Which NFL Rookies Will Be Immediate Matchup Nightmares?

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVMay 1, 2019

Which NFL Rookies Will Be Immediate Matchup Nightmares?

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The 2019 NFL draft brought three days worth of entertainment and inspirational stories. While players saw their dreams come true, organizations and fans were filled with optimism for the future.

    There were 256 players who heard their name called, and countless more earned opportunities as undrafted free agents. Franchises will be changed as this fresh talent develops over time.

    Not all draft classes will be equal, though. Some hauls will bring significant returns right away, while others will take years to bear out, if at all.

    We've identified 10 rookies primed to be immediate nightmare matchups based on their individual talent and new surrounding situation. Being put in a position to excel can make or break a career, and each of these individuals are set up for success right away.

    We have a long way to go before the start of the 2019 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.


Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    People take notice when Kyle Shanahan invests in playmakers with significant assets due to his success with less-heralded skill positions throughout his career. Last year's second-round pick, receiver Dante Pettis, found success in his rookie season due to his quickness and route-running within Shanahan's system.

    Shanahan again found an immediate mismatch weapon in the second round with Deebo Samuel.

    The South Carolina playmaker doesn't dominate with his size or elite speed, but he's as well-rounded as any receiver in the draft. His 4.48-second 40-yard-dash speed and 39-inch vertical leap highlight a skill set that allows him to go around or above defenders and win consistently at the catch point. His ability to play outside or in the slot with his speed, power after the catch and body control will allow him to earn early playing time.

    Shanahan demands versatility in his offense, and Samuel was the best fit in the class. He accumulated 2,076 yards and 16 touchdowns in his career despite being stuck in an inconsistent passing offense and dealing with injuries that caused him to play just eight games combined in 2015 and 2017. Expect him to quickly complement Pettis and veteran Marquise Goodwin as he's schemed into one-on-one situations to maximize his talents.

Ed Oliver, DT, Buffalo Bills

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Few top-10 picks can be labeled as a steal, but the Buffalo Bills were able to land a game-changing interior pass-rusher in Ed Oliver at No. 9 overall. Oliver was only stopped by Houston's baffling insistence on playing him at nose tackle and opposing offenses opting to triple-team him. Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott will surely not allow that to happen considering his past experience with Kawann Short.

    Oliver's an elite athlete who compares closest to Geno Atkins. Like Atkins, Oliver does his best work when he can penetrate the backfield using his incredible first step. It's too much for almost every guard in the league to control for an entire game.

    He amassed 53 tackles for loss and 13.5 career sacks also thanks to his low center of gravity and violent hands. It's possible he'll be viewed as one of the top four players of this class just one year from now.

    His fit with the Bills is clear now that Kyle Williams is gone. He and Star Lotulelei complement each other well as the traditional penetrator and gap-eater. It'll be up to Harrison Phillips and Jordan Phillips to develop into quality rotational pieces behind the two.

David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears didn't have significant assets to acquire a natural replacement for Jordan Howard in Matt Nagy's offense, but that didn't stop Ryan Pace from finding one. With their first pick of the draft coming in the third round, Pace landed Iowa State dynamo David Montgomery. The bruiser immediately figures to be a primary back along with Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis.

    Montgomery possesses rare balance and the ability to avoid direct hits. He led the nation in forced missed tackles over the last two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. Though not nearly as explosive as Alvin Kamara, both players share the unique talent to continue grinding through defenders and pick up extra yards.

    Montgomery won't have to see as many stacked boxes with the Bears as he did with the Cyclones. One-on-one, defensive backs stand little chance to bring the 5'10", 222-pounder down without help. Expect Montgomery to have an impactful rookie campaign even as he'll likely share carries early on.

Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos

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    AJ MAST/Associated Press

    Although Noah Fant wasn't even the first Iowa tight end off the board in the 2019 draft, he's a better fit for this list than his former teammate, T.J. Hockenson. The 6'4", 249-pound Fant is a pseudo-receiver in the mold of Evan Engram and Jared Cook and is set to wreak havoc on defenses. His immense physical traits will simply be too much to slow consistently if he gets quality quarterback play.

    Fant pairs his size with 4.5 speed, a 39.5-inch vertical and a mind-blowing 6.81 three-cone time. He's too big and fast for corners and safeties, let alone linebackers. His biggest challenge will be finishing at the catch point through contact and learning to sell routes.

    Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello has experience working under Kyle Shanahan, and Fant's talent should bring significant production. The No. 20 overall selection can be used as an outside receiver or moved around formations like George Kittle has been by Shanahan in San Francisco.

Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    It shouldn't be a shocker to have the No. 2 overall pick on this last of immediate mismatches. The 6'4", 266-pound pass-rusher was praised by head coach Kyle Shanahan for his ability to tie his hands to his feet and create a plan as he chases the quarterback. Along with a terrific athletic profile, Bosa's close to a slam-dunk playmaker as long as he stays healthy.

    His fit with the 49ers is clear, as they desperately needed a second edge-rusher across from Dee Ford. Bosa's stout enough against the run to be a strong-side defender but still quick and polished to be a double-digit sack defender in the near future. His 17.5 sacks in 29 games at Ohio State, few of which were starts as he was in a deep rotation, illustrates his efficiency and talent level.

