If you ask me, you should totally buy into the hype on Jordan Mattews. There is nothing to dislike about the kid. Size, strength, speed, intelligence, work ethic, production—Matthews has it all. He even makes Mark Sanchez look good.
That’s not to say Matthews is going to waltz right into a conversation as one of the NFL’s leading receivers, either. Could he become a focal point of the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense as a rookie, though?
Conventional wisdom in the NFL holds that rookie wideouts typically are not very exceptional. For the most part, it’s true first-year players do no traditionally dominate the competition at the receiver position.
Among active players, only four eclipsed 1,000 yards as a rookie.
Yet Matthews doesn’t necessarily need 1,000 yards for his rookie year to be considered a success. To begin with, he only needs to supplant Jason Avant in the slot—and that shouldn’t be very hard.
Avant’s production can be replicated with ease. 38 receptions? 46 active wideouts recorded at least that many catches as a rookie. 447 yards? 53 out-produced that in their first year. Two touchdowns? 75 managed to find the end zone at least twice while they were still learning the ropes.
It’s becoming increasingly commonplace for rookie wide receivers with Matthews’ type of pedigree—selected No. 42 overall out of Vanderbilt—to contribute right away. Last season alone, 12 rookies bested Avant’s totals in at least two of receptions, yards and touchdowns.
It’s not like the Eagles will be relying on Matthews and therefore put too much on his plate, either. If training camp serves as any indication, the offense will have far more varied personnel groupings than a season ago. More two-tight end sets. Running back Darren Sproles lining up in the slot. A dose of Brad Smith, who’s running with the first-team in place of Matthews for the time being.
Despite all of the other packages at Chip Kelly's disposal, I don’t think it’s as if Matthews won’t be able to get on the field. To the contrary, the Eagles won’t be able to keep him off of it.
One area or situation in particular where Matthews can help immediately is inside the red zone. Philadelphia improved in that aspect in 2013, although the offense could still stand to be more efficient, finishing 13th with a 53.2 touchdown percentage according to TeamRankings.com.
That’s an area of the field where size is always a weapon. That goes double for a big slot receiver like Matthews, who will tower over most of the nickel cornerbacks who try to cover him.
During team red zone drills at Wednesday’s practice, Matthews abused the Eagles’ second-string defense to the tune of two touchdowns on four reps. He made both scores look effortless, almost as if he wasn’t even covered.
Obviously, it’s going to be a little more difficult against a real opponent trotting out top-line defenders in actual game, but Matthews has the tools to give any cornerback in the league similar fits. It’s merely a matter of getting him integrated into the offense.
As plenty of wide receivers around the league have proved, it’s not impossible to step into a role in an NFL offense right away.
Meanwhile, Matthews—who has vowed never to be outworked—spent the break between spring sessions and training camp at the Bender Performance Institute. Tim McManus for Birds 24/7 notes other receivers who have attended the program include Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Demaryius Thomas—some of the very best in the game.
Matthews isn’t going to be content to have a good year “for a rookie.” He intends to dominate right from day one—and I wouldn’t put it past him. At the very least, he should be yet another productive weapon for the Birds’ second-ranked offense.