One can only imagine the impact that Matthews would have had if he played with even a decent quarterback. During his four seasons as a Commodore, 18 players have taken snaps under center. Vanderbilt ranked 105th in passing offense during his freshman year (159.42 ypg), 97th in 2011 (174.62), moving to 80th (213.38) during a junior campaign that saw Matthews haul in 94 of the completed 207 passes, eating up 1,332 of the team's 2,774 aerial yards.
As a senior, four different quarterbacks connected with Matthews, as he snared a Southeastern Conference record 112 of the team's 243 completions, totaling 1,477 of their 2,958 yards. 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 20 yards or longer (20.62%).
Even with the worst crop of quarterbacks that any team can have, Matthews holds the school and SEC receiving and receiving yardage records. Among active NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision performers, his 262 grabs are surpassed by only East Carolina's Justin Hardy (266), His 3,759 yards is the highest total among active major college players and rank 24th overall in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision history.
Vanderbilt University Commodores
Matthews has good muscle tone and thickness on an athletic frame that features long limbs and strong legs, as he excels at breaking tackles to gain additional yardage after the catch. He might be asked to increase his bulk, but he has the ability to do so without having it impact his overall quickness. He has good shoulder definition, tight waist and hips to go with defined thighs and calves. He also displays good arm length with large, soft hands to secure the ball before turning and running after the catch.
Matthews is an outstanding player with good field savvy to compensate for a lack of explosive speed. He has very good body flexibility getting under the ball and is a strong open field runner with good leaping ability and body adjustment skills to reach for the pass at its highest point. He is quicker than he is fast, but shows smooth movement skills, a sharp short area burst and valid strength to break arm tackles. He displays the natural ability and arm extension to catch the ball outside his frame. He has solid weight room numbers and uses his frame and size effectively to defeat the jam. He has deceptive speed, as his long legs let him ride up on the defender quickly while looking effortless in his long stride. He has very good agility and balance with the change of direction agility and good overall body control to come up with the ball inside his body when working in a crowd. What separates him from most receivers in this draft class is his ability to instantly change direction. Coupled with his field savvy, he is more apt to have lethargic second-level defenders grabbing at air, rather than make the tackle, as he utilizes his body adjustment skills and flexibility to "get small" when having to squeeze through tight areas (see 2013 Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee games).
Matthews is a good student of the game, having no problems retaining plays. He does well academically and plays with good field vision to recognize defensive coverages. He understands all receiver position assignments (split end; flanker; slot) and does a very good job adjusting in his routes when on the move. The thing you notice is his awareness of the soft spot in the zone, quickly settling into it. He shows very good sideline vision, keeping his balance and feet in bounds. He is also quite effective at setting up defensive backs down field. He knows the playbook inside/out and shows quick instincts to come back for the ball when the quarterback is pressured.
Matthews is a throwback to another era. You have to tear his jersey off to keep him off the field, evident by his performance with a slew of defenders attacking him on a regular basis in 2013, knowing full well that he was more often than not the man to move the chains for the aerial game. He is a sensational middle-of-the field pass catcher. Rather than sulking with the team's "musical chairs" at quarterback and those passers' inabilities to throw the deep ball, he took a "make lemonade from lemons" approach during his senior season. He is fearless going for the ball in a crowd (see 2013 UAB, Missouri., Mississippi, Tennessee and Wake Forest games) and very combative with his hands, whether to escape the jam or to lock on to a defender when blocking. He shows excellent ball concentration going up for the jump ball and never flinches, even when kamikaze defenders try to attack his legs. He is very physical down near the goal line and uses his hands well to prevent the cornerback from riding up on his body.
Matthews gets a good initial thrust off the line, using his hands with force to defeat the jam. He is quicker than fast, but glides to top acceleration nicely. He uses his size well to slip through tight areas and has enough burst to gobble up the cushion. He has the strength to uncover and get into his route with no hesitation. He just knows how to use his frame to prevent defenders from rerouting him. He can threaten deep vs. off coverage and while he is very physical, he shows a smooth open field stride. In 36 games as a starter, no Division I cornerback has been able to handle the challenge of covering him (on the few games he did not catch many passes, it was strictly due to poor quarterbacking by VU). He doesn't have that sudden explosion to leave defenders rocking back on their heels, but shows the savvy and hand usage to gain good separation coming off the snap, knowing how to use his size and arm extension to get a quick release. He has very good closing speed running under sideline throws and the quickness to get into his routes without being impeded. He shows the burst to escape the press and with his size and strength, he can consistently beat the jam. With his deceptive speed, he can run up a cornerback in an instant (see 2013 Ole Miss, Austin Peay, UAB, Missouri and Wake Forest games).
