Clay Matthews has been on the radar of NFL teams since before the 2008 college season began and did nothing in his last season with Southern Cal to disappoint scouts and general managers.
With so much talent among the linebackers at Southern Cal — Matthews is actually ranked behind fellow Trojan Brian Cushing at outside linebacker and former teammate Rey Maualuga is a top-15 prospect — it would have been easy for him to get lost in the shuffle, both during the season and so far in the offseason.
LB Clay Matthews
However, Matthews has established himself as a sure-fire first round talent and has caught the attention of NFL teams and the press corps as well. Scout.com Senior NFL Analyst Ed Thompson first took notice of Matthews at the Senior Bowl, gave Matthews more praise from Thompson, and the linebacker recently told Thompson that he had formal interviews with practically every NFL team at the Combine in February ... including the Colts.
Matthews certainly had a very versatile senior season, with 57 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two passes defended, two forced fumbles, and one blocked kick. He is an extremely explosive player that makes a lot of plays in the backfield and is an accomplished blitzer.
"He's an instinctive player who has great range and anticipation skills," says Scout.com NFL Draft Analyst Chris Steuber. "He's an opportunistic defender who's always around the ball."
He can play all three linebacker positions and has more than enough size — possibly too much size at 6-feet-3 and 240 pounds — athleticism and range to play any of those positions for Indianapolis next season.
He has a competitive nature and a solid work ethic, as evidenced by the fact that, despite placing in the top five among the linebackers at the NFL Scouting Combine in the 40-yard dash, vertical and broad jumps, the three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle, Matthews plans to do a full workout at his Pro Day on April 1 at USC.
Now, he could possibly run a faster 40-time, improving on the 4.67 second effort he posted in Indianapolis, but most players would stand on their numbers if they fared that well against the competition and simply do position drills.
His status as a first round player is fairly cemented at this point, so working out and potentially doing worse than he did at the Combine could only hurt him. And, even if he posts superior numbers, he would need to far surpass first overall prospect Aaron Curry and even Cushing's and Maualuga's numbers in order to move further up the draft board, considering that having a first-round grade is about as good as it gets.
There is no doubt that Mike Murphy would love the opportunity to work with a player of Matthews' caliber after years of making quality lemonade with late-round picks and undrafted free agents, but that begs the question of whether or not Murphy's ability to get a great deal of production out of lower-rated players means the Colts should focus on other areas of need in the first round.
Indianapolis certainly has a long list of linebackers on its big board for every round and every position and there are actually players out there that have considerably more value and would be better fits in the Cover 2 defense that the Colts deploy. Western Illinois linebacker Russell Allen and Ohio State's Marcus Freeman are two such players who could be had in later rounds and who, from a physical standpoint, as well as their skill sets and tendencies, would be better suited to playing for Indianapolis than would Matthews.
Matthews is an outstanding player and and a certain first round prospect, but his talents would be more effectively utilized in a more conventional 4-3 defense, such as the ones used by the Panthers and Giants, to name two.
This isn't to say that the Colts wouldn't take him if he were available at 27th overall, but they would be better served to wait for Freeman or Allen and addressing a need position with a player that would fit better in their system in the first round.
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