The Atlanta Falcons landed a potential franchise offensive tackle when they selected Jake Matthews at No. 6 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. Their offensive line was terrible last season. Run blocking, pass blocking, everything. Matthews instantly improves the group.
I'm sure you've read plenty about Matthews since he was drafted. I've watched a lot of highlights to see what's really in store for the upcoming season. But I wanted to hear more about the newcomer from someone who has spent years watching him play.
Alex Welch: What kind of value are the Falcons getting in taking Matthews at No. 6 overall? Can he long a long-term solution?
Justin Kaspar: I thought getting Jake Matthews at No. 6 overall was a steal. A player of Jake's quality shouldn't be around after the Top 5, but that speaks to how much talent there was in the 2014 draft class. Everyone has their own opinions, but you could easily make the case that Jake was the top offensive tackle in this draft and the third or fourth best player overall.
Thomas Dimitroff certainly felt that way if he was willing to trade up with Jacksonville to get Jake. I viewed Jake as the most pro-ready player in the 2014 draft class; he is player who the Falcons could plug-n-play immediately at one of their tackle spots. Ultimately, I would be shocked if Jake Matthews did not have a long and successful career with the Atlanta Falcons and become a multi-year Pro Bowler at tackle. The Falcons now won't have to worry about this position for at least a decade. They now have their franchise tackle they have been missing.
AW: Matthews played left and right tackle at A&M. Which position did he look more comfortable at? Do you think he safely protect Matt Ryan's blindside?
JK: Jake played three years at right tackle for Texas A&M while 2nd overall pick last year Luke Joeckel played left tackle. Jake then transitioned to left tackle when Luke declared early for the draft. There was some adjustment time needed for Jake early in the year to get comfortable playing on the left side, but he became better as the season progressed. After midway though the season, he looked like a natural at left tackle.
I actually think he is a better player at left than right tackle. He can handle the speed rushers quite well because he excels in pass protection and is a technician in his kick-backs and leverage. He tends to struggle more with power defensive ends that will try to bull-rush rather than beat the tackle on the edge which he would see more of on the right side. I definitely think he can safely protect Matt Ryan in pass protection.
Here are two highlights of Matthews playing at right tackle from 2013. The footwork is beautiful. Assuming he starts at right tackle this season (at least until Sam Baker gets hurt, I mean...what), he'll immediately upgrade that side.
AW: I've seen people question Matthews' "toughness" on the field. Some analysts said they preferred Greg Robinson because he had a mean streak Matthews didn't display. What was his demeanor like in college? Was he more aggressive than people make it sound?
JK: I think the "toughness" thing is overblown and inaccurate. People say this because Jake is weaker in run blocking compared to Greg Robinson, thus people tend to link this to toughness and his "mean streak". Jake certainly isn't the type to have an emotional outburst on the playing field. He certainly plays on that even-keel football coaches love to talk about and wish all players would play with. But that also means he isn't aggressive on the field. He has become more aggressive over the last few years as he has realized he can be a dominant player not only in pass protection but also in run blocking.
AW: Are there any weaknesses in his game right now?
JK: This goes back to the previous question when we touched on the preference of Greg Robinson over Jake Matthews. Jake isn't and will never be the type of road-grader that Greg Robinson is in the run game. Robinson is stronger and can physically dominate anyone in front of him. Jake won't be able to overpower players like that and instead will have to rely on technique, leverage, and his quickness.
I summed up the Greg Robinson vs. Jake Matthews debate in the GBH preview: "The differences between Robinson and Matthews are that Robinson is a dominant run blocker already who has all the tools to develop into the pass blocker that Jake is. Jake is already the great pass blocker, but will probably never be the dominant run blocker that Robinson is."
The weaknesses seen in his game and far and few between. But, of course, there are bound to be growing pains. Going back to Good Bull Hunting, Justin broke down some of the issues the Aggies were dealing with on the offensive line last season. Here we see Matthews fooled by the Bulldogs defensive front.
Mississippi State bluffs a six-man rush, dropping the linebacker into coverage. Matthews fails to pick up on the edge rusher.
The outside rusher in unblocked with a free path to the quarterback.
It's easy to pick out one mistake, though. This next gif shows Matthews perfectly handling a stunt from Alabama.
If you've watched his highlights, you recognize he is a smart player with good awareness.
AW: Is Matthews better than Joeckel?
JK: Ah, this is a tough question to ask an A&M fan. It's like a father being asked to pick between his sons. Luke Joeckel was the more NFL-ready player a year ago just because he was more mature than Jake was in terms of strength and build. That still may be the case currently. However, if I were to project which player would have the better career, I would lean towards Jake Matthews due to Jake being the better technician.
Joeckel unfortunately went down with an injury in his fifth game as a rookie last season. We'll hope Matthews makes it longer than that. How have some of the other top offensive tackles fared recently in their rookie seasons?
Fisher and Johnson played exclusively at right tackle, while Kalil played 16 games at left tackle as a rookie. I think with Matthews' sound technique, he can perform somewhere in the middle of Johnson and Kalil.
AW: Is there anything else Falcons fans should know about him?
JK: Everyone knows that Jake is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. However, people sometimes don't realize that Jake, being drafted 6th overall, is the most successful out of the Matthews clan so far. His brother Kevin, who is a center, is currently with the Washington Redskins organization after being undrafted. He also has a brother Mike who now plays center at Texas A&M and will be a junior in the fall. The most impressive Matthews child may be Luke Matthews, who will be a high school freshman in the fall. Luke is already 6'3" and 280 pounds and still growing. Jake is only in the middle of the Matthews clan still to hit the NFL in the near future.
Thanks to Justin and Good Bull Hunting for lending a hand. The consensus remains that the Falcons picked up a stud offensive tackle. How good will Matthews be in the NFL? I think we will all be impressed for years to come.