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Rumblings Scouting Report: USC LB Clay Matthews III

USC OLB Clay Matthews (trojanwire)

As the 2009 NFL Draft approaches, the editorial staff at Buffalo Rumblings will begin profiling draft prospects that may end up being potential targets of the Buffalo Bills.  jri111 drew the assignment of profiling the top linebackers in this year's class. In the spotlight today:  USC's Clay Matthews.

Aside from defensive end, one of the biggest needs identified by the Rumblings community is the linebacker position.  We started our examination of the position by profiling Wake Forest's Aarron Curry.  Although Curry would be an ideal fit in Buffalo's 4-3 defense, he is expected to be long gone by the time the Bills' No. 11 pick rolls around.  Thus, in an effort to target players that the Bills actually have a chance of drafting later this month, we will examine other linebackers not named Curry.  Today, we look at the first of three USC linebackers, Clay Matthews.

Along with his USC teammate Brian Cushing, Matthews has recently been at the center of speculation regarding mandatory steroid testing at the Combine.  First it was rumored that he tested positive.  Then Matthews' agent issued a denial.  More importantly, in Matthews' denial, it was stated that the league office has not yet released test results to NFL teams, ultimately meaning that we don't know - nor does anyone else really know - whether Matthews used performance enhancing drugs.  However, until that time, we will analyze Matthews with the assumption that he is "clean."

To help analyze Matthews' game, Paragon SC of Conquest Chronicles was gracious enough to take time to answer some of our questions. 

Clay Matthews, III - Linebacker, USC
6'2", 240 lbs, 4.57-second 40-yard dash
2008:  56 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 0 INT

Lots of potential. Good size; very strong, tough and competitive. Good tackler.  Natural pass rusher off the edge.  Versatile - has the ability to play all three linebacker positions in the 4-3 and with his hand on the ground as an occasional pass rusher.  Good initial hand punch to pop the blocker and disengage.  Very good instincts.  Non-stop motor.  Has a knack for making big plays.  A special teams standout, he was named co-special teams player of the year twice by USC - 2005 and 2006.  Great intangibles - high football IQ, unmatched work ethic and top-notch bloodlines.

Lack of experience (only 10 games as a starter).  Sometimes he prefers to run around blocks rather than take them on.  May be some what of a 'tweener with no true position.  Not the most athletic player.   May struggle in coverage; hands are below average.  Doesn't have the size to play DE on a regular basis.  Some injury concerns (broken thumb and fractured metacarpal which required surgery).  Overachiever.

Things to Know
Arrived at USC and made the squad as a 166-pound walk-on linebacker/tight end.  Only Idaho offered him a D1 scholarship.  He was the fourth person in his family to play football for USC.  Father, Clay Matthews, Jr., played 19 years in the NFL (1978-1996), the first 16 with the Cleveland Browns, and made the Pro Bowl four times.  His uncle, Bruce Matthews is a Hall of Famer who made the Pro Bowl 14 times. Special teams standout who didn't earn a starting position until the third game of his senior season. Pac-10 Academic All-American with a 3.06 GPA in international relations.

What did Paragon SC have to say about Clay Matthews?

BR: What are his strengths?

Paragon SC: Matthews is in that "high speed, low drag" style of play where he just continues to move. He is a tough, versatile player that can play either outside LB or DE. His ability on special teams is very impressive, as he makes impact plays and always finds the ball carrier. He is disruptive on the ends and makes a lot of plays in the backfield. Very opportunistic and always around the ball.

BR: What are his weaknesses?

Paragon SC: He can be too aggressive at times and will have match-up problems in coverage. Less than stellar hands/ball skills. Because of his speed he is a great blitzer but he will try run around blocks instead of through them.

BR: Does he project better as a 4-3 OLB or a 3-4 OLB?

Paragon SC: He can play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Because of his great range and instincts he can play all 3 LB positions.

BR: Anything different/special about him that we should know?

Paragon SC: Clay Matthews has been the biggest surprise this season. Matthews is a former walk-on who was under the radar at the start of his senior season. He got his start on special teams in his freshman season and he took off from there. He comes from a solid football tree where his father (Clay Jr.), grandfather (Clay Sr.) and uncle (Bruce) all played in the NFL.

Much more after the break...

By the Numbers
40-yard Dash: 4.67 (fourth best)
10-yard split: 1.49 (top among LBs/DEs)
20-yard split: 2.68
Bench Press: 23 reps*
Vertical jump: 35.5" (fifth best)
Broad jump: 10'1"(third best)
3-cone: 6.90 (second best)
20-yard shuttle: 4.18 (second best)
60-yard shuttle: N/A

Ability to Rush the Passer?
Matthews' outstanding 10-yard split time - best among pass rushers - indicates that he has an outstanding first step, which is vital for pass-rushing success in the NFL (check out this article from National Football Post for a great read regarding the 10-yard split).  Matthews didn't just measure well though; he backed up his timed results with production:  9 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2008.  Here is what New Era Scouting had to say about Matthews' pass-rushing skills:

As a senior, Matthews played the "Elephant" position, which is a standup rush end out of a 3-4 base. His best move is a straight, outside speed rush which is based on getting a great burst off the snap.

NFL Comparison?
New Era Scouting
has that covered:

Could be as good as: Mathias Kiwanuka, New York Giants
Worst Case: Bobby Carpenter, Dallas Cowboys

Reviewing the Tape

Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Clay Matthews at USC Pro Day - 4.1.2009

2008 Highlight Video via CaliforniasGold:

Does he "fit the Bill?"
Short answer:  98% yes.  Ideally, Matthews would be best suited for an OLB in a 3-4 defense, but he does have the versatility to excel in a 4-3 as well.  Matthews has an unmatched work ethic and a knack for making big plays - two major pluses in the eyes of Bills talent evaluators.  I would have two minor concerns with drafting Matthews.  The first is experience.  Matthews has less than a full season of starting experience at USC, which may make it hard to gauge his true abilities.  Second, Matthews has questionable coverage skills.  How he would hold up in the zone coverage employed by Buffalo remains a mystery.

Other Scouting Reports and Rankings
Draft Countdown
New Era Scouting
CDS Draft
Walter Football

Again, many thanks to Paragon SC of Conquest Chronicles  for providing his insight on Clay Matthews!