Malik Matthew was an instrumental pickup for the Syracuse Football Team when he verbally committed back in May of 2020. Matthew was one of the few prospects that actually got to visit campus back in March which may have been huge in his decision to go Orange.
Dino Babers and Company doubled down on Matthew’s decision by securing his signature two weeks ago during the early national signing day. Obviously, Matthew is a big win for the future of the 3-3-5 defense but it’s even bigger than that.
Syracuse was torched this season in games against teams with several former New York recruits that the Orange missed out on. BC’s Isaiah McDuffie, Pitt’s SirVocea Dennis, and Liberty’s Joshua Mack (although he actually didn’t play against SU) just to name a few. Syracuse can ill-afford to continue to lose these key Northeast recruiting battles to schools like Boston College, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, West Virginia, and I guess Liberty now.
However, this is a good example so let’s stay positive. The Orange actually beat out Rutgers head to head for Matthew. The Bronx, NY native is a 6-foot-3, 210 lb. linebacker prospect and had several Northeast powers vying for his services. Rated a 3-star by 247sports.com, Matthew had 6 offers including BC, Buffalo, Pitt, Temple, Rutgers, and Kent State.
It ultimately came down to Rutgers and Syracuse and Matthew chose SU. He joined DL commit Jaelin Moss as the second NY recruit to go Orange. Both Moss and Matthew are ranked in the top 5 in the 2021 class of New York at 3 and 4, respectively.
Now that we know the backstory of the commitment and the importance of it, let’s look at Matthew’s film and see what he can bring to this 3-3-5 defense in the future.
The thing that jumps out to me about Matthew is how disciplined he is, especially against the run. On this play it looks like a read option, but you can see the linemen pull right to left indicating a QB Wrap instead of a read concept. So the QB keeps all the way and tries to follow his blocks, but Matthew reads the movement of the linemen, keeps his head in the backfield, fires downhill. Perhaps poorly executed by the o-line but it doesn’t matter because Matthew did his job.
This time it’s the straight line speed and anticipation that wows me. The offense runs a sprintout to the left side, Matthew sees and it just takes off. Look at the acceleration from steps 3 to 4, that’s just uncoachable. Matthew gets in and doesn’t exactly blow the play up, but he lays a lick on the QB.
Good discipline from Matthew here. It looks as though he’s just spying the QB on this play after doing well not to bite on the run fake. He waits and waits and waits to sit in coverage and then attacks at the perfect time forcing the QB to make a dangerous throw. That’s exciting to see for SU fans because that’s how you force turnovers and give your secondary a chance at interceptions right there.
Hard to see what’s going on here but what I saw was lateral speed that you don’t see from many linebackers. Matthew showed he can play sideline to sideline here and frankly I’m not sure that the Orange had a linebacker that could cover ground like that this year, maybe Mikel Jones but ideally all of your linebackers should move that well.
That last thing to point out is Matthew’s physicality. Syracuse struggled to stop the run all season and much of it can be attributed to poor tackling. In the 3-3-5, there’s one less pure linebacker on the field as coaches usually opt for a rover (linebacker/safety combo) or a smaller lineup like nickel. When that happens, you lose a lot of weight and power in the middle and if your d-line struggles to fill gaps and your linebackers struggle with filling holes.. You’ll get gashed. Aside from Jones, SU didn’t have a linebacker that consistently met backs in the holes and wrapped up. Matthew shows several times in his film that he can do just that.
Matthew will likely redshirt this season and adjust to the college game. Syracuse returns several young linebackers who were just “baptized by fire” during the 2020 campaign. On the flip side, perhaps Defensive Coordinator Tony White wants to continue the trend of playing young studs and Matthew could be one of those guys. Either way, the in-state product figures to play a big role for this Syracuse defense sometime down the road.