Temple reappeared in the national spotlight thanks to their defense in 2015. Spearheading the unit was Stratford, Connecticut native Tyler Matakevich, a senior who left a definite legacy for the Cherry and White.
Matakevich started at linebacker as a freshman, totaling 101 tackles, and looked to be an annual contributor on a defense lacking playmakers. He led a dominant unit in 2014 that played into Temple's 6-6 campaign, but Matakevich didn't receive national recognition until last season. Against Christian Hackenberg and Penn State on Sept. 5, Matakevich sacked the pro prospect three times and was a constant presence in the backfield.
This was not an isolated instance of marvelous play either. The senior recorded eight tackles or more in all of the 13 other games in 2015 and finished with 493 total tackles in his career, per sports-reference.com. Along with defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis and cornerback Tavon Young, Matakevich anchored what was arguably Temple's weak point on the defense as a complete linebacker.
His 138 total tackles, 4.5 sacks and five interceptions garnered the pro prospect the Chuck Bednarik Award at the end of the 2015 season. Nabbing hardware wasn't something Matakevich focused on to open the campaign, however. His primary desire was to compete, win games and make a bowl game.
Matakevich had the best season by statistics and accolades in Temple history for a defensive player, but there's plenty to like outside of the middle linebacker's production.
The linebacker's primary plus as a pro prospect is the instinctual ability he displayed throughout his career. Matakevich isn't going to blow up a play via his speed or strength, but is adept at reacting to the ball and diagnosing plays. Whether closing the gap or taking advantage of a missed blocking assignment, Matakevich was usually near or around the ball carrier when a tackle was made on the first or second levels last season.
Matakevich recorded a career-high 4.5 sacks in 2015, but three of them came against Penn State and their futile offensive line. However, he showed the ability to make more plays in the backfield than in previous seasons. It's easy to envision Matakevich shooting through the A or B gaps in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense at the next level.
Matakevich isn't just a situational linebacker, however. He can play possibly all three downs if he is diligent in his offseason training. With a motor that ties into his consistency, there is safety tied to Matakevich when making a decision on the linebacker.
It's evident that Matakevich makes plays, just by looking at his gaudy defensive numbers, but could make more of an impact if he can handle the pass as efficiently as he does in the run department. Matakevich will be relatively competent defending the run game from day one, with added bulk, which could lead to a possible starting gig early for teams that struggled against the run last season.
Matakevich may be an instinctual linebacker that roams the field and takes down ballcarriers, but he'll need additional quickness to start and thrive at the next level. With a 4.81 40-yard dash time at the Combine, there wasn't any indication that Matakevich could become that versatile linebacker who meshes intensity with athleticism. He just doesn't have it at the moment.
At 6'0" and 238 pounds, there is obvious time for Matakevich to sculpt an ideal NFL frame. However, he's going to get roasted in coverage. Matakevich was fluid in his DB workout drills at Temple's Pro Day Wednesday, but he has the tendency of losing focus in coverage and losing separation on intermediate routes.
His far-from-elite speed is a red flag for defensive coordinators willing to have him cover in the slot. As the league continues to operate with more space and spray the football all around the field in passing situations, Matakevich could be playing on just first and second downs on defense. Stated previously, he could be a three down linebacker, but is going to have to acquire additional quickness.
As stated on nfl.com, Matakevich has problems shedding off lineman, lacking elite strength and hand work in the run game to disengage. If the accoladed linebacker gets engulfed by road pavers and bookend tackles at the next level, Matakevich might be hard pressed to contribute immediately in the run game.
Matakevich will likely be selected anywhere from early in the third round or in the mid-fourth round. There were teams drafting with high picks in each round (Tennessee, Cleveland, Jacksonville) at Temple's Pro Day, but Matakevich could be an option for any team looking for a consistent producer on defense.
Linebackers in the NFL have to be progressively more athletic to handle passing situations. Unless Matakevich can use the offseason and training camp to advance his agility levels, he could be a liability in many offensive looks initially.
Both Dan Connor and Paul Poluszny won the Bednarik award at Penn State, as Matakevich plays similarly to the Nittany Lions' tackle-heavy duo. However, he'll have to hope he follows a similar projectory to Poluszny-who has recorded 100 or more tackles in four of the last six seasons in the NFL.
Matakevich is a tackling machine, which either could be beneficial with ample amounts of reps in the regular season or be a crutch, as that's the main facet of his game. A relatively safe player, Matakevich could be a 100-tackle linebacker in year 1 but won't be a factor in many other categories.