The 2022 NFL Draft class will be familiar with one another by the end of the 2022 season. What are the best rookie matchups to watch this fall?
We are slowly traversing the steps of the 2022 offseason in anticipation for another excellent football season coming our way this fall. The 2022 NFL Draft was a major stop on the path, as the next crop of rookies, some future Pro Bowlers and All Pros, got drafted and will suit up on Sundays for the first time.
The 2022 NFL Schedule was also released, and while knowing opponents beforehand makes it less of a spectacle, it finally fleshes that out into the full grid, giving fans big games to look forward to this fall.
With that said, since we’re still on a bit of a high after what was a phenomenal 2022 NFL Draft, let’s look at some of the best rookie matchups to look forward to when the 2022 season rolls around.
Aidan Hutchinson vs. Charles Cross (Week 4), Evan Neal (Week 11), Ikem Ekwonu (Week 16)
The Detroit Lions didn’t end up with a prime time game on the 2022 NFL Schedule, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be a fun watch every week. Aidan Hutchinson is one of the favorites for DROY, and how he ignites that front seven will be interesting to see.
Depending on where he aligns (and if Detroit moves him around to both sides to rush), Hutchinson could face all three tackles selected in the top 10 of the 2022 NFL Draft. It’s hard to imagine that all three won’t start, so Hutchinson gets an early crack against Charles Cross and the Seahawks. A great pass protector versus a great rusher is a matchup that could decide that game. Evan Neal should provide another stiff test later in the season as both are developing and getting more NFL snaps under their belt. How he handles the finishing mentality of Ikem Ekwonu late in the year should be fun too.
Arnold Ebiketie/DeAngelo Malone vs. Trevor Penning, Weeks 1 and 15
The New Orleans Saints made a move up in the 2022 NFL Draft, but it wasn’t for a top tackle. Instead, they stood pat at 19 and selected Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning. Penning will likely get thrown into the fire at left tackle for this Saints team, and the tests will be plentiful.
Right out of the gate, Penning gets a matchup against fellow rookies on a division rival. Both Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone offer speed and twitch off the edge, and it’ll test Penning’s technique and footwork, which are both a work in progress. It might be tough at the start, but the later matchup could be more even.
Derek Stingley Jr. vs. Treylon Burks, Weeks 8 and 16
A couple of 2022 NFL Draft prospects with lingering questions will meet up twice in the AFC South in 2022. Derek Stingley Jr. obviously hasn’t played his best ball since 2019, so injuries and declining play were questions throughout the process. Still, that could’ve been a fluke and Stingley could quickly ascend to becoming one of the best corners in the league in a short time.
As for Treylon Burks, there’s a decent amount of pressure on his shoulders after the Titans traded away AJ Brown to select him at pick 18. He has all the physical traits in the world, but the mental side of route running is why he’s an upside player.
Two studs with the physical traits to succeed in the NFL meeting twice in 2022 is going to be a lot of fun.
Ahmad Gardner vs. Jameson Williams, Week 15, and Roger McCreary vs. Jahan Dotson, Week 5
Yes, we’ve got some rematches on the 2022 NFL Schedule for these rookies! Ahmad Gardner and Jameson Williams went head-to-head in the College Football Playoff, and Gardner played extremely well, staying physical at the line of scrimmage and disrupting Williams’ routes throughout the evening, allowing just two catches. Williams has a good chance to be back late in the season to get a little revenge.
Roger McCreary and Jahan Dotson met early last fall, and McCreary did get the better of Dotson with his great technique in press coverage. Dotson didn’t have much of an answer, even with his route running prowess. Both are the respective “number two guys” on their units, so another matchup could be a lot of fun.
Devonte Wyatt vs. Cole Strange (Week 4), Luke Goedeke (Week 3), Tyler Smith (Week 10)
Even though the pick has been eviscerated by the draft media (and even Sean McVay, to a degree), it feels like the Cole Strange pick could easily be one that pans out from the 2022 NFL Draft, with Bill Belichick laughing to himself about it (a laugh no one will hear).
If Strange does earn a starting job, he’ll get quite the test in week four in Green Bay. Devonte Wyatt, another first round selection, has the wicked quickness, first step, and power to be a nightmare rushing the passer from the interior. Strange needs to hold up to give Mac Jones a chance.
As for Wyatt, a couple more are on the docket. Before Strange, Luke Goedeke could earn a starting spot for the Bucs, as could Tyler Smith for the Cowboys. Those likely favor Wyatt, but Goedeke is better than people think.
