FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons picked up some badly needed protection for quarterback Matt Ryan, selecting offensive tackle Jake Matthews of Texas A&M at No. 6 in the NFL draft Thursday night.
He certainly has a worthy pedigree.
Matthews will be the seventh member of his family to play in the league, including his father, Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews.
"He's been in the NFL since the day he was born," Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
There were three offensive linemen thought to be worthy of going as high as sixth, but Auburn's Greg Robinson quickly went off the board at No. 2 to the St. Louis Rams. The other two were still there after another possible Atlanta target, hybrid end-linebacker Khalil Mack, was snatched up by the Oakland Raiders at No. 5.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff took Matthews over Michigan lineman Taylor Lewan. No matter what, the Falcons were intent on providing more protection for Ryan, who was sacked 44 times last season.
"I'm looking forward to being a tackle there for quite a few years," said the 6-foot-5, 309-pound Matthews, who will start right away on the right side.
His grandfather, Clay Matthews Sr., played in the NFL in the 1950s. Bruce spent 19 years with the Houston Oilers-Tennessee Titans franchise, making the Pro Bowl a record 14 times. His uncle, Clay Jr., also had a 19-year career, including a stint with the Falcons at the end of his playing days. And, of course, cousin Clay III is a perennial Pro Bowler with the Green Bay Packers.
Jake was drafted three spots higher than his dad. Bruce was the No. 9 pick by the Oilers in 1983.
"That's one thing now I can rub in my dad's face. I was drafted ahead of him," Jake quipped. "But he was a great player. I've got a long way to go to catch up to him."
Matthews also will be following older brother Kevin and another cousin, Casey. And Jake has a younger brother, Mike, who starts at center for Texas A&M.
"We have a great reputation in the NFL," Jake said. "I'm going to try to keep that reputation going."
Ryan will surely be glad to hear that. He was pounded mercilessly by opposing defenses, who took advantage of a leaky line that had been left bare as Dimitroff focused on stockpiling offensive skill players in recent years. The Falcons also finished last in the league in rushing, another major problem that could be traced to the line and turned Ryan and the offense into a one-dimensional sitting duck.
The Falcons, who had hoped to contend for the Super Bowl after coming up just short the previous season, slumped to 4-12 for the first losing season of the Dimitroff era.
"Welcome to Atlanta," Ryan tweeted. "We are all excited to have you as a teammate."
The Falcons have other pressing needs to address — namely, a pass rusher and a free safety — but Dimitroff was stifled in his efforts to land another first-round pick. Still, he's confident of landing more quality players in the second and third rounds Friday.
"We're not going to be a team that just trades to trade," he said.
Matthews will get a chance to face his cousin his very first year. The Falcons travel to Green Bay to meet the Packers and Clay III, a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker, in a Monday night game Dec. 8.
"I'm fired up about it," Jake said. "Talking to my dad, some of his greatest memories in pro football were going against his brother. Clay is an All-Pro and a stud. It's going to be a huge challenge. But I know that's why Atlanta picked me. To go in and take care of the quarterback, take care of Matt Ryan. I'm going to go in and prove that I can."
Speaking by video conference from New York, Matthews said he felt all along the Falcons would take him. He had an official visit and a private visit with the team, coming away impressed by Smith and his coaching staff. The Falcons clearly took a liking to Matthews, right down to his footwear.
He is partial to cowboy boots, which he donned with his suit for the draft.
Someone asked his shoe size.
"Fifteen Double-E," Matthews replied, holding up the sole of his huge boot in front of the camera, blocking almost the entire screen. "Extra big."
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