On Clay Matthews, the draft and production

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
2:00
PM ET
In the aftermath of Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews' record-setting contract extension, and as we look ahead to next week's draft, it's worth a reminder about the middling impact of college production on pro projections.

We all like to cite college statistics and instinctively feel more comfortable about a receiver who caught 80 passes his senior year. We like our defensive ends to have hit 10 sacks against inferior competition. We want our running backs to have broken the 1,000-yard barrier.

Absent such production, even NFL talent evaluators need to find a credible reason. Did the scheme limit a defensive end's ability to get upfield? Was the receiver playing with a deficient quarterback? Did the running back play behind a poor offensive line?

As the chart shows, the Packers needed to address those questions for Matthews, who had just 4.5 sacks in his senior season at USC. Part of the analysis was a relatively late physical development that took him from a 166-pound high school junior to a 240-pounder in his final college season. It was also fair to note that Matthews played alongside two other elite college linebackers, Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga.

The Packers felt strongly enough about Matthews' potential that they traded back into the first round to select him No. 26 overall. For his part, Matthews had more sacks by Week 12 of his rookie season than he did during his entire college career.

In many situations, college production can be a reliable projection tool. In Clay Matthews' case, it was not.

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