Must-See Rookie vs. Rookie Battles in the 2024 NFL Season

By now, you’ve had plenty of time to absorb and analyze the schedule for the 2024 NFL season. Did your favorite team get cursed with an early bye, short weeks or late-season trips to unforgiving climates? Or did the league hand your squad a clear runway out of the gate and a home-heavy closing stretch?

We’ll see how it all plays out. But as we wait for September to arrive, let’s turn our attention back to the ’24 NFL Draft class because the schedule gave us some must-see rookie versus rookie battles.

Some of the best:

CB Nate Wiggins (Round 1, pick 30) vs. WR Xavier Worthy (Round 1, pick 28)

How about opening the NFL season with a matchup of the two fastest players from this year’s NFL Scouting Combine? In Worthy’s case, he stands as the combine’s fastest player ever after posting a ridiculous 4.21-second 40-yard dash (John Ross III held the previous mark, 4.22). He’s in an offense — playing with a superstar quarterback, Patrick Mahomes — that should be able to unleash his downfield speed.

The Ravens will counter him, in part, with Wiggins, whose 4.28 40 was the second fastest of any combine participant in 2024 and behind only Kalon Barnes (4.23), DJ Turner II (4.26) and Riq Woolen (4.26) all time among combine CBs.


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TE Brock Bowers (Round 1, pick 13) vs. LB Junior Colson (Round 3, pick 69)

Colson was not the first linebacker off the board this year — Texas A&M’s Edgerrin Cooper took that honor (No. 45 by the Green Bay Packers) — but he was Dane Brugler’s top-ranked LB in “The Beast.” As part of that scouting report, Brugler noted Colson is an “athletic mover in coverage with widescreen vision to pick up backside crossers in zone” and “uses his coverage awareness to sniff out throwing lanes and force quarterbacks to think twice.”

He’ll need his entire bag of tricks to help the Chargers defense slow Bowers, whose new coach, Antonio Pierce, called him the “most dynamic football player at the tight end position in college football we’ve seen in a long time.” Colson and the new-look Chargers defense will have their work cut out for them, both to start and end the regular season — these rivals will meet in Las Vegas in Week 18.

CB Terrion Arnold (Round 1, pick 24) vs. WR Marvin Harrison Jr. (Round 1, pick 4)

The Cardinals won’t see the Eagles this year (pending a playoff meeting), so we won’t get any glimpses of Harrison against CB1 in the 2024 draft, Quinyon Mitchell. But this makes for an intriguing fallback option, provided that a) Arnold has cracked the rebuilt Lions cornerbacks rotation by Week 3 (he should), and b) defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn turns Arnold loose against Harrison (he might).

Arnold isn’t a blazing-fast defender (4.5 40 at the combine), but college cornerbacks able to bother Harrison even for a moment usually did so by playing ultra-physical ball — which is Arnold’s MO. When Harrison starts cooking, though, it’s almost impossible to turn down the heat.

Week 7: Los Angeles Chargers at Arizona Cardinals

OT Joe Alt (Round 1, pick 5) vs. edge Darius Robinson (Round 1, pick 27)

How quickly can the Jim Harbaugh plan come to fruition in L.A.? Whenever the pieces click into place, Alt likely will be at the foundation. He’ll have his hands full throughout the year (nothing like making your NFL debut against the Raiders’ Maxx Crosby!), but don’t overlook this one — Robinson has sneaky potential as a Defensive Rookie of the Year threat.


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K Will Reichard (Round 6, pick 203) vs. K Joshua Karty (Round 6, pick 209)

OK, sure, Rams first-round edge Jared Verse chasing Vikings first-round QB J.J. McCarthy would be a more exciting showcase. But — provided both special teamers survive training camp and the early season without being cut — this game also could pit the top two kickers from this year’s class. In what could be a close Thursday night battle, Reichard or Karty might need to come up big late.

QB Caleb Williams (Round 1, pick 1) vs. QB Jayden Daniels (Round 1, pick 2)

A no-brainer choice for our list — the No. 1 pick (Williams) squaring off with the No. 2 pick (Daniels) in what could be a weighty midseason NFC game. If there’s any surprise here, it’s that the NFL tucked this game into the 1 p.m. ET Sunday window.

The Bears do have five games scheduled for national-TV windows, including a Week 2 Sunday nighter that’ll pit Williams against the 2023 Offensive Rookie of the Year and No. 2 pick, Houston’s C.J. Stroud.

