Over the last two years of his collegiate career, former Brigham Young star receiver Mitch Mathews caught 20 touchdowns, many of them jump balls.
It’s a skill, along with his impressive 6-foot-5, 222-pound frame, that the 25-year-old Mathews plans to rely on heavily in his bid to make the Chiefs as an undrafted rookie free agent this summer.
“I’m a big guy, and every offense needs a big guy to go up and make plays and be a red-zone threat. Every team’s gotta have that guy,” said Mathews, who has a 36-inch vertical. “That was probably my money ball, jumping up over people, snagging the ball and scoring lots of touchdowns.”
Mathews, who caught a Hail Mary pass that beat Nebraska last year, said teams liked to use a lot of press coverage against the Cougars, so he ended up catching a lot of fade routes. And in the red zone, the Cougars liked to go with two tight ends, two running backs and just Mathews at receiver so they could take advantage of his favorite skill.
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“It left everyone in the box, in case we wanted to run, and me by myself one on one,” Mathews said. “So it was huge.”
Interesting enough, the Chiefs and coach Andy Reid are not shy about utilizing two tight ends. And though Mathews has limitations — his NFL.com draft profile noted that he needs to become more adept at creating separation in his intermediate routes — he is now the tallest and heaviest receiver on the roster.
“He’s a big receiver that can run and jump,” Reid said. “What you’re looking for are these redeeming qualities, things that you can use within the offense to exploit his talents. We do that with every player. You try to find their strengths, let them go showcase them, and then you come back and work on your weaknesses so you become a complete player.
“I’ll tell you his strengths: He’s big, tall, he can jump, and you know he’s got better speed than what you think. He’s a little bit of a long strider, but he’s got pretty good speed.”
Still, Mathews will likely have a tough road to make the team in a complementary role behind No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin. The Chiefs have invested more time, more money or an actual draft pick in several players he’s competing with, including Albert Wilson, Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, Tyreek Hill, De’Anthony Thomas, Da’Ron Brown and Rod Streeter.
However, a practice-squad spot isn’t out of the question, and there’s a sense Mathews is a nice fit for the offense. Mathews said he had plenty of postdraft offers, but he opted to sign with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent because he enjoyed his predraft visit to Kansas City and connected with the coaches.
The Chiefs have been insistent upon instilling a culture of competition since Reid’s arrival three years ago, so Mathews is embracing that while doing all he can to put himself in a position to surprise.
“I’m detail-oriented in how I play,” Mathews said. “I know the playbook really well. Obviously there’s a learning curve there, but I feel like I’m a guy that knows the playbook.”
But Mathews knows that if he’s going to open some eyes when the pads come on next week, he’ll probably have to do it by showcasing what he’s best at. And while winning jump balls at the NFL level will be a little harder, he remains confident in his ability to do just that.
“I haven’t gotten any shorter,” he said with a laugh. “Everyone’s a little bit quicker, a little bit faster, but that’s still my strength. That’s still, I believe, a big reason why I’m here. Because I can win the jump ball.”