    Opposing tackles will struggle with Bosa's ability to vary his bull rushes with speed attack. Bosa's hand strength and activity level are extremely problematic since he can initiate contact but then blow by his blocker, his way of distracting the eyes of the tackler. He should be able to convey his advanced skill set to an impressive rookie campaign.

D.K. Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks

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    There wasn't another player who created as much buzz for himself at the 2019 NFL combine than D.K. Metcalf. The former Ole Miss star slid to the second round despite his incredible athletic showing, likely due to a history of injuries that limited him to just 19 games over the last two years. But that doesn't mean he won't be the ultimate mismatch piece for the Seattle Seahawks.

    The 6'3", 228-pounder is a dominant deep threat with his size, 4.33 speed and 40.5-inch vertical leap. The Rebels didn't ask him to do much outside of go routes, but that's a simple role for a rookie to ease into. And it helps that Metcalf will have an elite deep passer in Russell Wilson.

    Metcalf should be able to earn early playing time since the Seahawks don't have anyone on the roster possessing anything near his skill set. All of a sudden the Seahawks have an explosive young receiver corps. The trio of Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and David Moore will be able to hold their own if Doug Baldwin does retire.

Marquise Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens lost a significant amount of talent along their defense this offseason thanks to cap limitations and players aging out. But their mandate entering the draft was still to beef up an offense that's committed to Lamar Jackson. That meant adding worthwhile receivers to an anemic group for Jackson to improve as a passer.

    First-round pick Marquise Brown is as explosive as Jackson, forcing defenses to account for his presence each play. His acceleration to top speed happens as quick as anyone currently in the NFL, and he's able to maintain it through cuts. Corners either risk losing at the line of scrimmage in press or have to give significant underneath space to protect against deep routes.

    Jackson's accuracy downfield must continue to progress, and Brown must also fully recover from his Lisfranc injury. General manager Eric DeCosta said the team believes he'll be back by training camp, per Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic. He'll need that time to develop a rapport with Jackson, but he'll be a nightmare to defend regardless of who is covering him.

Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Redskins

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    The Washington Redskins appeared to have a potentially franchise-changing draft haul in 2019. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins and edge-rusher Montez Sweat have the skill sets to be building blocks for their respective side of the ball. But the rest of the Redskins class was filled with solid role players.

    Haskins will benefit from reuniting with third-round receiver Terry McLaurin. The Redskins had one of the weakest receiver corps in the league prior to the draft, giving McLaurin the chance to earn a starting role as a rookie. He set career-highs across the board in 2018 with Haskins throwing to him, and it should lead to an early connection between the two at this level.

    The 6'0", 208-pound McLaurin compares athletically to Pierre Garcon, and it's not hard to see McLaurin having that type of upside with his 4.35 speed and nuanced route-running ability. He measured as the fastest player at the Senior Bowl, according to ESPN's Todd McShay, and he parlays that speed to find underneath openings as defenders retreat. Watch for that to translate quickly with the Redskins.

Brian Burns, DE, Carolina Panthers

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    Despite the league being obsessed with edge-rushers with elite athleticism, Florida State's Brian Burns fell all the way to No. 16 overall. The star pass-rusher tallied 38.5 tackles for loss and 23 sacks in three years for the Seminoles. Then he blew up the combine by scoring in the 81st percentile or better in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump and three-cone drill.

    Burns is a speed-demon off the edge in the mold of Danielle Hunter. Isolating him against slower, bulky tackles puts quarterbacks who drop deep into the pocket at risk for a quick sack because Burns can hit angles that most edge players can't. He's also flexible enough in the hips and ankles to continue through contact into the quarterback.

    There's certainly double-digit sack potential with Burns even as a rookie. He figures to platoon with Bruce Irvin across from Mario Addison, but he's a creator for others with sack opportunities because he's so quick to burst off the line of scrimmage. That should in turn help others around him also find production.

Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers defense just wasn't the same without Ryan Shazier in 2018. Lacking a rare athletic presence in the middle of the field, the team's scheme was exposed at times as rigid linebackers were stuck covering playmakers in space. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert identified Michigan's Devin Bush as the solution to the issue and traded up to acquire him.

    Colbert paid a heavy price, including a 2020 third-round pick on top of the No. 20 and No. 52 overall picks in this class. But the payoff should be immediate as Bush will pair with Mark Barron to give the unit more schematic solutions than they've had in prior years. Bush in particular is the key for Pittsburgh to finally take the next step in the playoffs.

    The 5'11", 234-pounder has fantastic range and instincts in space. He can man-up slot receivers and tight ends or drop into zones and chase down crossing routes. His 4.43 speed and 6.93 three-cone time is apparent in his game film as he flies around the field.

    He'll be a difficult assignment for the AFC North's interior linemen. Landmarking at the second level is hard with average athletes at the position, but Bush can easily whiz by and avoid contact. It's fair to have high expectations after he totaled 161 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and 11 passes defensed over the last two seasons at Michigan.

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