MOBILE, Ala. — The horn blew three times Monday, a signal that the South squad’s first practice of Senior Bowl week had finally come to an end.
But after a brief huddle in the middle of the field, Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews was far from done. He and quarterback Derek Carr strolled to the far end zone and proceeded to take a few extra reps by themselves, all in an attempt to show how serious they were about getting better.
This, draft analysts say, is an example of the intangibles that make the 6-foot-3, 206-pound Matthews an intriguing prospect for May’s NFL draft. In fact, Matthews, who caught 112 passes for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns this season, even asked Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage to send him game film of the cornerbacks in attendance, all for the sake of gaining even the slightest advantage.
“Mr. Savage was trying to get them to me, but it didn’t follow through,” Matthews said. “But there were some cut-ups online — I think draftbreakdown.com had some of the guys that were here — so I was able to watch a little bit, see some of their tendencies. There’s some great guys out here.”
One look at Matthews’ first-round competition at receiver this year makes you understand his eagerness to prove himself. According to ESPN’s Scouts Inc., Matthews is currently the 26th-best prospect in the draft — which essentially makes him a fringe first rounder depending on teams’ needs — and Matthews knows that underclassmen such as USC’s Marqise Lee, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks are all possible first-round picks.
The Chiefs, who pick 23rd in the first round, happen to be in the market for another receiver, and NFL Network analyst and former scout Bucky Brooks said coach Andy Reid’s offense works best with receivers who can run with the ball after the catch. Lee, Watkins and Cooks definitely fit that description better than a possession receiver like Matthews.
“He could be very, very similar to what you have with Dwayne Bowe,” Brooks said. “You want someone who can take the top off the defense and turn a 5-yard catch into a big gain. That’s what they’re lacking.”
Indeed, one of the knocks against Matthews is his lack of top-end speed. He struggled to create separation at times on Monday, further cementing the fact he needs to run a good time to be picked in the first round. Anything 4.6 or worse would be considered a disappointment, though it’s worth noting that Matthews’ cousin — Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice — ran a 4.6 himself out of college.
Nobody is comparing Matthews to Rice, of course, but the Vanderbilt receiver does apparently have a willingness to work that would make his cousin proud. After one impressive catch Monday, in which he high-pointed a contested jump ball and fell to the ground, he rose and ran to the end zone, even though the play was already dead.
Then there’s the display he and Carr put on after practice, a clear sign of Matthews’ desire to go the extra mile.
“I was just glad everyone could see (how) I compete,” Matthews said.