In case you haven’t heard yet, Baker Mayfield is quarterbacking the Carolina Panthers against the Cleveland Browns Sunday.
Following along with the major sports analysts and social media, you might think he is the only player taking the field.
But the season opener is full of key matchups and storylines on both sides of the ball.
Carolina’s manager enters the season firmly on the hot seat with one of the toughest first-half schedules.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 7, 2022
Their offensive coordinator wants to re-establish himself as one of the most creative in the NFL.
Cleveland counters with one of the youngest teams in the league and their backup quarterback.
But there are plenty of veterans lining up alongside the 22 players drafted since 2020 by Andrew Berry.
Here are 3 Browns players who could have a big game versus the Panthers.
Fast Start For Myles Garrett
Forget about assertions of bad blood between Garrett and the opposing quarterback.
Good pass rushers find a reason to hate on every NFL passer.
More importantly, Garrett enters 2022 stronger and faster than ever.
"He's playing at another level in practice….he looks like a running back paying defensive end…his mindset is to be a dominant player this year. I know it always is, but feels different from what I see in practice" #Browns DC Joe Woods on Myles Garrett
— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) September 8, 2022
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods described Garrett’s preseason like this:
“He’s playing at another level. He’s coming off the edge 2 feet off the ground. He has the mindset to dominate”
Carolina plans to defend him with a rookie out of North Carolina State, Ikem Okwonu.
Okwonu is expected to be a top tackle eventually, but he has never seen a Garrett-type edge rusher.
Multiple sacks and pressures seem inevitable, and a batted-down pass or two could make this a perfect day for Garrett.
Anthony Walker Could Lead NFL in Tackles
With Baker Mayfield’s revenge narrative in play, it seems everyone is ignoring Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey is taking a lot of heat for a rash of injuries recently, but he is ready to go for Week 1.
And when he is on the field, he is a weapon to be dealt with in the passing and running game.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah seems the likely choice to shadow McCaffrey if that is how Woods wants to play it.
#Browns Anthony Walker: "We’re ready. At the end of the day, training camp is training camp, offseason is the offseason, but there’s nothing better than playing football on Sundays.”
— Camryn Justice (@camijustice) September 7, 2022
But Walker will still have his hands full covering the middle behind Cleveland’s suspect interior line.
Walker led the team in tackles with 113 last year, despite missing 3 games.
And he managed to score a top-10 PFF ranking in pass coverage, too.
Walker needs to be on the top of his game Sunday, and we think he will be.
David Njoku Makes Things Happen
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt figure to get a lot of work again this season, especially in the absence of Deshaun Watson.
But one of the keys to opening up the running game is for Jacoby Brissett to keep defenses honest.
And one of the best ways to do that is to hit some big plays when the defense cheats in tight.
Brissett is not one of the strongest-armed or most accurate deep passers in the NFL.
— Fred Greetham (@FredGreetham9) September 5, 2022
But he can hit quick seam routes and slants to his tight ends and slot receivers.
David Njoku could score the Browns’ first touchdown of the season on such a play.
Not only does he present a great target, but he also has the legs and strength to turn a simple pass into a big play.
And he easily could lead the team in targets while the wideouts deal with Carolina’s strong secondary.