INDIANAPOLIS––When Clay Matthews entered the NFL draft back in 2009, there were doubts whether an undersized former college walk-on was not only worthy of a first round draft choice but whether he'd succeed in the NFL.
In hindsight, perhaps no one should have been surprised. All one had to do was look at his lineage and see that Matthews comes from good stock.
His father, Clay Jr., was a four-time Pro Bowler during a 19-year career spent primarily with the Cleveland Browns. His grandfather, Clay Sr., played defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers for four seasons in the 1950s.
When Clay III took the field for the first time as a rookie, his family became only the second in history to have three generations of NFL players.
If that's not enough, Clay's uncle Bruce is an NFL Hall of Famer after playing 19 years entirely with the Tennessee Titans franchise.
Clay III is now up to 255 lbs., named to the Pro Bowl four times in his first five seasons has exactly 50 career sacks and is the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL. It's probably safe to say that pick the Packers spent in trading up for Matthews in 2010 was worth the investment.
While he hasn't enjoyed quite the same success, Clay's brother Casey is now also entering his fourth year as a linebacker with the Philadelphia Eagles.
If there's a lesson to be learned, perhaps no team should be doubting that Jake Matthews is the No. 1 overall prospect in this year's draft class and will also go onto a long and distinguished career.
Bruce's son and Clay III's cousin is at the NFL Combine this week looking to become the next in a long line of Matthewses to make his mark in professional football
"I’d like to think I wasn’t grandfathered in," laughed Matthews on Thursday. "I hope I earned my way here. It is special the family I came from and the relationships I have with my dad and cousins and brothers and all the people who have gone through this process. So that’s really special and something (where) I can look to them to ask what it was like, what their experience with it was. So far it’s been good. I’ve enjoyed it."
For the record, no Jake doesn't practice doing one-on-one drills against his cousin, but he says he is looking forward to playing against him.
Jake arguably could have entered the draft a year ago and been a first round draft choice but chose to return to Texas A&M for his senior season.
One might assume Matthews returned to take care of unfinished business, blocking for returning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and helping the Aggies compete for the SEC title.
But the biggest reason he returned? To have the opportunity to play with maybe the next Matthews to follow in his family's footsteps: younger brother Mike was a sophomore starter on the Texas A&M offensive line.
Although he's currently ranked as the No. 2 overall prospect by NFLDraftScout.com, nothing is set in stone for Jake. Jadeveon Clowney and any number of quarterbacks can stake a legitimate claim to being the top player in the 2014 draft class. And some might think fellow offensive lineman Greg Robinson has the higher ceiling.
Jake's lineage, however, tells a different story.
In a twist of irony, there's another highly-rated prospect in this year's draft class also in Jake Matthews' bloodline: Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas, considered the fourth-ranked tight end by NFLDraftScout.com.
Interestingly enough, it's Jake's and Troy's mothers that are sisters. So no, Troy and Clay are not related, although they are mutual acquaintances.
"Our families have spent some time in Texas," said Niklas. "I knew him before he got big."
It isn't out of the question that someday they'll be teammates. Tight end appears to be one of the biggest needs on the Packers roster with both Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless up for free agency.
If there's pressure on Jake and Troy to live up to expectations, it's not showing, not in the bright spotlight of the NFL Combine.
"Not too much, no," said Jake Matthews. "Just try to go out there and do the best I can."
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 [email protected].
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