Cliff Matthews is a Falcon.
Matthews, a defensive end from Cheraw, SC and beloved by his coaches, teammates and fans for his keen work ethic, leadership skills and endless hustle, became the second former South Carolina player selected in the 2011 NFL Draft when Atlanta took him with the 27th pick of the seventh round and the 230th overall selection.
Matthews said he received the call from Atlanta when he was eating dinner.
"I really didn't think I was going to get a call, but when I got the call, it brought tears to my eyes," Matthews told Falcons.com late Saturday afternoon shortly after his selection. "I'm ready to contribute to the program as much as possible and get on the field. I will do as much as they want me to do."
Matthews was projected by some draft analysts as a likely mid-round selection, but he didn't hear his name called until late in the draft.
ESPN.com draft analyst Todd McShay projected Matthews as a fourth-round selction in his final mock draft posted shortly before the start of the real thing on Thursday night.
"I did think I would have gone a little earlier, but I'm satisfied I was picked up in general," Matthews said. "I will certainly play with a chip on my shoulder. Always have."
The National Football Post reported earlier this week that as many as 20 teams contacted Matthews or his agent in the days leading up to the NFL Draft, including the Falcons.
Falcon officials hope Matthews follows in the footsteps of another former great Gamecock defensive end - John Abraham.
Abraham grew in Lamar, not far from Matthews' hometown of Cheraw.
"I know a lot about him. He's a guy I've looked up to and can take advide from," matthews said. "I think he can show me a lot of the things he's learne dover the year and pass it on to me."
The only other USC player taken in the 2011 NFL Draft was defensive back Chris Culliver, who was chosen by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round on Friday night.
The selections of Matthews and Culliver means USC has had four players taken in the NFL over the last two years. A total of 16 Gamecocks have been chosen by NFL teams since 2006, the first draft year following Steve Spurrier's initial season as head coach.
Matthews, who started nearly every game in his four years at USC, finished his Gamecock career with 149 tackles, 26.5 TFL and 15.5 sacks. He had 44 tackles, 8.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks in 2010 when he teamed with Devin Taylor to form one of the top defensive end combinations in the SEC.
The NFL Draft profile for Matthews posted on the league's website read in part: "Matthews is a high-energy guy with great hands who will be able to serve as a backup 4-3 strongside defensive end. His ceiling is limited due to lack of power to be productive against the run and explosiveness to rush the quarterback. Uses his hands extremely well against the run and pass to keep blockers off his body and to disengage and uses the swim move to counter."
Matthews level of achievement with the Gamecocks - 51 career games while competing in the SEC (second in school history) and two years serving as captain - made him an attractive pick for the Falcons, director of player personnel Les Snead said Saturday on Falcons.com.
"He really plays hard. Anytime I was scouting an offensive linemen in the SEC, I wanted to go see him play against Cliff Matthews," Snead said. "I knew he was a tough draw. This guy has quickness, but he also brings it, so he makes the offensive line work."
As a late round draft pick, Matthews has no guarantees, but has a deep well of experience from playing in the SEC for four years to draw upon.
"As a seventh round pick, you have to earn your stripes, but he's done it in the SEC," Snead said. "He's going to get that shot here. last year, we probably carried more defensive ends than any team in the league, so it's proven we'll carry some ends and play them."
Matthews' productivity fell off a bit in his senior year largely because he wore a restrictive shoulder harness during the first half of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery shortly after the previous season concluded.
Matthews, a team captain for two years, was nicknamed "The Exposer" by USC defensive line coach Brad Lawing because his constant all-out hustle exposes other player's lack of effort.
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