Size: Matthews has prototypical size and length for the left tackle position. He’s listed at 6’5”, 305 pounds and has shown more strength to generate push off the line of scrimmage than his former teammate Luke Joeckel.
Athleticism: Matthews is an impressive athlete considering his size. He’s not the elite level athlete that Joeckel is, but he has more than enough athleticism to take away speed rushers at left tackle, get to the second level as a run blocker, and make blocks in open space on screens. He doesn’t do this as effortlessly as Joeckel does, but he still does a good job of getting out of his stance and sealing off defenders when asked to wall them off.
Technique: Overall I am impressed with Matthews’ technique. He demonstrates consistently good hand placement and he sustains his blocks well. Once he gets his hands on you in pass protection you are generally taken out of the play, and that has to do with his length, hand placement and ability to anchor. He consistently shows that he can cut block, he gets in position to wall-off block well, and he drives his feet when drive blocking. He does leave something to be desired with his initial punch in pass protection (which is relatively non-existent) and while he shows that he can anchor there are times where he looks like he needs to get stronger in the lower body to deal with bull rushes more effectively. When I watched him against Texas as a sophomore he had a lot of issues blocking Alex Okafor thanks to Okafor’s hand usage. He slapped his hands away consistently and used it to beat him more than five times. Unfortunately I couldn’t contrast that to how he handled Okafor as a junior due to A&M’s conference change, but I didn’t see him struggle with that as a junior. I do want to see him replace his hands better after they are slapped away, but it’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on when I watch him as a senior in 2013.
Pass Protection: I have very few concerns about Matthews playing left tackle, and I don’t think there will be much of a drop-off from Joeckel on the left side. He consistently shows that he can mirror pass rushers off the edge, and has the lateral agility to take away speed rushes. He needs to work on shocking defenders with his initial punch, but once he engages them he does a good job of sustaining the block and not allowing counter moves. He recovers quickly and while he could get stronger in his lower half he does a pretty good job of anchoring against bull rushes. He seems to be pretty intelligent when it comes to blitz pick-up and stunts, but in 2012 defenses spent a lot of time trying to contain Manziel so they weren’t very aggressive up front.
Run Blocking: This is one area where I think Matthews is superior to Joeckel. He generates more push off the ball as a run blocker but still does a good job when asked to beat a defender to a spot and wall them off. He gets to the second level easily, engages linebackers well, and shows that he can generate a lot of push when blocking down on defensive tackles. He may not be quite as agile as Joeckel, but he is stronger and more effective when drive blocking.
Overall: Matthews looks like a top 15 prospect based on 2012 film and I even got to watch a couple of his 2011 games. Obviously I will be keeping an eye on how he transitions to the left side. I have no reason to believe he will struggle there, but stranger things have happened. I don’t anticipate that teams will approach Manziel very differently than they did last year- they will try to keep him in the pocket and avoid letting him use his mobility to hurt them. That should help make life easier for Matthews over the course of the year. Still, he will likely be matching up with the likes of Adrian Hubbard from Alabama, Chris Smith from Arkansas and Dee Ford from Auburn. He should be tested adequately and I expect him to live up to our expectations for him and end up as one of the top left tackles in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Projection: Top 15. Too many things can happen between now and April, 2014 to say that he’s a top 5 lock, and I haven’t even gotten to see him at left tackle instead of on the right side. I fully expect him to do well on the left side, but I want to see it before I say he is definitely going to go top 5-10.