NFL

NFL Draft Adds Another Level of Intrigue to 2015 Schedule

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The NFL Draft changes everything, including how we look at the 2015 schedule. Several games that were initially perceived as boring or insignificant suddenly have a whole new meaning. With that in mind, here’s a look at 10 games that were made much more interesting by what took place over draft weekend.

Week 1: Buccaneers vs. Titans

What was once just a meeting between bottom-feeders is now a showcase for the next generation of franchise quarterbacks. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota both figure to be under center on Opening Day, each trying to make the case that he is the superior signal-caller. It initially appeared Winston had the edge in this contest, as he has a couple elite targets in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. However, the Titans narrowed that talent gap by adding Dorial Green-Beckham, David Cobb and Tre McBride later in the draft.

Week 2: Eagles vs. Cowboys

This rivalry already had plenty of intensity, especially after the Eagles signed DeMarco Murray in free agency. Now, the draft has fanned the flames even more. The Eagles spent their first-round pick on WR Nelson Agholor, whose quickness and smoothness make him a perfect fit in Chip Kelly’s offense. Seven picks later, the Cowboys spent their first-rounder on someone who can shadow Agholor, CB Byron Jones. Dallas’ new defensive back has the size to disrupt Agholor at the line of scrimmage, but it remains to be seen if Jones has the change-of-direction skills to keep up with Agholor in space.

Week 3: Packers vs. Chiefs

This was one of the season’s top matchups even before the draft shook things up. It’s even better now after the Packers kicked off their draft with a pair of defensive backs, FS Damarious Randall and CB Quinten Rollins. Those rookie DBs will be tested by the young pass catchers drafted by Kansas City, including Chris Conley, James O’Shaughnessy and Da’Ron Brown. This is a measuring-stick game, not only for the rookies who will go head-to-head, but for two teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

Week 3: Vikings vs. Chargers

Here we have another Week 3 game between the AFC West and NFC North. The Vikings entered the draft with a desperate need at inside linebacker, a hole they addressed in the second round with Eric Kendricks. That choice didn’t sit well with Denzel Perryman, who felt he was the top inside linebacker in the draft. Perryman went to the Chargers three picks later and will get to prove his worth in Minnesota as he attempts to slow down a returning Adrian Peterson. Kendricks’ assignment will not be much easier, as he will be asked to stymie San Diego’s first-round pick, Melvin Gordon.

Week 4: Bears vs. Raiders

If Al Davis was still around, there is no doubt the Raiders would have selected the speedy Kevin White with the No. 4 overall pick. Instead, Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie made the right call and went with Amari Cooper, the big-play receiver who can line up anywhere and make plays all over the field. That allowed the Bears to take White, a selection that prompted enormous cheers from the Bears fans attending the draft in Chicago. When these teams meet in Week 4, we’ll see which receiver looks like the more dominant pass catcher.

Week 7: Rams vs. Browns

St. Louis shocked everybody by taking Todd Gurley with the No. 10 overall pick. Because he is still recovering from ACL surgery, he will likely be limited to start the season, or could possibly begin the year on the PUP list. If that happens, this would be the first game in which he is eligible to return. Even if Gurley avoids the PUP list, this should be around the time he starts feeling healthy and hitting his stride. This matchup will be no walk in the park, though, as the Rams will try to run the ball against a Browns team that just added the best run-stuffer in the draft, NT Danny Shelton.

Week 11: Cardinals vs. Bengals

It was no surprise that the Bengals drafted a tackle in the first round, especially given that Andrew Whitworth (34) and Andre Smith are entering contract years. The surprise was that Cincinnati went with Cedric Ogbuehi instead of D.J. Humphries, who went to the Cardinals three picks later. Arizona had more pressing needs than offensive tackle, but couldn’t pass on the chance to add Humphries as a bookend to Jared Veldheer. Meanwhile, the Bengals — who also added OT Jake Fisher in the second round — will have no shortage of quality blockers to throw at the Cardinals in this matchup between 2014 playoff teams.

Week 9: Jets vs. Jaguars

Because the first two teams in the draft had glaring holes at quarterback, Jacksonville was in position to stay put and get the highest-rated player on most draft boards: Leonard Williams. Instead, GM Dave Caldwell opted for Dante Fowler Jr. as he sought to ignite his team’s pass rush and fill the “Leo” position in Gus Bradley’s defense. The result was Williams falling all the way to the Jets at No. 6, giving New York one of the most impressive defensive fronts in the league. That Jets front will look to slow down a Jaguars running game that has been reignited by the additions of T.J. Yeldon and A.J. Cann.

Week 15: Colts vs. Texans

Just like with the Cowboys and Eagles, these division rivals only added to their matchup intrigue by spending first-round picks on players who play dueling positions. Indianapolis used its first-round pick on deep threat Phillip Dorsett, giving Andrew Luck a trio of elite receivers in Dorsett, T.Y. Hilton and former Texan Andre Johnson. Helping the Texans slow down that fearsome threesome will be CB Kevin Johnson, whose physicality and man-coverage skills make him a perfect fit for Romeo Crennel’s defense.

Week 16: Ravens vs. Steelers

These fierce division rivals geared up to do battle with one another. The Ravens added a pair of explosive targets to their passing game in Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams. The Steelers, though, loaded up on players who can slow down opposing attacks. Pittsburgh picked defensive backs Senquez Golson, Doran Grant and Gerod Holliman, while also adding pass rushers Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo. All this extra ammo should make this AFC North rivalry more intense than ever.

Want to talk more about these and other matchups? Join Michael Lombardo for his weekly NFL Chat on Friday at 2pm EST. But you don’t have to wait until then … you can ask your question now


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.