PHOENIX -- The stats may not show it but 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan believes Jordan Matthews is playing the best football of his career.
“Yeah, he’s gotten better just watching him,” Shanahan said. “Numbers have to do with someone calling a play for you, being open in zone, the quarterback hitting you.
“In terms of just route running, catching the ball, getting up the field, what you do after the catch, how you play the game. I have enjoyed watching him over the years and I do think he’s gotten better.”
Matthews first three years with the Eagles were very productive statistically. He averaged nearly 900 receiving yards per season and scored 19 touchdowns. In his last two seasons, he has recorded 582 receiving yards combined and got into the end zone only three times.
In his second stint in Philadelphia, however, Matthews caught a career-high 71.4-percent of his targets for an average of 15 yards per touch which was also a career best.
“He’s played a lot, which is why we wanted to get a veteran into our group to add some competition,” Shanahan said. “We played with a lot of young guys. We lost Pierre, so that was one veteran that we don’t have anymore.”
Matthews has 270 career receptions which is nearly the total of career receptions of the remaining five receivers on the 49ers roster. Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, and Richie James have 291 career completions combined.
“I think he’s gotten better each year in this league just studying him,” Shanahan said. “I think his skill set adds something to our group. He’s a bigger receiver who has good hands, very smart receiver and he also can run.”
Shanahan also emphasized the importance of Matthews’ character which is what he and general manager John Lynch look for in players.
"I know Miles Austin spent some time with him in Philly so we had a connection with him,” Shanahan said. “So I heard a lot about the guy from Miles and that’s real important to me also. You have got to know the type of person you’re getting, not just what you see on tape. And what we heard about him as a guy and what we saw on tape, we think he can help us.”
Matthews has been very successful in the red zone with 16 of his 22 touchdowns being from inside the 20-yard line. That’s not only what Shanahan sees in his new bigger body receiver. He has stuck to his philosophy that it’s about the overall package a receiver brings to the table.
“I don’t totally see it that way that you need big guys in the red zone,” Shanahan said. “You throw a couple jump balls all year but usually that goes to guys who have the best ball skills and the coordination, not just the guys who have the highest height.
“It is nice to have a bigger guy who can handle some of the run blocking and stuff and just be a bigger body for us, somewhat a bigger target in zones but I don’t see that being a huge difference in our red zone issues."
At 6-foot-3, Matthews is a player Shanahan envisions playing in the slot. He believes the role is not limited to players of smaller stature.
“They come in all different shapes and sizes,” Shanahan said. “Most of the slot players I’ve played with are shorter guys who are a little quicker and things like that who can separate inside. But I mean, one of the best slot players I had was Mohamed Sanu, who was the exact opposite of that.”
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Matthews brings experience and size to the receiving room but Shanahan and his staff are still looking to add to the group. At this point, it will most likely happen through the draft.
“I want to continue adding at all positions, and I definitely think we need to at receiver.”