In an NFL Draft featuring a deep class of wide receivers in 2014, Jordan Matthews is near the top.
Considered to have an outside chance at being selected late in Round 1, the Vanderbilt receiver credits facing several former teammates in practice—and one in particular—for making him the player he is today.
“The matchup with Casey Hayward I definitely believe help shape the wide receiver I am right now," said Matthews at the NFL Combine. "Working with guys like him, Sean Richardson, Andre Hall, Kenny Ladler … competing against those guys.
"Casey, I feel like hands down was the best corner that I’ve ever got against since I have been playing football. Real competitive, and I think everybody saw that his rookie year when he had six interceptions for the Packers. I feel like it helped my mentality as far as competing in practice each day. It helped me become a better player.”
It was 2011 when Matthews and Hayward last played together but those battles on the practice field helped set the stage for what would be a record-setting career for Matthews, who holds the all-time marks in the vaunted SEC conference for receptions and receiving yards.
Matthews finished his time at Vandy with 262 catches for 3,759 yards and 24 touchdowns, which is also a school record.
After an impressive junior season, Matthews probably could have declared for the NFL draft a year earlier but decided to put those plans on hold to take care of some unfinished business.
“I felt like it was a great decision for me," said Matthews. "We have a lot of young receivers in this class and everybody is entitled to make their own choice, but I feel like for me, I wanted to enter the National Football League as a full-grown man. I wanted to make sure that I developed myself in every area.
"I also wanted to make sure that I graduated. I graduated in three and a half years with an Economics degree. And by me being able to do that, now I can go into the NFL and wake up and go to sleep as a football player. I don’t have to worry about going back to school. The Economics degree is in the bag and I can put my sole focus on being the best football player I can be each day.”
Matthews is a disciple of coach James Franklin, who's been rising up the coaching ranks ever since being Green Bay's wide receivers coach 2005 when he tutored the likes of Donald Driver. After leaving the Packers organization, Franklin went from offensive coordinator at Kansas State and Maryland to head coach at Vanderbilt and now Penn State.
Following an accomplished career, Matthews was invited to the Senior Bowl, where he made headlines when executive director Phil Savage let it be known Matthews requested film on the cornerbacks invited to the game in preparation of the event.
Also invited to Combine, Matthews didn't put up eye-popping numbers but did clock in at 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash that would seem to be sufficient for his 6' 3" and 212-pound frame.
Having lost James Jones in free agency and with an injured Jermichael Finley's status still up in the air, the Packers could use another weapon in Aaron Rodgers' arsenal. How highly they can afford to address receiver at the expense of the defensive side of the football remains to be seen, but Matthews could be one of those talents too good to pass up.
"Being at Vanderbilt we had a lot of adversity, we had a lot of change," said Matthews. "We had three head coaches, six different quarterbacks, three offensive coordinators, three wide receivers coaches. I think a lot of guys around the country played with a little more stability, but I was able to adapt to change and I feel like I was able to come out and be one of the top in my fields.
"So I feel like that is something different about me. I feel like that is something that carried me the whole time was always my competitiveness, the way I came to practice every day and the way I had that chip on my shoulder all the way from high school. I think that has carried me and will help me out moving to the next level too.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews by Brian Carriveau.
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