Now that draft euphoria was worn off, let’s meet the Packers’ second first-round pick:
Clay Matthews III didn’t start as a 166-pound linebacker his Junior year in High School, even with his father as his coach. Nor did he start a college football game until the fourth game of his senior season. He played as a stand-up DE, not a linebacker, when he finally became a starter.
Clay Matthews III was not even rated by NFL scouting services coming into his senior season. He also started a “White Nation” Facebook group as a Junior in College as a joke.
Are you worried yet?
Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers traded a second-round and two third-round draft picks for the opportunity to select Clay Matthews. Giving up all of that for a player with only 10 starts in college and taking him in the first round? Does this not go against all logic?
Logic would dictate that Packer fans should be (as always) calling for Ted Thompson’s head. Just what exactly was this pick based on? If you look at it closely, it’s really based on three things:
G.A.P.—Genetics, Attitude, and Potential.
You can bet that Thanksgiving Day at the Matthews household includes a few footballs being thrown around before dinner.
Clay’s grandfather played DE for the Forty-Niners in the 1950s. His father was an All-American linebacker at USC and played 19 seasons in the NFL. Ans his uncle, Bruce, was an All-American offensive lineman at USC, also played 19 seasons in the NFL and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of fame.
“He’s got some interesting traits that are not unlike his father,” said Ted Thompson, “The Clay who played for Cleveland for a long, long time. He’s got the ability to extend his hands and leverage against offensive linemen and stay on his feet…I just think he brings a lot to the table.”
Obviously, Clay Matthews III has great bloodlines. If football players were bought like racehorses, he would have sold at auction for a lot of money.
But this is the NFL—do bloodlines really mean that much? Probably not, but it certainly can’t hurt, so we have to look at it as a positive.
Matthews has been told his whole life that he was too small, too slow and not good enough to be a football player.
In High School, his own father wouldn’t start him as a junior. Even after a growth spurt, hitting the weight room, and having a good senior year, major colleges weren’t interested.
His father tried to convince him to go to a small school where he could play, but Clay insisted on going to USC and trying out as a walk-on.
Pete Carrol kept him on mainly out of respect to his USC-alumni father and brother.
“I thought it was intriguing,” USC coach Pete Carroll says of Matthews’ arrival, “He had that big family background here. So I thought, ‘OK, is there some magic in here somehow?’ But I didn’t see it. He just looked like a nice, hardworking kid who was undersized, just not physically able to match up.”
His teammate, Rey Maualuga says of him, “I just remember how little he was. But he was always in the weight room three times more than anybody else.” Indeed, as Matthews was named USC’s top weightlifter on the team three times.
Against all logic, Matthews was confident he could succeed at USC, home of five-star prospects and blue-chip players.
“I knew if I came to USC and they gave me a shot, that I could play”, says Matthews, “I also knew if I was going to hang with these guys, I’d have to work really hard and be really persistent. I just kept working and working and getting bigger and faster and better. I knew I was capable of playing with the best athletes in the nation. Maybe I was crazy to have that mind-set, but obviously that’s better than saying you can’t.”
After a red-shirt season in which Matthews grew into his current 6’3″, 240lb frame, the hard work and never-say-die attitude got Matthews on the field as a special teams player.
He had great success in that role, being named special teams co-player of the year three times. As a senior, Pete Carroll wanted to get his athleticism and pass-rushing ability on the field, so they moved him to the ‘elephant” DE position, where he became an important contributor to the USC defense.
“Clay is the most famous walk-on we’ve ever had here at USC,” said Pete Caroll, “Because he’s done so much and he’s come so far. He’s really transformed his whole makeup. It’s a remarkable story, I think, because he was just a skinny kid who wanted to play football. Now here he is, a tremendous player on our team, and he’s going to be a tremendous player on the next level, too.”
That magic word that can be used to turn a negative into a positive. For example, you can say that Matthews has limited experience, having only started 10 football games in college. Or you can say that Matthews has only just begun to scratch the surface of his talent and has potential to continue his rapid development.
NFL Combine results are, in a large part, a measure of a player’s potential. Matthews shined at the combine, recording a 4.58 40-yard dash, 35.5″ vertical jump, 10’1″ broad jump, and an above-average Wonderlic score of 26.
The Packers staff watched a lot of tape on all three USC linebackers. Reading through their comments after the draft, it’s obvious they felt Matthews had the most “potential” to become an impact player for the Packers.
So Ted Thompson decided to pull the trigger on this trade, which even he admits was a little one-sided on paper. The Packers could have had three new players for our team instead of one. With only ten college games to use as a track record, what did he base this trade and pick on? G.A.P.
I’m cautiously optimistic, but Packer fans better hope that turns out to be enough.——————
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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.