Clay Matthews III
Pros: Is an aggressive and passionate player. Has good speed and athleticism. Shows potential to match up in coverage with backs and tight ends because of that. Does a good job in pursuit vs. the run and is a capable tackler. Does an good job coming off the edge as a pass rusher. Is very good on special teams.
Cons: Lacks awareness and instincts when playing the run or in coverage. Over Pursues and takes some bad angles. Gets pushed back at the point of attack. Gets struck in traffic and doesn't do a good job getting off blocks. Has average hips and quickness in coverage, and has trouble changing direction in space. Will tackle high at times. Not as effective when he lines up over the tight end.
Overview: Matthews primary duties were rushing the quarterback. He played with both his hand on and off the ground. Became a starter at defensive a month into his senior year, although he played mostly with his hand off the ground and it was more of a SAM linebacker role. His father played 19 years in the NFL, including three with the Falcons (1994-96). His uncle Bruce was a Hall of Fame offensive linemen with the Oilers/Titans (1983-2001). His grandfather also had a brief NFL career (1950-55) with the 49ers. Some concerns about steroid use, although it's not been confirmed if he did test positive at the Combine. A former walk on.
NFL Forecast: Matthews has potential and would fit nicely in the 3-4. But right now he's mainly a pass rusher and was not nearly as effective a playmaker when he was asked to play the run or cover for USC. He's a hard-working, self-made player (although that comes into question with steroid allegations) that should fit at the next level. The player he reminds me most of is Mike Vrabel, and I think he'll have a similar career path as Vrabel. Vrabel was a defensive end at Ohio State that was drafted by the Steelers and spent four years primarily on special teams. The Patriots then signed him and he blossomed into a Pro Bowl player. I think Matthews isn't quite as polished to be an impact defender vs. the run early in his career. He can excel in special teams coverage. But I think it's going to take a few years before Matthews becomes a complete 3-4 linebacker like Vrabel did in New England. Matthews can potentially play in the 4-3 but his upside is higher in the 3-4. He would work best as a weakside linebacker in the 4-3. He doesn't play as well on the line or when he's covering the tight end. He has the potential and athleticism to match up in coverage eventually, but he's a work in progress. He can be stiff-hipped and that could create problems in coverage. Regardless I don't see him blossoming into a top playmaker in the 4-3 because of his limitations in coverage.
ATL Forecast: Matthews can work for the Falcons, but probably won't be an elite player. Can develop into an effective coverage player, but he'll be strong there. As a run stopper, he has the potential to be a good player that but lacks ideal awareness. That should come with time. The Falcons would likely try him on the strongside, and I don't think he'd beat out Nicholas for the starting job. Instead, he'd probably spend a year or two on the bench, mainly working on special teams. He can contribute as a rookie however as a situational pass rusher on the edge and would be an upgrade over any of the Falcons other defensive ends currently. He won't be great in that role, but could contribute 2-4 sacks this year. He'd probably get the opportunity to start in 2010 and could win the job by then, although it wouldn't surprise me if he spent another year on the bench. Although more than likely the Falcons would try to platoon him with Nicholas on the outside. By 2011, he should be a competent starter. He'll be a productive, and hard-working player and has the potential to be like a more physical version of Keith Brooking. But probably not as explosive or smooth in space as Brooking was in his prime.
Value: Because Matthews may not be an immediate impact player, he probably would better as a second day pick. A 3-4 team who likes his upside could take him late in the second round. A 4-3 team is probably better off waiting until the third round.
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.