Which NFL Rookies Will Be Immediate Matchup Nightmares?

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2018

Which NFL Rookies Will Be Immediate Matchup Nightmares?

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The NFL draft is a must-watch event. It comes with plenty of drama, shockers and feel-good moments. 

    We watched plenty of fresh talent enter the NFL over the draft weekend. Five franchises (hopefully) claimed their quarterbacks of the future, three picked up their new starting running backs, and six added new starting offensive linemen—and that was in the first round alone.

    Some teams are going to get better returns than others. Every player is not created equally, nor are the situations those rookies are walking into.

    Teams hope add high-end players and to put them in positions to excel. The goal is to create mismatches that stack the deck against the competition and can win games almost on their own.

    We have a long way to go before the start of the 2018 season, but there already appear to be a few rookies with the talent and circumstances to become immediate mismatches. We're going to examine the top 10 here.

New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    The New York Giants didn't hesitate to scoop up former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick. It's easy to see why. The team believes it can still make a championship run with Eli Manning under center, and Barkley can kick the Giants offense up another gear.

    Barkley is fast (ran a 4.40 second 40 at the combine), physical, big (6'0", 233 lbs) and versatile. He's equally dangerous as a receiver and a runner, and Barkley is a true game-changing ball-carrier.

    "I haven't seen a guy like this in a long time, and I've been running around doing this for 30-plus years," Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com.

    Barkley is going to be a major mismatch because he can attack defenses as a runner and a receiver, and because he isn't the only weapon opposing coordinators will have to worry about. It will be impossible to plan to stop Barkley when guys like Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram are also on the field.

    Stacking the box against Barkley is going to be difficult because of New York's field-stretching passing attack. That's going to lead to plenty of big runs. In passing situations, opposing teams will have to pick their poison, and covering Barkley one-on-one is going to be a mistake more often than not.

Denver Broncos DE Bradley Chubb

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos didn't hesitate to turn in the card for their first-round draft pick. When the Cleveland Browns passed on N.C. State edge-rusher Bradley Chubb, general manager John Elway jumped at the chance to grab him.

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Elway even backed out of a trade that had been agreed upon with the Buffalo Bills because Chubb was too good to pass up.

    It's not difficult to see why the Broncos saw Chubb as so valuable. While the defense isn't as dominant as it was during 2015's championship run, Denver still has the skeleton of a championship-caliber unit. With Case Keenum boosting the offense, Chubb may be the piece needed to get back to playoff football.

    It's going to be hard for offenses to handle Chubb with pass-rusher extraordinaire Von Miller playing opposite him. Teams won't be able to double-team both Chubb and Miller on every play. Plus, talented defenders like Chris Harris Jr., Darian Stewart and Bradley Roby are going to make it difficult for opposing quarterbacks to get the ball out quickly.

    Landing with the Broncos probably gives Chubb his best chance to record double-digit sacks as a rookie.

Carolina Panthers WR D.J. Moore

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    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton struggled to rack up passing yards in 2017—he barely topped 3,300 yards—because the offense lacked explosive pass-catchers. Well, Carolina addressed that problem by bringing in speedster Torrey Smith and drafting Maryland wideout D.J. Moore in the first round.

    Moore could be the biggest mismatch on Carolina's offense this season—outside of Newton himself, of course.

    Opposing defenses are going to have to account for Newton's scrambling ability at all times. They also have to plan for Christian McCaffrey's ability to run and catch passes out of the backfield. Because both McCaffrey and Newton are behind-the-line threats, playing pure man coverage against the Panthers can be difficult.

    Moore is the kind of big (6'0", 210 lbs) and quick receiver who can dominate against zone coverage. He should be a No. 1 receiver for the Panthers out of the gate, but teams won't always be able to shadow him with a man-zone coverage combination either. They will still have to worry about the downfield threat of Smith, the possession threat of Devin Funchess and, of course, tight end Greg Olsen.

