The Eagles moved up 12 spots in the second round Friday night and got the wide receiver they desperately needed in Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, the all-time leading wide receiver in SEC history.
The Eagles selected Matthews with the 42nd pick, which they acquired from the Titans in exchange for the 54th pick, the Eagles' original second-round pick, and No. 122, their fourth-round pick.
"Every opportunity I’ve ever had in football, I’ve had to grind for it," Matthews said. "Nothing has ever been given to me. When the ball’s in the air it’s mine. That’s the attitude I have every time I go out on the football field.”
Matthews (see bio) has size (6-3, 212) and speed (he ran a 4.4 40). He caught 262 passes for 3,759 yards for 24 touchdowns at Vandy, with his production increasing each year: 4-for-181 with four TDs as a freshman, 41-for-778 with five TDs as a sophomore, 94-for-1,328 with eight touchdowns as a junior and 12-for-1,477 with seven TDs last season.
“First thing you do, you look at his numbers and they’re off the charts,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s 6-3, ran 4.46 at the combine, got a great wing span, great verticle jump, intelligent kid, graduated college in 3½ years.”
In what has been widely accepted as the deepest wide receiver draft ever, Matthews was the seventh wide receiver selected, three spots after the other second-round wide out the Eagles coveted -- USC's Marqise Lee.
Matthews said he has no idea why he wasn't taken until the 42nd pick. And doesn't care.
"I don’t have the answer," he said. "I don’t know how this whole process works. I’m not worried about any of the picks ahead of me, I’m ready to go up there and get to work with the Philadelphia Eagles."
The Eagles went into the draft with only two proven wide receivers on the roster – Jeremy Maclin, who missed last year with his second ACL, and Riley Cooper, who had nine games a year ago with fewer than 40 receiving yards.
Earlier this offseason, the Eagles released the two wideouts with the most receptions on the team in the last 20 years – DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant.
Kelly said Matthews will start out in the slot, the spot occupied by Avant for most of the last eight years.
“He’s got such a wing span and will go up and get it, will play both inside and outside,” Kelly said. “We’ll start him inside. He’s got the speed to play on the outside and he’s got the size. He can do a lot of different things we can do, but the intangible things that Jason Avant brought to the slot -- being physical, being able to block -- I think he can do that along with exploit man coverage.”
Matthews is the first wideout the Eagles have taken in the first two rounds since Maclin in 2009.
Before taking Jackson, a three-time Pro Bowler, in the second round in 2008, the four previous wideouts the Eagles drafted in the second round were Mike Bellamy in 1990, Victor Bailey in 1993, Todd Pinkston in 2000 and Reggie Brown in 2005.
Matthews was asked if he’s coming to Philly to replace Jackson.
"I just want to be the best teammate I can be," he said. "I'm just going to go in and shut my mouth and get to work."
Kelly said the one thing that stood out the most about Matthews was his ability to make plays against man coverage in the best defensive conference in the country.
He said since the Eagles play at such a high tempo, opposing defenses generally play a lot of man because it’s the easiest coverage to get into quickly.
“The one thing he can do is catch the ball in traffic,” Kelly said. “He made an unbelievable amount of contested catches. It’s huge. A lot of times when you're looking at guys, it’s apples and oranges. This guy was productive and had X amount of catches, but who’s covering him? He saw a lot more man than a lot of guys because in that conference there’s a lot of man. It’s a defensive conference with some great football teams and great coaches.
“The remarkable thing is everybody knew when Vanderbilt played a game, everybody knew he’d be getting the ball, but he still got the ball.
“At the receiver position, [the biggest thing] is your ability to beat 1-on-1 coverage. Honestly. We see it so much. You’re going to have to catch a lot of contested footballs."
Kelly compared Matthews' ability to use his big frame to battle for contested balls with that of Riley Cooper, who caught 47 balls for 835 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago in his first year as an NFL starter.
“I think that’s one of the things that makes Riley so good," Kelly said. "He’s 6-4, 6-5, and he can muscle and go get the ball," Kelly said. "People play defense so close in ths league, your ability to go get the football really seperates people. That’s what you see when you look on the film.
“People match up with us because of what we do. We’re going to see man a lot, so getting guys who exploit that coverage, that’s what we’re looking for, and that’s what he really can do.
“If your smaller DB is going to play in the slot, now he has to match up with a guy who’s 6-3, 217 pounds.”
The Eagles were able to move down from 22 to 26 Thursday to select linebacker Marcus Smith and pick up a third-round pick, and a day later, they moved up 12 spots, and it cost them only a fourth-round pick.
“We held our breath in what it would take to get up there," Kelly said. "We think he’d be around at 54. Getting the extra pick, it worked out perfectly. Now we feel like we'll get four pretty good players in the first 86 picks."