Safest draft plan: Pick a Matthews

Jake Matthews, former Texas A&M tackle and grandson of Charleston native Clay Matthews, works out in preparation for the NFL draft. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)

Mel Kiper Jr., all the chefs in Katmandu and Peruvian kindergartners agree. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the top talent in the NFL draft.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is the most intriguing player. Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins might have the most immediate impact.

But if you're looking for a shrewd pick early in Thursday night's first round, the strategy has been simple for three generations: Snag the best available Matthews.

Jake Matthews, a 6-6, 308-pound tackle from Texas A&M and the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, is the latest in a Matthews line of NFL tough guys that stretches to 1949. That's when Charleston native Clay Matthews Sr. of Georgia Tech was the Los Angeles Rams' selection in the 25th (and final) round.

"I didn't even know I got drafted," said Clay Matthews Sr., a Mount Pleasant resident. "I had to call around for a week to find out who I belonged to."

He wound up with the San Francisco 49ers, where he played on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Rookie salary: $5,000

Jake Matthews is expected to go among the first several picks Thursday night. ESPN will make sure the world knows when it happens.

Projected signing bonus for a top six pick: No less than $10 million.

"More power to them," said Clay Matthews Sr., 85. "I wish them all the best. They might as well make good money while they can."

Clay Matthews Sr. is the son of former Citadel boxing coach Matty Matthews. Clay Sr. was a Golden Gloves champion, and an all-state football player at Charleston High School.

Along with playing football at Georgia Tech, Clay Sr. won two SEC wrestling titles. He also made the swim team.

Surely, his four-year NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers would have been more productive had he not served in the 82nd Airborne Division during the Korean War.

Both of his sons played at Southern Cal and were first-round NFL picks, and solid returns on draft day investments.

Clay Matthews Jr. was the Cleveland Browns' No. 1 pick in 1978. He played for the Browns and Atlanta Falcons over 19 seasons, including four Pro Bowl appearances.

Bruce Matthews, the Houston Oilers top pick in 1983, played 19 seasons with the Oilers and Tennessee Titans. He made 14 Pro Bowls on his way to Canton.

Jake Matthews will be the fourth member of the family's third-generation impact on the NFL.

Two of Clay Jr.'s sons are linebackers.

Clay Matthews III was the Green Bay Packers' first-round pick out of Southern Cal in 2009. He's already played in four Pro Bowls and has a Super Bowl ring.

Casey Matthews played at Oregon and was the Philadelphia Eagles' fourth-round pick in 2011. His biggest contributions have come on special teams.

Bruce's son, free agent center Kevin Matthews, was not drafted after starting at Texas A&M but played from 2010-2012 for the Tennessee Titans.

Other future NFL players in that 1949 NFL draft with Clay Matthews Sr. included Hall of Famers Chuck Bednarik (first overall pick), Doak Walker, Norm Van Brocklin and George Blanda.

But those guys didn't keep pro football talent scouts busy for another five NFL drafts spread over the next 65 years.

The Matthews' football family tree doesn't stop with Jake.

Mike Matthews, a rising junior at Texas A&M and Jake's younger brother, will start at center when the Aggies open the 2014 season at South Carolina.

"I have trouble keeping up with all of us myself," Clay Matthews Sr. said.

The proud grandfather plans to watch the draft Thursday night. Amid all the jumbled speculation, a few things seem certain.

Clay Matthews Sr. won't have to wait very long before Jake Matthews is off the board. And expect more large, capable Matthews prospects in future NFL drafts.

"As long as the Matthews family is alive," Clay Matthews Sr. said with a big smile.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff