SEATTLE -- Fans of every one of the NFL’s 32 teams are understandably excited about their club’s rookie class but an especially intriguing collection of talent will be on display Thursday night at CenturyLink Field – and not just by the hosting Seattle Seahawks.
The vast majority of those attending the game will, of course, be rooting on Seattle’s training camp darlings D.K. Metcalf (pictured above), Cody Barton and the rest of Seattle’s 17-man rookie class.
The visiting Denver Broncos are just as excited about their new additions, including a freakishly athletic pass-catcher of their own in first round pick Noah Fant and SEC-record-breaking quarterback Drew Lock, my top-rated senior quarterback in this past spring’s draft.
How the Broncos opt to deploy Fant Thursday night could put him in position to be guarded one on one by Seattle’s rookie safeties Marquise Blair and Ugo Amadi.
Like Denver’s new starter Joe Flacco, traded this past spring from Baltimore, Lock has a rifle for an arm and pillow soft touch down the seam and sidelines. He was a bit of a gunslinger at Missouri, willing to throw the ball into traffic to allow his guys to make plays. It was a confidence which helped him set the SEC’s all-time single season touchdown record as a junior and compete in the Senior Bowl despite the prototypically-built passer leaving the vaunted power conference with sixty – yes, 60 – more career touchdowns thrown (99) than interceptions (39).
Given Blair’s well-earned (in college) “silent assassin” reputation and Amadi’s penchant for big plays (four career TD returns), the matchup down the seam could be worth the price of admission itself – for pro scouts and fans, alike.
Of course, the rookie everyone is most excited about is Metcalf.
At the line of scrimmage, the 6-3, 229 pounder will dwarf Denver’s savvy (but relatively small) cornerbacks, a group led by four-time Pro Bowler Chris Harris, Jr. (5-10, 199) and veteran free agent additions Kareem Jackson (5-10, 183) and Bryce Callahan (5-09, 188).
Needless to say, Metcalf will have a significant size advantage over all of the cornerbacks Denver can throw at him.
Frankly, he’s faster than they are, as well, which should make him a candidate for at least a couple of deep balls if Thursday night’s starter Geno Smith and his competition to be Russell Wilson’s lone backup, Paxton Lynch, can connect.
By all accounts, Seattle’s offensive line has grown into a team strength but the Broncos are nevertheless a frightening opponent for the first game of the year, even if it comes during the preseason rather than when it counted last fall.
As Corbin Smith and I talked about in today’s LockedOnSeahawks podcast, while star edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are expected to see limited (if any snaps), Denver head coach Vic Fangio brings an aggressive scheme with all sorts of uniquely-built defensive rushers that will certainly test Seattle’s blockers, among them rookies Dre’Mont Jones (6-3, 281) and Justin Hollins (6-5, 241).
In line to potentially start with Bobby Wagner out tonight after recently undergoing a minor blood platelet procedure, Barton is the rookie for Seattle in best position to make a favorable impression Thursday night – if that, is, he himself plays as the rookie was attempting to play through a groin strain.
A former rover (safety) turned linebacker, Barton has impressed virtually everyone at camp with his instincts, speed and hustle.
Count me among those impressed with Barton’s veteran-like recognition of where the ball was headed; this rookie flows to the action like the paparazzi.
Tackling (and truly getting off blocks) are severely limited during camp, however, and so it will be fascinating to see how well the now 6-2, 237 pound Barton and fellow rookie linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven (6-0, 230) hold up at the point of attack against legitimate NFL competition.
With 39 combined rookies on these two playoff-contending clubs fighting for perhaps a dozen spots on the normal 53-man rosters, Thursday night’s game is not only an audition for the Seahawks and Broncos but to the NFL, XFL, CFL and other leagues.
As such, it goes without saying that leaving positive early impressions are important.