaps they thought that Casey would simply pay his own way for the opportunity to play for the Trojans—they were wrong.
Instead, Casey chose to matriculate to the University of Oregon, and over his four-year career, he has seen the Ducks scoring defense improve from 26.5 points-per-game in 2006 (the year before he arrived) to just 18.7 in 2010.
Meanwhile USC's scoring defense has gone from 15.2 points-per-game in 2006, to 26.7 in 2010. And just to punctuate it even more, Casey also went 3-1 against the school who chose not to extend a scholarship offer to him.
In October of 2010, Matthews made it clear that USC could have had his talents if they'd simply made a scholarship available: “If you had asked me four years ago if I would have accepted an offer from USC, I would have jumped at it,” Matthews said. “But I’m really glad the way things worked out.”
Too bad they can't measure motivation at the NFL combine, huh?
No. 2: Physical Development
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All of the Matthews boys have been late bloomers.
Heck, his brother Clay—now a 6'3" and 255 All-Pro Linebacker in Green Bay—was so small in high school (6'1" and 165 pounds as a junior) that no one outside of community colleges even recruited him.
Yet year after year, these boys keep adding muscle and growing, long after most players have reached their physical potential.
Casey came to the University of Oregon as a 6'1" 220-pound kid who was five months shy of his 19th birthday. When the Ducks took on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2010 Rose Bowl, Matthews stood at 6'2" and 240 pounds.
But instead of simply packing on more weight for his senior season, Matthews went a different route.
Hitting the weight room, and conditioning harder than ever before, he came into his senior season a leaner and stronger 235 pounds—and ended up having his best season yet.
It's this dedication to making himself the best player he can be that will assist in his NFL development.
Many professional players don't have the discipline off the field to assist them on game day—and it's nearly impossible to measure this internal drive when selecting players on draft day.
Yet Matthews has already shown this ability in his short tenure as a football player, and it will no doubt pay dividends for years to come.
No. 3: Mental Development
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Another attribute that's hard to measure when looking for prospects is how "coachable" they are—that is, how well they can take instruction from the film room and practice field, and apply it on game day.
Again, this is somewhere Matthews has proven himself over his college career.
When Matthews was forced into a starting role as a freshman inside linebacker for Oregon, he was more "potential" than "polish."
And while he showed flashes of brilliance, he also had occasions—like all freshman—where the game caught him off guard and out of position.
But as each day passed, Matthews improved, as did his statistics. Take a look:
|YEAR||TACKLES||TACKLES FOR LOSS||SACKS||INTERCEPTIONS||QB HURRIES|
It's also noteworthy that two of the biggest plays of his career happened in his final two games as a Duck.
His opening play sack of Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz set the tone of the "Civil War," and no doubt contributed to Katz' three interceptions in the game. Also, his forced fumble against Cam Newton allowed the Ducks to tie the national championship game in the closing minutes.
Matthews has developed into an impact player—and will surely do the same for whatever NFL team that gives him a chance.
No. 4: Genetics (Part One)
It's often been said that, as much one might try to change their physiology, you can't outrun your genetics. After all, a person's family history is used to predict life expectancy, general health and countless other hereditary traits.
Well, if there's one thing the Matthews family history points to, it's excellence on the football field—and it all starts with Clay Matthews Sr.
Born in 1928, Clay Matthews played his college football at Georgia Tech. After being overlooked in the 1949 NFL Draft (also a family trait), he was eventually selected in the 25th round (247th pick) by the Los Angeles Rams.
He played just one season (in 1950 for the San Francisco 49ers) before having his football career cut short.
The reason? Clay Sr. was drafted into the military and sent to the Korean War as a paratrooper in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. After two years, Matthews returned to the 49ers, playing three more seasons before pursuing a career as a business executive.
In a recent article, Clay Sr. was described as: "Active as ever at 82, he was working out at a suburban Houston health club."
No wonder this guy produced two of the best NFL players...but more on them next...
No. 5: Genetics (Part Two)
Imagine drafting a player, and then having that starting position filled for the better part of two decades on your team.
Now imagine that happening twice within the same family—Bruce and Clay Matthews are two brothers who both played 19 seasons in the NFL.
Yeah, you heard right... NINETEEN SEASONS in the NFL. In an era where the average NFL career lasted just over three seasons, these guys both played six times longer than the expectancy.
But what might be even more impressive is the fact that they both did it relatively injury-free for most of their careers.
Bruce, who never missed a game due to injury, played in a then-NFL record 296 games in his career, while Clay (the older brother) played in 278 games (still 12th most all-time).
It simply defies comprehension how both of these brothers eluded injuries, and remained top athletes into their 30s and 40s. Meanwhile, most other "gifted" athletes were content with careers that lasted half as long.
I know genetics doesn't count for everything, but it does count for something.
By the way, Casey Matthews started 39 straight games to end his Oregon Duck playing career.
No. 6: Genetics (Part Three)
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As the Matthews Family Tree continues to grow, so does the amount of NFL players they add to their fraternity—and none is better right now than Clay Matthews III.
As stated before, Clay was an undersized high school prospect who walked on at USC, and only played regularly during his fifth year in the program.
In 2008, he was named All Pac-10 second team after making 56 tackles, and most experts pegged him as a middle-round selection (sound familiar?) before the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.
But after impressive showings at both events, the Green Bay Packers ended up trading a second-round and two third-round draft picks to get Clay Matthews 26th overall.
At the time, some questioned the wisdom of picking a player with only 10 career starts, but the Packers quickly realized what a steal it was.
In just his second season, Clay Matthews III was named first team All-Pro (the only Packer) and helped his team to just it's third Super Bowl appearance in the last 44 years. His 17 sacks (including the playoffs) are best among any NFL player this season, and he has made the Pro Bowl in both his professional seasons.
But Clay III isn't the only Matthews beating the odds in the NFL.
Kevin Matthews (Bruce's son) signed with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent following the 2010 NFL Draft. He made the team's practice squad in September 2010, and by mid-December was moved up to the team, eventually starting the final game of the season.
You might overlook a Matthews at first...but they have an uncanny knack for finding their way onto the football field.
Conclusion: NFL Teams Should Take Notice Of Casey Matthews
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The Matthews family has proven themselves time and again against those who would question their abilities on the football field, and they don't let success go to their heads.
Bruce and Clay Jr. were huge successes at every level of their careers and dominated over their two decades of NFL play.
Meanwhile Clay III had to go from non-starter in high school, to walk-on in college, and still received All-Pro honors in just his second year.
And much like his brother, Casey Matthews is no doubt eager to prove himself to those who question his abilities to be an elite player at the next level.
It's also interesting to note that Casey didn't redshirt (like his brother did) in college.
So while Clay played his senior season at USC when 22.5 years of age, Casey played his last game (on January 10th, 2011) while still just 21 years-old.
In essence, the NFL Draft is a guessing game where teams place bets on which players will have the most impact in the future. And if there's one thing the Matthews family should have taught the NFL by now—it's to never bet against them.