NFL Kickoff 2022: Players with Baltimore-area ties to root for

Being a Ravens fan doesn’t preclude you from appreciating the talents of local products on other rosters

Published on: September 08, 2022 9:00 AM EDT|Updated on: September 08, 2022 1:27 PM EDT

Stefon Diggs #14 of the Buffalo Bills catches an eleven-yard pass over Stephon Gilmore #9 of the Carolina Panthers and runs in for a touchdown in the second quarter of the game at Highmark Stadium on December 19, 2021 in Orchard Park, New York.

This is a Ravens city, and the excitement is ramping up with the Buffalo Bills taking on the defending champion Los Angeles Rams in Thursday night’s season opener.

Purple fever will return to Baltimore in full force this weekend as the Ravens travel to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to square up against the New York Jets. The game starts at 1 p.m. Sunday.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t give props — and quietly root for — the players on active rosters that are from or have ties to the Baltimore area. So when the Ravens aren’t playing and your appetite for some NFL action has you watching other games, keep an eye out for these guys:

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Jared Bernhardt, wide receiver, Atlanta Falcons

Talk about a circuitous path to the NFL! No player in the history of the league has had quite the athletic journey of Bernhardt, who could go down as the feel-good story of the year if he becomes a contributor to the Falcons offense.

We’re talking about a guy who didn’t play a single down of college football until last season. But wait, there’s more.

Bernhardt won two lacrosse national championships at the University of Maryland and is the Terps’ all-time leader in goals and points. In 2021, he won the Tewaaraton Award as the nation’s top collegiate player.

He transferred to Division II Ferris State in Big Rapids, Michigan, to play quarterback, then proceeded to lead the Bulldogs to an undefeated season and the 2021 NCAA Division II national championship.

The dual-threat quarterback passed for 1,322 yards and 11 touchdowns and ran for 1,421 yards and 26 more scores, earning the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year Award.

After an eye-opening showing at Falcons training camp, the undrafted rookie was named to the 53-man opening day roster as a wide receiver. Pretty unbelievable, right?

Adrian Amos, safety, Green Bay Packers

A Baltimore native who played his prep ball at Calvert Hall, Amos has started 105 of the 109 games he’s appeared in over the last seven years with the Chicago Bears and the Packers while amassing 534 total tackles, nine interceptions and three forced fumbles.

Kendall Fuller, cornerback, Washington Commanders

The younger brother of Ravens cornerback Kyle Fuller and one of four siblings to play in the NFL, the Baltimore native won a Super Bowl ring with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019.

Fuller has 11 interceptions over his six-year career.

Stefon Diggs, wide receiver, Buffalo Bills

Widely considered to be among the best receivers in the NFL, the former Maryland Terp appeared in his second consecutive Pro Bowl last season after catching 103 passes for 1,225 yards and 10 touchdowns. The year prior, he led the entire league in receptions, with 127, and receiving yards, with 1,535.

He’s the older brother of Cowboys first-team All-Pro cornerback and 2021 NFL interceptions leader Trevon Diggs.

After every great catch, I find myself saying, “Can you Diggs it?” and then proceed to watch a clip from the 1979 cult classic movie “The Warriors” for the thousandth time.

Micah Kiser, linebacker, Las Vegas Raiders

A Baltimore native who played his prep ball at Gilman before attaining All-American status at the University of Virginia, Kiser has struggled with injuries in the NFL

But when at full strength, as he was in Week 2 of the 2020 season against the Philadelphia Eagles, the man must be accounted for by opposing defenses. In that game, he had 16 tackles (11 solo) and a forced fumble.

Ian Thomas, tight end, Carolina Panthers

The folks affiliated with Digital Harbor, where Thomas played in high school, are hoping that this is the breakout year for the 6-foot-4, 260-pound tight end as a pass catcher.

The four-year vet has 90 career receptions for a total of 802 yards, but his true value thus far has been as a blocker in the running game.

D.J. Moore, wide receiver, Carolina Panthers

After a stellar junior season at the University of Maryland in 2017 when he caught 80 passes for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns, Moore chose to forego his final year of eligibility in College Park and declared for the NFL draft.

