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Which 2020 NFL Rookies Will Be Immediate Matchup Nightmares?

Kristopher Knox

Part of the reason fans love the NFL draft is because it provides a sense of hope for the coming season. Each incoming rookie is a potential playmaker ready to add touchdowns to the scoreboard and wins to the record.

That hope is often misplaced, of course, as not every rookie is going to have an immediate impact. Each year, however, some have the athletic potential, the required skill set and the right supporting cast to instantly make opponents fear them.

Last season, for example, players like Raiders running back Josh Jacobs and Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf quickly became pieces that opposing coaches had to game-plan for. Here, we'll examine some incoming rookies with both the skills and the situations needed to have the same kind of impact in 2020.


Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Let's kick things off by examining the only running back to hear his name called in the first round. The Kansas City Chiefs took former LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the final pick of Round 1, and in doing so, they gave themselves a huge offensive mismatch.

Edwards-Helaire is going to be a terror for opposing defensive coordinators for a couple of reasons. For one, he has enough quickness and wiggle in his game to shake defenders one-on-one in open space. And make no mistake, with the weapons on Kansas City's offense, Edwards-Helaire is going to get space.

Defenders will also struggle to keep tabs on Edwards-Helaire as a receiver out of the backfield. He is a remarkable pass-catcher—he had 55 receptions in 2019 alone—and will give coordinators fits when they put too much attention on covering downfield targets like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.

While Edwards-Helaire doesn't possess the raw speed of Kareem Hunt, he does have a similar combination of running and receiving skills. Anyone who remembers Hunt in Kansas City's offense should know what sort of mismatches that can create.

Henry Ruggs III, WR, Las Vegas Raiders

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Speed is good—at least if you're the team possessing it. The Las Vegas Raiders added a ton of speed to their offense when they took former Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs III with the 12th overall pick in the draft.

Ruggs ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.27 seconds in Indianapolis. That straight-line quickness will immediately cause opposing defenses to soften their coverages a bit. However, Ruggs brings more than just speed to the table.

From Pro Football Focus:

"Don't just call Ruggs a speedster. He's a complete route-runner with legit ball skills, as well. He doesn't have to just be a deep threat, but he looks like a sure thing in that regard. Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb were still available and higher on PFF's big board, but Ruggs offers speed you won't find anywhere else."

Ruggs is a complete wideout who is going to strike fear in the opposition from Day 1.

Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Ruggs' former teammate and new division rival Jerry Jeudy can also be an immediate mismatch, but for different reasons. The Denver Broncos rookie doesn't possess the silly speed of Ruggs—though he did run the 40 in 4.45 seconds—but he can break most matchups with his ability to shake coverage.

Jeudy is a supreme route-runner who can create separation where there wouldn't be space for most pass-catchers.

"In 20 years of doing this, he's the best college route-runner I've ever seen," ESPN's Todd McShay said of Jeudy.

Opposing coordinators are going to want to put more than one guy on Jeudy, but that's going to prove difficult in Denver. The Broncos already had receiver Courtland Sutton and tight end Noah Fant, and they also added Penn State wideout K.J. Hamler in the second round this year.

As a whole, Denver's new-look offense is going to keep opponents up at night.

CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Like Ruggs and Jeudy, new Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb has elite No. 1 receiver traits. He doesn't have the game-breaking speed of Ruggs or the unbelievable route skills of Jeudy, but he has a great combination of size (6'2", 198 lbs), quickness (4.50 40-yard dash) and ball skills.

The former Oklahoma standout did not rack up 1,327 yards and 15 total touchdowns in 2019 by accident.

As the No. 3 receiver on Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller's big board, Lamb enters a situation that would make a mismatch out of a lesser receiver.

Lamb will be playing opposite Pro Bowler Amari Cooper, meaning he's likely to see his fair share of single coverage. His odds of doing so are increased by the fact that Dallas has a monstrous backfield comprised of two-time rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. Dropping extra defenders into coverage won't really be an option.

Lamb isn't a lesser receiver, though, and faced with lots of one-on-one opportunities, he's going to feast.

Chase Young, EDGE, Washington Redskins

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Not all matchup nightmares play on offense. Just ask any offensive line coach faced with the task of trying to slow Nick Bosa last season. The 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year was a difference-maker for the San Francisco 49ers because matching up with him was so difficult.

Former Ohio State teammate and new Washington Redskins defender Chase Young can have a similar impact in 2020.

Like Bosa, Young possesses elite edge-rushing traits. The 6'5", 264-pound sack artist is quick off the edge and able to bend around or bull-rush blockers on his way to opposing signal-callers. He racked up 16.5 sacks in 2019 and could potentially approach that number in 2020.

Just as Bosa did last season, Young is joining an extremely talented defensive front. Between Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Ryan Kerrigan and Daron Payne, Washington's front has the talent to rival San Francisco's.

