Every year, there’s always a pass rusher who emerges out of nowhere to become one of the leading candidates in a draft class. While he doesn’t exactly hail from nowhere, but from Power Five member, Washington, not many analysts had him pegged as a guy to watch this season, and for good reason. He had only four sacks in the combined two years that he played prior to this season. He also couldn’t seem to break into the starting lineup.
All that changed in 2016, as Joe Mathis earned a starting spot and built a reputation as one of the most efficient pass rushers in the nation, racking up five sacks in four out of the six games he played. Those numbers might not sound great, but it honestly doesn’t tell the full story of just how disruptive Mathis has been from snap to snap.
Today we’re going to take a look at one of my early favorites in this upcoming draft, and why I think he’d be the perfect prospect to play right beside Bud Dupree.
Joe “JoJo” Mathis, edge defender, University of Washington
Combine results and measurables (*Note these will be updated when available.)
Weight: 255 LBs
Arm Length: N/A
40 yard dash: N/A
Vertical jump: N/A
Broad jump: N/A
20 yard shuttle: N/A
3-cone drill: N/A
Joe Mathis, as I said before, had barely done anything up until this season, but there’s a good reason underneath why he was unproductive for so long, despite being a 4-star recruit out of high school.
According to this great article from the Seattle times, Mathis was recruited by the former Huskies coach, Steve Sarkisian, and when he was replaced by Chris Pederson, Mathis voiced that he wanted out. Mathis wound up getting suspended for 2 games in 2014 after leaving the team for unknown reasons.
Mathis was immature, plain and simple, and he thought “He was the best thing ever.” That suspension turned out to be a turning point for him, co-defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. It was described by Kwiatkowski as “a damn near 180” for Mathis.
It was all in his control and he finally realized that. He changed his attitude with the way he was thinking about things and the way he was approaching things, and it has gotten better.”
No doubt a big reason for this complete 180 in his approach is because of of his son:
“I don’t go out anymore,” he said. “All I do is focus. Everybody in the hotel might be out doing their thing, but I’m watching extra film because I’ve got a mouth to feed.”
“Sometimes I’ll start tearing up,” he said. “I just don’t want him to have the life I had when I was younger. I look at it like I don’t want to let him down and I don’t want to let my teammates down.
“I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on me,” he added, “but that’s my motive.”
If it weren’t for all this, Mathis would probably not be the player he is now, and let me tell you that player is pretty darn good.
Mathis, like I said before, is way more disruptive than the sack numbers would indicate. He’s always finding ways to disrupt the QB. One of my favorite traits about Mathis is his heavy hands which really allow him to stone people at the point of attack. Adding onto that point, he’s athletic and pretty quick off the line, but his speed off the line is not just a way of beating tackles to the outside, no, he uses it by converting it into power, and it’s so effective that he can sometimes knock tackles on their rear ends.
In terms of trying to beat tackles on the outside, Mathis shows a remarkably good amount of bend for someone his size, and has shown flashes of being able to dip underneath offensive tackles. He’s got some variance in his developing arsenal of moves, showing off a good inside swim move that’s effective.
Of course being an edge defender means more than just rushing the passer. Mathis plays with really nice leverage in run game, and is very disciplined. What I mean by disciplined is that I never see him getting too aggressive trying to rush up the arch, rather he stays square and he sheds blocks with effectiveness (hands probably help in this regard).
Mathis also never seems to look uncomfortable playing in space, whether it’s dropping into coverage or being left on an island against a much shiftier player (you’ll see what I mean by this). I don’t know if I would call him twitched up, but he’s definitely a player you can play in space and not worry about him.
Of course this was all in one season, not even a season, 6 games, which is a relatively small sample size and that’s the question, can you trust him with such a small sample size and what of his foot injury? What if he get’s bad medical checks at the combine? These are questions that will be answered in the future but are here right now regardless.
Regardless of any those concerns, let’s take a look at Mathis and why I think he’s one of the most well rounded edge defenders in this class.
Positives: Heavy hands
What do I mean by heavy hands? I mean when you get your hands on that offensive linemen it’s very noticeable (vague, I know). You’ll see them often get jolted at the point of attack and it’s very common throughout his film.
You watch it closely you can see he kind of jolts the tackle a bit, and then when he disengaged, he essentially threw the tackle right off of him.
Having good hand usage is one thing, to have heavy hands at the point of attack only adds to that element of your game.
Positives: Converting speed into power
Some edge rushers have a lot of speed and some have a lot of power. Mathis has great power but also has enough speed that it’s quite noticeable when he’s able to convert that speed into power as he showed against Stanford.
James Harrison would love this guy, he’s using the speed bull rush with great effectiveness.
This play is just absurd. He gets his hands inside which, of course, will jolt the tackle but when he added that speed to it, it allowed him to blow right through him. Granted, this isn’t going to look so dramatic when he gets to the NFL where the tackles are much better, but not many edge rushers know how to convert speed into power. This is a very translatable trait for a player moving up to the next level.
Of course you need to see consistency when it comes to converting speed into power and, in the case of Mathis, you can go ahead and check that box.
