Tyler Matakevich concedes he needs to brush up on his football history. He is not as familiar with the NFL’s iconic middle linebackers, such as Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke, as he would like to be.
But does Matakevich, the Steelers’ second seventh-round pick last week, consider himself an old-school linebacker like them?
“Yes, sir,” he said soon after coming off the field after his first NFL practice Friday. “See the ball, go get the ball”
Matakevich drew the most media attention of the 54 players who were available after the first workout of Day 1 of the Steelers three-day rookie camp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
That’s not typical for a seventh-round pick, but Matakevich is no typical seventh-round pick.
Matakevich is coming off a season in which he swept college football’s major awards recognizing the nation’s top defensive player (the Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski awards), and he was the soul of a Temple team that arguably was the best in the program’s history.
So why wasn’t Matakevich drafted higher than 246th overall, just seven spots removed from the infamous Mr. Irrelevant?
“Nowadays, everyone is always worried about the size and the (combine) numbers,” Matakevich said.
Those aren’t kind to Matakevich: 6-feet tall, 238 pounds, 4.81 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 7.19 in the three-cone drill, 4.5 in the 20-yard shuttle, 112 inches in the broad jump and 31 inches in the vertical jump.
• Only five of 31 linebackers who ran the 40 did so in a slower time than Matakevich.
• Only four of 16 linebackers who ran the three-cone drill did so in a slower time than Matakevich.
• Only five of 20 linebackers who ran the 20-yard shuttle did so in a slower time than Matakevich.
• Only four of 32 linebackers had a worse broad jump than Matakevich.
• Only eight of 32 linebackers had a worse vertical jump than Matakevich.
Luckily for Matakevich, the Steelers have expressed a desire to look more at college production than in measurables.
Coach Mike Tomlin met Matakevich at the Senior Bowl. After the draft, he termed it “football justice” that a too-small, too-slow but highly-accomplished college player gets drafted.
“I just think he saw (the film), and he knows who I am as a person,” Matakevich said. “I just said, ‘The numbers aren’t great, but I’m all over the field when you turn on the film.’ ”
Besides, Matakevich’s tumble down the draft board closely resembles the recruiting process he endured out of high school. Temple was the lone FBS scholarship offer of consequence.
Four years of tackles being racked up later, the Owls were rewarded.
“Tyler is a special player,” Temple coach Matt Rhule said. “He will play in the NFL for many years and will make the Steelers very happy. He gets credit for being a playmaker and being very instinctual, but what people don’t see is that he spends a lot of time studying film. He’s a football junkie, and he will fit right in in Pittsburgh.”
While Matakevich believes his fit is “perfect” at inside linebacker in the Steelers’ scheme, that likely won’t be where he will make his first impact. That almost assuredly will come on special teams, where Matakevich played for four college seasons.
“I know that’s going to be a way for me to get on the field,” Matakevich said, “and that’s something I look forward to doing.”