-- From his prime vantage point Monday afternoon at Fairhope Stadium, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome could watch the kind of wide receiver he covets.
The Ravens have identified a need for a reliable, versatile presence on third downs to complement the speed of Torrey Smith.
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All of those traits were on display as the Ravens evaluated players during the first day of Senior Bowl practice Monday. Among those players was Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who showcased sharp routes and sound hands. An All-America selection who caught 112 passes for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns last season, Matthews is regarded by NFL scouts as a consummate possession wide receiver.
The Ravens could use a player such as Matthews after a season in which they finished 29th in total offense and often struggled to convert third downs. As part of a wide receiver class considered especially deep, Matthews is a strong prospect whom the Ravens might be able to obtain as late as the second round.
“He did a nice job, he had a great catch,” said Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, the coach of the South squad. “Real studious, real sharp on his assignments. The ability for him to transfer what he knew in college to what we're asking him, that's always the transition these guys go through, but he seemed to pick it up really quick.”
No Southeastern Conference wide receiver has ever been as prolific as Matthews, who holds conference records for catches (262) and receiving yardage (3,759).
Matthews also has an NFL pedigree: Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice is his mother's first cousin.
“My competitiveness, my willingness to prepare, that chip on my shoulder and then the constant grind,” Matthews said when asked to list his strengths. “My approach to football [is that] I never get complacent. I look forward to whatever's next.”
Matthews has good size at 6 feet 2, 209 pounds and is unpredictable enough in his patterns that he left Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin frozen for a moment Monday with a quick head fake before darting outside to pick up a first down.
After dropping a few passes during his first practice of the week, Matthews immediately headed off to the side after practice to catch extra passes to try to build some timing with San Jose State quarterback David Fales.
Matthews exercised his attention to detail before he arrived this week, requesting that Senior Bowl executive Phil Savage send him video of the defensive backs he'd be competing against.
“He texted me, ‘Hey, Mr. Savage, can you send me the list of corners, and if you have any tapes on those corners, I want to get ready for the game,'” Savage said. “I think this is going to be a pro's pro.”
Since so many talented juniors have declared for the draft, including Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin, the Ravens might have the luxury of being able to wait and draft a player such as Matthews in the second round.
“They can get whatever they're looking for at wide receiver,” said former NFL scout Bucky Brooks, an NFL Network analyst. “If they want a big guy that can replace what Anquan Boldin was in the middle, there's certainly enough big guys like that. There's also the explosive catch-and-run players who can complement what Torrey Smith does. It's so deep that they don't necessarily have to expend a first-round pick to do that. They can find those guys in the second and third round and there's a ton of playmakers.
“When you think about the composition of the wide receiver group, you have an explosive playmaker guy who can stretch the field in Smith, and Matthews is more of a possession type as a big-bodied receiver who can do things between the hashes. He can certainly fill that role. He caught a lot of balls at Vanderbilt.”
As a junior two seasons ago, Matthews caught 94 passes for 1,324 yards and eight touchdowns despite Vanderbilt's quarterback issues. During his final college game, Matthews led the Commodores with five catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns in a Compass Bowl victory over Houston.
Matthews doesn't lack confidence, believing he has the potential to become an NFL team's top wide receiver.
“Of course, I think I do, I think a lot of people do, but potential will get you fired,” Matthews said. “The biggest thing I'm trying to do is continue to work and bring that potential out and get to the point where I'm a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. Right now, I'm just a prospect. So, I got to continue to work like that.”
Playing at Vanderbilt for James Franklin, the former Maryland head-coach-in-waiting and newly named head coach at Penn State, Matthews studied Smith's game. He was also exposed to the skills of Green Bay wide receiver Jordy Nelson because of to Franklin's background as a former Packers assistant.
“I definitely say that he helped me along this road,” Matthews said. “He taught me some of the attributes that a complete wide receiver needs to have in working with Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Torrey Smith. That's a great example for me of somebody to go back and watch film on and see their mannerisms and how they go about the game, and I've [incorporated] some of those things to my game.”
One question regarding Matthews is his speed. He's expected to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.5-second range at the NFL scouting combine. That's a speed considered respectable, if not blazing.
“I feel like I have to prove stuff to myself,” Matthew said. “I'm the only critic that I feel like matters. I feel like I'm a harsh critic. I know people have told me that speed might be a concern but, if I know that, then I'm going to continue working on that for myself and make myself better in that area. You can't beat a competitor. If I go out here and compete, everything will fall into place.”