Christian Watson vs. Andrew Booth Jr. (Weeks 1, 17), Kyler Gordon (Weeks 2, 13)
The Packers made a big move to get Christian Watson on day two of the 2022 NFL Draft, and it’ll be interesting to see how quickly he adapts to the NFL. He’ll get a couple early matchups against fellow rookies Andrew Booth Jr. and Kyler Gordon.
Booth was one of the best value picks in the draft, falling into the lap of the Minnesota Vikings. Booth has the fluid hips, transitional quickness, tackling ability, and ball skills to make life difficult on receivers. It could be a long day for Watson. Kyler Gordon has quick feet as well. Due to Watson’s elevated number of steps into breaks, he could struggle to separate.
Drake London vs. Tariq Woolen/Coby Bryant, Week 3
Drake London steps in as the WR1 for the Atlanta Falcons, and he’ll face tough corners in the NFC South. He’ll get the aforementioned Gordon later in the year, but facing (potentially) two tall, long corners in Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant early. Bryant’s technique will present a fun challenge, and Woolen has the traits, size, and speed. London will have to get creative, but he is a strong underneath separator, believe it or not.
Trent McDuffie vs. Alec Pierce, Week 3
Another fun receiver/corner matchup early in the 2022 NFL Schedule. It’s a matchup of contrasting players. Trent McDuffie might end up a slot receiver, but he’s great with off-coverage, in both man and zone. He could draw Alec Pierce, who has the size along with the speed to threaten deep. The catch point will be interesting in that matchup.
Charles Cross vs. Nik Bonitto (Week 1), Jermaine Johnson (Week 17)
We’re back with more Charles Cross, and he gets an immediate matchup with a fellow rookie in week one on Monday Night Football. Nik Bonitto was a second-round pick by the Denver Broncos who brings speed and disruption from the edge. He’ll test Cross’ impressive recovery skills. If there was a weakness for Cross, it’s a power/explosion combination. Jermaine Johnson II brings a bit of that, and week 17 will be must-watch because of it.
Kaiir Elam vs. Garrett Wilson, Weeks 9 and 14
Now we’re talking!! Another receiver/corner matchup to watch, and perhaps the best of the bunch. Kaiir Elam might be the missing piece for the Buffalo defense to make their Super Bowl run, and with the Bills increasing their percentage of snaps in man coverage last season, it fits Elam to a T.
He’ll see Garrett Wilson twice in the middle of the season, who is one of the better route runners from the 2022 NFL Draft. The one area many question is his size at 183 pounds, and winning against Elam could qualm those concerns. Not to mention, Wilson attacks the catch point insanely well for his size, and Elam has great ball skills. This has a heavyweight feel.
Tyler Linderbaum vs. Perrion Winfrey, Weeks 7 and 15
The marriage of player and scheme with Tyler Linderbaum and the Baltimore Ravens will be interesting. You would’ve thought that Linderbaum’s size would take him off of many boards (including the Ravens), but here we are. Linderbaum’s quickness and power will be tested by Perrion Winfrey, who is an interior pass rusher by nature.
Kenyon Green vs. Jordan Davis, Week 9
Another heavyweight matchup here. Kenyon Green likely slides inside for the Texans to play one of the guard spots, and Jordan Davis will come knocking midseason. Davis’ power and athleticism is a unique combination for his size, and Green will have his hands full all night (TNF).
Travon Walker vs. Zion Johnson Week 3
It’s hard not to fit in the number one pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, but we just don’t know where he’ll end up playing in the Jaguars’ 3-4 defense (likely at DE and OLB both). That opens the door for some matchups.
First, against Zion Johnson in week three. Johnson was the top guard in the draft by many, and how Walker’s speed to power matches up against Johnson’s anchor and grip strength will be interesting. He also faces Kenyon Green and Evan Neal, with potential to get snaps against both.
George Pickens/Calvin Austin III vs. Dax Hill/Cam Taylor-Britt, Weeks 1 and 11
The Steelers upgraded their receiver room in the 2022 NFL Draft, and the Bengals did the same with their secondary. We’ll see how that improvement looks early on as the two match up on opening weekend. George Pickens has the size advantage on Taylor-Britt, but Britt’s technique and leaping ability are underrated. Austin could be a menace in the slot with his route running skills, but Hill has impressive functional athleticism and transitional quickness.
There were so many others to choose from, and we could’ve gone all day. It’s going to be fun to watch these guys all season long.