    Defensive coordinators aren't likely to give Moore the kind of attention other No. 1 receiver command, at least not early, which will open things up for the young pass-catcher. Once Moore is getting that attention, it's going to space out the rest of Carolina's offense.

Philadelphia Eagles TE Dallas Goedert

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    Daryl Wilson/Associated Press

    Part of the reason the Philadelphia Eagles passing attack was so dangerous last season was that the offense featured multiple pass-catching tight ends. Zach Ertz racked up 824 yards, Trey Burton amassed 248 and Brent Celek added 130. The presence of these three allowed the Eagles to either pass or run out of multiple-tight-end sets, which made things difficult on opposing defenses.

    Well, the Eagles parted with both Celek and Burton this offseason, which made adding another tight end a priority to maintain last year's mismatches. Philadelphia did just that by drafting South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert in the second round.

    Goedert should be a perfect and immediate fit.

    "This just makes sense for a team that lost Trey Burton," NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah said after Goedert was picked. "They wanted to find another athletic tight end."

    Pairing Goedert with Ertz instantly allows the Eagles to create mismatches on offense. They also added Richard Rodgers in the offseason, so they will again have three pass-catching tight ends on the roster—potentially on the field at the same time.

    With Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery and Mike Wallace leading the wide receiver corps, it's going to be difficult for opposing defenses to key in on any one option. Goedert isn't likely to be seen as the biggest priority in any formation, and that's going to make him a dangerous weapon—especially once quarterback Carson Wentz is back to 100 percent.

Jacksonville Jaguars DT Taven Bryan

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The Jacksonville Jaguars had the NFL's most dominant defense in 2017. They allowed just 16.8 points per game thanks in large part to a deep and dangerous defensive line. The push that line created up front helped lead to a remarkable 55 sacks.

    That defensive line got stronger over the weekend when the Jaguars added Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan to the rotation. While Bryan isn't likely to be a starter as a rookie, the mammoth 6'5", 291-pound tackle is going to have many opportunities to make plays and will be a mismatch when he's on the field.

    Here's the deal with Bryan's situation: The Jaguars have so many talented defensive linemen—like Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler Jr., Abry Jones, Marcell Dareus and Dawuane Smoot—that they essentially have two starting-caliber lines.

    "It now has so much defensive-line depth that there are probably teams that would swap their starting defensive lines for Jacksonville's second unit," Bleacher Report's Chris Simms wrote.

    Bryan is going to get to come into games as a fresh player surrounded by tremendous talent. He'll be going up against offensive linemen who are already worn down, and double-teaming him will almost be out of the question. That's going to lead to one big matchup headache for opposing teams.

    Don't be shocked when you see Bryan dominating late in halves.

Pittsburgh Steelers WR James Washington

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is dangerous for two big reasons. It boasts Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and it has a ton of top-level targets. Even with Martavis Bryant now with the Oakland Raiders, the Steelers can threaten with pieces like Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jesse James and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

    By drafting Oklahoma State receiver James Washington in the second round, Pittsburgh added another weapon to the mix and replaced Bryant. Like Bryant, Washington is a legitimate deep threat who can take advantage of the attention guys like Brown and Bell are going to command.

    "He doesn't look like a receiver and he doesn't run routes like a receiver, but then you see him get open deep and make all those explosive plays and you know exactly what he does for an offense," one Big-12 coach said of Washington, per NFL Media's Lance Zierlein.

    Unlike Bryant, Washington isn't likely to be unhappy with his role or a suspension risk.

    If opposing defenses don't respect Washington's ability to get open over the top, he's can burn them. If they worry about it too much, it's going to open up underneath routes for players like Brown and Bell. That's will give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares.

New Orleans Saints DE Marcus Davenport

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The New Orleans Saints were one of the league's most complete teams in 2017. They had an offense that could rack up points and yards either through the air or on the ground—the offense ranked fifth in both categories. The Saints also had a defense that was bolstered by Pro Bowl rookie corner Marshon Lattimore and allowed just 20.4 points per game (10th in the NFL).

