Vanderbilt University Commodores
Coming up with incredible receptions seem to be part of the "family business" in the Matthews household. Much like his legendary cousin, former San Francisco 49ers Hall of Famer, Jerry Rice, Matthews seems to get better with "age." Despite playing for a team that has seen 14 players take snaps from under center during his time at the university, the versatile pass catcher is regarded as the elite prospect at his position in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision senior class.
Vanderbilt has never been known for their aerial attack, but despite the "musical chairs" at the quarterback position, Matthews has continued to excel on the football field. Since the second half of his sophomore season, he has been nearly unstoppable, even though opponents are often double- and even triple-teaming him on the gridiron.
Whether playing in the slot or lining up at the flanker or split end positions, Matthews has proven to be a viable weapon. The Commodores began playing organized football in 1890, but since the 1960 schedule, has produced just seven winning campaigns. They have gone to a bowl game just seven times in their history, with their pass catcher leading them to three post-season appearances in each of his final three campaigns.
Matthews first began to capture national attention in 2011. The Commodores' passing game was virtually non-existent during their first seven contests that season, with their All-Southeastern Conference performer totaling only eight catches for 117 yards during those appearances.
With Jordan Rodgers, brother of Green Bay Packers All-Pro Aaron Rodgers, taking over at quarterback, Matthews would go on to lead the league with an average of 18.98 yards per reception. The chemistry between Rodgers and Matthews saw the receiver produce a string of three consecutive 100-yard performances, becoming the first Vanderbilt player to accomplish that feat since the turn of the century (Dan Stricker in 2000).
Over the course of his next 25 contests, Matthews would haul in 174 passes for 2,693 yards (15.62 ypc) and 18 touchdowns, averaging 6.96 receptions for 107.72 yards per game. His junior campaign saw him become only the second player in school history to catch at least 90 passes in a season (94) and just the fifth Commodore to gain over 1,000 yards, setting the annual record with 1,323 yards for 2012.
During that 25 game span, Vanderbilt completed 347 passes, with Matthews accounting for 50.14% of those grabs. They generated 4,496 aerial yards, as their star pass catcher delivered 59.90% of that figure. The Commodores also threw for 28 touchdowns, as Matthews found the end zone on 18 of those tosses (64.29%).
As a senior, Matthews would go on to establish school and Southeastern Conference career-records for receptions (262) and receiving yards (3,759), as his 24 touchdown catches also set the ‘Dores all-time record. In 2013, the team captain led the conference and ranked fourth in the nation with a school season-record 1,477 yards receiving, joining just eight other major college players in reaching the 1,300-yard level this season.
Matthews' average of 8.62 receptions per game also paced the SEC. His average of 113.62 receiving yards per game is also good for the league title and rank fifth in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks. What is remarkable about those figures is that Matthews had to play with a unit that was utilizing the "Wildcat" offense that saw the Commodores constantly shuttle in quarterbacks. Those passers would complete just 15 throws of distances of 30 yards or longer. 12 of those long bombs were caught by the senior team captain.
While those numbers are certainly impressive, perhaps no other receiver in college football has been as important to his team's success like Matthews. Among his 262 career receptions, 66.03% have produced first downs (173) with 18.70% of those conversions coming on third- or fourth-down plays (41 third-down and eight fourth-down grabs). He gained at least 10 yards on 52.29% of those snatches (137), including 56 for twenty yards or longer (20.62%).
Matthews has also provided the Vanderbilt quarterbacks with an inviting target in tight quarters. He pulled down 52 of his receptions inside the red zone (19.85%), an area where most teams rely upon their ground game to "move the chains." In addition to his 24 touchdown catches, he has come up with key receptions that have led to 75 touchdown drives (team has recorded 150 touchdowns during his time with the varsity, as Matthews had a hand in 50.00% of those six-pointers) and on 19 other possessions that led to field goals.
As a table-setter, Matthews helped account for 41.29% of the offensive team's scoring in 2011. As a junior, he led the nation by helping the Commodores produce 62.32% of its offensive scoring output (220-of-310 points). He scored or set up 33 of the team's 49 touchdown drives during the 2013 campaign schedule (67.35%) and had other key receptions that resulted in the team having success on seven of their 14 field goals.
While his pass catching numbers are very impressive, Matthews has proven invaluable to the team in other areas of his game. Using his size well to take on defenders, he recorded 17 touchdown-resulting blocks for the running game during his last 38 contests. He also added a "few wrinkles" as a ball carrier, as his eight reverses during his last two seasons produced three touchdowns and set up three other scoring drives.
