The number 80 has a great deal of significance to Jordan Matthews. That was the jersey he wore in high school and during his second stint with the Philadelphia Eagles. It was also the jersey number of his favorite NFL player who happens to be kin.
You've probably heard by now that Matthews' mother and San Francisco 49ers legend Jerry Rice are first cousins, both with roots tracing back to Mississippi. By extension, that means Rice is Matthews' first cousin once removed. The two didn't cross paths much since Matthews grew up on the East Coast, but Rice was there with sage advice when his younger cousin was transitioning from Vanderbilt to the NFL.
“When I was coming out for the draft, I got in touch with him and said ‘what’s the best advice you can give me going into the draft, Combine, Senior Bowl?’” Matthews asked to Rice. “He said ‘everywhere you go, tell yourself you’re the best person there and that you’re supposed to be there.’ And that’s what I did. I can (still) use that advice in Year 5.”
The allure of following Rice made San Francisco an ideal landing spot for the free agent wideout. Reuniting with 49ers offensive quality control coach Miles Austin was another selling point when it came to signing with the 49ers last week. Both Matthews and Austin played for the Eagles during the 2015 season. Matthews was in his second year in the league and Austin was in his final season as a player.
San Francisco's young nucleus and overall direction heading into 2019 gave Matthews another push in his decision to join the 49ers.
“I feel like this whole place is electric right now,” Matthews said. “Just walking through the building, you can tell there’s a lot of excitement around the 49ers. I was even telling Miles, I feel like I’m 22 again walking around here. I’m excited to get to work and get to know the guys in the locker room and try to build a winning culture.”
Over his five-year NFL career, Matthews has amassed 270 receptions for 3,255 yards (12.1 yards per reception) and 22 touchdowns. Matthews has done a bulk of his damage in the red zone. Sixteen of Matthews’ aforementioned 22 touchdowns have come inside the 20.
San Francisco struggled mightily in that area in 2018. The 49ers scored touchdowns on just 41.18 percent of red zone trips which ranked last in the league. The 49ers are hopeful that Matthew’s size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and experience can help alleviate some of San Francisco’s red zone woes.
“I feel like I do three things really well: I get open, I catch the ball and I’m going to block in the run game,” Matthews said. “I feel like whenever I’ve been put in a position to make plays, I go out and make them.”
San Francisco came into the offseason with a desire to add depth at wide receiver. George Kittle led all 49ers pass catchers with 1,377 yards. Former undrafted receiver Kendrick Bourne was the 49ers top wideout last year with 487 yards on 42 receptions.
Matthews will have plenty of competition in order to earn a starting role, but he believes that Kyle Shanahan will be able to bring out the best in him as a receiver.
“You see a lot of guys being creative,” Matthews said of Shanahan’s receiving corps. “I’m watching film seeing guys like Trent Taylor have a great first year. Kendrick Bourne being able to elevate his game in a short period of time. Even at tight end, look at what Kittle was able to do and how they got him in space. Marquise Goodwin is a player that I’ve watched for a long time. And when he came here, it seemed like he really emerged.
"I feel like they’ve been doing a ton of stuff to get guys in open space, and that’s what I pride myself on. I’m going to get open. I’m going to catch the ball. I’m going to help the team win. I’m excited about moving forward.”
Although his favorite number is off limits in San Francisco, the 49ers checked every other box for Matthews in what will be a fresh start for the 26-year-old pass catcher.