Position: Wide Receiver
Size: 6'3", 212 lbs.
Recruit Ranking: A three-star recruit at wide receiver.
2013 Statistics: 112 receptions (led SEC, 35 more than next closest WR), 1,477 receiving yards (led SEC, 4th in NCAA), seven touchdowns, 6 carries, 54 rushing yards.
Strengths: Matthews excelled as a weapon in every scenario James Franklin put him in. Need someone to get open downfield? JMatt was a big-time deep threat. Need someone to run a receiver screen for a first down? JMatt did that more times than you can pull from a bottle of whiskey. Need a player to go over the middle on third down to gain some tough yardage? Matthews wasn't afraid to take big hits when his team needed him.
His play against Ole Miss in last year's season opener - a game in which he took a big hit, threw up on the field, and then came back to catch the clutchest-of-clutch passes on a desperate fourth-and-18 play with the outcome hanging in the balance - was inspirational enough to create fervor throughout the Vanderbilt fanbase and inspire run-on sentences like this one just to describe the senior's toughness.
Production has been the name of Matthews's game since emerging as a major target midway through his sophomore season. He compiled 19 games of more than 100 receiving yards with quarterbacks like Jordan Rodgers, Larry Smith, Austyn Carta-Samuels, and Patton Robinette throwing him the ball. While each of those passers have their strengths, it is difficult not to get excited about what Matthews could do with an NFL QB like Tom Brady or Payton Manning locating him downfield.
At 6'3" and 212 pounds, he's a large, mobile target who will match up well against the NFL's new breed of big cornerbacks. He plays faster than he looks on paper (4.46s 40-yard dash) and runs routes with precision. He found a way to build a rapport with each quarterback he had at Vandy and used that connection to repair broken plays and bring new life to the Commodore offense. In simple terms, he was the engine that powered Vanderbilt's offense in 2013.
Matthews may draw comparisons to the man whose SEC and Vanderbilt records he broke - Earl Bennett. However, Matthews is bigger and stronger than Bennett was and should have no problem producing across the field in the NFL. He has a special ability to create separation from his defenders and force open a window of opportunity for quarterbacks to take advantage of. That skill alone should earn him significant playing time on Sundays this fall.
Weaknesses: Matthews was a standout receiver at Vanderbilt, but scouts have questioned his ability to be a true WR1 in the NFL. While his Combine numbers were solid, they fell to the middle of the pack in a draft class that is loaded with explosive receivers. JMatt doesn't have the lateral speed and innate quickness that players like Marqise Lee or Sammy Watkins have. Matthews looks like a polished, but finished, project. Other players with more potential appear likely to leapfrog him at the tail end of the first round.
Matthews has solid hands, but he was still prone to inopportune drops as an upperclassman. A disproportionate of his receptions came on swing passes, which won't be the case at the next level. Losing that aspect of his game may hurt his production at wideout. He also may lack the explosive speed needed to separate from NFL cornerbacks - but 12 career 100-yard games against SEC defenses should help quell those concerns.
Projection: A second round pick. Matthews looked like a sure-fire first rounder after the 2013 season ended, but scouts have talked themselves away from him as less prolific receivers posted more enticing Combine numbers. Any team that passes on JMatt at wideout will do so in the name of potential. The questions about whether or not Matthews can be a true #1 WR will cause him to slip to the second round. However, his collegiate production - especially with four different quarterbacks throwing to him his junior and senior seasons - shows that he's not only ready to play right away, but still has room to grow. Matthews isn't a sexy pick, but he's the right one for an NFL team that needs a steady outlet near the sidelines.