FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons picked up some badly needed protection for quarterback Matt Ryan, selecting offensive tackle Jake Matthews of Texas A&M with the No. 6 pick in the NFL draft Thursday night.
There were three offensive linemen thought to be worthy of going as high as sixth, but Auburn’s Greg Robinson quickly went off the board at No. 2 to the St. Louis Rams. The Houston Texans chose South Carolina defensive star Jadaveon Clowney with the top overall selection.
The other two were still there after another possible Atlanta target, hybrid end-linebacker Khalil Mack, was snatched up by the Oakland Raiders at No. 5.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff took Matthews over Michigan lineman Taylor Lewan, intent on providing more protection for Ryan, who was sacked 44 times last season.
The 6-foot-5, 309-pound Matthews comes from quite the football family. His grandfather played in the NFL in the 1950s. His father, Bruce, spent 19 years with the Houston Oilers-Tennessee Titans franchise, making the Pro Bowl a record 14 times. His uncle, Clay Jr., also had a 19-year career, including a short stint with the Falcons. And, of course, cousin Clay III was a first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2009.
Jake went three places higher than his dad. Bruce was the No. 9 pick by the Oilers in 1983.
“I’m just so proud right now,” said Matthews, who will be the seventh member of his family to play in the league, also following older brother Kevin and another cousin, Casey. “I’m so proud to represent my family and an opportunity to be an Atlanta Falcon. This is awesome.”
Ryan surely was thinking the same thing. He was pounded mercilessly by opposing defenses, who took advantage of a leaky line that had been left bare as Dimitroff focused on stockpiling offensive skill players in recent years. The Falcons also finished last in the league in rushing, another major problem that could be traced to the line and turned Ryan and the offense into a one-dimensional sitting duck.
The Falcons, who had hoped to contend for the Super Bowl after coming up just short the previous season, slumped to 4-12 for the first losing season of the Dimitroff era.
“This is a great situation,” said Matthews, who will likely move right into the Falcons’ starting lineup at right tackle, across the line from left tackle Sam Baker.