Matthews is the type of player who compensates for a lack of blazing speed with physical play. He comes off the line with a strong surge and uses his hands with force to beat the jam. He has the size to shield defenders from the ball and is a physical presence in the middle of the field. He does a very good job of adjusting to the coverage and even though he frequently catches in a crowd, he shows the fluid stride to not have to throttle down coming out of his breaks. Matthews runs crisp routes and drops his hips and sinks his weight to separate out of his cuts. He has very good feet and it is rare to ever see him shuffle then or round his breaks. He has a smooth slide to get to the open zone and a decent second gear to quickly eat up the cushion. Much like the Colts' Reggie Wayne and the 49ers Anquan Boldin, Matthews does not show track star blazing speed, but rather a smooth stride and a variety of moves to get open after the catch. He shows the body lean and hand push to play off the cornerback to track and grab the ball without breaking stride. He plays the ball nicely when it is in flight and adjusts to make the tough grabs along the sidelines. He runs mostly underneath and intermediate routes, but still needs to be accounted for at all times, as he is too slippery for a defensive back to get lethargic thinking he can cover Matthews on deep throws (see 2013 Ole Miss, UAB, Missouri and Wake Forest games). If a defender does not see Matthews as a deep speed threat, he will soon lose the battle, as he finds ways to get behind the coverage.
Few receivers show the precision in their cuts like Matthews. He does a great job of weaving through a crowd and has the power to leverage defenders to gain separation. He shows very good hip sinking agility and does a good job of getting depth in all of his routes. He is very good planting and driving in and out of his breaks. His ability to separate out of his up field cuts allows him to run crisp vertical routes. He just doesn't have an explosive burst, but he stays square in his routes, especially when coming back to the ball, which he had to do often the last three years due to the ‘Dores' QB issues. He is solid on option routes and shows great gliding ability on slant patterns. He is just the rare type of player who can get open simply on his ability to set up defenders and make an effort to be precise in his cuts (see 2013 Mississippi, Austin Peay, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Wake Forest games).
Matthews is a power-oriented runner who can stem and weave to avoid. He uses his hands very effectively to gain separation after the catch, showing the loose hips, head fake and strong leg drive to break the initial tackle. He is frequently played tight, but can hand jolt the defender to rock his opponent back on their heels. He shows great awareness to uncover, using his body to shade defenders from the ball. He takes no wasted steps with his acceleration out of transition cuts and does a fine job on comeback routes, His deceptive speed is enough to surprise a lethargic defender on vertical routes and his body frame and quick feet lets him get to most poor throws along the sidelines. He shows good separation and burst in and out of his cuts, with the ability to get deep. He has that extra gear needed to escape on long routes, and looks very fluid opening his hips for making sharp cuts. He usually relies on double moves to get deep separation, but is a load to bring down once he plants his foot, turns and powers through arm tackles.
Matthews is very conscious of sticks and chains. He is quite nimble keeping his feet inbounds along the sidelines and makes very good body adjustments on the move. He does a good job of looking the ball in over his shoulder and can get open and settle in the soft spot of the zone. With his physical play in the red zone, he certainly knows where the end zone is (see 2013 Austin Peay, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee games). In a crowd, he excels at timing his leaps and sacrificing his body to get to the ball at its high point. He simply makes the difficult catch due to his above average focus. He is just too physical for the smaller defenders to take down, especially in the open field. He can weave through traffic with the best of them, reminding some of the former Bengals' Chad Johnson in that area. He will go for the ball with determination on crossing routes and shows outstanding concentration to get to the pigskin over the middle. You also see on film that he has the ability to make the grab with defenders all over him down field.
