2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown – Jeff Mathews, QB Cornell

The Ivy League always seems to find a way to have an impact on the NFL Draft and 2012 was no exception as H-Back Kyle Juszczyk was a fourth round pick out of Harvard to the Baltimore Ravens, offensive tackle J.C. Tretter was a fourth round pick out of Cornell to the Green Bay Packers, and defensive end Mike Catapano was a seventh round pick out of Princeton to the Kansas City Chiefs.  This year, the Ivy League could have a much bigger impact on the NFL Draft headlined by Cornell’s talented quarterback, Jeff Mathews.

Although the success has not shown up in the win-loss column, Mathews has not gone unnoticed.  After taking over the starting job as a true freshman, he was named the 2010 Ivy League rookie of the year.  In 2011, he was named the Offensive Player of the Year in addition to setting a number of team and league records.  In 9 games this past year, Mathews threw for 3,196 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions as he missed their game against Monmouth with a neck injury.

It is important to keep in mind that the Ivy League does not offer athletic scholarships, so unless these kids earn academic considerations, they are paying their own way.  In that respect, they are taking on a full course load, playing football, and paying an incredibly expensive tuition all at the same time, so they have to really, really want to be successful to push through all of it and be terrific at football.  That does not mean they are necessarily better than anyone else trying to get into the NFL, but it is notable and a testament to their work ethic in chasing down their NFL dreams.

As long as he stays healthy, Mathews should be able to have another terrific season on the stat sheet, but as Cornell was only 2-8 his freshman year, 5-5 as a sophomore, and 4-6 as a junior, the individual accomplishments may take a back seat to going out on a winning note his senior year.  The individual achievements are great, but winning more games would probably be the most meaningful accomplishment, especially since one of the victories his junior year was the one he missed due to injury.  Whether or not he is ultimately able to lead the Big Red to a winning record this year will have minimal impact on his draft stock at all, but it would make everyone feel better if he can help them get over the hump this year and have a successful season as a testament that he elevated the talent of the team around him.

Mathews has the prototypical size, arm talent, and accuracy to be a tremendous NFL quarterback and while he needs to improve his quickness with his feet and avoid throwing off of his back foot, he appears to have the talent to not only be a good quarterback, but one of the best in the upcoming draft.  There will be a share of doubters because of the level of competition, so the post season All-Star games such as the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game will have more significance for him than anyone else to confirm what many already believe, but at this point, based off of the talent he has shown, Mathews is a first round caliber quarterback.

Vitals & Build

Mathews is listed at 6’4” 221lbs and has an impressive build for the position, where he looks larger than life often times when standing next to his teammates at Cornell.  He is a big, strongly built guy, especially in his legs and appears to have the potential to continue gaining strength and get to around 230lbs by the time of the draft; perhaps bigger, which is good because he does not move terribly well so he can use all the bulk he can get to survive the hits he is subjected to behind Cornell’s offensive line.

Arm Strength

While he is not quite in the same league as the elites in terms of arm strength, Mathews has the strength necessary to push the ball down the field in terms of distance and the zip to fit passes into tight windows, both of which he demonstrates fantastic control.  He has more than raw strength and velocity to fit in any system in the NFL and with that caliber of talent around him, it might stand out that much more.

Accuracy & Touch

Mathews is incredibly impressive with his accuracy, the best attribute in his game, and as long as he has the time to set up and make throws, he has shown he can carve up defenses with terrific precision.  This is especially important considering the offense Cornell has him operate in throws a ton of quick, short passes that rely on him to be accurate consistently for them to be able to put together scoring drives.  Mathews can throw sideline passes, timing routes in the middle of the field, and the accuracy to attack down the field.  Not only does he throw the ball accurately, he puts the ball in places where his receivers can catch the ball but the defense has trouble stopping.

The biggest issue that can be made of Mathews’ accuracy is ball placement; putting the ball further in front of his teammates rather than on them on timing routes.  This is nitpicking Mathews and that is how accurate he is consistently and that is attempting to attain perfection rather than simply being great, but that is how effective Mathews has shown to be in this area.

Mathews is an excellent passer when it comes to displaying touch and it makes him that much more effective as a passer.  He has demonstrated he can throw the ball early and lead his receiver toward the sideline, putting the ball just over the defender but in a perfect spot for his receiver to catch the ball.  Mathews is also able to make throws to the sideline and drop passes in the bucket to his teammates.  There are more than a few throws he is able to fit into incredibly tight windows over the shoulder for his receiver to make the catch.

