The Case for Jordan Matthews

I don’t often over-enthusiastically endorse players I cover for upcoming drafts because I’ve seen them long enough to see their warts.

Take, for instance Vanderbilt pitcher Tyler Beede, who I’ve greatly enjoyed covering for the past two years. When he’s on, I don’t think I’ve seen a more dominant collegiate pitcher, but I’ve also seen his command wobble, which is why I understand ESPN’s Keith Law having him fall from the 4th overall prospect to the 14th prospect.

If

I’m going to make sure Jordan Matthews is on my fantasy team next year, even if it’s with the first overall pick

This is not the case with Jordan Matthews. There just aren’t any notable warts.

In my two years covering Matthews, I’ve seen a receiver quite literally put the team on his back, making several catches in do-or-die situations I didn’t think were possible.

Matthews became the SEC all-time leaders in receptions and receiving yardage despite playing without top-level quarterbacks. Jordan Rodgers, Larry Smith, and Austyn Carta-Samuels were at best good, not great; only Carta-Samuels finished in the top half of SEC quarterbacks in QB Rating, and he played just ten games in 2013. Patton Robinette was very limited when he played, mostly keeping Matthews to passes under five yards.

Furthermore, Matthews hardly had much protection in the form of another receiver. Chris Boyd and Jonathan Krause each had one 700-yard receiving years, but the defense knew Vanderbilt was trying to get the ball to Matthews nearly every time they dropped back to pass and still couldn’t do a thing to stop him.

Obviously teams don’t draft players off past performance, but it’s hard to imagine such a great college player—the most productive receiver in the toughest conference—falling in the draft. Especially one with prototypical size, prototypical speed, and enormous hands.

The knock on Matthews has been that he’s just a possession receiver and lacks the athleticism and explosiveness of other receivers. Maybe that comes about as a heuristic because Matthews is the only senior among top draft prospects, but that doesn’t make sense, since he’s actually younger than Marqise Lee and Kelvin Benjamin.

But look at the numbers from the combine. Matthews is every bit the athlete as the other six top draft prospects and is even a marginally better athlete than consensus top receiver Sammy Watkins.

Name Height Weight Hand 40 Yard Bench Vert Leap Shuttle 3Cone Age
Odell Beckham 71 198 10 4.43 7 38.5 3.94 6.69 21.5
Kelvin Benjamin 77 240 10 1/4 4.61 13 32.5 4.39 7.33 23.3
Brandin Cooks 70 189 9 5/8 4.33 16 36 3.81 6.76 20.6
Mike Evans 77 231 9 5/8 4.53 12 37 4.26 7.08 20.7
Marqise Lee 73 192 9 1/2 4.52 38 4.01 22.5
Jordan Matthews 75 212 10 3/8 4.46 21 35.5 4.18 6.95 21.8
Sammy Watkins 73 211 9 5/8 4.43 16 34 4.34 6.95 20.9

Aside from a handful of games, I haven’t gotten to see much the other six receivers, but I can tell you what I know about Matthews: there’s no way he’s going to be a disappointment in the pros. Worst-case scenario he’s a taller Anquan Boldin–a strong possession receiver–but he’s got the potential for much more.

That’s why it surprises me why teams are so down on Matthews. ESPN’s Mel Kiper has mocked Matthews as high as 22 to the Eagles, but he has him going to the 49ers at number 30 in his latest mock draft. SI’s Peter King has Matthews going 28th to the Panthers, and FoxSports’ Joel Klatt has him going 32nd to the Seahawks, but ESPN’s Todd McShay, NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, and all of the CBSSports.com writers don’t have Matthews as a first-round pick at all.

The NFL Draft is nothing more than a glorified crapshoot (and I’ll admit I eat it up every single year), but it blows my mind that Matthews isn’t getting more attention considering his history, physical characteristics, and durability, not to mention his incredible personality and leadership. He’s even got such a strong work ethic that he studied up on film of cornerbacks at the Senior Bowl, even if he didn’t put on an outstanding showing there.

I could go on and on about what makes Matthews special, but there’s one thing that sticks out most to me, something his coaches have reiterated in his time at Vanderbilt: when the ball is in the air, he knows it’s his. Part of that is his massive size and giant hands (nearly an inch wider than Mike Evans’!!!) but a large part of it is also his incredible will and determination, part of what brought him from a 2-star recruit to being an All-American.

There’s a very good chance that Jordan Matthews falls to the second round in this draft, but I think that these teams will be making a big mistake. And I think history will be on his side.

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