Eagles' Jordan Matthews part of a prime crop of young receivers
Second-year wideout leads the Eagles and also is part of the stellar class of 2014.
OFFICIALLY, Jordan Matthews is a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
He goes to work each day at the NovaCare Complex. Dresses in a locker with Malcolm Jenkins on one side and Jon Dorenbos on another. Just across the way are Byron Maxwell and Bennie Logan.
But Matthews also belongs to another club that is growing more and more prestigious each week. The wide receivers drafted in the class of 2014 continue to thrive at an impressive pace.
"They've come in and had more production than any class I can remember," said Jenkins, who is in his seventh season. "The impact that they've had. The first two years have been outstanding. I can't remember a class that's been that deep, that's had that much production."
Matthews, for all his ups and downs this season, is still the Eagles' No. 1 wide receiver. He leads the team in targets (80), receptions (51) and yards (552).
Around the league, there's Sammy Watkins in Buffalo and Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in Jacksonville. Thursday night against Tennessee, Hurns had a seven-game touchdown streak snapped, and Robinson had 113 receiving yards. Miami's Jarvis Landry caught the fluky jump ball that beat the Eagles on Sunday.
Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin had 1,008 yards and nine TDs last season, but is out for 2015 after tearing his left ACL in August. Let's not forget Mike Evans, a monster at 6-5 who is coming to town Sunday with the Buccaneers; And of course, there's Odell Beckham Jr.
Used to be that receivers needed a year or two to catch up to the speed and complexity of the NFL. Not these guys.
"When you talk about the best receivers in the league, Odell is in the conversation, and it's only his second season," Jenkins said.
All present unique challenges, especially Evans, who has been targeted by quarterback Jameis Winston 53 times over the last four weeks as the Buccaneers have endured injuries to other wide receivers.
"You have to win at the line of scrimmage" against Evans, Eagles safety Walter Thurmond said. "You have to get him to dance around at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the timing between him and the quarterback. Hopefully, Jameis has to hold the ball a little bit longer where the pass rush can get after him or force him to overthrow the ball to our safeties on some of the deep routes that they run."
Thurmond said Evans reminded him of Detroit's Calvin Johnson.
Matthews recalled being at the Senior Bowl and essentially hearing crickets. Just about all of the top receivers that year were underclassmen: Beckham, Benjamin, Martavis Bryant, Brandin Cooks, Evans, Landry, Marqis Lee, Donte Moncrief, Robinson, Willie Snead and Watkins.
Pant, pant, pant.
"There's some good ballplayers in that class," Thurmond said. "It's just one of those things that you have to play sound technique. Those guys are having great careers so far. It's a good challenge (for defensive backs), for sure."
Eight rookie wide receivers had at least 50 catches in 2014, the most in NFL history. Previously, the class of 2011 had the record, with five (A.J. Green, Greg Little, Julio Jones, Doug Baldwin and Torrey Smith). Randall Cobb, who is now a star for the Green Bay Packers, also is a member of the 2011 class. He had only 25 catches his rookie season.
The classes of 1964, 1974, 1985 and 1988 produced multiple Hall of Famers, with 1996 possibly joining them (Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens).
The class of 2014 has a long way to go before Canton, but their early greatness is something Matthews is savoring.
"I'm real good friends with them, too," Matthews said. "I traded jerseys with Odell, traded jerseys with Jarvis. I'm actually going to Mike Evans' wedding next offseason."
A fine line
Malcolm Jenkins, whose locker is next to the one occupied by Mark Sanchez, was caught a little off guard by all of the media attention Sanchez received this week as it became apparent he was going to be the starting quarterback.
"Man," said Jenkins, grabbing some flip-flops and heading for the showers, "it had been real quiet around here all year."
Sam Bradford (concussion, left shoulder) and running back Ryan Mathews (concussion, groin) officially were ruled out for Sunday's game. Jason Peters (back) also did not practice on Friday. He's listed as questionable . . . Safety Jerome Couplin (shoulder) was placed on season-ending injured reserve and safety Ed Reynolds was called up from the practice squad . . . Tampa Bay wide receiver Vincent Jackson (knee) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder) were limited at practice on Friday and listed as questionable for Sunday's game.