When Young is on the field, he's rarely going to see one-on-one blocking situations because the talent around him won't often allow for it. That's a frightening thought for quarterbacks hoping to escape his grasp.

K'Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, Jacksonville Jaguars

AJ Mast/Associated Press

Like Young, former LSU edge-rusher K'Lavon Chaisson is entering a very favorable situation. The ninth overall prospect on Miller's big board, Chaisson joins the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he'll be paired with 2019 rookie phenom Josh Allen.

Last season, Allen racked up 10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles to go with 44 tackles. He—and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, if he isn't traded and signs his franchise tender—will command plenty of offensive attention in 2020.

This will leave Chaisson facing single blockers often, which could spell disaster for opposing quarterbacks.

"Chaisson has begun putting the recipe together to become a game-altering pass rusher," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote. "While some long-limbed rushers lack the bend and leverage to maximize their length, his fluidity and agility allow him to dip, corner, change direction and close in tight quarters or with extended range."

The nightmare scenario here is that if opposing offenses start putting two blockers on Chaisson, it's only going to open the door for Allen.

Isaiah Simmons, LB, Arizona Cardinals

Sean Rayford/Associated Press

When the Arizona Cardinals drafted former Clemson defender Isaiah Simmons eighth overall, they gave themselves a huge matchup advantage. While defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has stated that he plans to use Simmons primarily as a linebacker, per ESPN's Josh Weinfuss, Simmons is capable of playing cornerback and safety as well.

To be fair, Joseph probably isn't in the business of telling opponents how he plans to use Simmons months before he sees the field. The element of surprise is too valuable of a tool.

And this is where Simmons can be a matchup nightmare. His ability to play multiple positions in the back seven will allow Arizona to switch from a base defense to a nickel or big nickel package on the fly without rotating personnel.

This can give the Cardinals a decided advantage when disguising coverages and can help even the playing field against no-huddle offenses.

"You only get 53 on a roster. I feel like if you draft me, you get 56," Simmons said, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Devin Duvernay, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Michael Thomas/Associated Press

Though not a first-round pick like the other players listed so far, new Baltimore Ravens wideout Devin Duvernay could be just as hard to contain as his Round 1 brethren. The third-round pick and former Texas star possesses a solid build (5'10", 200 lbs), elite speed (4.39 40) and tremendous hands.

"Straight-line speedster with a fireplug build who needs to close the ability gap between when the ball is in his hands and when it's not," Zierlein wrote of Duvernay.

Duvernay's ability to stretch the field and eat up yards after the catch will fit perfectly with the Ravens offense. Baltimore loves to rock opposing defenses with the running game while hitting big plays through the air. Duvernay's skill set plays right into that—and his potential as a perimeter run-blocker shouldn't be overlooked.

In return, the Ravens will give Duvernay a chance to shine. Because of quarterback Lamar Jackson and the run game, opposing defenses rarely concentrate their efforts on stopping the pass. Duvernay should see a lot of one-on-one coverage with fellow speedster Marquise Brown drawing the majority of safety help over the top.

Tee Higgins, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Another Day 2 prospect who could be difficult to contend with as a rookie is new Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. Taken with the first pick in the second round, Higgins should develop an early rapport with new Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.

The ability to grow and learn alongside Burrow will pay dividends, but it alone won't make the Clemson product a matchup nightmare; his incredible length (6'4", 216 lbs) and ball skills will. His ability to outjump, outmuscle, and outcatch most cornerbacks will prove problematic for opposing coordinators.

Higgins will be hard to cover one-on-one because of his contested-catch prowess. However, the Bengals offense isn't going to allow for many double-team opportunities. While the Cincinnati offense wasn't exactly threatening in 2019, the cupboard isn't bare.

Assuming Cincinnati gets back seven-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green, it will feature Green, Tyler Boyd, speedster John Ross and now Higgins at wideout. With a strong backfield duo in Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard, the Bengals should be able to create several mismatches in 2020.

Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

The Philadelphia Eagles puzzled plenty of folks when they took Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round. After all, they have Carson Wentz for the foreseeable future, and the second round is high for a backup quarterback.

However, the Eagles don't plan to use Hurts exclusively as a backup quarterback. According to Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson, they also plan to utilize him in offensive sub-packages.

"Taysom Hill [package] on steroids," one source said, per Robinson.

This is where Hurts can be a matchup problem. The New Orleans Saints have been able to aggravate opposing defenses with Hill, and Hurts can be even more frustrating to defend. With 4.59 speed and improving throwing mechanics, Hurts is more of a true dual-threat quarterback than a gadget option.

What should truly scare opponents is a backfield consisting of Wentz, Hurts and second-year runner Miles Sanders. The Eagles will have nearly limitless options at their disposal in such a formation, and head coach Doug Pederson has always shown a willingness to get creative.

With Hurts on the field, opposing defenses are going to stay off-balance.


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