That’s my guy!
And no, I don’t mean that in a fantasy football sense. I mean that we all have players who we root for even if they’re not members of our favorite teams. I mean, it just happens sometimes. I once had San Diego Chargers season tickets just because I was such a fan of LaDainian Tomlinson.
Here is my list of guys I’m rooting for this year. These are not necessarily the guys I think are the best, or those I’m expecting a fantasy breakout season from. This list is not at all scientific. Some names appear here for heart-string-tugging reasons. Some are here just because I like the dudes. I’m sure you’ll disagree with me in some spots, so just @ me.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: Kyler Murray, QB. Don’t get enraged — I put Larry Fitzgerald on this list last season, and I’m shying away from repeats. Besides, Fitz is the most obvious pick ever. It’s like being all, “Hey, I like pizza, free money and ‘Aquaman.’ ” Nearly everyone agrees with this. So I’m going with Murray, because he was unwittingly thrown into a (since disbanded) love triangle by the Cardinals for no other reason than being really good at football. It’s not like he hatched some scheme to screw over Josh Rosen. It just happened.
ATLANTA FALCONS: Grady Jarrett, DT. Jarrett’s story seems best suited for The Hallmark Channel. He’s overcome the odds as a fifth-round pick whose house caught fire during the 2015 NFL Draft while he was waiting for his name to be called, emerging since as one of the Falcons‘ top defenders. He even had three sacks of Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI. You know, if you do make that movie, you might want to go to the “Moneyball” ending and not mention what happened after that third sack. (Spoiler alert: The Falcons blew what had been a 28-3 lead.)
BALTIMORE RAVENS: Lamar Jackson, QB. Did you know that Lamar can run the football a little bit? Oh, that’s right, the internet is full of memes exaggerating this aspect of his game. But Jackson can indeed run the ball (556 rushing yards in his seven starts last season, or 79 yards per start) and throw it. So he’s going to have a monster season this year, and I’m here for it.
BUFFALO BILLS: Devin Singletary, RB. He was one of the most exciting players in college football over the past couple of years. Check him out hitting the B button right here. That’s pretty nice. Singletary also plays to honor the memory of his high school teammate, Greg Bryant, so there is that extra motivation.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: Cam Newton, QB. Cam has always been one of my favorite players, even though his big moments always seem to come when he’s not on my fantasy team, which is fine. We’ve worked past that. But I have to admit he’s one of the most maligned great players of his era and somehow manages to be one of the most visible but underrated performers in the league. The Panthers started 6-2 last season but then lost six straight, with Newton posting a 9:9 TD-to-INT ratio over that stretch. He missed the last two games and then underwent shoulder surgery in January, and I really want him to bounce back this season.
CHICAGO BEARS: Eddy Pineiro, K. Maybe I should have been specific when I said that the Bears should go get the kicker from the Bay Area who wears No. 9. But I kind of like Pineiro, for one huge reason: He had the moxie to wear Tim Tebow’s number at Florida. The kind of gumption it would take to walk into the trainer’s room in Gainesville and ask for No. 15 is the kind of attitude you need to be a successful kicker. I love it.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: John Ross, WR. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported in February that the Bengals were shopping Ross after two disappointing seasons in Cincinnati. On the flip side, though, imagine how disappointing it must be for Ross to still be playing in Cincinnati after the team failed to trade him away during the draft. I kid, I kid! After all that, who wouldn’t want to see new coach Zac Taylor finally unleash Ross’ crazy 40 speed on the field?
CLEVELAND BROWNS: Odell Beckham Jr., WR. OBJ has secured 5,476 receiving yards and 44 touchdowns during his first 59 games. By comparison, Hall of Famer Jerry Rice had 4,852 receiving yards and 49 touchdowns during his first 59. Rice’s quarterback during that stretch was Joe Montana. OBJ was catching passes from the ghost of Eli Manning. It’s like if Rice and OBJ were lined up to run a 40-yard dash, and Rice was running on field turf, while OBJ was running on a lane of Gouda cheese. OBJ’s new quarterback, Baker Mayfield, threw more touchdown passes in 14 games as a rookie (27) than Manning has in any season since 2015.
DALLAS COWBOYS: Jason Witten, TE. I am not only rooting for Witten to do well in Dallas this year, as the Cowboys‘ all-time leader in receiving yards returns to the team after a year in retirement at age 37. I hope he does so well that he remains with the Cowboys for the next decade!
DENVER BRONCOS: Chris Harris Jr., CB. Wasn’t drafted. Heck, wasn’t even invited to the combine. But he’s become one of the best players in the NFL. The true definition of an underdog. Speaking of which, he once participated in the “Cold Dog Challenge,” spending the night out in the cold to encourage people to bring their pets inside. So, Broncos, when it comes to a new contract, don’t leave him — wait for it — out in the cold!
DETROIT LIONS: Matthew Stafford, QB. I promised myself that I wouldn’t list the players I talked about last year, but I can’t help myself with Stafford. He’s long been one of my favorite players to watch in the NFL. Recent news about Stafford and his family have made me an even bigger supporter.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: Adrian Amos, S. I hate when a player leaves your team and the fans are all, “Oh, he wasn’t that good anyway.” That’s ridiculous. Amos is a good NFL player. I’m sorry he had to leave the Bears. Let’s just be happy he went to a team that has the longest active playoff drought in the NFC North. (I know, technically tied with the Lions, but that’s not my narrative.)
HOUSTON TEXANS: DeAndre Hopkins, WR. You know, when the discussion of the best receiver in the game comes up, it seems like Hopkins doesn’t get mentioned enough. Like he’s a throw-in. He’s so good, you almost forget how good he is. Well, until you see that he didn’t drop a pass last year. Not one!
