1. Ravens WR Rashod Bateman vs. NY Jets CB Sauce Gardner
In a 2021 draft class that featured standouts like Ja'Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle, among others. Rashod Bateman tends to be overlooked. The 6-foot-1 All-Big Ten receiver out of Minnesota quietly had an excellent first year in the NFL.
A year ago, after missing the first half of his rookie season following surgery, Bateman finished his rookie campaign with 46 receptions for 515 yards and a touchdown. He showed adept route running, was sure-handed, and could get yards after the catch.
Baltimore is entrusting Bateman with being their top target at receiver after jettisoning Marquise Brown away to Arizona. As a result, Bateman will draw opposing teams' top cornerbacks every week.
Here comes the 6-foot-3 fourth overall pick of the Jets, Sauce Gardner. Not since Darrelle Revis has a rookie cornerback entered New York with as much hype as the 2021 All-AAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Gardner was a shutdown corner of epic proportions at the college level. He didn't allow a touchdown catch in his entire college career. In 2021, no receiver had more than 13 yards in a game against him.
However, Gardner has graduated to the highest level of football. And all rookies tend to have shaky moments in the early going. Even Darrelle Revis wasn't perfect from day one.
Bateman and Gardner will test each other mightily on Sunday. Baltimore is a run-heavy team that uses deception to create separation for its pass targets.
Peaking into the backfield could get you in trouble against the Ravens' attack, so it will be interesting to see how Gardner plays Bateman and adjusts to Baltimore's unique offense this Sunday.
If Gardner can live up to his billing and take away one of Lamar Jackson's best targets on the outside, it will make life easier for the rest of the Jets' defense.