He also demonstrates the ability to zip the ball into tight windows, especially when it comes to the middle of the field.  Mathews has a terrific fastball and combined with his accuracy, he is able to make bullet throws that find their way through the defense and right to his target.  Mathews has shown the ability to know when and to what degree he needs touch on his throws and the accuracy to make them count.  He is extremely impressive in this area.

Mechanics & Footwork

In terms of mechanics, Mathews positions the ball down in front of his neck and brings it back behind his head and then fires with a quick, snap motion.  If a coach was going to tweak it, they would probably want Mathews to hold the ball slightly higher and perhaps a little further back, but it is not something that requires messing with; merely something that could be adjusted to help him be slightly quicker.

Mathews tends to throw overhand but he will also slip down to ¾ as he deems necessary, but the ball comes out quickly and easily from either platform.  He is able to get the ball out quickly and while he will have the occasional pass deflected, it seems more an indication of luck and fortunate timing by defensive linemen doing their due diligence rather than an issue with what Mathews is doing.

Mathews’ footwork is another matter.  He is efficient with his footwork and how he uses his steps, but his footwork is slower than ideal.  Mathews is simply not a quick footed guy, so he has to make his steps count and he does for the most part.  He has a slight issue with hopping where he bounces when he gets into his drops, which is something he will want to eliminate or at least reduce, because it makes it difficult to set up and get rid of the ball quickly when pressure is bearing down on him.  It just seems like a bad habit he has picked up or it is possible it is something that he was coached to do.  Mathews could definitely benefit from some band training to try to speed up his feet, so he can get back to his drops more quickly and set up to throw the ball faster.

While Cornell predominately operates from the shotgun, they do operate from under center from time to time as well and Mathews knows the right steps to get into his drop back and is able to throw on time and in rhythm.  Unless the play from shotgun calls for a quick pass, he also has a drop when he is in shotgun which also has him on time and in rhythm.

When it comes to throwing the football, Mathews needs little or no space as he takes a small step in order to get rid of the ball.  As a result, while his feet are a little slow, he is able to get rid of the ball quickly as long as he is set up and in a position to throw the ball.  Mathews is also able to throw the ball on the move and is comfortable and balanced when does it, enabling him to throw the ball with accuracy.  And he has the arm strength to easily throw the ball with velocity and strength on the move as well.

Pocket Awareness

Mathews’ pocket awareness is somewhat of a mixed bag.  He is absolutely fearless in the pocket and is perfectly comfortable standing in there, finding his guy, and taking a hit if he needs to do it to make a good throw.  The other side of this is that Mathews is so fearless and brave in the pocket that he has a lot of instances where he does not feel the pressure coming and will take some bad sacks he simply does not feel coming.  And because of his lack of quickness with his feet, he has an incredibly difficult time avoiding pressure and is somewhat of a sitting duck in the pocket.

There are certainly instances where Mathews will throw off his back foot, which has definitely had its share of bad results, but he has taken some nasty hits in his time and gotten up, stepping in and throwing the ball on many occasions.  Mathews is mostly able to avoid pressure by getting rid of the ball quickly.  Occasionally, he will make a guy miss by understanding how to operate in the pocket to avoid the rush and that is something that could really help him in the future if he can continue improving in that area as to this point he has to see it coming to avoid it.

Decision Making & Anticipation

In many of the plays Cornell runs, the first read is a quick read to get the ball out as fast as possible to keep pass rushers honest and make it so they cannot just come after Mathews from start to finish.  On the plays where Mathews needs to find the open guy, he is able to scan the field effectively and find good options to get the ball.  Failing that, he throws his guy open.  Mathews has been able to move his receiver with the football and put them in a position to catch the ball.  That ranges from finding spots to put the ball on timing passes where receivers are running across the middle or to the outside and he puts the ball over their shoulder or leads them to a spot where they can make a play and the opponent cannot to having a receiver who has cut back to the quarterback, but is not wide open, so Mathews uses the football to put him in a better spot and make the catch.

Mathews has shown the ability to throw a spot rather than needing to throw to his receiver and throw passes before the receiver comes out of their break.  He has been able to do this on flag and post corner routes as well as out routes and plays across the middle.  The result is that when Mathews is on his game, he can operate the offense and throw almost exclusively and the defense is unable to get a hand on the football unless they get it at the line of scrimmage.  Not only does Mathews look extremely decisive and impressive while doing this, it is incredibly deflating to the defense to have him put passes in spots they are powerless to stop and they are praying they can get to him before he throws the ball or that they fail on their own accord.

Because of the speed of the game at the Ivy League level, there will be an adjustment period to making the jump to the speed of the NFL and being able to anticipate receivers.  Once he gets acclimated, he should be able to carry over this skill to the next level and be able to operate in the same way.

