This post continues a series on Carolina players who will be hoping to be taken in the upcoming NFL Draft. Today we're looking at Cliff Matthews.
Measurements: 6'4 / 260
Career Summary: Matthews was one of the most highly rated recruits of the heralded 2007 class and is one of the guys from that group who made the most of his high billing, having started and excelled since his freshman year. In 2007, Matthews played OLB, and made the Freshman All-SEC squad for his work. In 2008, he moved to DE. 2009 was his best season, when he ranked among the SEC leaders in sacks and made second-team All-SEC. He was projected to be among the nations best DEs in 2010, but minor injuries and frequent double teams hampered his production throughout the early portion of the season. He finished strong, however, with powerful performances against Tennessee and Clemson. Matthews will be remembered fondly for his great leadership, hustle, and production.
What the Scouts Like: Matthews has remarkable athleticism, possessing a nice blend of size, power, speed, and agility. He has shown flashes of being an elite pass rusher from the defensive end position. He is also pretty good in coverage for a guy of his size and shows impressive form. He has the versatility to play DE and OLB. Lastly, Matthews is considered an extremely quality character and effort guy, someone who has always been known for his motor.
What the Scouts Don't Like: Matthews is going to be compared to Eric Norwood, as both are looked at by NFL scouts as hybrid DE / OLB. It's hard to see Matthews coming off too great in that comparison. Although Matthews is perhaps the better physical specimen, Norwood was the more productive player. Matthews never developed Norwood's brilliant array of pass rush moves, and he either is too small or not aggressive enough to overpower bigger offensive linemen. Despite Matthews devotion to his craft, it's always kind of seemed--other than during the 2009 season--that he's failed to quite reach his potential to be among the nation's elite DEs, instead hovering right around the margins of that group.
Are the Mocks Right?: Matthews is a tough case, as mocks have him anywhere from 3rd round to much later. Unfortunately for him, he hasn't really been able to spend as much time improving his stock this spring because he's been rehabbing his injuries. I could see him going anywhere. It all depends on whether some team in need of a DE thinks they can take him and transform him into an elite NFL DE. Some may look at his athleticism and say they have to have him; others will look at his stats and say he's not worth it. It will be interesting to see how things pan out for him.