I decided to take on another highly rated offensive lineman this time around, Jake Matthews from Texas A&M, to contrast with my last breakdown of Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. For the purposes of the breakdown, I watched him play against Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, Missouri and Duke (via Draft Breakdown). Those games represent the third, sixth and final three games including the bowl game of Matthews' final season, respectively.
I know it's something of a bad word when it comes to potential top draft picks, but what I see most when I watch Jake Matthews play is consistency. Consistency with his blocks, consistency of effort, consistency of technique ... you know what you're getting play-to-play when some team picks this guy to be the left tackle right away.
It helps that he is consistently good at the things A&M asked him to do, which was a little bit of everything. He came off the ball and base blocked well on the front side of running plays. He cut blocked or sifted up (bypassing the defenders on the line of scrimmage and seeking out linebackers 3-5 yards across the line of scrimmage) to the linebackers well on the backside of running plays. He pulled well on screens and running plays, all the way to outside the numbers on the other side of the center. His pass blocking? Well, that was pretty much the best thing he does.
Every kick step (initial movement off the snap for an offensive lineman to get depth and width) for a wide rusher was the same. Almost every kick step to an inside rusher was also the same. He was so good that I only saw one pressure he gave up in those five games that wasn't because of his quarterback holding the ball too long or running right into a sack.
Think about what I'm saying here. Matthews only lost on a pass-blocking assignment one time in the five games. Now look at the teams I watched him play against. You don't think LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss or Missouri have good pass rushers? Hell, No. 94 for LSU is probably still trying to figure out how he got so completely shut down by Matthews.
Matthews dished out an old-fashioned ass-kicking in the pass-blocking department that day.
You could see that the Aggies had a tremendous amount of respect for Matthews' skills as a pass blocker because they rarely sent him help. He was out on an island all by himself often versus wide rushers. Maybe the most impressive thing I saw about his pass blocking is the way he and the guard to his side handled pass rush games.
I've explained pass rush games before, but the CliffsNotes version is that it means when defensive linemen exchange pass rush lanes or gaps between offensive linemen in order to confuse them or create a two-on-one situation. It's important to note that you rarely see NFL players running pass rush games well these days, so it's even more rare to see them even run on the college level. To see offensive linemen pass them off as if they knew it was coming is a whole other story ... and a lot more impressive.
That's a nod again to Matthews' skill level as a pass blocker and his consistency. Because he never lunged at guys or got stuck on a block, he was easily able to continue to move his feet and pass off those pass rush games smoothly. That's a huge plus for any offensive lineman hoping to be selected high in the first round.
Finesse AND power
As I mentioned earlier, being as polished as Matthews is coming out of college isn't always seen as a plus, especially when an offensive lineman is seen as a better pass blocker than run blocker. College football is the last bastion of actual hard-nosed running games, especially in the SEC. To some folks, it can come off as a guy being soft if his run blocking is not up to par with his pass blocking.
That's not what I saw watching him play.
What I saw was a guy take his man into the end zone from more than 5 yards out to help his team score a touchdown on the ground against Missouri. Matthews' run blocking wasn't nearly as dominant as Greg Robinson's, but he was still pretty damn good at it.
What Matthews has over Robinson is that he was able to maintain contact with the defender after the first couple steps and drive his man even further downfield on a regular basis. You want offensive linemen to have that "sticky" quality to them because running backs in the NFL have such great vision and speed but the holes close so fast; the longer they can hold the block, the more likely the runner will be able to exploit those efforts. It can be the difference between a big gain and a 2-yard loss.
That's sort of a big deal.
On the other hand, what I didn't see from Matthews that I loved about Robinson was a seemingly unquenchable thirst for completely dominating his opponent. Robinson didn't just want to block a guy, he wanted to drive his face 10 yards into the turf or at the very least knock him 10 yards off the ball every single play. Matthews, though, is content with making a decent block and then laying off the guy once it seems like the play is over. Of course, sometimes the play isn't over and not finishing that block can be the difference between a touchdown and a 2-yard gain.
Let me be clear that this is more of a personal preference type deal. Some guys who evaluate players for the draft don't mind an offensive lineman who is a better pass blocker than run blocker because it is a passing league, as they say. It's an obvious truth that Matthews is a better, more polished pass blocker than Robinson, and it's not really close. However, it is also the case that some evaluators will question the different levels of aggression comparatively. They might surmise that it's easier to rein a guy in than it is to get a guy jump-started.
I'm not saying what the right or wrong approach is; I'm just telling you that I fall in that latter category.
Plug and play with upside
Not just throwing darts
Not just throwing darts
The argument for Matthews over Robinson goes like this: Teams can plug him in on day one as the starting left tackle, and he is ready to go as a pass blocker. That is not something that would be advisable with Robinson. Teams also don't need big physical run blockers as left tackles in most schemes these days. Coaches will almost put up with a guy who can "get by" as a run blocker if he is a high-level pass blocker because protecting the quarterback's blind side is key for any team's success. Matthews' skill level matches that last description, and for me, he is more than okay as a run blocker, even if he isn't on the same level as Greg Robinson.
Hell, who is?
You also have to admit that while Robinson's workout numbers at the combine were eye-popping, Matthews' numbers weren't that far off. Robinson hit 4.92 for his official 40 time compared to Matthews' 5.07, but Matthews' 10-yard split was just .01 of a second off of Robinson's 1.69. Matthews had a better vertical and 3-cone time. The biggest disparity appeared to be the bench, where Robinson got 32 reps, eight more reps than Matthews. Remember what I've said about the bench, however. Anything over 20 is good for most defensive linemen, and 22 is good for almost any offensive lineman. Those guys generally have long arms, and any number over that is more about endurance than power anyway.
Matthews' arms are 33 3/8 inches, so they are pretty long. Not as long as Robinson's 35-inch arms, but still ...
At the end of the day, the team that chooses between these two as the top offensive lineman on the board is probably going to come down to preferences. If it values power, aggression and explosion in the running game and is willing to wait for the player to develop as a pass blocker, then Greg Robinson is the choice, hands down.
If the team wants a guy who can play right away, won't need much help pass blocking and is already consistent in all facets of his game, the choice clearly has to be Jake Matthews.
Good luck to both of them no matter where they end up!