Again, look where he puts his hands—right in the tackle’s chest. You push that offensive tackle back and work your way inside. James Harrison was great at two things in particular when it came to pass rushing, the rip move combined with his bend around the edge and bullying the tackle with that speed bull rush.
Mathis checks both boxes.
Positives: Ability to bend, dip and rip around the edge
I’ve always said this about Jarvis Jones, if he were more flexible in his hips and was able to bend the edge, he’d be a relatively decent pass rusher, even if he wasn’t the most athletically gifted.
Why is bend such a big trait to have to as an edge rusher? Well, if you aren’t able to threaten the outside, where are tackles going to expect you to win? Inside of course and really the only real way you’re going to be a semi-decent pass rusher is if you’re able to convert speed into power and you’re one of the best in using your hands.
Mathis has that to his advantage and it’s why he’s one of the higher upside edge defenders in this class.
Not many can dip that low underneath an offensive tackle, let alone one as big as Mathis. Most players you see this from look very lanky and kind of frail. He’s different to say the least.
Of course, though, what good is the bend if you don’t know how rip through offensive tackles, something Mathis will no doubt be very good at in the NFL.
This play goes from being a bull rush and he’s able get low and rip right through the tackle. If it weren’t for the double-team help from the guard, he definitely gets at least a hit on the QB. But of course this doesn’t go on the stat sheet.
If you need another play to convince you that Mathis can effectively use the rip move, look at this play against Oregon.
This is what I want to see in my bookend pass rusher—consistency. And he’s shown to be very consistent in being able to bend, dip and rip around the edge (granted for games).
Positives: Discipline in run support and can play in space
I honestly don’t know if you’re truly a good run defender if you’re unable to play in space. I know without a doubt that Joe Mathis can do so and this play versus Oregon says a lot about the type of athlete that he is.
This play still amazes me when I watch it.
I’m an Oregon fan and I just want to point this out, that is Charles Nelson, one of the fastest and shiftiest players on the team and not only is Joe’s discipline on this play fantastic because not only he doesn’t lose contain, but he’s also able to quickly stop himself and change directions towards Nelson and the fact that he’s able to mirror Nelson space. That’s absolutely absurd for a guy weighing about 255 LBs and it was probably the most eye catching play I saw from him.
What really impresses me though is how assignment sound he is against the run.
I don’t know the specifics of this run play, all I know is that there’s a pulling guard moving towards his side, he stays square, doesn’t get overaggressive gives the guard a good crack and secures the C gap.
You don’t know how many players would abandon their assignment here and take the bait inside. This is is not something you typically see at the college level, you don’t see a player coming out of college play with this much discipline very often.
If that wasn’t enough to convince you, perhaps this next play will.
First off, excellent arm over move right here, second, he not only works to the outside but he’s also able to stop, stay square and work his way back inside and make the tackle. I don’t know what else you want me to say about Joe Mathis against the run, he’s so disciplined, he’s an awesome athlete in space and he knows how to finish.
Positives: Mental Processing
As a EDGE rusher, it’s important to know what’s going on in front of you rushing the passer, like if an offensive tackle is over setting and leaving the inside vulnerable or if he’s leveraging too far inside (there’s a proper terminology for this that I’m probably not using) and leaving the outside open. Mathis knows what’s going on in front of him.
The right tackle completely over sets right here and Mathis swims back inside and is able to get to the QB. I don’t know how good or bad that offensive tackle is, but this is great mental processing by Mathis.
It’s not just a one time thing though, this is consistent throughout his tape (granted small sample size).
Once again the tackle over sets and Mathis sets him up by starting outside but spinning right inside which causes the running back, Christian McCaffrey to help inside but Greg Gaines beat his man and instead of the RB helping there, he had to help on Mathis.
These aren’t plays that go on the stat sheet but they’re very important in a game and should not be overlooked. Not just that but this shows that Mathis has a developing arsenal of moves that are at his disposal and that’s a sign of player who’s really growing into himself and he works hard on his craft.
Negatives: Small Sample size
I honestly can’t dock very much against him except the fact it was a small sample size. No one is going to be perfect every play and really other than like maybe one lapse or so a game. There’s not much you can say negative about him without him unless you’re grasping at straws and saying he might not be the fastest athlete.
All I can say is if he was able to show all of this in 6 games, I don’t know whether that’s a question mark or downright impressive, either way you put it, it can be a negative and both a positive, depends on your point of view.
Let me just cut to the chase, I have no clue if this guy will be there when Pittsburgh picks, his stock isn’t really going to be known till maybe after the combine. All I know is that I want this guy in a Pittsburgh Steelers Black and Gold uniform right beside Bud Dupree.
I have the utmost confidence this a person who can be a pro bowl caliber player, and be one of the most well rounded EDGE defenders in the league. I feel like he’d be a consistent presence, like maybe a Ryan Kerrigan.
Mathis is the perfect replacement for James Harrison in my mind. Tough, disciplined, good flexibility to bend the edge and a growing repertoire of moves that will no doubt come in handy when he’s terrorizing QBs on Sundays.
He looks, and plays like a Steeler.