In what’s being billed as the best weekend of college football yet, many are overlooking the Arkansas and Texas A&M game. Not only are both teams 3-1, but it features one of the more intriguing pro prospect battles of the weekend between Texas A&M LT Jake Matthews and Arkansas DE Chris Smith.
Before the season, Matthews was labeled as a potential top-five pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, while Smith was looking like a fourth to fifth rounder. Fast forward four games and Matthews is still looking like a top-five guy while Smith has absolutely erupted, looking more like first-round talent with a size deficiency.
Matthews started the season rockier than he would’ve liked as he gave up a sack against Rice in Week 1. But what people need to remember is that it was his first game on the left side. All throughout his career, Matthews was on the right side while some dude named Luke Joeckel (No. 2 overall pick in 2013 NFL Draft) manned the blindside. Some may not think there’s a big difference between left and right tackles, but there’s a lot more to it than just switching your stance. A little getting used-to was expected with the transition, and he looks like he’s fully adapted going into the matchup with Smith.
Through four games this season, Smith has already racked up 5.5 sacks, tied for first nationally. Dating back to last season, Smith now has 15 sacks in his last 15 games, which is astonishing considering much of it has come against SEC competition.
Smith (6-foot 3, 255-pounds) is giving up a lot of size to Matthews (6-foot 5, 305-pounds), so he’s going to do everything he can to take advantage of his most lethal asset: his speed. Matthews is going to need to neutralize that by getting his hands on him to control his chest. Needless to say, unless it’s a sure running down (which is impossible to know with the Aggies offense), Smith is going to doing his best to fire off the ball and get up field and set the edge.
Matthews has good feet. But if he stops moving his feet (which he has a tendency to do), Smith will blow by him, also setting up a potential counter-move inside.
Another thing to remember is that Matthews is blocking for Johnny Manziel, so there’s never really a traditional ‘pocket’ to protect.
This is the best pure-speed pass rusher Matthews will have faced this season, and it’s a crucial test. Smith, meanwhile is going against one of the best tackle prospects in the country. These are the kinds of match ups that NFL personnel men salivate over. Two prospects who are competing for different NFL Draft goals. One looks to be a top-five pick, the other looking to be a first rounder.
I doubt we’ll be disappointed watching this key battle.