Last season, fans and media alike spent a lot of time dissecting the performance of Jake Matthews: a left tackle with strong bloodlines, a sixth-overall pick, a potential franchise cornerstone battling All-Pro defenders and a nagging foot injury. In 2015, however, the 23-year-old has quietly flown under the radar. If one were trying to gain perspective on much he's grown, that silence would be a good place to start.
The Texas A&M graduate has taken a big step forward in his development during his sophomore campaign, thanks in large part to good health and an offensive blueprint that, from Day 1, put him in a position to succeed. As Kyle Shanahan mentioned last week, O-linemen who don't get noticed are often the ones playing the best, and that's certainly been the case here.
"We don't like a lot of attention, especially my dad. I think we all got it from him," Matthews, the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, told the AJC. "We kind of like just doing our job, and that's part of it."
Matthews' pass protection has been especially impressive this season: According to Pro Football Focus, he's one of three OTs to line up for 600-plus pass blocking snaps and surrender just one sack this year. Moreover, he's been whistled for only four penalties—the third lowest figure among starting LTs.
He's improved in the run game, too, as evident by his crucial block on Devonta Freeman's touchdown against Carolina. When Freeman broke to the left side and found open space, the only Panther standing in his way of the end zone was Charles Tillman. Tillman would have no legitimate chance to make a play, though, as Matthews laid a near-perfect block on the veteran safety, giving Freeman a clear path to the goal line.
Through Week 16 he's earned a positive run block grade on PFF, a significant uptick from 2014 when he was deep in the red.
"I thought in the run game you really see his feet and the movement on the outside zone," Dan Quinn said of Matthews. "That's when he's at his best. When we get him out, I think it was clear to see on the touchdown run with Devonta and him pulling and getting outside. That's when man, he runs his feet, you just see the speed and the quickness in the way that he comes off the ball."
Matthews' emergence should be viewed as an important step in the retooling process. It's mighty difficult to find a young, reliable left tackle, and having one in tow means Atlanta has taken care of one of the most important spots on the depth chart. And it'll go a long way toward getting the Falcons back to playoff contention in 2016.