Jake Matthews first jumped off the screen in 2011.
He was just a sophomore at the time, but Matthews was blocking for Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He may have already been the best player on the offensive line, despite his teammate Luke Joeckel being the starter at left tackle. Matthews' technique was consistent, and he got stronger throughout the season.
Since that season, Matthews' college career has been about transitions. In 2012, he transitioned from a west coast offense under Mike Sherman with Tannehill as his quarterback to a spread attack under Kevin Sumlin with the unpredictable Johnny Manziel pulling the trigger. Matthews was still at right tackle, but he had to adjust his game to a quarterback known for extending plays.
Now in 2013, Matthews has shifted from right tackle to left tackle, a transition that has gone as smoothly as any scout could hope for. Each season, Matthews has gotten stronger in his core and his punch. His technique didn't suffer when switching positions, either. The son of former NFL star Bruce Matthews not only has football in his blood, but he's experienced at multiple positions in multiple offense with two different style quarterbacks. There's not much to dislike about Matthews as a football player.
Matthews is quick and efficient is all of his movements. He may not clock in as the quickest offensive tackle, but his balance, change of direction and anticipation help him make up for anything he may lack in natural foot speed. Matthews is also comfortable at the second level of the defense. He can get out in space efficiently and has the body control to engage blocks once he gets out there.
Texas A&M offensive tackles can be a tough evaluation because of how often defensive ends play contain on Johnny Manziel. That limits how often the tackles are tested in pure pass protection. Still, Matthews has been starting since he was a freshman, and his experience shows. He anticipates the snap better than any tackle in this class and gets into his set in a hurry.
Matthews also picks up the blitz well and knows when to come off his initial block and pick up a pass rusher coming free. He has experience playing with two different style quarterbacks in Manziel and Tannehill. His time blocking for Manziel is valuable in that he has developed a mentality of not giving up on blocks. With Manziel's ability to extend plays, Matthews has needed the mental and physical endurance to match.
One area Matthews has shown improvement in is his punch. He's much quicker with his punch than he was a year ago and doesn't allow pass rushers to get into his pads and control the play. While nobody will mistake Matthews for the strongest tackle in this class, he has a strong punch and anchors well.
Matthews has the nasty mentality necessary to succeed in the running game. He understands how to angle defenders out of the play but also has the lower body strength to drive a player out of the play and finish his block. Matthews will continue to add core strength and become even better in this area, but the foundation has been set. His improved hand use is a big plus in his run blocking as well.
While Matthews has gotten stronger in every season at Texas A&M, he could get even stronger, particularly in his lower half. He doesn't always show dominant strength in his drive blocking. He also occasionally got pushed back on his heels in pass protection. Strength is an easy issue to fix and it will likely come naturally for Matthews.
From a technique standpoint, few tackles are as refined as Matthews. Balance is essential to everything he does. He doesn't get too wide in his stance and is efficient in his kick slide. He maintains strong fundamentals by "sitting in the chair" and bending in all the proper places. This allows him to come off blocks and pick up blitzes without lunging or ending up on the ground. It's important to note he's shown a comfort level playing both tackle positions. It's not an easy switch to make, as Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel showed this season. The fact that Matthews can play either side at a high level is important.
In what is perceived to be a strong offensive tackle class with at least five first-round prospects, Matthews is the best of the bunch. He grades out as one of the best prospects in this class regardless of position and should be a top five pick come May. What makes Matthews even more intriguing is his room for growth. When people see a tackle as pro-ready as Matthews they assume he's close to maxing out his potential. But if Matthews can add strength, he could become one of the best tackles in the league.
This is the first of our scouting reports for the 2014 NFL Draft. We have plans to include GIFs and other graphics in the future but want to hear from the readers about our format for the reports. Comment below on anything you feel is missing from these reports and what would make them easier to read.