Texas A&M offensive lineman Jake Matthews, right, shakes hands with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Falcons as the sixth-overall pick in Thursday’s NFL Draft. (Reuters)
NEW YORK — Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews carried on a family tradition when the Atlanta Falcons took him with the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday.
That made him the sixth family member drafted in the NFL, including his Hall of Fame father, Bruce. He is the fourth of these Matthews players to be drafted in the first round, and he was selected the highest among them.
On the field, he is obviously the result of nature and nurture, performing with clinical precision and technique. He is expected to move gracefully into the NFL as a young star who can play any position on the line, even long snapper.
Matthews was the second offensive lineman taken in this draft after Auburn’s Greg Robinson was selected in the No. 2 slot by the St. Louis Rams. While Robinson may need to refine is rare skills while playing guard, Matthews, who protected Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, is expected to step in immediately and play left tackle, where he will protect quarterback Matt Ryan.
“I’m looking forward to protecting him for a long time, I tell ya,” Matthews said after being selected.
Matthews is part of a genealogical phenomenon featuring family bloodlines in the NFL that date back to his grandfather, offensive tackle/linebacker William Clay Matthews Sr., a 27th-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers (1949), who wrapped a four-year pro football career around a stint in the Korean War.
Grandad’s various football-playing descendants include, from Jake’s familial perspective:
• Uncle William Clay Matthews Jr., a linebacker and former first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns (first round, No. 12 overall, 1978) who spent 19 years in the NFL.
• Cousins Clay Matthews III, linebacker for the Green Bay Packers (first round, No. 26 overall, 2009), linebacker Casey Matthews of the Philadelphia Eagles (a mere fourth-round pick, 116th overall, 2011); Austin Niklas, a 2012 graduate undrafted, unsigned linebacker from the Air Force, and his brother Troy Niklas, a tight end at Notre Dame and underclassman projected as a second-round prospect in this draft.
• Siblings Kevin, a center undrafted in 2010 who played for the Tennessee Titans until 2012 and returned to them as a coach last year after missing the Washington Redskins’ final cut; and Mike, current starting center for Texas A&M (and already rated by those prophets at NFLDraftScout.com as the No. 1 of 79 centers scheduled to be eligible for the 2016 draft if they wait that long).
• Finally, there is Bruce Matthews, son of the original William Clay, brother of William Clay Jr. and father to Kevin, Mike and Jake.
Bruce, a dominant and versatile offensive lineman, set the Matthews’ bar highest, first being drafted No. 9 overall by the Houston Oilers in 1978, then with 10 selections as an All-Pro, a record-tying 14 times on the Pro Bowl roster and, ultimately, induction into to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
Jake is 6-foot-6, 308 pounds and maximizes his physical ability with a display of well-honed techniques reminiscent of those used by his Hall of Fame father, who could and did play every positions along the offensive line. Jake can do that and is even impressive as a snapper.
“I’d like to think I wasn’t grandfathered in,” he offered as a pun against his high expectations. “I hope I earned my way here. It is special the family I came from and the relationships I have with my dad and cousins and brothers who have gone through this process, so that’s really special and something.”