Matthews is a contortionist who always seems to get his body into position to make the catch. He times his leaps well and will not hesitate to sacrifice his body to get to the ball in a crowd. He has the body control, balance and jumping skills to reach and pluck the ball away from his frame and at the high point. He shows very good flexibility to get to off-target throws and looks natural playing the ball down field. He has the body control to get in position and makes plays over his shoulder look routine. He has those natural ball- adjustment skills that separates him from most receivers (see 2013 Mississippi, Massachusetts, Texas A&M and Wake Forest games). His ability to get to the right spot to make plays, especially on those behind him, makes him a dangerous threat once he gets the ball into his hands. He makes good body adjustments to the ball in flight and over his shoulder. He can easily catch outside the framework, thanks to long arms and soft hands. He also has the vision and ability to adjust to make the tough catches in tight spots.
Matthews has the wingspan and natural hands to get to any pass thrown his way. He knows how to shield the ball from defenders using his body and shows good scooping agility to get to the low throws. He will extend and pluck the ball away from the body's frame and has soft hands to look the ball in nicely. The thing I like about him is his ability to play the ball over his shoulder and make body adjustments to track the ball in flight (see 2013 UAB, Missouri, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Wake Forest games). With his natural hands and strong running stride, he could turn into a very capable ball carrier on reverses and end-arounds, as he has very good cutback agility and maintains a good, low pad level, along with proper forward body lean to generate additional yardage after initial contact.
Run After the Catch
Matthews is not the type to explode up the field after the catch, leaving defenders grasping at air, but he is a strong runner who powers through the initial tackle and is a load to bring down once he builds up to top acceleration. His running strength will generally see him drag the smaller defenders, but when he weaves through traffic, you forget all about his deceptive speed, as he frustrates defenders, who struggle to contain him, especially in one-on-one confrontations. He just shows the elusiveness to create his own space, showing the vision to make that big play (see 2013 Ole Miss, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Georgia, Texas A&M and Wake Forest games) once he finds a crease. The ball comes alive in his hands, evident by his ability to make big plays, setting up 26 touchdown drives and seven field goals for the ‘Dores in 2013. He simply bounces off tackles and has the juking moves to make his man miss. Simply put, Matthews ranks with the elite RAC players in the college game.
For all of the top crack blockers at receiver that ever played this game, Matthews can rank with the best of them as an open-field blocker. He attacks with very good aggression and stays with the play until the finish in the second level. He has worked hard the last two years to improve his overall strength to prevent from being pushed back into the pocket when working in-line. He has the hand usage to sustain when he is able to lock on, and also shows functional power to drag the defensive linemen down. When playing off the line, he is quite effective at getting low to chop down linebackers and safeties at their legs in run support.
ANQUAN BOLDIN, San Francisco: Like Boldin, Matthews is a physically imposing receiver who might not have world-class speed, but he gobbles up the cushion in a hurry. He has a knack for winning open-field foot races, especially vs. second-level defenders, and few receivers have his power breaking tackles. Much like Boldin, he is a superb chain-mover and aggressive open-field blocker, ideal for a team that features a strong running game. He excels at run precise patterns, and should be one of the more productive offensive performers to join the NFL out of the 2014 NFL Draft class.
Matthews is a physical open-field runner who might lack blazing speed, but shows good quickness and smoothness getting into his routes. He has the size and strength to get a clean release vs. the jam and while he runs a lot of intermediate routes, he has the functional second gear to gobble up the cushion working his way into the deep zone. Few receivers in the game, college or pro, have the ability to impact a game like Matthews, especially when working inside the red zone. He is quite effective operating on slant and option routes, staying square coming back for the ball. He shows the ability to get to top acceleration when going vertical and has the loose hips and plant-&-drive agility to excel on comeback routes.
Matthews is quite effective getting low and letting the ball absorb into his body when working underneath. He is a load to bring down in isolated coverage, as he does a good job of keeping his shoulders square and driving through tackles. Because of his size and power base (more field strong than training room strong), most defensive backs don't present him with a challenge, as he consistently finds ways to get behind the coverage.
Overall, Matthews is simply a tough, physical runner with good hands and deceivingly good route-running ability. He plays with excellent tenacity and finds ways to make the big plays. He has no problems with his release vs. press coverage because the smaller defensive backs are not a factor. He is a rugged, strong open field runner and with quick feet, valid hips and a courageous route runner with enough elusiveness to make the first man miss. Looking at his productivity working in the red zone, he will be the type of player that pro defenses will have to account for him anytime he is on the field.
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.