4 most important Carolina Panthers players at the Falcons in Week 1

These Carolina Panthers players must step up in Week 1.
Bradley Bozeman
Bradley Bozeman / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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Hayden Hurst - Carolina Panthers TE

This will be a return to familiar surroundings for Hayden Hurst. The veteran tight end spent two seasons of his professional career with the Atlanta Falcons, gaining 792 receiving yards and nine touchdowns before moving on to the Cincinnati Bengals, where he became one of Joe Burrow's favorite targets en route to the AFC Championship game in 2022.

The Carolina Panthers are hoping Hurst can do the same for rookie quarterback Bryce Young. Considering this is the signal-caller's first taste of competitive NFL action - on the road against an NFC South rival - his tight end must be available constantly across the middle and during key situations in pursuit of progression.

Hurst and Young have accumulated a nice rapport in a relatively short time this offseason. If the same continues during the regular season, this might be the productive security blanket at the position Carolina has desperately craved since Greg Olsen's glittering stint with the franchise.

There are going to be times when Young needs to go off script in this one - especially if the offensive line struggles to contain Atlanta's front seven. That makes it even more vital for Hurst to remain vigilant and provide the outlet needed.

Another overlooked contribution Hurst must make comes in a blocking capacity. Chipping on the edge and being as forceful as possible on running-downs would also help enormously, so there are some pretty hefty responsibilities on his shoulders.