ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons picked up some badly needed protection for quarterback Matt Ryan, selecting offensive tackle Jake Matthews, of Texas A&M, with the No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night.
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 Houston Texans chose South Carolina defensive star Jadaveon Clowney with the top overall selection.
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, intent on providing more protection for Ryan, who was sacked 44 times last season. Lewan was selected by the Tennessee Titans at No. 11.
“I’m looking forward to being a tackle there for quite a few years,” the 6-foot-5, 309-pound Matthews said.
He certainly has quite the pedigree. His grandfather, Clay Sr., played in the NFL in the 1950s. His father, Bruce, spent 19 years with the Houston Oilers-Tennessee Titans franchise, a Hall of Famer who made 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 will be the seventh member of his family to play in the league, also 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. We’re just a bunch of guys who work hard and do things the right way and perform.”
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.
Matthews will surely move right into the Falcons’ starting lineup at right tackle, across the line from left tackle Sam Baker.
“Jake Matthews epitomizes exactly what we were looking for.” Dimitroff said.
Matthews will get a chance to face his cousin his very first year. The Falcons travel to Green Bay to face 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 coach Mike Smith and his 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.”