Which Rookies Will Prove to Be the Biggest Matchup Nightmares for Opponents?

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterMay 10, 2015

USA Today

Creating favorable matchups on offense is key to game-planning and situational football in the NFL. A player with size, speed and/or a skill set that opponents can't match defensively is a true offensive weapon.

It's rare for a player to enter the league with that ability, but based on the measurables from the combine and pro days, tape from the college level and conversations with scouts, we can do a pretty good job of guessing who will develop into matchup nightmares at the pro level.

Here are five players who fit that bill:

Bears WR Kevin White (West Virginia)

Drafted by the Bears at No. 7 overall, White has rare upside and all sorts of potential to create problems for opponents matching up against Adam Gase's new offense in Chicago. At 6'3" and 215 pounds with the straight-line speed (4.35 40) and the leaping ability (36.5" vertical jump) to win down the field on 50/50 throws, White should be a top target for quarterback Jay Cutler.

Nov 1, 2014; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Kevin White (11) runs with ball after a catch during the first quarter against the TCU Horned Frogs at Milan Puskar Stadium. TCU Horned Frogs defeated West Virginia Mountaineers 31
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

White isn't a finished product, but he can make up for his lack of development as a route-runner with the matchup problems he'll create at the point of attack. Throw the deep ball, the dig/curl, get him involved in the three-step game or toss it out to the sidelines on the tunnel screen to force cornerbacks to tackle in space.

After trading away Brandon Marshall, the Bears needed another receiver outside the numbers to pair with Alshon Jeffery. White gives them that with more speed to threaten defenses over the top and after the catch, given his ability to accelerate.

Lions RB Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska)

Abdullah makes the list because of his electric change-of-direction ability and the production he can bring to the Lions as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield. He posted testing times at the combine that mesh with his tape in the three-cone (6.79 seconds) and short shuttle (3.95 seconds). This is a guy who can set up defenders when he has the ball in the open field.

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 25: Running back Ameer Abdullah #8 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers runs for a touchdown during the game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Memorial Stadium on October 25, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Abdullah set a school record for ca
Eric Francis/Getty Images

In Detroit, Abdullah can create issues for opposing defenses in the nickel where he gets to pick a hole against a light (six- or seven-man) defensive front. This is when we will see that burst to the second level, which allows Abdullah to eliminate angles from the secondary support and push the ball up the field. In the passing game, get him the ball on screens, run the quick-option routes and force linebackers to match him in space. That's the key to his game.

At 5'9", 205 pounds, Abdullah might not have the ideal size of a No. 1 back in this league, and his pass protection must improve, but his skill set is a fit for a club that moved on from veteran Reggie Bush in the offseason.


Titans WR Dorial Green-Beckham (Missouri)

The scouts I talked to throughout the pre-draft process had mixed reviews on Green-Beckham because of the risk involved in taking a player with off-field issues and the lack of overall development in his game. But at 6'5", 237 pounds, with speed in the high 4.4 range, he has ultra freakish ability. And that gives the Titans and first-round quarterback Marcus Mariota a big-play target outside of the numbers.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 07:  Dorial Green-Beckham #15 of the Missouri Tigers scores a touchdown in the first quarter against the Jonathon Mincy #6 of the Auburn Tigers during the SEC Championship Game at Georgia Dome on December 7, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In the red zone, this is the slant/fade combo all day with Green-Beckham. Throw to the back shoulder or let him climb the ladder on the corner fade, while also allowing the rookie wide receiver to use his frame to shield cornerbacks from the ball on the quick, inside slant. Out in the field, I would look for the deep curl or comeback in one-on-one situations, along with the straight 9-route. Again, these are routes where the rookie can lean on his size to go get the ball or box out defenders.

The Titans used their first two picks to get more athletic on the offensive side of the ball with Mariota and Green-Beckham. Now we just have to see how quickly both players make the transition to NFL competition. With Green-Beckham, they could have a player opponents really struggle to defend.

Raiders TE Clive Walford (Miami)

Ravens tight end Maxx Williams could be on the list as well, but I'm going with Walford in an offense where he gives the Raiders another young pass-catching threat for quarterback Derek Carr after the team drafted wide receiver Amari Cooper at No. 4 overall.

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

I expected Walford to test better at the combine, where he posted a 40 time in the high 4.7 range, but after watching him run on tape and seeing him take over during the final two practices at the Senior Bowl, this is a tight end who can produce for the Raiders this season. Put him on the line as the traditional "Y" (attached to the core of the formation) or get him in the slot. That's how teams find the proper matchups in both one- and two-tight-end personnel.

Walford has the ability to beat linebackers, press a safety up the field and move the sticks. That's critical for the Raiders and also Carr's development in his second NFL season. Tight ends can create trouble for opposing defenses.

Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett (Kansas State)

Lockett was one of my favorite players at the Senior Bowl because of his game speed, route running and big-play ability from the slot. That sells for the Seahawks, who continued to upgrade the offense around Russell Wilson after trading for tight end Jimmy Graham earlier this offseason.

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 20:  Tyler Lockett #16 of the Kansas State Wildcats dives for the pylon while a flag is being thrown for a offensive pass interference penalty during the game against Ishmael Banks #34 of the West Virginia Mountaineers on Novembe
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Speed from the slot creates some of the toughest matchups for NFL defensive backs—and Lockett has plenty of it. This will allow the Seahawks and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to threaten the seams while also getting the ball to Lockett inside of the numbers, where he can beat a nickel corner with his quicks to separate at the break point.

Along with the return ability he brings to Seattle, Lockett provides Wilson with a target who can win from the slot, produce after the catch and also make plays on third downs running the base-option routes. Those are high-percentage throws for Wilson in crucial down-and-distance situations where the matchup is the key.

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.


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