2012 NFL Schedule: Projecting the Best Rookie Showdowns Next Season
With the 2012 NFL draft in the books, we break down the top rookie showdowns available on next season's NFL schedule.
Preseason Week 3: Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III vs. Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck
It won't technically count, but the NFL hit a preseason gold mine by pitting Griffin and Luck—the draft's top two players—against each other during the exhibition season's most important week. Griffin III and Luck could each play into the second half as a trial run for their rookie debuts in Week 1.
Weeks 1 and 11: Carolina Panthers LB Luke Kuechly vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin
Not the sexiest of matchups, Kuechly and Martin will likely be banging heads for the next five to six years in the NFC South. Kuechly, a tackling machine from Boston College, should be tasked with helping to shut down the Bucs' new three-down runner.
Week 2: Minnesota Vikings S Harrison Smith vs. Indianapolis Colts TE Coby Fleener
Smith and Fleener tangled horns for years during the Notre Dame-Stanford rivalry, and they'll rekindle that matchup early in their NFL careers. Fleener got the best of Smith for the better part of their college career, as the 6'6" Stanford tight end caught 13 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns in four games against Notre Dame.
Even if the game is a snooze-fest (the two teams combined for five total wins in 2011), expect the two to see plenty of each other in the team's Week 2 matchup.
Weeks 4 and 9: Cleveland Browns RB Trent Richardson vs. Baltimore Ravens LB Courtney Upshaw
The two former Alabama teammates will help continue the tradition of smash-mouth football in the AFC North. Richardson, a physical marvel who should get plenty of touches for Cleveland next season, has his work cut out for him against Baltimore's second-round pick.
Considering the Ravens could be without Terrell Suggs for both matchups, Upshaw will be counted on heavily to stop Richardson and co.
Weeks 7 and 17: Chicago Bears DE Shea McClellin vs. Detroit Lions T Riley Reiff
The Lions drafted Reiff in the first round to help slow some of the NFC North's big name pass-rushers, including Jared Allen, Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. Considering both the Bears and Packers also used first-round picks on edge rushers, Reiff becomes even more important for keeping Matthew Stafford upright.
These two blue-collar trenchmen will see plenty of each other over the next 10 years.
Weeks 12 and 17: Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III vs. Dallas Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne
The matchup between Griffin and Claiborne, who the Cowboys moved up several spots to get in the first round, might help define the NFC East over the long term. Griffin will finally give the Redskins a franchise quarterback to build around, and many considered Claiborne the top cover corner in the 2012 NFL draft. The battle of wits between the two elite prospects should be fun to watch in this divisional rivalry, both next year and beyond.
Week 13: Jacksonville Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon vs. Buffalo Bills CB Stephon Gilmore
The No. 5 pick (Blackmon) and No. 10 pick (Gilmore) will likely face off in a AFC matchup late in the season. Blackmon, a physical receiver with elite ball skills, should give the lanky Gilmore all he can handle. It's not a matchup we'll see a ton of over the years, but the two contrasting playing styles offer an interesting dynamic for an otherwise blah matchup on paper.
Weeks 13 and 17: Green Bay Packers OLB Nick Perry vs. Minnesota Vikings LT Matt Kalil
Former teammates at USC, Perry and Kalil battled each other every day during practice. They won't get the chance to miss those battles, as each was drafted in the first round to NFC North teams. Considering Perry will likely be the Packers' starting right outside linebacker for 2012, and with Kalil penciled in at left tackle for the Vikings, the two Trojans will get their fair share of catching-up time.
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