Mobility

Mathews is not a terribly mobile quarterback and even if he can improve his foot speed to help him maneuver in the pocket better and setup more quickly to make throws, he is never going to be a great runner.  He is an imposing force when he moves, especially against the Ivy League competition and he will still be a good sized quarterback in the NFL, but he is not a threat to pick up much yardage as a runner.  And if there are teams that are exclusively drafting quarterbacks for mobility and their ability to run a read option or some other variation of an offense that requires their quarterback to be mobile, Mathews is not the guy for them.

Mathews can roll out a little bit and get outside when that is the design of the play, but he is someone that can be chased down from behind by defenders with good closing speed.  He is a strong guy and will overpower some guys who try to bring him down, but his best weapon is always his arm and getting rid of the football before the opponent can get to him not unlike a guy like Peyton Manning.

The good news is that because he is relatively immobile in the backfield, the offensive line tends to know where he is going to be, so they know where they need to keep the opponent blocked.  The bad news is that when he is unable to get rid of the ball quickly, he has a little bit of wiggle in the pocket, but is more or less a sitting duck.

System Fit

As long as he is not being put in a system that expects him to be mobile with the ball in his hands and make plays with his legs, Mathews can play in any system.  Vertical or horizontal, he has shown the ability to perform in both at a high level.  Protect him, give him some guys who can make plays for him, and let him carve up the opponent.

Mathews would almost certainly be better off sitting a year to make sure he gets acclimated to the speed of the game, but he most certainly has the potential to not only be a starter and play at a high in the NFL based on what he has been able to demonstrate to this point in his career.

2013 Schedule

Sat, Sept. 21 vs. Bucknell
Sat, Sept. 28 at Yale
Sat, Oct. 5 vs. Colgate
Sat, Oct. 12 vs. Harvard
Sat, Oct. 19 at Monmouth
Sat, Oct. 26 vs. Brown
Sat, Nov. 2 at Princeton
Sat, Nov. 9 at Dartmouth
Sat, Nov. 16 vs. Columbia
Sat, Nov. 23 at Princeton

Notable Games

The games that stand out for Mathews are Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth.  These are the three games where Mathews played his worst last year, so coming back and improving upon his performance or leading his team to beat them would not only help his case for the NFL but simply be a meaningful victory for the Cornell program.

NFL Comparison

It may not be the most ideal comparison, but Mathews is similar to Bernie Kosar.  The former Miami Hurricane and Cleveland Brown was extremely intelligent coming out of college as he was able to graduate in two and a half years and ultimately opted to go into the supplemental draft where he went home to be the starting quarterback of the Browns as a first round pick.  Kosar was incredibly intelligent in his ability to break down defenses and his accuracy and ability to know what the defense was going to do before they did.  Kosar was an effective quarterback before a lack of protection and an unholy beating took their toll and he was ultimately released in a moment that will forever live in Cleveland sports infamy.  He was able to go play for his former college coach, Jimmy Johnson, with the Dallas Cowboys and was needed to come in for Troy Aikman where he was ultimately able to lead them to a win that enabled them to go on and win one of their Super Bowls.  Kosar’s throwing motion was anything but orthodox as he threw with an awkward looking side arm delivery, but he was able to succeed with it.  Replace the side arm throwing motion with a more conventional one, but keep the same level of immobility, accuracy, intelligence, and size and there is Jeff Mathews.  Hopefully, Mathews will be able to have better help around him, but they operate much in the same way and can be extremely successful for the same reasons.

Draft Projection

Based on what he has been able to show at Cornell to this point in his career, Mathews resembles the traditional pocket passer that NFL teams are always looking to find, even if they are occasionally distracted by mobility and guys who can run from the quarterback position.  His mix of accuracy, arm strength, and awareness on the field are incredibly well suited for the NFL and while there are going to be questions coming out of the Ivy League, he will have the opportunity to demonstrate they are not a problem.  With All-Star games like the Senior Bowl and Shrine Game, he will have a chance to show, albeit a somewhat unrealistic and truncated one, that he not only that he can compete with players on the highest level, but that he can excel there.  Joe Flacco needed that post season opportunity to really cement his status as a prospect when he was coming out of Delaware and it could be the same way with Mathews.  Despite the level of competition, the skills Mathews has look as though they can translate to the NFL and will enable him to be successful and in that respect, Mathews looks the part of a first round player.  Mathews needs to improve his foot quickness to help his overall ability to maneuver in the pocket and he needs to avoid throwing off of his back foot which has led to turnovers, and he just needs to continue playing at a high level and he should be a first round pick next April unless something unforeseen comes up in that time.

Topics: 2014 Mock Draft, 2014 NFL Draft, Cornell Big Red Football, Jeff Mathews, Quarterbacks

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