7 NFL Rookie vs. Rookie Battles We Can't Wait to See
We love individual showdowns in the world of the NFL, and rookie matchups are in no way exempt from the adulation.
The countless hours we spend each year trying to predict where these rookie stars will wind up are probably a bit unnecessary. Our irrational desire to immediately assign "winner" and "loser" labels to the teams selecting said rookies is more than a tad silly.
Yet, all of the draft ridiculousness seems to fade away once we finally get a look at these highly touted NFL initiates on the football field—especially against one another.
Over the next few pages, we will examine and rank the most intriguing rookie battles likely to take place in the coming season.
Due to the vast number of rookie matchups we will see this season, our list will be limited to battles involving players selected in the first two rounds of this year's draft.
Rankings will be based on timing (early matchups or battles with potential playoff implications), draft status and the popularity of participants (with all respect intended, fans probably aren't salivating at the thought of seeing that fourth-round guard in action).
Special consideration will also be given to matchups that involve players connected by draft-day storylines. Did your team pass on one quarterback to draft another? If so, you're probably like us and eager to see which player comes out on top—if only for one week.
7. Jadeveon Clowney vs. Jack Mewhort
Let's be honest here. When the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts first face off in Week 10, the matchup between former South Carolina pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney and former Ohio State lineman Jack Mewhort probably won't be at the forefront of fans' minds.
Instead, everyone will be waiting to see exactly what type of impact Clowney, the first overall pick in this year's draft, might have on the future of the AFC South.
So long as quarterback Andrew Luck is upright and playing at a high level, teams are going to have a difficult time knocking the Colts from the top of the division. However, if Clowney can help the Texans ensure Luck doesn't remain upright and playing well, Houston will have a fighting chance at challenging for divisional supremacy.
The Colts, who were without a first-round pick due to the Trent Richardson trade, took a chance by making Mewhort their first pick in the draft. The former Buckeye will have to do his part in ensuring Clowney doesn't steal the show in order for Indianapolis to come out a winner in this rookie matchup.
These two rookies will face off a second time in Indianapolis in Week 15.
6. Bishop Sankey vs. Jeremy Hill
The role of the position may have changed, but who doesn't want to see the first two running backs drafted try to outdo each other early in their rookie careers?
In year's past, such a matchup would probably involve a pair of first-round picks. This year, the first running back drafted was Washington product Bishop Sankey, drafted 54th overall by the Tennessee Titans. The Cincinnati Bengals made former LSU running back Jeremy Hill the very next selection.
In Week 3, the two rookie rushers will meet in Cincinnati.
Hill rushed for 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Sankey racked up 1,870 yards rushing and 20 scores. Watching what these two manage to accomplish as youngsters at the next level will certainly be a treat.
If this matchup between two highly drafted running backs had come 10 years ago (and perhaps if Hill didn't have to contend with Giovani Bernard as the young stud in the backfield), this might actually be one of the hottest matchups of the season.
5. Khalil Mack vs. Greg Robinson
Former Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson immediately became a rookie to watch when the St. Louis Rams made him the second overall pick in May's draft.
While we would love to see the rookie face off against the first overall pick and top pass-rushing selection in Jadeveon Clowney, we can't this season.
We will, however, have an opportunity to watch Robinson battle the second pass-rusher to be drafted when the Oakland Raiders travel to St. Louis in Week 13.
While this game may eventually bring more attention to Oakland rookie quarterback Derek Carr, it currently draws interest as a test of the Raiders' first draft selection and newest pass-rushing specialist.
Oakland made former Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack the fifth player drafted in the first round and a defensive cornerstone of the future. He produced 19 tackles for loss last season at the collegiate level.
It will be interesting to see how Mack measures up against the Rams, who are likely to feature Robinson in at least some starting role by late November.
4. Justin Gilbert vs. Sammy Watkins
A matchup involving the first wide receiver to be drafted and the first defensive back to come off the board would rank high on our list just about any year.
What makes the pending Week 13 battle between former Clemson star Sammy Watkins and former Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert really special is the manner in which each rookie found his way to his current team.
You see, the Cleveland Browns had an opportunity to draft Watkins with the fourth overall pick in May's draft but instead traded the pick to the Buffalo Bills.
Buffalo happily surrendered its first-round pick along with first- and fourth-round picks in next year's draft for the ability to pounce on Watkins. Cleveland eventually grabbed Gilbert, with the plan of pairing him with Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden to form a fearsome tandem in the secondary.
This matchup might rank even higher, if not for the fact that Watkins will likely spend most of the game trying to shake Haden instead of actually going head-to-head with the rookie the Browns ultimately decided was a better investment.
3. Jadeveon Clowney vs. Khalil Mack
As modern football fans, we enjoy watching premier pass-rushers do their thing on game day.
We also tend to enjoy watching rookie pass-rushers try to show they have what it takes to succeed at the pro level. When the Houston Texans face off against the Oakland Raiders in Week 2, we might have an opportunity to see a little bit of both scenarios.
Jadeveon Clowney, taken first overall by the Texans, and Khalil Mack, taken fifth overall by the Raiders, were widely considered the top two pass-rushers available in the entire draft. Clowney produced 16 sacks over the past two years as a defensive end for South Carolina, while Mack produced 18.5 sacks in that same span as a Buffalo linebacker.
Some analysts believed that Mack, who would seem like a natural fit in the Texans' 3-4 scheme, should have been Houston's pick at No. 1 overall. This is why the matchup is so enticing, even if the rookie sack specialists both play on the same side of the football.
It will be a bit too early to tell if the Texans made the right call by Week 2. However, this matchup will still provide an early chance for comparison between two of the most highly touted defensive rookies which makes it a definite must-watch.
2. C.J. Mosley vs. Ryan Shazier
As far as NFL rivalries go, it doesn't get much better than the heated feud between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.
This is exactly why the upcoming contest involving former Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier and former Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley is one we can't wait to watch.
Shazier, selected 15th overall by the Steelers, and Mosley, drafted 17th overall by the Ravens, are entirely different players, of course. Shazier is an outside player with pass-rushing potential, while Mosley is an all-around inside linebacker in the mold of (at least the Ravens hope) Ray Lewis.
Still, it will be incredibly entertaining to see just what kind of firepower these rookies bring to a longstanding rivalry that, let's be honest, dates back to the days when the Ravens were the Browns and Cleveland football was still relevant on a national level.
Best of all, we will get to see this particular matchup twice in 2014—in Pittsburgh, Week 2 and in Baltimore, Week 9.
1. Jadeveon Clowney vs. Johnny Manziel
What could be more entertaining than a matchup that pits the first overall pick in this year's draft in a face-off against this year's most polarizing rookie?
Said matchup involving a superbly talented pass-rusher and a gifted scrambling quarterback might just fit the bill. We will get to witness just such a matchup when Clowney and the Houston Texans battle Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns in Week 11.
Clowney, who posted 16 sacks over the past two seasons at South Carolina, was the Texans' top draft selection. Manziel, who rushed for 2,169 yards over the past two years at Texas A&M, is the next man in line to try to become the Browns' long-sought answer at quarterback.
Both players showed the potential to take over a game at the collegiate level. In their first duel as pros, something will have to give.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Houston willingly passed on Manziel as a franchise-quarterback option in order to take the pass-rushing phenom with the first pick in the first round.
Toss in the fact that at least one of these teams may be chasing a playoff berth in mid-November and this game becomes must-watch television for virtually any football fan.