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Darius Leonard, LB. Can we take a moment to recognize how great the Colts‘ draft was last year? Amazing. The best pick might have been this second-rounder, who became an All-Pro and Defensive Rookie of the Year. And if that wasn’t enough, when he saw a motorist stranded on the side of the road this Easter, he pulled over to help her out. Turns out, it was his biology teacher from high school. Wait, this is that Hallmark movie.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Calais Campbell, DE. Sincerely one of the best dudes in the NFL, and he’s still productive at 32, putting up some of the best numbers of his life. It is amazing edge defender Josh Allen was allowed to fall to the Jags in the draft. This defense could be scary.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Dustin Colquitt, P. I mean, if you’re the punter for the Chiefs, you’re going to be as lonely as I was most Friday and Saturday nights in high school. But in my defense, I got really good at Mario Kart. And Colquitt at least gets to hold on field goals and extra points, so he’s making a contribution.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Keenan Allen, WR. I made the mistake of doubting Allen last year and was called out for it. By him. It turns out he’s a pretty good sport about things, so we’re cool. Now he’s got a chance to be the first Charger to post three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons since Charlie Joiner did it from 1979 through 1981.
LOS ANGELES RAMS: Andrew Whitworth, OT. Moments after the Rams lost Super Bowl LIII, Whitworth was going through his postgame interview session (because we totally need to hear from the losing team) and reminded us all that we’re all going to die. I mean, he’s not wrong. And he’s back for more!
MIAMI DOLPHINS: Josh Rosen, QB. Like, he’s the guy in the rom-com who gets jilted by his girl, but he eventually finds his true love later, after his friends convince him to take a vacation to Miami. I mean, this is all working out perfectly for him.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Stefon Diggs, WR. Well, I know I shouldn’t really be rooting for any Vikings players, for obvious reasons related to my being a Bears fan. But I can’t help myself when it comes to Diggs. Maybe it’s because I was in on him before he blew up in fantasy. Or maybe it was his walk-off against the Saints in the 2017 playoffs. But I’m a fan. (Just don’t tell my dad.)
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: N’Keal Harry, WR. I’m not one of those people who hates the Patriots just for the sake of it. I can appreciate them as a football team, and I love that they drafted Harry, who spent time in St. Vincent as a young child before moving with his grandmother to Arizona, then eventually played for Arizona State. He’s going to be making plays for the Patriots this year. Like they needed it, but still.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Drew Brees, QB. Can you imagine what the Chargers would have been like if they had kept Brees and drafted Larry Fitzgerald in 2004 instead of making a play for current QB Philip Rivers? I know I bring this up just about every freaking day, but seriously, think about it. What Saints fans don’t want to think about is how their seasons have ended the past two years. Nobody deserves that. Well, maybe the Packers. But nobody else.
NEW YORK GIANTS: Daniel Jones, QB. I feel bad for Jones. Like, what did you want him to do when he was drafted by the Giants with the No. 6 overall pick? Turn it down and say, “No, the fans really want Josh Allen. I’m cool.” I mean, that’s kind of how Eli ended up in New York, but Jones did nothing wrong, other than being good (sort of) at football and looking way too much like the team’s current QB.
NEW YORK JETS: Le’Veon Bell, RB. Imagine your boss wanted you to come in on your day off, but it was strictly voluntary. Most of us non-Millennials would show up for work even though we knew it wasn’t required. But Bell has the kind of sway to just blow it off and still be beloved. Like a real-life version of Peter Gibbons.
OAKLAND RAIDERS: Clelin Ferrell, DE. If general manager Mike Mayock believes Ferrell was worthy of the fourth overall pick in the draft, who am I to argue? He’s considered a foundation player, and I hope he goes out there and dominates for the Raiders and “Freezing Cold Takes” has material for months.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Chris Long, DE. Well, I’m still pretty salty with the whole Eagles organization for how the Bears’ season ended. So this part of this exercise was tough. And then I remembered how hilarious Long’s Twitter timeline is during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and I’m in.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR. I’m not getting involved in the offseason drama involving Smith-Schuster and ex-Steeler Antonio Brown, because I like both guys. But this one is personal, because I was invited to a “Call of Duty” press event out here in Los Angeles, and JuJu was one of the celebrities. He invited me to join his game, even though I suck at it, and we ended up dominating. So I’m a lifelong fan.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: George Kittle, TE. I mean, have you seen his Twitter avatar? He’s not just casually interested in wrestling. He is a wrestling fan. Somebody who is as likely to go to “Bar Wrestling” as he is to WrestleMania. Oh yeah, he’s also really good at football and could have a monster season with QB Jimmy G on his way back from a torn ACL.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Gerald McCoy, DE. Don’t count me among those who will question McCoy. He’s like the one thing you can count on from the Bucs’ defense. Kind of like the way the DC cinematic universe has struggled, but you can always count on the Batman films. And not coincidentally, McCoy is a huge fan of Batman comics, so this works on many levels.
TENNESSEE TITANS: Derrick Henry, RB. Well, my fantasy team is rooting for him to be used like he was at the end of last season; in his final four games, Henry ran for 585 yards, or 146.3 per game, with seven total rushing touchdowns. Of course, that was after he ran for 474 yards and five scores in his previous 12 games. Watching him go off last year was like watching Kofi Kingston finally getting some run with the WWE title. Like, what took so long for this to happen?
WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Derrius Guice, RB. I was so excited for him last year, and then he went out and suffered a torn ACL during the first preseason game of his rookie season, which was heartbreaking. How do you not root for this guy?
Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @adamrank.