The New England Patriots finished their last week of organized team activities (OTAs) on the practice fields, in the weight rooms and in the classrooms (and on field trips) after three days of mandatory mini-camp last month. While the media has focused on the quarterback and tight end finally showing up, the real headliners are the new faces in Foxboro this spring, such as wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
In the offseason, the Patriots signed former Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills slot wide receiver Jordan Matthews to add some additional depth to the slot position with Amendola leaving and 2016 leading receiver Julian Edelman returning from missing all of 2017 with a torn right ACL.
The signing took on even more importance with word that Edelman is facing a four-game suspension to open the season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
Matthews signed a one-year bargain deal for just $1 million and $700k in incentives with only $170k guaranteed (per Albert Breer of MMQB/SI). There is little risk for the Patriots signing a slot wide receiver who just two seasons ago had 73 receptions for 804 yards in Philadelphia in 14 games (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
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Productive in Philadelphia
Jordan Matthews put up big numbers in his first two seasons in Philadelphia putting up a combined 152 receptions for 1,869 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first 32 games in the NFL.
Philadelphia committed to Nelson Agholor in the slot heading into 2017 (a wise move, in retrospect, after he shredded New England’s secondary in Super Bowl 52) and traded Matthews to Buffalo for cornerback Ronald Darby (another move that paid dividends in 2017 for the Super Bowl champions).
Jordan Matthews struggled mightily in Buffalo in 2017 falling behind due to injuries. He had a chipped sternum in training camp and followed that up by fracturing his thumb during the regular season. He only played in ten games and had just 25 receptions for 282 yards and one touchdown. Matthews finished the year on injured reserve as he required surgery on his knee and ankle.
Jordan Matthews’ Role in New England
For Jordan Matthews, 2018 is about rebuilding his value and setting up his next contract. Matthews turns 26 as training camp kicks off and the 2014 second-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt hurt his value on the open market playing in a new system with Tyrod Taylor and Nathan Peterman as his quarterback after having caught passes from Nick Foles, Sam Bradford, and Carson Wentz previously.
Matthews should be able to take advantage of the extremely accurate Tom Brady behind center in 2018. He has a huge opportunity in 2018 to start strong with slot receiver Julian Edelman likely suspended the first four games of the season. He works primarily in the slot and no other receiver in the NFL gained more yards in the slot from 214 to 2016 (per PFF).
Matthews is a different type of slot receiver than New England is used to having in the offensive system. Instead of a shorter, shiftier receiver like Troy Brown, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola or Edelman, Matthews is almost six-foot-three and is a solid 212 pounds and the definition of a possession receiver.
He is not a vertical threat but he has soft hands–in fact, he is consistently and is quick in between the hash-marks. He can use his body to shield defenders from the ball and is comfortable with traffic around him. In addition, he is able to separate after catching the ball and is excellent at gaining yards after the catch.
Jordan Matthews was looked at initially as a replacement for Amendola and primarily a third-down receiver in three and four wide sets and at the goal line. With Edelman out, he should have a chance to carve a larger role in the offense and maintain a status in the offense with more playing time after the first four weeks of the season.
To do that he has to stay healthy. He missed two games in 2016 and then only was active for ten games in Buffalo last year. Even when healthy, Matthews failed to produce consistently. He had two games with 61 yards receiving in the first three weeks of the season but topped 21 yards receiving in a game just once afterward. New England’s 23-3 early December win over the Bills was the last anyone saw of Matthews on the football field in 2017.
The 2018 season is about the opportunity for Jordan Matthews: opportunity to make an impact on the field and opportunity to rebuild his value for free agency in 2019. With his size and wingspan, veteran route-running ability and lack of drops, he should quickly become a favorite of quarterback Tom Brady in 2018.
If he can get on the same page with the quarterback this summer, Jordan Matthews can go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Julian Edelman in the short-term and give the offense another dependable target over the middle of the field on third down.