Every superhero needs a sidekick—even in the NFL. Whether it’s wide receivers, defensive ends, or whatever position Derwin James plays, putting two ultra-talented players on the same side of the ball means the opposing team can’t focus too much attention on either. Like The Avengers, or the cast from Queer Eye, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Now that the draft is over, let’s run through the rookies who are joining All-Pro-level players to create the most fun rookie-veteran pairings in the league.
Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
Saquon Barkley, the 6-foot, 233-pound man who can do this ...
… is now teamed up with a receiver who can do this:
Beckham and Barkley may be the two most marvelous athletes in professional football, and now defenses will have to reckon with both of them at the same time. Barkley can line up anywhere on the field, which will make it nearly impossible for defenses to blanket both players on every snap. Together, Barkley and Beckham can lead the league in yards, touchdowns, commercials, and nights when opposing defensive coordinators fall asleep at their desk. New York is being reasonable about the expectations here.
Bradley Chubb and Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Outside of Chubb’s immediate family, nobody was happier when the Broncos drafted him than Von Miller.
Miller wasn’t quite his usual Miller Time self in 2017 without a competent pass rusher occupying the other side of the line. Now he’ll be flanked by the 6-foot-4, 269-pound defensive end out of NC State, and opposing offensive lines must pick their poison. Chubb may have to shed a little weight to play as a stand-up rusher in Denver’s 3-4, but then he and Miller can establish the Orange Rush.
Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Jones and Ridley both went to Bama, but they aren’t similar players. Using Spider charts courtesy of Mockdraftable, we can get a rough look at a player’s comparative athleticism based on the percentile they scored in NFL combine drills compared to other NFL players at their position. Here’s Calvin Ridley:
And here is Julio Jones:
Ridley doesn’t have Jones’s elite athleticism, but he has the most refined route running of any receiver in this year’s rookie class. For years, the Falcons have needed a receiver who can consistently separate from defenders opposite Jones. Ridley is an excellent fit, and he upgrades from Alabama’s Jalen Hurts to Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who can take far greater advantage of any separation Ridley creates. We know Julio loved this pick because he Instagrammed it and didn’t delete the post.
Derwin James and the Chargers Secondary, Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers somehow nabbed the ideal modern defender at no. 17 overall. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds with 4.47-second 40-yard dash speed, James can defend receivers outside or in the slot, play the run or rush the passer, and even send right tackles flying into the air like his knuckles are Infinity Stones.
Derwin James throwing a Florida OT really never gets old pic.twitter.com/ogSu50tqey— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) April 5, 2018
Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley—who coached Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor in Seattle until 2012—explained just how versatile James is at safety.
Loved this all 22 breakdown of Derwin James by Chargers DC Gus Bradley. Speaks to his versatility. pic.twitter.com/u1QaVwsUQJ— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) April 28, 2018
L.A. already has Casey Hayward, Trevor Williams, and Desmond King, the first-, 10th-, and 14th-highest graded cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus last season. Now James will be added to the mix (at whatever position he’s occupying on a given play) to form an elite secondary behind an elite pass rush with defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.
Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles had perhaps the best tight end group in football last year with Ertz, Trey Burton, and Brent Celek. Burton and Celek are gone, but Philly added Goedert, who has Ertz-like size (6-foot-5, 256 pounds) and athleticism and an Odell Beckham–esque penchant for making one-handed grabs.
The Eagles used multiple tight ends on a third of their offensive snaps last year. If Goedert is anywhere near the matchup problem in the NFL that he was at South Dakota State, the Eagles will be a nightmare in those packages. (It remains to be seen if he can run the Philly Special.)
Marcus Davenport and Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints
Davenport is 6-foot-6 and 264 pounds but somehow runs a 4.58-second 40-yard dash. He often played too upright in college, but when he uses his size, well ...
Now he’ll play opposite 2017 AP First Team All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan, whose 13 sacks tied for fourth in the league. No other Saints defender had even five sacks last year, so the attention Davenport draws will make Jordan’s job even easier.
Josh Rosen, Christian Kirk, and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
The nine (or three) teams who chose not to draft Rosen may have made mistakes, but this pairing is beautiful. Rosen is the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft, and he ends up with Kirk, who has the best hands in the draft, and Fitzgerald, who has the best hands of any receiver of his generation.
Kirk grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, idolizing Fitzgerald (and met him while playing on the same Pop Warner football team as Kurt Warner’s son). More than a decade later, Kirk will be playing alongside Fitz. Fitzgerald was one of the most productive slot receivers in the NFL last year, so Kirk will start off playing on the outside, but it might not be long before he replaces his idol in the middle of the field.
Josh Allen and Nathan Peterman, Buffalo Bills
Allen has a rocket arm, but his biggest issue in college was his completion percentage, which never reached 60 percent. Peterman’s completion percentage last season was 49 percent, but if you count the five interceptions he threw (which really are completions if you think about it) his percentage rises all the way to … 59 percent. So close. Maybe Nate can just teach Josh how to brand a robust website selling throw pillows instead.