My last three columns have looked at players to root for across the NFL. So far I have covered the entire AFC (Part 1, Part 2) and the NFC East and North teams.
The final column will look at players on the NFC South and West to end the four-part series. Hopefully, this series will give you some new players to root for on Sundays. A handful of these would make some great fantasy football picks.
Atlanta Falcons: Luke McNitt. The fullback is a position that has diminished significantly over the years in college and pro football. Some teams don’t carry a fullback anymore in the shifting football landscape. The Atlanta Falcons still carry one though and McNitt is one of three trying to make the Falcons’ roster this season. The former college walk-on was one of six walk-ons to be awarded a scholarship for the Nebraska Cornhuskers prior to the 2017 season. McNitt was also a team captain for the Huskers. McNitt replaced Andy Janovich for the Cornhuskers after Janovich was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2016. McNitt could follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and score his first NFL touchdown on his first career carry, but as many Husker fans have said, “give it to the fullback”.
Carolina Panthers: Thomas Davis. Davis is one of the most incredible stories in the NFL. From 2009-2011 he tore his ACL in the same knee three times. He became the first professional athlete to come back from three ACL tears in the same knee. He recovered and retook his place as a staple of the Panthers’ defense, which now was even better with Luke Kuechly next to Davis. Following the 2014 season, Davis was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year for the off-the-field service he does. The linebacker would also break his arm in the NFC Championship game in the 2015 season and played two weeks later in the Super Bowl. The man is tough and despite what Davante Adams says, he’s not a dirty player. The linebacker plans to call it a career after the 2018 season. The NFC is loaded at the top, but the Panthers have the talent to compete for the NFC and we could see him possibly go out on top if the Panthers play their cards right.
New Orleans Saints: Kurt Coleman. The Panthers have made a lot of smart moves this offseason. Firing Mike Shula brought a lot of joy to Panthers fans. Picking up Torrey Smith, Jarius Wright, and D.J. Moore through trade, free agency, and the draft should help Cam Newton return to his 2015 level, but one mistake was letting Kurt Coleman go. Although he took a step back in 2017, Coleman was just as important as Kuechly, Davis, and cornerback Josh Norman in the stellar 2015 Panthers defense. Now he goes to the rival, and while Panthers fans will not enjoy that, he can be the one Saints player they can root for in 14 games this season and root against him when the Panthers play the Saints.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Riley Bullough. Lavonte David is my favorite player on Tampa’s roster and he also deserves to be rooted for, but Riley Bullough is my choice here. Fans of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” will recognize Bullough as “Joe Dirt” when the show followed the Bucs in last year’s training camp. He was shown as one of the hardest working guys in camp. Head coach Dirk Koetter even praised his leadership. Bullough was an undrafted rookie linebacker fighting for a roster spot and the head coach was praising his leadership skills. He also had a fantastic reimagining of “679” by Fetty Wap. He just missed the final roster before the start of the season, but he was signed to the team’s practice squad the next day. In December, he was promoted to the active roster. Bullough is the reason why “Hard Knocks” is great and is an easy player to get behind and root for.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald. Last season, E-Poll conducted a poll of the fans’ most likable player in the league. The winner was Larry Fitzgerald over J.J. Watt, Drew Brees, and recently announced “Madden NFL 19” cover star Antonio Brown to name a few. It is hard not to root for him. He is the brightest spot in a bleak Cardinals franchise and one of the best wide receivers to ever play. It is too bad that Arizona did not win the Super Bowl in 2008 because he deserves a ring. Unless he gets traded, which I don’t see happening, he will finish his career without a ring, but will still be a Hall of Famer and one of the best.
Los Angeles Rams: Johnny Hekker. Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker might be one of the greatest kickers ever. Rams’ punter Johnny Hekker might be one of the best punters ever. With Shane Lechler nearing the end of his career, Hekker is taking over as the premier punter in the NFL. The 2016 Rams offense was horrible, but the one good thing it brought was more stellar punting from Hekker. He ended up having one of the greatest punting seasons in NFL history. He set a record for punts downed inside the 20 with 51. The former quarterback is also one of the most dangerous punters for trick plays. His athleticism and arm-strength are some of the best at his position. While he isn’t as fast as Broncos’ punter Marquette King, Hekker still can get the job done on fakes.
San Fransisco 49ers: Marquise Goodwin. Prior to 2017, Goodwin’s reason to be rooted for was his Olympics qualification in the long jump for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Representing his country at the Olympics is awesome, but last season gave many reasons. Goodwin helped encourage a young 49ers fan during his Make-A-Wish visit to the team. He let the young boy know that his sister is also in a wheelchair, but she doesn't let that stop her from enjoying life. He let the boy know that a lot of people love and care about him. In the early morning hours of Nov. 12, 2017, Goodwin and his wife had a baby born premature and the baby died from complications during the pregnancy. A few hours later, Goodwin had to play in an NFL game. Goodwin scored his first touchdown of the season in the game on an 83-yard score. He blew a kiss to the sky as he got near the goal line and then went to his knees in prayer in the end zone. Goodwin’s performance helped the 49ers get their first win of the season after starting 0-9. A little over a month later, Goodwin had a career-high in catches in the 49ers win over the Titans. After the game, it was revealed that Goodwin had lost his biological father earlier that week. And just a few weeks ago, he surprised his mom and sister with a new house. His positivity is infectious.
Seattle Seahawks: Shaquem Griffin. I was sad that Brandon Marshall went to Seattle because he would have been the top choice on almost any team, but he isn’t even close to the level that Shaquem Griffin gets. Griffin was one of the best linebackers in college football in the spectacular 2017 season by the Central Florida Knights football team. All of that sounds boring and typical, but what makes Griffin unique is that he does it with one hand. He was born with amniotic band syndrome so his fingers on his left hand would not fully develop. The pain caused Griffin to attempt to self-amputate his hand at age four. The next day his parents scheduled an amputation. The amputation did not hold Griffin back and he continued to play sports with his twin brother Shaquill. Both brothers would attend UCF, but Shaquem did not see much playing time prior to Scott Frost arriving as head coach in 2016. Under Frost, Griffin excelled and was the conference defensive player of the year and the all-conference team for 2016. His success continued in the Knights’ undefeated season with another first time all-conference honor and the defensive MVP for the Peach Bowl. After initially not receiving an invitation, Griffin excelled at the NFL Scouting Combine with 20 reps in the bench press and running the fastest 40-yard-dash for a linebacker since the NFL has released official statistics. Griffin was drafted in the fifth round by the Seahawks, where he rejoined his brother who Seattle drafted the season prior. Griffin looks to establish himself on a rebuilding Seattle defense in 2018 and might be one of the most rootable players on this list due to the odds he has overcome.
Luke Peterson is the sports editor of the Leavenworth Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org