“I’m going to go there and do that to the best of my ability because I feel like the better I do with that role, the more roles I can get later on.”
For receiver Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt football was a platform to showcase his offensive talents. In a mediocre conference, Matthews was undoubtedly the team’s best offensive weapon. Even when teams knew he was the target of the play, Matthews would still outplay the defense and carry the offense down the field.
As he arrives in Philadelphia, some of that “go-to guy” playing role will rejoin him.
One would figure Matthews will initially assume the role of a young Jason Avant, and play a key role in the offense. In Avant’s heyday of 2012, the veteran receiver encumbered the load for the team on third down situations. During Avant’s best year, 2012, he recorded 246 yards on 18 receptions. Avant averaged a first down on his 18 catches(13.7 yards per reception). Whenever the offense needed a drive jumpstart, Avant delivered. Matthews recoded nearly identical numbers, averaging 12.4 yards per catch on 19 r
eceptions. If Matthews translates his third down proficiency to the NFL, he will become one of the vital piers of the offense.
The biggest flaw with the 2013 Eagle offense was the tendency to go three-and-out. This was magnified by the team’s pace of operation, causing recoil damage to a defense that grew tired late in games. Part of the reason the Eagles left after three plays was that Avant, 30, was unable to create the separation that he used to find. With the youthful Matthews assuming Avant’s spot on the field, the team will be able to convert more third-and-long plays. Thus, the team will sustain more drives, and help keep a defense fresh while still operating quickly.
Another component of Avant’s game was his ability to bail out the return game. Too often in recent years, the Eagles have put out a subpar kick and punt return product. Lorenzo Booker, Bryce Brown, and Brad Smith represent the inconsistency of the position, leaving the offense deep in its own end. When the Eagles were inside their own 40 in 2012, Avant recorded 277 yards on 23 catches. Likewise, Jordan Matthews also averaged a first down on his own side of the field, snagging 54 catches for a total of 687 yards. Matthews will be crucial for the Eagles if the team once again faces return troubles. His speed advantage will help him get the offense into opponent territory through yards after the catch.
Arguably the hardest part of the field to play as a receiver, the middle of the field became property of Avant. He averaged 13.4 yards on ten catches in the middle of the field. The middle accounted for almost 20% of Avant’s 2012 receptions; not surprisingly, Matthews also called the middle home in college. His three inch height advantage over Avant makes him a more reliable receiver in traffic, as his extra bulk will protect him in crowded areas.
If Matthews can produce clutch performances the way Avant did, he will become a fan favorite in Philadelphia. In the fourth quarter of 2012, Avant recorded 20 catches for 246 yards. When the Eagles trailed by between one and seven points, Avant made 15 catches for 163 yards, catalyzing the offense when it needed a scoring drive. Likewise, Jordan Matthews recorded 27 catches for 274 yards when trailing by a close margin. Translation: if Matthews brings his clutch bag of tricks to the NFL, he will see himself rise to stardom sooner rather than later.
Matthews has the potential to not only replace Avant, but also outshine his previous work. If he blossoms into the player he is capable of being, he will become the main man in an offense that is loaded with talent.
Photo: Bleeding Green Nation