By Matthew Asher
CBS Local Sports presents 32 Players in 32 Days, a daily feature focusing on one impact player from each NFL team.
Jacob “Jake” Matthews – Tackle – #70
Weight: 305 lbs
Hometown: Missouri, TX
College: Texas A&M
Experience: Rookie (6th overall pick in 2014 NFL Draft)
Back in 2012, the Atlanta Falcons were the toast of the NFC. They had the best record in the league at 13-3 and were one successful drive away from reaching the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Atlanta, a string of injuries to key players, along with the teams inability to protect their franchise quarterback Matt Ryan, came with disastrous results as Atlanta finished the 2013 campaign at 4-12, their first losing season since Ryan was drafted. To make up for their lack of pass protection, Atlanta decided to draft another Matt, this time Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
How badly did the Falcons offensive line do last season? Simply put, they were terrible. Matty Ice was sacked a career-high 44 times, making him the third most sacked quarterback last year. The other two quarterbacks sacked more? Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco. Of course, neither of those teams made the playoffs, either. Before this season, Ryan’s record for sacks in a season was only 28 times, back in 2012. Now with the addition of Jake Matthews, the Falcons hope to solve that problem.
Matthews played for Elkins High School in Missouri City, Texas. During his high school career, Matthews was a 2009 High School All-American and was ranked as a four-star recruit. He chose to attend Texas A&M in college where his older brother, Kevin, was a two-year starting center for the Aggies (2008-09) and Jake’s younger brother Mike currently attends Texas A&M.
While he wasn’t a starter from the very beginning, Matthews did play in 10 games, including starting the final seven games of his freshman (2010) season. Before Matthews started for the Aggies, Texas A&M had given up 23 sacks in the first six games. Once Matthews took over as the starting tackle, the Aggies surrendered just 14 more sacks in the final seven games. Jake was named to ESPN’s All-Big 12 Freshman team for his efforts.
As a sophomore, Matthews continued to improve. In the 2011 season, the Aggies offensive line was responsible for only nine sacks in 13 games as their offense averaged 490 yards of total offense each game. As a junior, Matthews was a first-team All-American selection as well as first-team All-SEC honors. This was the season that Johhny Manziel won his Heisman trophy. His senior year, Matthews was made the captain of the team and started all 13 games for the Aggies.
If the last name Matthews sounds familiar, it should, as Jake is now the newest member of the Matthews NFL family legacy. Two of his cousins also currently play in the NFL: Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III and Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Casey Matthews. Obviously, if Jake was a linebacker, that would be great based on the success of his cousins. However, he’s an offensive lineman, so it’s harder to make a comparison (or at least an educated guess) on how well Jake will do in the NFL. This is where it gets interesting.
Jake’s father, Bruce Matthews, played all of his 18 seasons as an offensive lineman for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans organization. Bruce was selected to 14 consecutive Pro Bowls at two different positions (nine at guard, five at center). He was a nine-time All-Pro, a member of the All-Decade 1990s team and is enshrined in Canton, Ohio. That’s right, Jake’s father is just one of the 40 modern-era offensive linemen currently in the NFL Hall of Fame. It gets even better as far as promise goes. At the time of Bruce’s retirement, he had played in more games (296) than any other positional player in NFL history.
This also won’t be the first, or even second time that a member of the Matthews family has called the city of Atlanta home. Jake’s uncle, Clay Matthews Jr., was a four-time Pro-Bowler and three-time All-Pro linebacker who played for the Atlanta Falcons as well as the Cleveland Browns. Jake’s grandfather, Clay Matthews Sr., was an offensive lineman for Georgia Tech before playing professionally with the San Francisco 49ers.
Anyone who remembers the 2012-2013 NFL season should remember what happened to the Kansas City Chiefs. They were 2-14 and had the top pick in the draft, and rather than going with a flashy player, they went conservative and drafted Eric Fisher, an offensive tackle. It ended up being a very smart move as the Chiefs finished the regular season 11-5 in a very competitive AFC West division and even made the NFL Playoffs as a wild card.
While Atlanta isn’t guaranteed that instant success simply by drafting a good lineman, it does address a major issue, allowing the Falcons to focus on other aspects of their team that need improvement. It’s a safe bet that Matt Ryan feels much more comfortable back in the pocket knowing he has a third-generation NFL lineman protecting him for the foreseeable future.
Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.