MOBILE, Ala. — Some expected Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews to stroll into Mobile and put on a show which would close the gap between himself and the top of the rookie wide receiver class.
With most of those top players being juniors and therefore not allowed to participate in the Senior Bowl, Matthews had the spotlight to himself.
But instead of increasing his draft stock, he largely seemed to tread water. While there were some glowingly positive reviews, the truth was that while Matthews flashed some tremendous talent, he struggled in other parts of the game.
Overall, what we saw was a receiver whose ceiling is very high, but whose floor is lower than some recognize.
Matthews showed the ability to make some very tough catches both in traffic and one-on-one with a defensive back in his face.
Some of those catches were spectacular. For example, at one point on the very first day, he had to adjust to an underthrown ball with a defensive back right on top of him. Matthews twisted his body around, leapt up, extended his arms and high-pointed the ball, making the catch over the shorter player.
You want a receiver of Matthews’ 6-foot-3-inch stature to be willing to go up and get the ball, not just reach up and hope he can reach over a defender’s outstretched arms. Matthews can do that and he looked just as willing to do it in traffic, where he could take a hit. Even when he did, Matthews was able to come down with the ball.
In individual drills, Matthews ran nice routes, though I saw him round them off from time to time. He also seemed to be a bit lackadaisical in his routes on 7-on-7s when the ball wasn’t coming his way. It’s not something you see on game film, so it could have been a matter of conserving his energy during practice, but it jumped out at me a few times, particularly on Wednesday.
More than anything else this week during Senior Bowl practices, Matthews struggled gaining separation, specifically on deeper routes.
Matthews played very physical immediately off the line, and showed an ability to knock a defender off balance with his initial contact. However, when he was going deep, he struggled to do the same and often had to try and force contact again later on in the route.
That’s going to be a problem in the NFL, just like it was in practice down in Mobile. Matthews isn’t going to have an easy time of it against the bigger and stronger defensive backs at the professional level.
The chief problem is what seems to be a lack of speed, or rather quickness off the line.
Matthews has speed, but he doesn’t ramp up rapidly. He needs to build to his top end and that allows the defense to pace him and keep him from breaking open.
We know he can be quick, as he is dangerous after the catch but his burst off the line really seemed limited in Mobile.
It’s not the end of the world, to be sure. His size, hands and willingness to fight for the ball will go a long way to helping him be a tremendous weapon at the NFL level.
However, until he can consistently find a way to gain that separation that NFL teams need from their more vertical threats, his role will be limited and therefore, his ceiling.
Without a doubt, we saw some flashes of incredible talent from Matthews down in Mobile. But we also got a closer look at some of his flaws and while he will remain the best senior wide receiver in the 2014 NFL draft, he’s got a long way to go to catch guys like Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans.