By HAYES RULE (@Rule0021)
Photo credit goes to scout.com.
Football is exhilarating.
But it’s the personalities -- the players and storylines – that we as fans ultimately find a vested interest in, more so in the National Football League than at the collegiate level. We root for our favorite teams, but a player – the human element – is the catalyst that drives our love for football from healthy to addictive.
These 4.4-running, dime-throwing-people are just that -- people. Their actions both on and off the field determine their likability. And that’s why we’re here: We’re voting for the most likable player in the NFL.
Several greats have retired in the past few years, such as: Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Calvin Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Jared Allen and Troy Polamalu. A new generation of players and personalities is developing, so who is and will be the easiest players to root for in the NFL?
My key characteristics for likability: both successful and interesting to watch on the field, someone fans enjoy rooting for and a (mostly) clean reputation off the field.
You can find Round 1 here: http://www.youngspeaknews.com/nfl/bracket-nfls-most-likable-player-round-1
(1) Larry Fitzgerald vs. (8) Marcus Mariota
Fitzgerald is nearing the end of his career, one which has been defined by his professionalism on and off the field. As one of the best receivers in the game, he stayed with the Cardinals through difficult times and is now experiencing the payoff. FItzgerald easily defeated Odell Beckham Jr. in Round 1.
Before even entering the NFL last season, a website told SportsCenter that Marcus Mariota was the most likable player in the league. That may be a bit extreme, but it's probably not far off. Fans loved Mariota coming out of Oregon, so much so they claimed he should be the No. 1 overall pick over Jameis Winston. (I always disagreed with that sentiment.)
His injury-riddled rookie season extinguished the flame that was his popularity early last season, but Mariota still holds the hearts of many NFL fans. His matchup with Tom Brady was one of the more intriguing of Round 1, and to my surprise, he did take down the future Hall of Famer.
(13) Luke Kuechly vs. (12) Von Miller
Kuechly ranks right behind Watt as the best defensive player in the league as a force in the middle of Carolina's vaunted defense. He's a gritty, down-to-earth linebacker who handles his business like a true professional. His lack of off-field appeal didn't hurt him in the first round, though, as he narrowly pulled off an upset over Aaron Rodgers.
The MVP of Super Bowl 50, Miller has soared up the likability ranks after a dominating season. Also: His strip-sack of Cam Newton and ensuing jokes pointed at Newton gained him some fans. Miller, doing what he does best, sacked quarterback Drew Brees in Round 1. Fun note: Three of the four defensive players in the bracket won in Round 1. Maybe defense wins championships off the field, too?
(2) J.J. Watt vs. (7) Cam Newton
The most dominant defensive player in the league, Watt may be more popular among females outside of the NFL circle than fans who love his game. A seeming shoe-in for the NFL's future golden boy, Watt has all of the tools to be as likable as a player comes.
Take this quote, for example: "Right now my job is to watch film, work hard and treat my body right. When I get done with football, then I can relax and drink as many beers as I want and hang out and be a regular guy. Right now, I am a football player, and I will sacrifice whatever is necessary to be the best."
Watt absolutely crushed Andrew Luck in Round 1.
Cam Newton, 2015's MVP, was one of the most intriguing -- if not the most intriguing -- players in the NFL. His story is well-documented: He left the University of Florida after stealing a laptop and then accepted money to play at Auburn.
He has had no off-field issues in the NFL, but it's his antics -- most notably, his touchdown celebrations -- that stir controversy. Cam Newton loves to have fun and is a big personality (ala Rob Gronkowksi), and he's not afraid to let you know when he tormented your defense. It's up to you to decide: Do you like Newton's personality and swagger? Newton barely eked past Eric Berry in Round 1.
(3) Russell Wilson vs. (11) Steve Smith
Russell Wilson has abundant fanboys, but he also has a surprising amount of haters. Whether it be for his outspoken faith or a belief that he is "fake," I don't agree with it. Wilson has all of the tools to be the most marketable player in the NFL: underdog story, success on the field, leader of a great team, good looks and clean off the field.
All of those marketable traits equate to his likability. I can't help but root for him, but maybe that's just me. Let your voice be heard: Are you a Wilson lover or a Wilson hater? He defeated Eli Manning with ease in the first round.
Steve Smith's fire and passion for the game is rivaled by few in the NFL. An undersized receiver, Smith decided to forego retirement to come back for another season this year. His energy is contagious, and it makes him fun to watch. The veteran upset the higher-seeded Rob Gronkowski in Round 1.