Last week, I wrote about players on the 16 AFC teams to root for(Part 1, Part 2). Regardless of someone’s team affiliation, there are players on each NFL team that are worth rooting for.
The reasons to root for the players vary. Some are underrated at their position, others have recovered from career-threatening injuries and some are just good people.
This list will feature a player from each of the NFC East and North teams. The NFC South and West will end the series in a future column.
Dallas Cowboys: Sean Lee. The Cowboys are one of those teams that are hated by pretty much the entire NFL fanbase. However, they do have some players that are worth rooting for. When healthy, Sean Lee might be one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL. The only problem is “when healthy.” Lee has never played a full season in his eight-year career. He isn’t a flashy defensive player like Von Miller or Josh Norman, but Lee gets the job done when he is on the field. He can be one of the lone Cowboys you can at least respect now that Jason Witten has retired.
New York Giants: Kyle Lauletta. Saquon Barkley will get the most attention from the incoming rookie class for the Giants, but another rookie to watch is Lauletta. The quarterback was the MVP of the 2018 Senior Bowl after a record-setting career at Richmond. Lauletta’s sneaky athleticism is similar to Alex Smith. He needs to work on some of his skills as he adjusts to the NFL, but the fourth-round pick could turn into the replacement once Eli Manning’s time in New York is over.
Philadelphia Eagles: Chris Long. Carson Wentz and Nick Foles are quarterbacks that deserve some love, but the Eagles’ player has to be Chris Long. The son of Howie Long made headlines in 2017 when he announced his entire 2017 salary would be donated. Each week’s game check would go to different organizations including charities, environmental conservation and education. Using his platform to help others makes him a great player to root for on the defending Super Bowl champs.
Washington Redskins: Ryan Kerrigan. The Redskins defense has been pretty bad for the last few seasons. There have only been a few bright spots on that side of the ball. One of the brightest spots has been Ryan Kerrigan. The outside linebacker has been a monster for offensive lines to stop since entering the league in 2011. He even played through the 2013 season after tearing his lateral meniscus in Week 3. He also looks like “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane so there is that too.
Chicago Bears: Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. The Chicago Bears are going to surprise a lot of people in 2018. A big reason for their upcoming success will come from two running backs, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Both players are worth rooting for so they will be together on this. Howard was one of the players that had to switch schools when UAB canceled football in 2015. Cohen was one of four players taken in the 2017 NFL Draft from a historically black college. Both players took a harder path to the NFL and now they are one of the NFL’s best running back duos and both are worth rooting for.
Detroit Lions: Zach Zener. An undrafted running back from South Dakota State is the player to root for on the Lions. After only getting one Division I football offer, Zener tore up the FCS level with three straight 2,000-yard seasons. He also enjoyed success against FBS teams including a 99-yard touchdown run against Kansas in 2012, a 202-yard and two touchdown performance against Nebraska and a 75-yard touchdown against Missouri. Zener also scored a 30 on the MCAT and researches the effects of fructose on hypertension in his free time.
Green Bay Packers: Marcedes Lewis. The big free agent move by the Packers was signing tight end Jimmy Graham. I do not like him or a lot of Packers players. I’ve come to like Mike Daniels, but Lewis is the player to root for. From 2011 to 2016, the Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the worst teams in the league every year. Lewis was one of the few bright spots for the team. He has put up solid numbers despite inconsistent quarterback play during his time with the Jags. Lewis was the only player left from the 2007 Jaguars team that was the last to make the playoffs before the run last season. Lewis was signed this offseason and he should primarily be a blocking tight end for the Packers.
Minnesota Vikings: Adam Thielen. I may have a bias as a Vikings fan, but there are so many players worth rooting for on this team. Kirk Cousins is finally a team’s No. 1 choice after a career being the fallback plan, Terence Newman is the second oldest non-kicker in the league just behind Tom Brady, Hercules Mata’afa’s name is Hercules Mata’afa. The list goes on, but Thielen’s story is incredible. A Minnesota kid who grew up idolizing Cris Carter and Randy Moss made the Vikings from a tryout. After primarily being a special teams player, Thielen broke out in 2016 with Stefan Diggs being one of the many Vikings players injured in the season. He continued the success in 2017 where he became the first Vikings receiver to reach 1,000 yards since 2009.
Luke Peterson is the sports editor of the Leavenworth Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org