Nine years ago Commissioner Roger Goodell stepped to the podium in front of a packed Radio City Music Hall to announce the 26th pick of the 2009 NFL Draft.
“With the 26th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers select Clay Matthews, Linebacker, USC,” Goodell exclaimed.
After drafting defensive lineman BJ Raji out of Boston College with the 9th overall pick, the Packers traded away a package of early round picks to the New England Patriots in order to get their hands on long-haired pass rusher.
And Packer fans rejoiced. Management was finally investing in more defense after the teams struggles on that side of the ball in 2008.
But how would the California boy fit in to an NFL defense? And would his collegiate success transfer to the pros?
The Early Years
Matthews got off to a great start his rookie season making 36 tackles and recording 10 sacks while recovering three fumbles. His sophomore season was even better as he totaled up 13.5 sacks along with 54 tackles.
His pass rush and overall motor defensively was key down the stretch on the way to the 2011 Super Bowl win. However, after these first few dominant seasons the league took notice.
Matthews began to see consistent double teams while rushing the passer, and his sack totals and tackles began to fall. Between 2011 and 2013 he had two seasons with fewer than 8 sacks while failing to record more than 41 tackles each year. But yet he continued to adjust to offensive schemes and thrived once again in 2014, recording 11 sacks and 52 tackles.
In his first four seasons as a Packer, Matthews made the Pro Bowl all four years, was selected to first team all pro in 2010, and was named 2010 NFC Defensive Player Of The Year.
Tough Sledding In The Tundra
By the time 2015 rolled around Matthews was known around the league as one of the best edge rushers. However, as injuries racked up at inside linebacker he was thrust into an inside spot and his production fell off.
In 2016 Matthews made the move back to outside linebacker but struggled to regain his edge rush success. Injuries plagued him, and due to a lack of depth around him Matthews continued to be the main focus for offenses. Despite his struggles to stay healthy and rush the passer, Matthews continued to be recognized by his peers as he was still ranked 82nd on the NFL Top 100 players list.
To add insult to injury, the 2017 season was yet another tough one on Matthews production-wise. He totaled only 7.5 sacks and 27 tackles on another struggling Packers defense.
Beyond The Numbers
However, something that doesn’t show up on most stat sheets known as quarterback pressures or hurries is something Matthews continues to do. According to Packers.com, Matthews has recorded at least 12 quarterback hits with no less than 14 pressures the past three seasons.
Not only is Matthews still getting to the quarterback, but he is forcing arrant throws that lead to incompletions or interceptions. Along with these hurries, Matthews also continues to draw double teams game after game.
These double teams may hinder Matthews ability to get to the quarterback, but they allow players like Nick Perry, Blake Martinez, Morgan Burnett, or Dean Lowry to get an easier run into the backfield.
A Difference Making Career
Although Matthews now is 31 years old, has battled through a number of injuries throughout his career, and may not be able to play every down anymore, there is no doubt what he has done over his nine year career has made a huge difference for the Packers organization.
Not only has he led the defense for a number of seasons but he has also carried them through the playoffs and to a Super Bowl. During the 2011 playoffs Matthews racked up a Packers postseason record 3.5 sacks, and made a number of plays in the Super Bowl including a forced fumble in the 4th quarter.
Over the past year it has occurred to me that Packers fans have fallen out of love with the play of the outside linebacker. From complaining about him being “washed up” to yelling at the TV when he isn’t able to get to the quarterback on a given play, I’ve seen it all.
Yes, Matthews is aging but people have to remember the double teams he is facing on the edge lead to more openings for his teammates. When fans think number 52, they need to remember him for what he has done for the organization as a whole and the effort he continues to give, rather than the negatives from the past few seasons.
Looking To The Future
Now as the defense flips a switch and starts over with new Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine, a new part of the Clay Matthews Era begins. Pettine has already said in his time with the media that he loves having versatility on defense, and he thinks a player like Clay Matthews is a good fit for that.
Pettine says he believes in having versatile players on defense, and sees Clay Matthews fitting in nicely under that umbrella.
— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) January 24, 2018
Fans should be excited about a fresh start for Matthews under Pettine. A new start for him in a different scheme could give him a second wind in his career, and plenty of more opportunities to get to the quarterback.
So as seasons move on and Matthews time as a Packer dwindles, fans can’t forget what he has done for the defense and the organization as a whole. Not only has he taken the defense places, but he also helped put them on the map with him as the superstar.