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Falcons tap into NFL royalty to protect Matt Ryan

The SportsXchange

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A few hours after making the Atlanta Falcons' pick in the first-round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, head coach Mike Smith slide in a chair in a co-worker's office and relaxed.

"I'm glad we didn't bring him down here right after the pick, he was fired up," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.

In their several mock drafts leading up to the event, the Falcons went through countless scenarios. Several played out, but few had Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews slipping to the No. 6 pick in the draft.

Smith was elated to land Matthews, a two-time All-American and all-SEC first-team selection. He will immediately be plugged into the starting right tackle position.

The Falcons have talked repeatedly this offseason about adding toughness along the offensive line after quarterback Matt Ryan was battered last season. He was sacked 44 times, third-most in the NFL. The Falcons also averaged 77.9 yards rushing per game in 2013, last in the NFL.

Matthews was happy to be selected by the Falcons.

"I know that's one of the reasons why Atlanta picked me; they think that I'm a guy who can go in and take care of Matt Ryan," Matthews said.

Sam Baker will stay at left tackle and Matthews will be pushed ahead of Lamar Holmes, who was forced into action last season after Baker and Mike Johnson suffered season-ending injuries.

"We talked throughout this process about improving our team with tough, rugged football players, and Jake Matthews epitomizes exactly what we were looking for," Dimitroff said. "He is a solid finisher and has good pass-protection skills. He is the type of player that we are always looking for here in Atlanta - guys who are willing to work and those who come in and embrace the team concept."

Matthews will be expected to help stabilize the unit immediately.

"We had a number of people tells us about Jake's work ethic, his study habits, and his passion for the game," Smith said. "He played in 52 games at Texas A&M with 46 starts and was a captain as a senior."

However, Jacksonville, in a surprise move, selected Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles with the third pick, helping push Matthews down to the Falcons.

Many draft analysts projected that Matthews, whose father, Bruce Matthews, played 19 years in the NFL, was headed to St. Louis to play for Jeff Fisher, who coached his dad.

However, the Rams drafted Auburn tackle Greg Robinson with the second pick.

Matthews, who is 6-feet-5 and 308 pounds, comes from one of football's top families. His father was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

He's also the grandson of Clay Matthews Sr., nephew of Clay Matthews Jr. and cousin of Clay Matthews III and Casey Matthews, who all have played in the NFL. There are local ties, too. Matthews Sr., played at Georgia Tech, and Matthews Jr., had a stint (1994-96) with the Falcons.

He already has the Dec. 8 game against Green Bay circled on his calendar, when he will square off against Clay Matthews III, the Packers' fiery pass rusher.

"I'm fired up," Jake Matthews said. "I talked to my dad, and some of his greatest memories were going against his brother. To finally get an opportunity to play against my cousin, who's All-Pro and a stud, is going to be a huge challenge. I'm looking forward to it."
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