The NFL is currently flooded with youth around the league and it isn’t slowing down any time soon. The younger guys are becoming an immediate nuisance to the seasoned vets in the league.
Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, along with the Miami Dolphins are starting to set an inclination around the league as well; drafting cornerbacks above 6’1”. Cornerback Sean Smith of the Miami Dolphins (6’4”) is bound to have a breakout season this year; Pete Carroll’s starting cornerbacks stand at a whopping 6’3” (Richard Sherman) and 6’4” (Brandon Browner). This is the beginning of not only a great trend, but great positional rivalries around the entire league.
Whispers around the league are that the NFL is beginning to become a powder puff league, for all of the new rules protecting the quarterbacks. I beg to differ. Rivalries that started in the 1970s are beginning to brew back up. There might not be another Ray Lewis vs Eddie George type of one-on-one rivalry like they had in the AFC Championship game over a decade ago, but there are some key rivalries full of young talent to pay attention to. Lets take a look at nine oppositions in the NFL to keep our eyes on.
9. Jets DE Quinton Coples vs Patriots OT Nate Solder
The New York Jets have been missing a pass rusher for quite some time now. They drafted DE Quinton Coples out of North Carolina this year, which should solve one of their prolonged problems on the depth chart. The Jets and Pats have had an ongoing rivalry, but it took a back seat for a while, until the Jets hired Eric Mangini. After Mangini’s departure, Rex Ryan only turned the fire up on the rivalry, immediately stating that he was not hired “to kiss Belichick’s ring.” The Patriots have a solid tackle in Nate Solder. The 6’8” second year player had an arguably pro bowl rookie season. He might not have lost much sleep last year the night before facing the Jets, but I think he’ll spend several nights up late studying the film of Quinton Coples; and vice versa.
8. Vikings CB Chris Cook vs Lions WR Calvin Johnson
Chris Cook missed almost his entire sophomore season in the NFL after having several off-the-field issues. The biggest one was his domestic violence incident with his ex-girlfriend. However, he showed flashes of competitiveness his rookie year. Not many cornerbacks can compete with Calvin Johnson once the ball is in the air. But Chris Cook showed that he in fact can be one of few defensive backs in the NFL who will not make it as easy for the wide receiver formally known as Megatron. Not many cornerbacks have the length as Cook. The fact that he’ll match up with Calvin Johnson is great for the sport of football. Week in and week out, Megatron abuses defensives, getting deeper than the last line of defense, and out jumping whomever it is getting in his way of adding more stats and SportsCenter top plays. If Cook can stay out of trouble along with staying healthy, we will appreciate future Vikings vs Lions games a lot more, as the Vikings are rebuilding and Lions constantly improving.
7. Raiders CB DeMarcus Van Dyke vs Chiefs WR Jonathan Baldwin
One of the most bitter rivalries in NFL history, which started in 1960 before the AFL and NFL emerged, the Chiefs and Raiders are back giving us classic games whenever they meet. These two second year pros are going to face off several times in the future, and I think it will be a sweet matchup every time. The Chiefs currently have their star WR Dwayne Bowe under the franchise tag, as reports have been heard that they are satisfied with Baldwin’s development, limiting the chances of Bowe getting a long-term contract with the organization. DVD, on the other hand, has matured at a rapid pace on and off the field. He is hands down the most impressive player at Raiders training camp. Ron Bartell is still nursing a neck injury, so DVD has taken full advantage of his opportunities, and may be the number one CB on the depth chart come week one. He (Van Dyke) has one career interception, and it came while defending Baldwin last season. Keep an eye on these young athletes in the future.
6. Steelers OT Mike Adams vs Ravens OLB Courtney Upshaw
Arguably the best rivalry in the NFL today, the AFC North elite squads just added rookies who will be with their organization for quite some time. Courtney Upshaw will line up opposite of DPOY Terrell Suggs, as they lost last years’ starter Jarrett Johnson via free agency. Trai Essex, Willie Colon and Max Starks are seasoned vets on the Steelers depth chart, but the 6’7” rookie Mike Adams is sure to outperform a couple of them and be the starter for the Steelers as early as this upcoming season. These teams have rivalries across the board: in the secondary, in the trenches, at quarterback and at wide receiver. Everyone tunes in when these teams play. Upshaw was heavily compared to Suggs prior to being drafted. And away from the “Tattoo Five” scandal at Ohio State, Mike Adams is an exceptional athlete who will be around for quite a while. He and David DeCastro are the future of the Steelers’ offensive line. Welcome to a great traditional rivalry, rookies.
5. Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. Browns CB Joe Haden
In A.J. Green’s first career game in the NFL, he had only one catch. That catch was a 41-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton, while being defended by Browns’ CB Joe Haden the entire game. A.J. Green was targeted six times that game, as Haden blanketed him around and defended five passes. The catch by Green sealed the game, as it was looking like Cleveland would run away with the victory. These two have past history with each other, as they faced each other twice in college, when Green was at Georgia and Haden was at Florida. That is a huge SEC rivalry in college football, and it is a good thing for those two institutions to be able to witness the rivalry carry into the NFL. Both athletes have a bright future. Bengals/Browns games don’t quite draw a lot of views; but if you can catch a Bengals vs Browns game, pay attention to this matchup.
4. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch vs 49ers MLB Patrick Willis
These two promising young guys are considered veterans in the NFL, but they are still very youthful. The 49ers allowed three rushing touchdowns all of last season; Marshawn Lynch had two of those in the last game of the season. Often referred to as “Beastmode,” Lynch was written off in Buffalo, but was resurrected in Seattle. They say no one knows you better than your enemy. I wouldn’t consider USC and Cal enemies to one another, but those teams despise each other. Pete Carroll was the head coach at USC when Lynch was the running back there. Carroll is very familiar with Marshawn’s defaults and strengths; that became obvious when Carroll traded for him after being named the Seahawks coach. No one will stand in the 49ers way of winning the NFC West this season. However, the Seahawks are maturing, as Carroll has them going in the right direction. It’ll be nice seeing these two face off twice a year.
3. Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs Steelers WR Antonio Brown
Because of his big-play ability, I thought Mike Wallace was easily the best wide receiver on the Steelers depth chart. But that was his biggest strength – getting deep. When it comes to running the entire WR tree route, I’d take Antonio Brown over him (probably why Wallace won’t get a long-term contract just yet). In 2011, Lardarius Webb had a pro bowl caliber season in my regards. He had arguably the best game of his career in the AFC Championship last year, picking off Tom Brady once and holding Wes Welker to 53 receiving yards on six catches. As Webb gained respect around the league last season, so did Antonio Brown. It is only right if Webb continues to shadow the best WR on opposing teams like he did in last years’ postseason. If he keeps that up, he will see a lot of Antonio Brown rather than Mike Wallace.
2. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson vs Cowboys WR Dez Bryant
In week 13 of last seasons regular season game, Dez Bryant was targeted eleven times, catching eight of the passes thrown his way. With that being said, you can argue he got the best of Patrick Peterson, who gave up a touchdown to Bryant, but defensed three passes. Both players are going to be a household name to NFL fans as early as this upcoming season. Peterson is a phenomenal Punt Returner, and a cornerback who still has a lot to learn. He was the number one cornerback in the nation in high school, so I think someone with such a prestige resume’ will catch on fast. Dez Bryant has top five wide receiver potential, but isn’t quite there mentally. If he can get it together off the field and stay healthy, his potential could be unfathomable. Same goes for Peterson (minus the off field issues). It was a great game when these two teams faced each other last season. For the love of the sport, I think this should become a ceremonial matchup between the Cards and Cowboys, so fans can see matchups like Peterson vs Bryant continue to unfold.
1. Colts QB Andrew Luck vs Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (RGIII)
First and second overall draft picks in the same draft class is Luck and RGIII. Andrew Luck is replacing a legend in Indianapolis. The entire Colts organization is reshaping to cater to Andrew Luck’s development. RGIII has been stealing Luck’s spotlight since college, when Luck was the preseason runaway for the Heisman trophy, but RGIII stole the show and won the prestigious award. Now, after being drafted right after Luck to the Washington Redskins, football observers around the world will compare and contrast the two week after week, year after year; debating who will have the better professional career. Unlike Luck who is with an organization basically starting back from scratch, RGIII immediately fits in with Coach Shanahan and his Zone-Blocking, QB bootleg offense. Both quarterbacks are athletic, but it isn’t even close who has the upper hand. Whatever Luck does, both on and off the field, it’ll be compared to the career of RGIII. And vice versa. The last quarterbacks to be taken one and two overall who were closely examined were Luck’s predecessor Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, who turned out to be arguably the biggest bust in NFL history. I don’t think anyone has neither Luck nor RGIII written off as a future bust. The two are too talented to not fit in in someone’s offense in the NFL. Keep your eyes on these two for at least the next ten years. Hope they both have healthy careers.