    What the Saints lacked, however, was a dominant edge-rusher to pair with Cameron Jordan. While New Orleans racked up 42 sacks on the season, Jordan had 13 of those while no other player had more than 4.5 sacks.

    Well, New Orleans traded up and got that dedicated sack artist in Texas-San Antonio's Marcus Davenport, who will immediately be a matchup problem for opposing teams.

    For starters, Davenport, who had 8.5 sacks last season, will get to play opposite Jordan. That's going to mean opposing teams cannot focus strictly on him. He'll also have a solid secondary behind him—ranked 15th in passing yards allowed last season—which should buy him an extra split-second to get to the quarterback.

    Most importantly, though, is the fact Davenport should be on the field for plenty of passing situations. New Orleans averaged an impressive 28.0 points per game last season, so it won't be rare to see opposing teams passing in an attempt to keep up on the scoreboard.

Los Angeles Chargers Derwin James

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Chargers got themselves a steal when former Florida State safety Derwin James fell to them at the 17th overall pick. James is big (6'2", 215 lbs), fast (ran a 4.47 40) and physical and will be a terror at the strong safety position.

    It's going to be difficult to avoid James in either the running game or the passing game.

    James will have plenty of opportunities to run up and stick ball-carriers, especially considering the Chargers allowed the second-most rushing yards last season (131.1). He will also get plenty of opportunities to make plays against the pass at the second level of the defense.

    Opposing teams are going to look for short passes toward the middle of the field for two reasons. The Chargers have one of the league's best pass-rushing tandems in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. They also have one of the league's top cornerback duos in Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward. Long pass plays to the outside that take time to develop simply aren't viable options against Los Angeles.

    Having James in the middle is going to make it even harder to game-plan for the Chargers defense and will provide James with the chance to rack up more stats than any other rookie defensive back.

Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Former Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley might just be the most obvious mismatch of the entire draft. He's a long (6'1", 189 lbs), fast (ran a 4.43 40) and polished pass-catcher with the potential to eventually be a No. 1 NFL receiver.

    Well, the Atlanta Falcons drafted Ridley in the first round, which means he won't be a No. 1 anytime soon—and he might not even be a No. 2.

    You might have noticed that the Falcons already boast one of the league's most dominant receiver tandems in Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Adding Ridley as the No. 3 receiver almost isn't even fair. Opposing teams regularly double Jones, which means Ridley is going to frequently see one-on-one opportunities on the outside or as a big slot receiver.

    Quarterback Matt Ryan has the arm talent and the vision to get the ball to Ridley whenever he finds separation. Opposing defenses cannot afford to just sit in soft zone coverage either, as the Falcons are more than capable of running the ball with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

    Coordinators are going to have zero fun trying to game-plan for Atlanta's offense in 2018.

Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns ended up getting their own Chubb on draft weekend, taking former Georgia running back Nick Chubb early in the second round. While a knee injury in 2015 robbed Chubb of the explosiveness that may have put him on par with Barkley in this year's draft, the former UGA back is still dominant.

    Chubb averaged more than 100 yards per game during his Bulldogs career, even though he often shared the backfield with Sony Michel. He'll be sharing the Cleveland backfield with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson Jr., but he still has the potential to be a matchup nightmare.

    Here's why: Chubb possesses the ability to make quick cuts and the vision to identify running lanes from behind the line of scrimmage. He's going to find himself colliding with second-level defenders frequently, and he has the size (5'11", 227 lbs) and physicality to make that a dicey proposition for linebackers and defensive backs.

    However, opposing defenses won't simply be able to stack the box against Chubb when he's on the field. The Browns have a legitimate downfield passer in Tyrod Taylor and high-level receiving threats in Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry and David Njoku. Defenses will also have to account for Taylor's ability to scramble outside the pocket, which could lead to more contain looks from the front seven.

    Stacking the box against Chubb would leave the middle of the field vulnerable to Landry and Njoku. It would also potentially lead to one-on-one matchups for Gordon—which is never a good idea. 

    Adding Chubb to Cleveland's offense is going to benefit both the runner and the team in big ways.


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