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Jaguars vs Commanders: Players to watch

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season kicks off on Sunday as the Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Washington Commanders at 1:00 p.m. EST.

These are the players I’ll be paying most attention to on either side of the ball.

RB Travis Etienne

The former Clemson Tiger will finally be making his long-awaited NFL debut. Etienne was drafted 25th overall a year and a half ago but suffered a Lisfranc injury during a 2021 preseason game, causing him to miss the entirety of his rookie regular season.

Etienne played in two preseason games this year, rushing for 52 yards on 17 attempts (3.1 yards per carry) and adding one catch for 10 yards against the Browns and Steelers.

Given his inconsistency between the tackles and James Robinson’s impending return, Etienne may be featured via the air more than the ground despite contrary preseason usage. His sole reception gives us a look at the matchup problem he presents:

His little brother Trevor has earned recent buzz by scoring touchdowns for the Florida Gators, but the elder Etienne has a chance on Sunday to remind the country of his own talents; this is a college football national champion, two-time ACC Player of the Year, and three-time All-ACC First Team selection.

Jacksonville’s receiving core is upgraded but remains below league average. Strong passing game production out of Etienne, the team’s most explosive skill position player in several years, would go a long way for the Jaguars offense.

OLB Travon Walker

I mean, how could it not be the first overall pick?

I’m trying to reserve expectations for a rookie who had single-digit career sacks at Georgia. But Walker showed some incredible flashes in Week 0, Week 1, and Week 2 of the preseason (he didn’t play in Weeks 4 or 5).

I wrote earlier this week about Jacksonville’s pass rush being the key to the game. Walker is one of several Jaguars who must win up front to pressure quarterback Carson Wentz, who acts like he needs a Snickers bar whenever the pocket collapses.

Washington’s offensive tackles, Charles Leno Jr. and Sam Cosmi, are both susceptible to bull rushes due to poor anchoring. Leno is agile on the perimeter but lacks power, and the six-foot-six sophomore Cosmi plays high and off balance too often. Travon Walker is very strong. You get the point.

Bonus: S Andre Cisco

Prior to Jacksonville selecting Cisco in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, I comped the Syracuse safety to Russell Westbrook (an athletic high-variance playmaker). After being mismanaged by Urban Meyer and co. last season, Cisco has a lot to prove as Jacksonville’s new starting free safety. Keep an eye on his instincts and patience in single-high alignments on Sunday, as well as his involvement as a blitzer.