After taking a month to review the 2013 NFL Draft, it is already time to look ahead to the 2014 class. In fairness, I will do my best to focus on senior prospects for the next few months and move to juniors/redshirt sophomores when the time is right. I am only taking pre-season evaluation notes for now, focusing on where prospects win and where improvements can be made. Therefore, treat these posts like rough drafts and not final opinions.
Notes for Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
Notes for San Jose State QB David Fales
Notes for LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
Notes for Miami (FL) QB Stephen Morris
Notes for Georgia QB Aaron Murray
Notes for Fresno State QB Derek Carr
Notes for UNC QB Bryn Renner
Every year evaluators seem to get excited over a real small school quarterback prospect. There is no doubt in my mind that this year’s offering will be Cornell’s Jeff Mathews. The big bodied, big armed passer stands out as a man among boys at times against Ivy League competition. However, scouts and coaches will have to decide if Mathews can win on a consistent basis by applying more than just his physical gifts.
Evaluators will be happy to see Mathews take snaps from under center, shotgun, and in pistol sets. There are plenty of formations incorporating multiple running backs, multiple tight ends, and/or multiple receivers. Obviously screens are incorporated to slow down the opposing pass rush, and every now and then the Cornell play calling gets creative. Mathews is the heart of the offense, asked to convert short and long gains in an offense that emphasizes the passing game.
As with every quarterback, I focus on the prospect’s footwork and pocket movement before noting their throwing prowess. Regrettably, this is where Mathews suffers the most. On three, five, and seven step drops, Mathews lacks consistency and balance, which in turn affects timing. The senior’s final step can get too narrow or too hurried and he does not spring off that back foot often enough, despite the time and space given to him. Mathews does not have the rhythm of a natural pocket mover. There are flashes of stepping up in the pocket and times where Mathews works off the first read, but the two are rarely in sync.
I would feel so much more comfortable seeing Mathews shuffle up and climb the pocket, but his movements are very elongated which makes avoiding oncoming rushers more difficult. Again, there are flashes of balance and composure, but Mathews relies on his arm and not his feet far too often when falling off his back foot or releasing from an unstable platform.
Now onto the positives, namely Mathews’ arm. He has more than enough velocity for the NFL game, and it is all generated from a Tannehill-like throwing motion from a Roethlisberger-esque body. You will definitely hear a comparison to the latter quite often throughout the draft process. Along with this velocity, Mathews does show some understanding of touch, putting a post route into the endzone on a rope but making sure to loft it over underneath defenders. Most of these touch throws show up in the intermediate or downfield sections of the field, as Mathews does need to dial back the heat on short throws more often. With that said, plenty of catchable passes were dropped in the three contests I watched.
Mathews loves attacking soft areas of the defense when facing zone coverage. That might read like an obvious statement, but the senior quarterback is at his best nailing curl or dig routes in stride. I do admire Mathews’ willingness to test the interior sections of the defense. He does focus on first reads, trusting his arm to make difficult throws on pre-determined patterns, so he is still learning to anticipate openings and timing.
A few other quick notes include a failure in sensing backside rushers and a tendency to leave the pocket laterally rather than trusting his offensive tackles to ride rushers around the circle. Mathews does get physical at the end of his runs, lowering his shoulder near the first down marker, but he doesn’t consistently stay up when contacted in the pocket. His size does help shed some hits, though.
Where He Wins
Mathews has the arm, namely velocity, to compensate for other deficiencies. His placement isn’t perfect, but the Cornell senior attacks windows and gaps in coverage in the intermediate and downfield sections of the field. He made some real wow throws in every game I watched.
Areas Of Improvement
I want to see Mathews play in rhythm, moving his eyes and feet at the same time. As previously stated, Mathews struggled to work through progressions and subtly move into space at the same time. They were two separate actions. I do worry he is not a natural mover in the pocket and struggles to deal with pressure in the correct manner. Some will say this can be learned, and others are in the opposite camp, but I will take a wait and see approach.