ATLANTA — Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews is set to enter the family business in the NFL.
Matthews, is one of the top lineman prospects in the draft, which is set for Thursday through Saturday. He is the son of Bruce Matthews, who played 19 seasons before being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He’s also the grandson of Clay Matthews Sr., nephew of Clay Matthews Jr. and cousin of Clay Matthews III and Casey Matthews, who all have played in the NFL. There are Atlanta-area ties, too. Matthews Sr., played at Georgia Tech, and Matthews Jr., had a stint (1994-96) with the Falcons.
“I’d like to think I wasn’t grandfathered in (laughs),” Matthews said. “I hope I earned my way here. It is special, the family I came from and the relationships.”
Matthews likely is the best-prepared player in the draft.
“My dad, cousins and brothers and all the people have gone through this process,” Matthews said. “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.”
Matthews moved to left tackle last season for the Aggies after Luke Joeckel left early for the NFL and was drafted second overall by Jacksonville. However, he doesn’t feel any additional pressure because of his family name.
“I just try to go out there and do the best I can,” Matthews said.
His father has not been overbearing, Matthews said, but has offered advice.
“One thing my dad’s always tried to reiterate with me is, if you go out and work hard and do things the right way and put your full effort in, you’ll get the results you want,” Matthews said. “That’s something I’ve always tried to do.”
Some contend that Matthews is over-hyped. Auburn’s Greg Robinson and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan also are considered top tackles in the draft and both may be selected ahead of Matthews, although ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said all three “are not going to last very long.”
There’s speculation that the Falcons may trade up to land Robinson, a mauler from Auburn.
“For the Atlanta Falcons, they need some of that physicality,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “They don’t have it. They were too finesse. They were too passive. That offensive line for the Atlanta Falcons was one of the worst in the NFL last year.
“Matt Ryan paid the price for that. Steven Jackson paid the price for that. Atlanta has got to get a lot better.”
The Falcons could sit tight at six and take Lewan.
“His pass-protection skills have improved to the point this year where they weren’t beating him,” Kiper said. “He battles. He fights. He has great feet, great balance. He has a great punch. He can get after you as a run blocker. To me, Lewan is a nasty, tough street fighter, he’s a battler.”
After the top three tackles, Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, Virginia’s Morgan Moses and Nevada’s Joel Bitonio rank as potential first-round picks. Martin started 52 games for the Fighting Irish and turned a lot of heads at the Senior Bowl. ESPN draft analyst Jon Gruden said Bitonio “can play right (tackle), left (tackle) or go inside.”
But Matthews, who elected to return for his senior season at Texas A&M, stands out, in part, because of the family name.
“One of the biggest (reasons for staying in College Station) was the opportunity to play with my younger brother (Mikey),” Matthews said. “He started at center for us last year, and that was something (I) could never do again. … That was something real special, something I’ll always remember.”
Matthews, who considers Missouri’s Kony Ealy the toughest defender he faced in the SEC, is considered the most technically sound of the top tackles. But he also showed the ability to adjust while blocking for scrambling quarterback Johnny Manziel.
“It’s definitely different,” Matthews said. “Ever since Johnny took over, I’ve been answering this question — you really don’t know what to expect, he’s all over the place.
“But at the same time, you’ve got to take what comes with it because the guy makes plays. He’s proved it game after game. Like I said, I’m just trying to go out there and give him time and let him do what he does.”
Matthews has heard that NFL teams think Robinson has more upside.
“Being considered a polished player, someone who’s done a lot and played well in my life, I’ll take that as a (compliment),” Matthews said. “At the same time, I still feel like there’s a lot I can get better at. Definitely wouldn’t say I’m at my peak.”
Matthews believes that he can play left tackle in the NFL, but wouldn’t mind starting his career at right tackle. He felt toward the end of his senior season, that he was NFL-ready.
As a junior, he wasn’t sure if he was ready to make the jump. He believes there is competition between the top tackles in the draft.
“I mean they’re great players,” Matthews said. “But at the same time, I think I’m a great player, too.”
Some believe that Matthews could go as high as second overall to the St. Louis Rams and play for Jeff Fisher his dad’s coach with the Titans.
“I was just a kid running around when my dad was playing,” Matthews said. “There is that connection for sure. I would love to play for him.”
He credits his dad with helping him make the transition to the offensive line in high school. He had been a quarterback in youth football.
“I mean, having a Pro Football Hall of Famer help you figure out the position is definitely beneficial and helped to make me the player I am today,” Matthews said.
No matter where he lands, Matthews looks forward to putting a block on Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews III. The cousins train together. Also, trying to pick up a tip or two, Matthews has gone back and studied his dad’s game film.
“I think my earliest memory of him playing is when (the Titans) went to the Super Bowl in ‘99,” Matthews said. “He’s just a guy who played hard, finished, (and was) really impressive to watch. I’m proud to call him my father. … I’m trying to do the same thing he did, and if I could do half the things he did, I think I’d have a great career.”
Matthews just doesn’t know if he can get in nearly two decades in the league.
“It’s going to be hard to get to 19 years and 14 straight Pro Bowls, that could be difficult,” he said. “That’s a pretty lofty goal to shoot for.”