Clay Matthews III left his Scouting Combine interview feeling good about his chances of joining the Green Bay Packers.
Two months later, Matthews' intuition proved correct. The Packers' normally conservative general manager, Ted Thompson, made the biggest move of the draft by sending a second-round draft choice and both of his third-rounders to New England for the Patriots' 26th overall pick and a fifth-rounder. Thompson used the first-round choice on Matthews, the fast-rising linebacker from USC.
At the Combine, Matthews told Packer Report that he enjoyed his meeting with the Packers. Thompson played with Matthews' uncle, Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bruce Matthews, while with the Houston Oilers. Matthews, the son of former Cleveland Browns linebacker Clay Matthews, enjoyed his conversation with Thompson and liked how most of the Packers' scouts, as well as linebackers coach Kevin Greene, were former NFL players.
"I'm pleased to end up in Green Bay," Matthews said on Saturday, noting that it was gratifying to know the Packers wanted him badly enough to swing a major trade.
According to one popular trade value chart, the Packers were on the short end of the trade by the equivalent of a late third-round draft pick. But, that doesn't take into account the type of player who would be available with that hypothetical selection or reflect the weakness of this draft. "It wasn't a great trade, but it wasn't a horrible trade for us," Thompson said.
For Thompson's sake, Matthews better turn out to be the real deal rather than a one-year wonder or the product of being a workout warrior. Matthews' rise into the first round was stunning. He redshirted his first season and was a special-teams demon for the next three seasons before finally moving into the starting lineup early during his senior season. He ranked fourth on the team with 56 tackles, including nine tackles for losses and 4.5 sacks.
"It truly is a remarkable story," said Matthews, who as a 160-pound junior wasn't even good enough to start on his high school team in Agoura Hills, Calif. "I just kept plugging away. I could have quit or walked away, but I wanted so much more."
Throw in a dominant week at the Senior Bowl and strong workouts at the Combine, and Matthews went from merely a guy with a famous last name – Clay Matthews Sr. and Bruce Matthews both played for USC -- to legitimate NFL prospect. His rise from an unrecruited high school player culminated on Saturday.
"The more you watch him, the more natural he looks as a player," Thompson said. "He's always on his feet. He has great hips and balance. He can use his hands effectively against offensive linemen and running backs. He can run. He had a great 40 (4.67 seconds) at the Combine. He can move in space. He can do the things that anybody looks for in a defensive player. And we did study the USC boys quite a bit, just because there were a lot of them. Even when you are watching somebody else, all of a sudden you go, ‘was that No. 47 again?' He just makes a lot of plays."
Greene says Matthews has the potential to start right away, but it will be a three-pronged challenge. "The workload of an outside backer in a 3-4 is tremendous," he said. "I gave him the three basic job descriptions. He's got to cover like a big strong safety, he's got to play the run at the point of attack and he's got to rush the passer like a defensive end weighing 285 pounds. He's got to be a bear."
Playing coverage will the biggest challenge, Greene believes.
"That is going to be his biggest thing to absorb," he said. "I have no doubt that he's going to be really physical at the point of attack concerning runs and I have no doubt he can do the things I'm going to ask rushing the passer."
Matthews says he's ready for the challenge and is ready to emerge from the long shadows cast by his famous relatives and let his new teammates know that he's "here to stay." "Well, Clay is his own man," Thompson said. "He's probably, through our interviews with him, and he can speak for himself, he wants to stand on his own two feet, and I think he's done a very good job of that at USC. I'm sure he's not going to rest on the laurels of his father and uncle. He's his own man. He came into USC and some of these guys that are getting drafted today were linebackers, high recruits and things, so he had to work his way up. He was their very best special teams player for the first two years at USC until he started playing more, so he's earned his way. He's earned his way."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.