A first-round pick by the Panthers, his first professional catch as a rookie was for a 51-yard touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons. He hasn’t missed a single game in four years, accumulating 301 receptions for 4,313 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Considered to be among the best emerging talents at the receiver position, he should be a favorite target for new starting quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Josh Woods, linebacker, Detroit Lions

Woods was a dual-threat at the McDonogh School, where he played both defensive back and wide receiver. During his senior year, the Eagles won the MIAA state championship as the four-time Academic All-American caught 35 passes for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns, in addition to collecting 35 tackles and four interceptions on defense.

During his junior and senior years at the University of Maryland as a defensive back, he amassed 103 tackles and two interceptions.

I just wish I was in charge of the sound effects and music at Capital One Field in College Park back then, because the place would have been rocking to one of my favorite obscure R&B groups from the early ‘80s, Woods Empire, every time he made a big play. But I digress.

Woods, who was recently named a team captain for the Lions, bulked up and has since transitioned into becoming an inside linebacker.

Darnell Savage, Jr., safety, Green Bay Packers

A first-round draft pick out of the University of Maryland in 2019, Savage indeed played with a pronounced savagery in the Terps’ secondary with 182 tackles, eight interceptions, a sack and two touchdowns during his three years in College Park.

He’s started all 46 games he’s appeared in with the Packers. Entering his fourth pro season, he has 181 tackles and eight interceptions.

Nick Cross, safety, Indianapolis Colts

Keep an eye out for the 21-year-old rookie who had 134 tackles (88 solo), four sacks and five interceptions during his three-year run at Maryland.

Yannick Ngakoue, defensive end, Indianapolis Colts

As a junior at Maryland in 2015, Ngakoue set a school record with 13.5 sacks.

In just his second year in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, he was the league leader in forced fumbles, had 12 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl after being part of a menacing defense that helped the Jags reach the AFC Championship game.

Against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, he had a sack, a pass deflection and four tackles in the 24-20 loss, falling just short of a Super Bowl appearance.

Last year, with the Las Vegas Raiders, he notched 10 sacks. Now suiting up for the Colts, the 27-year-old Ngakoue has a career total of 55.5 sacks.

J.C. Jackson, defensive back, Los Angeles Chargers

During his two years in College Park, Jackson made 80 tackles (62 solo) and snagged four interceptions for the Terps.

In the four years since, he’s gone from an undrafted free agent with the New England Patriots who received a measly $10,000 signing bonus to a Super Bowl champion, second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler who recently signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Last year, he led the NFL with 23 pass deflections; over his four-year career, Jackson has 25 interceptions.

Since 2020, he has the second-lowest passer rating allowed in single coverage, trailing only the Miami Dolphins’ Xavien Howard.

If I were in charge of the sound effects at SoFi Stadium this season, I’d be cueing up the classic dialogue from “The Jacksons: An American Dream” miniseries every time he does something spectacular: “You’re gonna get it!” “Who left the towel in the swimmin’ pool???” “Ya gonna get a beatin’!”

Jake Funk, running back, Los Angeles Rams

When it comes to the athletic genetic lottery, Funk hit the Powerball. Two of his grandparents were athletes at Penn State, his mother was a national champion swimmer at Clarion University and his father played football for the Nittany Lions.

At the University of Maryland, he overcame two torn ACLs to average 8.6 yards per carry and 129 rushing yards per game during his COVID-shortened senior season in 2020.

Again, had I been in charge of the sound effects in College Park, snippets of the classic beat to Biggie’s “Machine Gun Funk,” produced by the brilliant Easy Mo Bee, would have been blasting from the stadium speakers after each electrifying carry.

He won a Super Bowl ring last year when the Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. The Funk, baby!

Ty Johnson, running back, New York Jets

During his four-year career at the University of Maryland, Johnson averaged 7.6 yards per carry. As a sophomore in 2016, he ran for 1,003 yards while averaging a mind-boggling 9.1 yards per rushing attempt.

When his time in College Park was done, he walked away with 19 touchdowns and close to 3,000 all-purpose yards.

Entering his fourth NFL season, his signature game came in 2020 with the Jets, when he ran the ball 22 times for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders in Week 13.

Victor Dimukeje, linebacker, Arizona Cardinals

The 22-year-old Baltimore native who played his high school ball at Boys Latin was a man among boys during his college career at Duke, where he accumulated 161 tackles (80 solo), 32 tackles for loss and 21.5 sacks.

As a rookie last year with Arizona, he appeared primarily on special teams. Look for him to have more of a role on defense this year.