Prior to his arrival at Vanderbilt University, Matthews was a three-year standout as a receiver for the Madison Academy Mustangs. As a sophomore, he pulled down 52 balls for 800 yards (15.38 ypc) and 11 touchdowns, helping head coach Matt Clouser finish with a 6-5 record in 2007.
Matthews received Class 3A All-Region VIII and All-State honors during his junior season, as he accounted for 1,357 yards and 14 scores on 68 catches, as his average of 19.96 yards ranked second in the state. The Mustangs would compile a 6-4 record in 2008.
The team captain during his senior season, Matthews excelled on both sides of the ball, as he led the team to a 12-1 record, including an undefeated season (7-0 mark) in Region VIII competition to earn a berth in the Class 3A state quarterfinals. He gained 1,113 yards on 68 receptions (16.37 ypc) with 17 touchdowns, coming up with 61 of those grabs and 13 of those scores during the regular season schedule in 2009.
Matthews recorded 50 tackles with eight interceptions as a defensive back during his final season, as the team MVP scored four times as a return specialist. For that performance, he was named Class 3A All-State first-team and was a member of the All-Elite 11 squad selected by the Huntsville Times.
Away from the gridiron, Matthews also performed on the "wing" and as a shooting guard for the Madison Academy basketball team. He was a member of the state championship squad as a sophomore, helping the Mustangs to a 25-8 record while averaging 7.3 points, 3.0 points and 1.4 assists per game.
As a junior, the team finished as the state runner-up after recording a 29-6 record. Matthews averaged a pair of assists, 8.5 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 10.2 points in the 33 games he appeared in that season, on the way to earning All-Area XV recognition. He made 50% of his field goals and averaged 13.0 points with 5.7 rebounds per game as a senior. He also excelled in the class room, earning National Honor Society accolades.
Because of his success as a receiver, Matthews was pursued by recruits from Alabama, Arkansas State, Auburn, Mississippi State and Tulane, to name a few, before he committed to attend Vanderbilt on December 26th, 2009.
Matthews was one of four freshman receivers to play for the Commodores in 2010. He was limited to mostly special team chores and mop-up duty until late in the year, as he had just one catch for 35 yards to show for his first eight appearances before finishing in a flourish, collecting 15 tosses for 181 yards (12.07 ypc). He recorded a touchdown in each of his final four contests, marking the first time a Vanderbilt player had accomplished that feat since Earl Bennett in 2005.
Matthews "caught fire" down the stretch of his sophomore season. In addition to posting three-straight 100-yard receiving performances, he led the Southeastern Conference with an average of 18.98-yards per catch in 2011, collecting a team-high 41 passes for 778 yards and five touchdowns while starting 10 of 13 games.
A member of the Biletnikoff Award Watch List (nation's top receiver), Matthews was a unanimous All-Southeastern Conference first-team selection as a junior in 2012. He also received several All-American honors, as he led the team, ranked second in the league and 16th in the nation, as he became just the second Commodore to catch at least 90 balls (94) in a season.
Matthews set the school mark with 1,323 receiving yards (14.07 ypc) and tied for sixth on the school annual record chart with eight touchdown grabs. His average of 101.77 aerial yards per game was second-best in the SEC and ninth-best in the country. He also scored once on three carries for 61 yards, adding 32 yards on five punt returns and 32 yards on a kickoff return, ranking fourth in the league with an average of 113.00 all-purpose yards per game.
With Jordan Rodgers graduating, many talent evaluators felt that Matthews would declare for early entry to the 2013 NFL Draft. However, Commodore fans were extremely pleased when their "most dangerous weapon" decided to return to school to terrorize opposing defensive backs in 2013. He entered his final campaign rated the best senior wide receiver in the country by all of the scouting services used by the National Football League.
Matthews has continued his torrid pace throughout the 2013 schedule, as he became the first player in school history to catch at least 100 passes in a season (112). He broke his own Vanderbilt season receiving yardage record (1,323 in 2012) by amassing 1,477 yards as a senior. He recorded seven of the team's 15 touchdown catches and had a hand in 28-of-49 touchdown drives by the ‘Dores during his final campaign.
Matthews started 37-of-51 games at Vanderbilt, seeing action as a slot receiver, flanker and split end…The All-American team captain caught 262 passes for 3,759 yards (14.35 ypc) and 24 touchdowns, generating 3,959 all-purpose yards (77.63 ypg), as the senior also totaled 115 yards with a score on nine carries (12.78 ypc), 53 yards on six punt returns (8.83 avg) and 32 yards on a kickoff return, scoring 138 points while also recording 10 tackles (8 solos).