The Saints went into the 2016 NFL Draft with huge needs on the defensive and offensive lines. They proceeded to draft two defensive linemen, a safety, a wide receiver, and a running back. One problem was seemingly addressed, while the other remained in question. But as the Saints always do, they were quickly on the phone lines locking down talented undrafted players. Six of whom are offensive linemen.
One of those linemen who will be fighting for a roster spot is Ryker Mathews from Brigham Young University. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound mauler from American Fork, Utah played in 45 games for the Cougars, starting 33 over the course of his college career. He finished his time playing left tackle, but Mathews also played right tackle and both guard positions at BYU, and even got time as an extra tight end in jumbo packages.
Often unfairly considered a poor athlete, Mathews impressed at the BYU Pro Day in March. He recorded a 5.05 40-yard dash, a 28.5 inch vertical leap, and 23 reps on the bench press. This surprising athleticism makes him a candidate to stick on the outside.
What makes his Pro Day numbers more surprising is that early in his college career, Mathews suffered a series of significant injuries.
In the 2012 season, Mathews played through a torn labrum in his shoulder as a freshman. Following the season, he suffered severe hip injuries that required him to get double hip surgery. He returned to the field in time for the start of the 2013 season, but was not the player he was expected to be when he was first recruited to Provo.
In 2014, Mathews put his down year and injuries behind him to regain his form, and played well enough to get himself on the Outland Trophy Watch List for 2015 – the award given to the top lineman in the country.
While he has adequate athleticism, Mathews’ best trait is his vice-like grip that he employs on defenders once he gets his hands on them. He does a good enough job mirroring defensive linemen with short, quick steps in pass protection, and shows the technical savvy of a four-year starter in his downhill blocking on run plays.
He is a large man, and displays a good amount of power once he gets his hands on defenders, but his quickness off the snap is lacking. This leads to problems on the inside and outside of the line as his strength alone will not be enough to lean on in the NFL with the level of quickness exhibited by defensive ends and tackles.
It is unlikely that Mathews will earn a starting job if he makes the roster, but he offers the kind of versatility that coaches like to see from reserve players. It is that kind of versatility that got Zach Strief, Senio Kelemete, and Tim Lelito on the roster, and all of them could be starting in the fall. Mathews could be the next to follow in their footsteps.