FOXBORO, Mass. — Jordan Matthews primarily has been a slot receiver during his NFL career, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll fill that role for the New England Patriots.
During his first meeting with the New England media Thursday afternoon, the 25-year-old wideout said he has no preference on where he lines up on the field.
“I feel comfortable anywhere, honestly,” said Matthews, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Patriots last week.
Matthews was not a slot specialist in college, but the Philadelphia Eagles already had two established outside receivers when they drafted him in the second round in 2014. So, in order to get him on the field, then-Eagles coach Chip Kelly positioned him almost exclusively inside. According to Pro Football Focus, 92.4 percent of Matthews’ targets as a rookie came from the slot. In 2015, that number was 92.7 percent.
That setup worked for Philadelphia. Matthews caught 67 passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014, then had the best year of his career to date the following season, hauling in 85 receptions for 997 yards and eight scores.
Matthews followed that up with another solid season in 2016 under new Eagles coach Doug Pederson (73 catches, 804 yards, three touchdowns) before being traded to the Buffalo Bills last August and watching his productivity plummet. He caught just 25 passes for 282 yards and one touchdown in his lone season in Buffalo and missed six games with injuries.
Pederson and Bills coach Sean McDermott both showed more of a willingness to move Matthews around. He lined up in the slot on 67.1 percent of his targets in 2016 and 73.1 percent in 2017.
“When I came into the league,” Matthews explained, “it was just a situation where we had two guys that were very experienced on the outside in Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, so Coach Kelly really wanted me inside just to learn and to kind of help guys get situated. And that was a place where I had a lot of production early on, so that’s kind of where I got put for the rest of that time. But I’m confident in both areas (in the slot and outside), so whatever the team wants to use me at, I’m comfortable with.”
It will be interesting to see how the Patriots use Matthews this season. At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, he’s much bigger than a typical New England slot receiver (see: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, Troy Brown) and could follow the same path as players like Chris Hogan and Brandon LaFell, who shifted from the slot to the outside upon arriving in Foxboro.
Matthews currently looks like the favorite to earn the No. 3 receiver spot behind Edelman and Hogan, but he’s also not guaranteed a roster spot. His contract includes just $170,000 in guaranteed money — meaning the team easily can cut him if he’s not up to snuff — and the Patriots’ roster currently features 10 wide receivers, eight of whom have NFL experience.
Asked for his thoughts on that deep wideout group, Matthews called it “the best thing ever.”
“I think that’s what really is going to breed greatness in all of us,” he said. “At the end of the day, if you don’t have that type of competition, I feel like that’s the easiest way that guys start saying, ‘OK, this guy is a rookie. This guy’s young. This guy has no production.’
“But I feel like we have a group of a lot of guys who are not just competitors, but they also have had production in this league, so they’re proven. So it’s not just potential — no, there’s a lot of production. So I think that’s one thing to really be excited about, but also, there’s a lot of great guys. I’ve been spending some time around Julian, talking to him, so I can’t wait to meet the rest of them.”
Matthews acknowledged the challenge of learning the Patriots’ notoriously difficult playbook but doesn’t believe he’ll have any issues.
“I know I can do it,” he said. “It’s not a situation where I’m always like, ‘OK, I’ve got to make sure I know this guy, this different variable and all that stuff.’ I’m used to (it). I (was traded to) to Buffalo after Week 1 of the preseason, so I had to learn a whole playbook by the next practice. So that’s not something that really scares me. It’s something, actually, to get excited about, so I’m looking forward to it.”
He added: “I went to Vanderbilt. … My mom always tells me I’m smart, so I guess she’s right.”