FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons selected Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews on Thursday with the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft in a move to protect the $120-million investment they made in franchise quarterback Matt Ryan last July.
While a much debated topic entering the draft was whether the Falcons would try to move up to the first overall pick to take South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, in the end, that was never really an option. Clowney went to Houston with the first pick.
"What we’ve said all along is we’re not trading to trade," said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. " … We played this out very well in my mind. We were patient. We didn’t jump for sake of jumping."
However, Dimitroff said the Falcons did try to get back in the first round later on but could not find a trade partner.
"We worked hard at it," said Dimitroff. "You have to have a dance partner. In the end we didn’t."
In Matthews, the Falcons got a player to help what was one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season.
Matthews called himself an aggressive player but also a technician.
"I’m a guy who knows what it takes to be able to finish," he said, "but at the same time not be overly aggressive and do something stupid."
He said he made an official visit to the Falcons and also had a private workout with the organization. He said he "always had a really good feeling" when he left.
"Really liked (head coach Mike Smith), coach (Mike) Tice, the offensive line coach," he said. "Really clicked and got along well."
Sam Baker, who has owned the starting spot at left tackle since he and Ryan entered the league in 2008, has had too many difficulties remaining healthy. Baker played only three games last season and, partly as a result, Ryan was sacked 44 times, third-most in the NFL, as the Falcons went 4-12. Baker had signed a six-year, $41-million contract last year with the Falcons.
Dimitroff was emphatic that would Baker would continue to play the left side while Matthews would become the right tackle, the position that was perhaps the weakest link on the offensive line last season.
Asked if the Falcons were projecting Baker as the left tackle, Dimitroff responded, "We’re not projecting. Sam is our left tackle."
The Falcons have made it a point to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines this offseason. Matthews joins free agents Jon Asamoah and Gabe Carimi as Falcons’ pick-ups to upgrade an offensive line that also ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards last season.
"He’s a good run-blocker with a good strong base," said Dimitroff. "He’s a got good wide load. He’s got very nice agility for his size. He has the ability to come off the ball, turn his butt to the hole and seal properly. We’re really excited about his versatility as a player. The ability to play the right side is going to be good."
Matthews fits in a mold that the Falcons like in that he has NFL bloodlines. His father Bruce is an NFL hall of fame offensive lineman and a former offensive line coach of the Tennessee Titans. Last season the Falcons drafted cornerback Desmond Trufant in the first round in part because he has two brothers who played in the NFL and they believed he would have an easier transition, an assumption that ended up working out.
"My entire career, I’ve tried to copy my dad," said Matthews via teleconference on Thursday. "He’s been a role model of mine since I was a kid. I always wanted to be like him. He was someone who went in and didn’t say much but worked hard and got things done. That’s kind of the same attitude I’ve had my entire career. I’m not going to change that."
Matthews is a third-generation NFL player, as his grandfather Clay Matthews Sr. played for San Francisco and Green Bay in the 1950s. Jake’s uncle Clay Matthews Jr. played 19 seasons for Cleveland as a linebacker. Jake’s brother Kevin, an undrafted player, has played the past three seasons in the NFL with Tennessee.
"He’s been in the NFL since the day he was born," said Smith. "So we’re all excited about that."
Matthews said he was looking forward to playing against his cousin Clay, the Green Bay Packers outside linebacker, when the Falcons visit Lambeau Field on Dec. 8.
"I’m fired up," said Matthews. "I talked to my dad. Some of his greatest memories are going against his brother. Finally get an opportunity to play against my cousin, who’s All-Pro and a stud. It’s going to be a huge challenge. I’m looking forward to it. I know that’s the reason why Atlanta picked me. They think I’m a guy who can go in and take care of Matt Ryan. I’m going to prove that I can."
Matthews also fits the Falcons’ mold in terms of being a smart, character player. He won the 2013 Bobby Bowden Award, which is given for high performance on the field, in class and in the community.
Matthews, 6-foot-6 and 308 pounds, is said to be a physical run-blocker. A major topic during the Falcons’ offseason has been the need to get tougher and more physical, something even owner Arthur Blank spoke of recently. Matthews ought to help in that regard.