Eagles rookie Matthews rising above draft hype

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eagles fan Ted Fairfax and his 2-year-old son Marcel watch training camp yesterday at Lincoln Financial Field.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eagles fan Ted Fairfax and his 2-year-old son Marcel watch training camp yesterday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Posted: July 30, 2014

There are 13 wide receivers on the Eagles' 90-man roster right now. If you didn't know who any of them were, and had to pick a standout yesterday, you probably would have taken that tall dude wearing No. 81, whose long legs kept slashing across the middle, as he made catch after catch.

Chip Kelly is absolutely right about the overheated NFL hype machine, particularly when it comes to the draft. And yet, right after Kelly expanded yesterday on remarks he originally made to Sports Illustrated's Peter King over the weekend, Jordan Matthews showed a crowd of just under 15,000 people at Lincoln Financial Field why he got so much media attention all spring.

Sorry, Chip.

"I see a guy that has a big, huge motor, man. I see a guy that's going to bust his tail from the minute the ball's snapped to the end of the play. He's going to finish every play," Eagles corner Cary Williams said after the first of the team's three scheduled public practices. "I see a guy that goes up to get the ball away from his body - all those intangible things that you can't coach. You see those things out of that guy. Him and [third-round rookie Josh] Huff both have done a tremendous job for us. They're young guys, but they came in with a veteran mentality, making plays."

Kelly said yesterday that when he spoke to King, he wasn't just lamenting the raves Matthews drew this spring, while running routes in shorts with no contact. (Though Kelly did ask why it mattered that Matthews was drafted in the second round and pass-rush project Marcus Smith was taken in the first.)

"[King] asked me what was surprising to me - I just said, the hype that surrounds the draft in general. The fact that people would watch the combine. There's times at the combine when I fall asleep. I don't know why people watch it on television; they're running 40-yard dashes. You guys are in the newspaper business. If somebody is a rookie coming into the newspaper thing, I don't think you all just start applauding and say, 'Oh my God, our paper's saved, because we just signed a kid out of Northwestern that has really good prose.'

"It seems that [the draft] is the biggest thing in the world. If a guy isn't an All-Pro his first year, but he was drafted in the first five picks, then obviously he's a bust, and I don't think that's the case."

Kelly said he felt the same way about the importance given to signing day in college.

"How many of those guys on signing day are actually going to contribute?" he said.

"I think the draft is integral, obviously, in terms of putting together your team. [But] literally from the day the Super Bowl ends until the draft, which I think was at the end of May or June or may get pushed to July at some point in time, that's all everyone talks about."

In the King piece, Kelly said: "I think the byproduct to the hype that bothers me, is that to some guys it's overwhelming for them. The NFL has their Rookie Premiere and they're out there getting all these pictures taken and they're missing practice time to go out to California and they're treated like gods, and I'm like, I don't know if he's going to start. That's not fair. And the analysis . . . you listen to people around here that say, 'Well, we don't like their draft. If they had taken Matthews first and Smith second, we would give them an A.' Who cares who went one and who went two? It's almost like there's a lot of scrutiny on Marcus Smith because he went one, but Jordan gets a pass because he fell to the second round. If you ask both those individuals, they have the same goals and aspirations and they're training exactly the same way. It's just how people perceive things, and I think a lot of that has to do with the hype.

"Jerry Rice dropped a lot of balls when he was a rookie. He was a strong kid. He took it. But now, for some of these guys, it crushes them. It's no different than bringing a pitcher up before you should and he gets racked. 'He's a stiff. Send him back to the minors.' There's a maturation process for everybody. There's no other profession like it. The hype part is just constant."

Matthews, 6-3, 212, doesn't seem likely to be overwhelmed.

"You get a sense of that," Matthews said yesterday, when asked about ever-expanding draft hype. He was the Eagles' representative at the Los Angeles Rookie Premiere event Kelly mentioned, during OTAs. "It's going to continue to grow each year, now with the draft [moving later]. It's becoming a bigger event, it's also going to be more pressure on everybody. At the same time, too, pressure is all relative. It's how much you're going to put on yourself. I've got a lot of great guys around me, a lot of guys to help me in this offense. I don't try to put too much pressure on myself."

We're just barely into training camp, but it would seem right now that Matthews might be the rookie who plays the most snaps, as he inherits Jason Avant's slot role. Matthews said yesterday he played the slot almost half the time by his senior year at Vanderbilt, where he became the SEC's all-time-leading receiver.

The difference in working the slot vs. lining up outside is the amount of space you have to work with, he said.

"Being able to work in that phone booth [is the challenge]. If you can get better at that, then when they do split you out, it's even easier," he said.

The knock on Matthews coming out of college was that he didn't have great explosion off the line. It has been hard to evaluate that so far; yesterday was the first day in pads. Kelly reiterated that playing against man-press coverage, instead of college zones, is the biggest adjustment for rookie receivers, the reason they seldom post big numbers right away.

"OTAs, minicamps, we never got into press coverage that much," Matthews said. "Now that we're into that next phase, of real training camp, they have been able to press. Going inside, I have gone against [Brandon] Boykin when he comes down and presses; Malcolm [Jenkins] is a very physical guy when he comes down and puts his hands on you. I'm getting to work against different types of guys; it's getting me better in each area."

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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