The Seahawks have signed former Kentucky and CFL star WR Chris Matthews. Matthews visited the Seahawks back in early January and until recently had been apparently deciding between two teams on where to sign for his NFL comeback attempt. Seattle evidently gave Matthews a nice enough signing bonus to coax him to the Northwest, and he'll head into the offseason likely trying to grab ahold of Sidney Rice's (likely vacant) role in the offense.
Matthews has probably been on Pete Carroll's radar for some time; he played football and basketball in Los Angeles at Dorsey High School and went to junior college there as well. He's the cousin of the late Reggie White, and the athletic bloodlines show up with his 4.5 timed forty speed and excellent 6.90 3-cone drill time from his Pro Day in 2011. That's very good for a 6'5,219 pound player. That short-area burst should help as he looks to get off press and/or run quick intermediate range routes underneath and in the redzone.
Matthews has an intriguing history of production at each level he's played - he started in the JUCO ranks at Los Angeles Harbor College, and his last year there he caught 80 passes for 1,235 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had 61 receptions for 925 yards and nine touchdowns his final year at Kentucky, went undrafted, signed with Cleveland, and after impressing in camp before ultimately being cut, he caught on in Winnipeg with the Blue Bombers, where he won the CFL's rookie of the year award after catching 81 passes for 1192 yards in 2012. He was frustrated by several injuries in 2013.
According to a CFL source, Matthews has very solid hands. He's not very fast, but in 2012 when he wasn't banged up, he won quite a few contested throws. While he had that very good season in 2012, he dealt with back and turf toe injuries that limited him to five games in 2013. His agent has speculated that Seattle try him somewhere in between the tight end and slot receiver position to mitigate his lack of speed.
Here's some tape on him from Kentucky and Winnipeg.
Here's what intrigues me about Matthews: Apart from the great production he's had at each level he's played thus far (which I think is important - he's a player, not just a great athlete), he's a noted jump ball specialist and seems focused heavily on blocking. His college bio even points this out, noting he had "excellent height and the ability to battle a defender for the tough catch ... Has been an outstanding blocker in the run game." Those two attributes are big for the Seahawks, for obvious reasons.
As Matthews told Kentucky.com after his Pro Day workout in 2011, "Basically, I just want to prove that I'm an every-down receiver. I can do anything they want me to. I told them I can go inside or outside, motion or go down and block linebackers - anybody who they want me to block. It's a team thing. I'm just trying to do everything that I possibly can to help out a team when I get to that team." Blocking. That's big.
CBSSports provided a scouting report on Matthews from 2011:
Positives: Tall receiver with strong hands to catch throws over the top of smaller defenders, even when challenged. Height and vertical give him a great advantage on jump balls downfield. Creates separation with the ball in the air with long arms, tracks the ball well in the air (even over his head). Defeats jam with strength and hands. Owns body control to adjust for passes while in the air. Uses head fake to sell double moves. Fair strength as a run blocker, willing to punch and extend to take smaller defenders out of the play is coming his way. Gives effort to block downfield if ballcarrier is in his area.
Negatives: Strider who takes time to get to full speed. Does not explode off the line, especially slow if challenged. Rounds speed-out and corner routes too much. Takes extra steps on stop and comeback routes, allows corners to read him. Inconsistent hands, capable of extending well outside his frame for errant throws but also loses concentration and allows throws into his body. Lack of short-area quickness allows corners playing off coverage to elude him on run blocks. Little upper-body muscle development.
Another interesting nugget that may be important is that several of Matthews' biggest games at Kentucky came against Florida (six catches, 114 yards, two touchdowns) and South Carolina (12 catches, 177 yards, one touchdown). Pete Carroll and John Schneider have alluded to their interest in 'gamer' types that have the capability to be their best in big games. In an interview on 950KJR, Matthews' QB in Winnipeg, Alex Brink, also mentioned that his former receiver had the 'grit', work ethic, and desire to make in the NFL. Not everyone would subscribe to evaluating these intangibles, but they're noteworthy nonetheless.
As for Matthews' possible role in the offense - look at what Sidney Rice was brought in to do. Sidney Rice is/was valuable for the Seahawks for two main reasons - his excellent catch radius and ability to grab high/low passes that most players could not, and his very underrated blocking in the run game. Assuming Rice becomes a cap casualty, it will be interesting to see if Matthews can make any noise in these two areas.
He's still only 24.