As a fantasy football writer and (alleged) IDP “expert,” I get asked more than a few questions by fantasy owners in the days leading up to the NFL Draft. And it’s guaranteed that among them now will annually be…
Who is this year’s Chris Borland? The lesser-known prospect with the potential to fill up the stat sheet as Borland did during his magical run with the San Francisco 49ers?
It’s a nigh impossible question to answer, but if there’s one prospect in this year’s crop that checks off many of the same boxes as Borland (both good and bad), it’s Tyler Matakevich of Temple. The 6’0″, 238-pounder was wildly productive in college, tallying nearly 500 tackles as a four-year starter for the Owls. His physicality and tenacity drew praise from Dane Brugler of CBS Sports.
“Matakevich is extremely physical,” Brugler wrote, “which will work against him at times, but his football awareness and hustle jump off the screen as the unquestioned leader of one of the country’s top defenses.”
So what’s the problem? Well, there are several. As an AFC executive told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, “(Matakevich is) not big, not fast and not strong. Hard to make it as an NFL linebacker without those elements.”
Of course, that same executive then said, “With that said, the kid makes a bunch of plays. Production matters and he has it.”
Matakevich himself admitted to Brugler that his production at Temple had more to do with technique, aggressiveness and film study than elite athleticism. “I now better understand the prep that you need on (game days), it takes so much time,” Matakevich said. “Most don’t see all the work, just the results. They don’t see the work during the week, the practice, the time in the film room. The hard work is the biggest thing I’ve learned.”
Matakevich then went on to add, however, that that same work ethic allowed him to develop as a leader. “People follow me as an example,” he said. “I think I have a knack for getting things done and so people follow and ask how I do it. I’m not a screamer or yeller, I let my actions speak. It’s something I’ve done my whole life and something I take pride in.”
Zierlein feels that work ethic will serve Matakevich well, both on draft day and later on. “(A) film junkie who understands that maximum preparation is essential to his production and success,” Zierlein said, “Matakevich has outstanding instincts paired with a desire to fill up a stat sheet with as many positive plays as possible. His lack of size and strength may limit him to a 4-3 WILL linebacker spot only. His work ethic, production and ability to step right in and help on special teams gives him a shot at having a long career as a mid-level starter in the league.”
Compare that, if you will, to this blurb from Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com. “Short, active, athletic, instinctive tackling machine who will have to overcome physical limitations to establish himself as a dependable, long-term starter, though he has immediate special-teams ability and the makeup to push for a more prominent role.”
That was written about none other than one Chris Borland.
Now does that mean that Matakevich is destined to become the next “too small and too slow” linebacker to take both the NFL and IDP leagues by storm? Of course not. There are any numbers of variables that would have to line up just so, from landing spot to injuries in front of him (ala Borland) to Matakevich holding up his end once that mythical opportunity presents himself.
However, in many ways Matakevich is cut from the same cloth — a youngster with the potential to have the sort of surprise impact (both in the NFL and fantasy leagues) Borland did two years ago.
And that, my friends, is worth knowing.