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5 players to watch in Giants vs. Panthers

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The Giants hope to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2016 when they welcome the Carolina Panthers to MetLife Stadium for the home opener.

Brian Daboll picked up the win in his head coaching debut last week as the Giants came from behind to defeat the Tennessee Titans, 21-20. The Panthers mounted their own late comeback against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1, but ended up falling short as the Browns picked up the 26-24 win.

Here are five players to watch in the Week 2 matchup.

1. RB Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley had one of the strongest overall performances of his career in Week 1. He gained 194 total yards on 24 touches (18 carries, six receptions) and scored a touchdown and the game-winning two-point conversion. Barkley averaged 9.1 yards per carry, registered 123 yards after contact and had four runs of 10+ yards.

Barkley's dominance went beyond the box score. The fifth-year running back led the NFL with his 164 rushing yards and 194 total yards from scrimmage, but he also finished with the highest rushing yards over expected at +88, according to Next Gen Stats. It was the second-highest RYOE of his career, and the most rushing yards in a season opener in franchise history. Barkley hit 21.1 miles per hour on his 68-yard run, which was the second-fastest of any player in the league in Week 1 and the fastest he's hit since 2019.

Barkley was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in Nashville. This week, he faces a Panthers defense that gave up the second-most rushing yards (behind only Tennessee) in the NFL last weekend. Nick Chubb gained 141 yards on 22 carries (6.4 avg.) while Kareem Hunt added 11 carries for 46 yards (4.2 avg.).

View photos from practice as the New York Giants gear up for the home opener against the Carolina Panthers.

2. WR Sterling Shepard

Sterling Shepard was back on the field for the Giants last weekend less than nine months after suffering a torn Achilles. Shepard played 43 offensive snaps and made his presence felt in both the aerial and ground attacks. He had a 65-yard touchdown catch from Daniel Jones, which was longer than any play the Giants had last year. Shepard caught both of his targets, finished with 71 receiving yards and had a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeted.

Shepard was also on the field for 23 run plays and earned a 71.4 run block grade, which ranked as the second-highest on the team behind only Andrew Thomas' 75.4. It was the 15th-highest run block grade among all wide receivers.

3. LT Andrew Thomas

Andrew Thomas was one of the team's best players last season, and after one game, he's off to a similar start. The left tackle earned the highest PFF grade on offense with his 79.9 overall grade. He received an 82.3 pass block grade after he surrendered just one total pressure on 31 pass block snaps and a 75.4 grade on 30 run block snaps, both of which were the best on the team.

Thomas' overall grade ranked third among all offensive tackles, while his pass block grade was the sixth-highest at the position. Thomas helped the team rush for a league-high 238 yards, a feat the third-year tackle really enjoyed.

"When we run the ball and we are explosive it is definitely a good feeling," Thomas said. "We've got a good stable of running backs and if we open up the lanes they can be successful."

Panthers edge rusher Brian Burns finished second on the team with nine sacks in 2021. On the other end of the line, Yetur Gross-Matos picked up 3.5 sacks last year. Middle linebacker Damien Wilson picked up Carolina's only sack in Week 1.

4. DL Dexter Lawrence

Dexter Lawrence recorded two quarterback hits of Ryan Tannehill, which helped him secure a team-high 81.5 pass rush grade in Week 1. His 79.1 overall grade was second on the team behind Oshane Ximines (86.0). Both of these marks ranked among the league leaders at his position, as Lawrence finished eighth in pass rush grade and 13th in overall grade.

The Panthers' offensive line performed well in pass protection last week. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was sacked just once against the Browns, led by strong performances from their interior linemen. Center Pat Elfein earned the second-highest pass block grade (84.5) at his position in Week 1, while guards Brady Christensen (72.3) and Austin Corbett (69.8) received solid marks as well.

5. CB Adoree' Jackson

Adoree' Jackson entered the season as the team's No. 1 corner and veteran in the DB room for the first time in his young career. The 26-year-old allowed just one reception on three targets against the Titans and had a 67.4 passer rating against. Jackson's 71.5 overall grade in Week 1 ranked 16th among all cornerbacks, and his 74.9 run defense grade was 13th at the position.

Jackson had a breakout performance during last year's matchup against the Panthers when he registered five total tackles and a pass breakup. Starting outside corner Aaron Robinson has been ruled out with appendicitis, and Coach Daboll has yet to announce who will take his spot in the lineup. Regardless of who starts outside opposite Jackson, the two will be faced with the challenge of containing Panthers wide receivers DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson. Moore is coming off three consecutive seasons with 1,150+ yards, while Anderson led the team with five receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown last week.

View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers.

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