Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers RB
This one is quite possibly the most obvious choice for any game this season. However, Christian McCaffrey is the key to this game and it’s not even close.
The Carolina Panthers aren’t going up against slouches. On defense, the Cleveland Browns ranked top 15 in every category last season and a balanced group like that is hard to exploit unless things stay fluid and don’t become one-dimensional.
Baker Mayfield is good, McCaffrey is good, but if Carolina leans on either too much it’s all over.
McCaffrey, while he shouldn’t be overused, needs to tear up the field to take some of the pressure off the wide receivers as well as Mayfield. If the former All-Pro can’t recapture the magic of past seasons and the team is forced to rely on the pass, it won’t end well for many reasons.
Another area where the Panthers need McCaffrey is blocking. He is among the league’s best when it comes to pass protection, which could help Ikem Ekwonu in specific situations.
Beyond any individual stats that McCaffrey can bring along, just the presence of his potential influence is enough to make everything else easier. If the Browns don’t game plan specifically for the Stanford product when he’s on the field, they’ll pay a heavy price.
McCaffrey is the heart and soul of this team. And he needs to become the player we all know he is right out of the gate in Week 1.