C Sedrick Van Pran-Granger (Round 5, pick 141) vs. DT Byron Murphy II (Round 1, pick 16)

A little love for the trenches. Van Pran-Granger and Murphy were separated by 125 picks in this year’s draft, but that won’t mean much of anything if they square up Oct. 27. The Bills rookie still has to win a job, be it at guard or center. Murphy faces a similar climb on the defensive side of the ball, although his game-wrecking potential should push him into the rotation — if not the starting lineup — from the jump.

QB Drake Maye (Round 1, pick 3) vs. Williams

Two weeks after a potential matchup of QBs 1 and 2, the schedule serves up 1 versus 3.

Will Maye be the Patriots’ starter by Week 10? Unlike Williams, who’s going to be Chicago’s starter barring unexpected developments in camp, Maye likely will head into at least the preseason behind veteran Jacoby Brissett on the depth chart. These teams are scheduled to meet again in 2026, so we might have to wait for the Maye-Williams showdown.

C Zach Frazier (Round 2, pick 51) vs. DT Johnny Newton (Round 2, pick 36)

We head back over the ball and find two of the NFL Draft world’s favorite Day 2 prospects — Frazier ranked 34th on Brugler’s final board; Newton ranked 28th and had a borderline first-round grade.

Frazier already can be penciled in as the Steelers’ starting center, assuming he doesn’t suffer any setbacks returning from the broken leg that ended his final season at West Virginia (and limited his pre-draft workouts). Newton has injury issues himself — he’s scheduled for a second surgery on his foot. He’ll also have to steal some snaps from Washington’s stalwart DT combo of Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne.


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Week 11: Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets

Edge Laiatu Latu (Round 1, pick 15) vs. OT Olu Fashanu (Round 1, pick 11)

Can the Colts’ front do a better job getting to the quarterback (without blitzing) when it matters? Can the Jets protect Aaron Rodgers with any semblance of consistency? We should have some answers to those questions by this prime-time matchup Nov. 17, but there’s no underselling how much their teams need Latu and Fashanu to excel as rookies.

QB Michael Penix Jr. (Round 1, pick 8) vs. QB Bo Nix (Round 1, pick 12)

The Falcons’ Penix pick was an absolute jaw-dropping draft moment, if for no other reason than Penix has nowhere to play for a bit. This won’t be the QB matchup come Week 12 unless Kirk Cousins suffers another injury or absolutely bombs as Atlanta’s starting QB. Nix also still has to wrestle the Broncos’ job away from Zach Wilson and Jarrett Stidham, but it’d be a disappointment if he can’t.

WR Ricky Pearsall (Round 1, pick 31) vs. S Javon Bullard (Round 2, pick 58)

There will be a lot going on in this game, for both offenses, and Pearsall-Bullard doesn’t figure to be a head-to-head matchup at any point. Still, it’s worth noting that the Packers used several picks to bolster their defense — their secondary, in particular (Bullard, S Evan Williams, S Kitan Oladapo, CB Kalen King) — and the 49ers offense will serve as a huge late-November test.

Don’t sleep on Pearsall, either. He felt like something of a forgotten man in Round 1, but he’s landing on a roster chock-full of talent and could thrive as a volume target for QB Brock Purdy.

Week 15: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

Williams vs. QB J.J. McCarthy (Round 1, pick 10)

Assuming Williams doesn’t follow the Justin Fields path and McCarthy taps into most of his extremely high upside, the NFC North’s quarterback situation could be as rock solid over the next several years as it gets for a division.

McCarthy isn’t a lock to start in Year 1, as Sam Darnold probably will enter camp as Minnesota’s QB1. But there should be ample Williams-McCarthy matchups in the near future, and this could be the second of them in 2024 — these teams also play Week 12, in Chicago.


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Week 18: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles

CBs Quinyon Mitchell (Round 1, pick 22) and Cooper DeJean (Round 2, pick 40) vs. WR Malik Nabers (Round 1, pick 6)

This matchup is on the docket for Week 7, too, in New Jersey.

It’s hard to know exactly how the Eagles’ secondary will line up in Week 1, let alone by either of its games against the Giants — veteran starting CBs Darius Slay and James Bradberry are still around, as is 2023 fourth-rounder Kelee Ringo (39.8 snaps per game over the final five weeks last season), and versatile safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson returned during the offseason. But you’re usually not spending top-40 picks on guys like Mitchell and DeJean just for them to sit around.

Nabers, meanwhile, will head into the season as an obvious candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration, with little of note standing between him and WR1 duties on the Giants.

(Photos of Malik Nabers, Caleb Williams and Byron Murphy II: Sarah Stier, Michael Reaves and Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

2024-05-18 13:52:04
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