Jordan Matthews and Odell Beckham Jr. had already developed a natural friendship during their days shredding Southeastern Conference opponents when the two college prospects roomed together on their trip to South Philly to meet with Eagles coaches before the draft.
When they were finished with their visit, which included dinner at Chickie’s and Pete’s, Matthews had a feeling that one of them stood a much better chance of returning quickly to Philadelphia than the other.
“Well, Odell knew he wasn't going to fall into the 20s [of the draft],” Matthews recalled this week after practice. “So he said, ‘Unless they trade up you won't see me here.’ So he knew he was going to go early.
“I was just praying I got picked up. We were kind of on different paths, but Odell is doing good. Just got back, he had a big play in the last game so that's what's expected of him.”
Beckham, the former LSU wideout and returner, wasn’t guilty of false impressions. He went 12th overall to the Giants, whom the Eagles play at the Linc tonight in a showdown between upstart NFC East rivals (see game notes).
Bogged down by a preseason hamstring injury that sidelined him for the first four games, Beckham made his season debut Sunday in the Giants’ 30-20 win over the Falcons. He caught four passes for 44 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown with about 10 minutes left with the Giants trailing by three.
Had the Eagles not been picking at 21 (before trading down) or had they been able to pull off a deal to move up, which general manager Howie Roseman said he tried to do, it could’ve been Beckham, not Matthews, suiting up for the home team tonight.
Chip Kelly didn’t hide his affinity for the explosive receiver whom he and his staff evaluated heavily during the pre-draft process.
“Explosive, really dynamic with the ball in his hands. Great with run after the catch,” Kelly said last week when asked to recall his scouting report. “Was an outstanding returner at LSU also. That's obviously kind of the same skill set that he had.
“He's got really, really good hands. You loved what type of route runner he was. He can get in and out of breaks. He's got long speed where he can beat you deep. But he's not just a linear guy. He can get in and out of breaks and change direction very quickly. Again, really, really good hands.”
Matthews isn’t the same kind of guy. At 6-foot-2, he’s much taller than the 5-foot-11 Beckham and heavier by a good 15 pounds. He isn’t nearly the speed demon, which is why Kelly has started Matthews off as an inside receiver.
In the slot, Matthews’ extra inches and pounds create favorable matchups against nickel defensive backs and his above-average speed is enough to separate against linebackers.
Matthews and Beckham built their friendship through social media, where they’d keep track of each other’s accomplishments as they ripped through SEC defenses. After the season, Beckham convinced Matthews to join him in Arizona for pre-draft training.
“So we both got to Arizona to go train for the combine and we got to know each other a little bit more,” Matthews said. “That's my dude, man. He's a great football player. His biggest thing is just getting healthy now. Now that he’s healthy, I pray that he stays healthy for his sake, he’s going to do his thing.”
Matthews described Beckham’s talent as “loose.”
“He's not going to be stiff, ever,” he said. “You're not really going to see him thinking too hard. His routes may look sometimes cerebral, because [you say], ‘Man, that is the perfect way to run a route,’ but it's really just him out there playing.
“Him and Josh [Huff] are very similar guys, same kind of receiver, both very smooth. They don't think too much and they just go and they play. They’ve got a real natural feel for the game.”
Matthews and Beckham were part of one of the richest wide receiver classes in the draft’s history. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins went No. 4 to Buffalo, followed by Texas A&M’s Mike Evans going sixth to the Buccaneers. Beckham went 12th, Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks went 20th to New Orleans and Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin went 28th to the Panthers.
Matthews was the second receiver taken in the second round, 42nd overall, behind USC’s Marqise Lee, who went 39th to Jacksonville. Lee is the only receiver taken among the top 42 who hasn’t yet caught his first professional touchdown.
“The thing about it was all of us had watched each other to a point so much that you get past the point of hate, where you were thinking, ‘OK, I think I'm better than this guy,’ to a point where you just respect his game,” Matthews said. “By the end of the recruiting process I could go see Sammy, I could go see Mike, Odell, Jarvis [Landry], Cooks, all those guys like, ‘What’s up, dog?’ and we would just sit there and talk like we had known each other for a long time.
“It was a mutual respect, so everybody wants to see everybody do good. After we played the Jaguars [in the opener] we sat on the field with Marqise for a while, me and Josh, and we just talked to him and he was saying, ‘Man, I want y'all to do good.’ And we wish him the best of luck, too.”
By Geoff Mosher | CSNPhilly.com | October 12, 2014