1) Introduction: When Packers general manager Ted Thompson made the unusually aggressive move to trade back into the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, the jaws of many fans and draft “experts” hit the floor. The thinking went that if Thompson was doing something this big, he must have his sights on someone he REALLY likes.
The pick? Some guy named Clay Matthews, a linebacker from USC.
While Matthews was expected to contribute to the defense immediately in 2009, no one could have expected this former walk on to turn into the big force he is today so soon. Matthews has become the focal point on the Packers defense for opposing offenses, often drawing double teams despite having just completed his second year in the NFL.
With his long flowing locks and a motor on the field that never stops, Matthews has already become a fan favorite in Green Bay and should be one of the best linebackers in the NFL for years to come.
Height: 6-3 Weight: 246 lbs.
3) Expectations coming into the season for that player: Coming off his rookie season where he set a Packers rookie record for sacks in a season with 10, there was a sense around the organization that Matthews had potential to develop into a special player. Matthews started 13 games as a rookie and returned to his starting role for 2010. He was expected to evolve into the newest playmaker in a linebacking corps that included veterans Nick Barnett, AJ Hawk, and Brandon Chillar.
4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Matthews started the season on fire, racking up three sacks in each of the first two games. While he never racked up multiple sacks the rest of the regular season, Matthews always seemed to appear wherever the football was.
Perhaps the biggest play of the regular season for the Claymaker was a 62 yard interception return for a touchdown in a victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Matthews showed his coverage ability and his speed that would play crucial roles as the Packers continued their march towards their date with destiny.
There weren’t many lowlights for the young linebacker, but a nagging hamstring injury forced Matthews to miss one game and limited his practice time for a fair chunk of the season.
5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Matthews draws a lot of attention from opposing offenses, so with No. 52 often facing double teams this would then free up another one of the Packers’ multiple playmakers on defense to step up and have an impact. Ever the team player, Matthews was only too happy to see his teammates have some success as well.
6) Player’s contribution during the 6-win end-of-season run: The Claymaker returned to full time practice just as the Packers started on the run that led to the Lombardi Trophy, and the fact that they coincide should surprise no one. Matthews, while not necessarily racking up sacks, was still a disruptive force that made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. His ability to play coverage and deflect passes was key in getting the Packers to Super Bowl XLV. In the Super Bowl itself, it was Matthews who forced a key fumble by Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall that helped keep the Packers ahead and stall a Steelers drive that was looking like it could end in the end zone.
Season Report Card:
(A) Level of expectations met during the season
(A) Contributions to team’s overall success
(A) Contributions to the team’s successful playoff run (last six games)
Final Grade: A——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke