The conversation about Jordan Matthews isn't about what he did in his tremendous rookie season, which we already know. It's about how much higher his ceiling goes, and what it means to the Eagles offense moving forward.
In a Year Of The Rookie Receiver in the NFL, Matthews ranked among the very best with his 67 receptions, 872 yards and 8 touchdowns. He handled the responsibilities of the slot position – a complicated, fast-moving spot – with veteran polish and poise. The Eagles identified Matthews during the pre-draft process as a receiver they wanted, a player who fit the mold of what they do offensively, and he came in and delivered.
"We looked at him as 'that's the guy we want.' He has been everything that we scouted, everything that we thought he was," wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell said. "I haven't been around too many rookies that can handle as much as he has handled."
Good move, then, having Matthews in the slot. He created favorable matchups with his big body and his ability to separate using his hips, shoulders, hands and quick feet. Matthews ran excellent routes, recognized coverages and enjoyed great working and trusting relationships with quarterbacks Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez.
Now what? What is the next step for Matthews? Is he the slot receiver here for now and forevermore? Do the Eagles want to see him move around the formation and take reps at all three wide receiver positions?
"I don't know," former Eagles wide receiver and current radio analyst Mike Quick said. "He played outside at Vanderbilt and played well and I don't see why he couldn't play outside if they wanted to play him there. I don't see any problems for him. He's fast enough and he can create separation. I just think he's really talented. There are down sides to every player in the league, but I look at the upside of this kid and he's so willing to do whatever. You don't see this kind of effort and willingness from everybody in the league, much less rookies. Jordan wants to be great and he wants to put in the time to be great.
"What he did as a rookie was very impressive. He knew he had a lot of hard work in front of him and he knew he had a lot to learn. He didn't let himself get caught up in any of the hype or the scrutiny. That's big. He obviously has the physicals – he has the body, he has the speed and the hands – and there are things that he brings to the table that all rookies don't bring. I think it's going to serve him well."
Matthews' experience in the slot will help his overall understanding of defensive concepts and awareness of the variables on each play, from every formation, and in all situations. By playing inside, Matthews had to concentrate on linebackers and safeties and cornerbacks in coverage and even on a defensive lineman dropping into zone coverage. It was quite an education, and it will help Matthews play faster and advance in the mental part of the game.
But let's get back to the question: What are the Eagles planning with Matthews? Surely he's a large part of what head coach Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur want to do in the passing game. They are in the process now of reviewing 2014 and the entire offense, and they no doubt will be pleased with the performance in every phase from Matthews. How much more do the coaches want to add to a wide receiver corps that produced at a very high level in 2014? The Eagles "reconfigured" the group after the '13 season to become bigger and more physical. Jeremy Maclin returned from an injury and caught 85 passes, scored 10 touchdowns and gained 1,318 receiving yards. Riley Cooper had a career-best 55 receptions. Josh Huff, a third-round draft choice, showed some explosiveness in limited action and figures to push for more time in 2015.
Do the Eagles feel they need to bring in more weapons? Do they want to keep things the same? Is Matthews' role moving forward going to largely stay the same, as a dominating slot receiver, or do the coaches see him as a more effective weapon outside the hash marks?
"I know that I need to get a whole lot better in every area," Matthews said as he cleaned out his locker the day after the Eagles beat New York to close out 2014. "That's the only thing I can focus on. Work hard and enjoy it. That's what I'm going to do, and then whatever the coaches ask me to do, I'm going to do it."
We'll see how it shakes out, and how much more the offense wants from Matthews. He's going to be a key piece, no question about that, and the only wonder is the manner in which the Eagles will get the ball in the hands of a talented rookie who is going to take another leap in his career with an offseason dedicated to making himself the best he can be.
"By next season, Jordan should understand every position, should see things more clearly and simply should be a better player," said Quick, who caught 10 passes for 156 yards as a rookie in 1982 and then improved to 69 receptions, 1,409 yards and 13 touchdowns in Year 2. "He will have so much more knowledge and he'll be able to apply himself because of that. He'll be out there playing and reacting, instead of thinking and that's going to make a big, big difference."