Some players excel at the start of the season, and some wait until November or December to really let their light shine. A combination of experience, injuries, schedule, and weather patterns can have a material influence in players’ results over the course of the year.
Below are three players who have shown a proclivity to excel in week 1 of the NFL season—by excel I mean top three at their position—and one could make an argument that they will continue to do so.
Quarterback: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
The last two years Lamar Jackson has come out as the best quarterback, going for a combined 37 completions across 45 attempts, throwing for 599 yards and 8 TDs against 0 interceptions, and beating Cleveland (38-6) and Miami (59-10). Baltimore faces the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 1. The Raiders have quality linebackers in Nicholas Morrow (questionable) and a solid edge rusher in Yannick Ngakoue, but there are a few holes in that defense so we could see Lamar shine again.
Wide Receiver: Julio Jones, Tennessee Titans
Julio Jones has come out strong recently, being one of the top 5 wide receivers in two of the last three years—catching a combined 19 receptions for 326 yards and 2 TDs. He is obviously in a new uniform this year, as Tennessee faces the Cardinals, who have a solid defensive line but below average corners. We could see a big start from Julio again in 2021. The last two years, Tannehill threw for 249 yards (Corey Davis had 101 receiving yards) in 2020 and Marcus Mariota threw for 248 yards (AJ Brown had 100 receiving yards) in 2019.
Running Back: Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey has come out making a statement in Week 1 over the last two years, rushing for 225 yards and four touchdowns on 42 total attempts. The Panthers faced the Rams in 2019, losing 27-30, and they lost to the Raiders last year, 30-34. The Panthers face the Jets this year, who have a porous defense. McCaffrey will work to avoid Quinnen Williams (currently questionable) but the rest should not disrupt Run-CMC too much. I think we could see McCaffrey shine not only in the rushing game but also in the receiving game. He had 38 receiving yards in 2020 and 81 receiving yards in 2019, while catching 10 of his 11 targets.