10 NFL Players Who Will Become Media Darlings in 2012
Part of me wanted to begin this article with the time-honored cliché of the dictionary quote to define "media darling." We all know what the term means, but there's one key aspect of it that completely changes the types of players I'll be looking at.
Am I simply looking at a list of players that the media will obsess over all season, or does the nature and tone of that coverage matter—is it necessary for that coverage to be favorable?
Well, given that the term is media darling and not simply media obsession, we'll assume that it does, and that takes out the standard soap-opera wide receivers like T.O. (should he ever worm his way back onto an NFL roster), Chad Johnson and Randy Moss.
They may be great players, or at least may have all once been, but they aren't going to garner favorable media coverage without supplying the local press corps with free doughnuts and hoping word of mouth filters along to the national stage.
Instead we've got to look a little deeper and find some players that the media will obsess over and give legitimate favorable coverage to, regardless of whether they earn it on the field or not.
It happens every year, and if you look at the trends, you can spot some of them coming.
Let's see how well we can do this time.
David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers
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Most years there's a player—usually an offensive lineman—whom everybody anoints as a stud before he plays a snap in the NFL.
It's a done deal, he's a can't-miss prospect, and unless he is an unmitigated disaster (Robert Gallery), that's the story everybody is going to run with until somebody proves otherwise.
It happened with Maurkice Pouncey, and I suspect it'll repeat itself with David DeCastro.
Pouncey is an above-average center, nothing more, nothing less, but he already has two Pro Bowl trips under his belt and—even more farcically—two All-Pro selections. Pouncey may just average his way to a Hall of Fame career with nobody checking to see if he ever actually deserved it, that's what happens when the hype machine rolls out of control down the mountain.
Maybe Pouncey will get better and finally justify the hype he's had, but he was deemed a star before he was anything more than just another guy.
The Steelers get a lot of national attention, and if they sing the praises of an offensive lineman, very few are watching enough tape to say any different.
This year David Decastro is the guy with that hype machine threatening to jump the tracks.
He was labeled the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson by many, and the number of people calling him a Pro Bowler before he'd even been drafted was bordering on ridiculous.
Maybe he'll live up to that billing, or maybe he'll be an average player. But the chances of your being told anything other than superstar by the media this season are minimal.
Unless Decastro looks like a total turn style on the line, you are going to hear about what a stud the rookie is and how he should be getting Pro Bowl votes for such an accomplished first season in the league.
Von Miller, Devner Broncos
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If there is one thing the media loves, it's a guy who can rack up sacks like there is no tomorrow.
Von Miller can be that guy and is one of the league's most unique weapons.
As a rookie he was set for a truly ridiculous season—not just rookie-of-the-year caliber, but good enough to be the defensive player of the year—until a late injury to his thumb left him with a sub-par final month.
Miller has the speed and quickness that makes him a nightmare for offensive tackles, but he also reads plays well and can react quickly to make plays on the ball. He has the kind of body lean and bend in his pass rush when turning the corner that you won't see outside of Dwight Freeney in his prime, and it may be even better than that.
Miller had a fantastic rookie season but is the kind of player that could have a similarly massive sophomore season now that he is healthy.
He has the ability to put up 15-plus sacks, and if he does, he has the kind of personality to go with it that will transform him instantly into the kind of player the media loves to talk about.
His rookie season may have been somewhat underappreciated, but a season of healthy sack numbers will turn Von Miller into the apple of the writers' eyes.
Pernell McPhee, Baltimore Ravens
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If there's one thing that will get you talked about as an interior pass-rusher, it's putting up double-digit sack numbers.
Ndamukong Suh had the hype coming out of college, and he followed it up with a rookie year of sacks, even though his play never really matched the numbers overall. That secured his status as a media darling and has opened the floodgates for endorsements and advertising ever since.
Geno Atkins got close to double-digits last season with 7.5 sacks, and he's got a pretty good shot to get close again as a full-time starter for the Bengals, but Pernell McPhee might have an even better chance to get there.
McPhee was only a part-time player for the Ravens last season, coming in purely to rush the passer in sub packages. Despite playing around a third of the snaps of a full-time defensive lineman, McPhee posted six sacks and looked like a constant nightmare for offensive linemen to block.
He's too quick and too sudden a pass-rusher, and he has the strength to combat recovery moves in a way that other small pass-rushers can't.
The Ravens will be ramping up his workload this season with the offseason loss of Cory Redding and injury to Terrell Suggs, so McPhee will have a real opportunity to get over 10 sacks in 2012.
He plays in the right place in Baltimore to become instantly recognized as a defensive stud, and if he manages that, then you will hear no end to it.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
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Dallas is at its happiest when it has a feature back it can lean on to carry the rock and pound the football.
If that back can also break off big runs, do some spectacular things and create highlight plays, well then, we're just in for something special, aren't we?
The media hype that can surround the Dallas Cowboys can transform players into stars overnight. Marion Barber III became "The Barbarian" thanks to a few punishing highlight runs and refusing to go down on a handful of plays. His star shone pretty brightly, but it didn't last long.
If you want to find a new media darling, you've got to look at the right media market, and Dallas is a good place to start.
DeMarco Murray might just be the running back the Cowboys have been looking for since Emmitt Smith was no longer looking like Emmitt Smith.
He's a quick, incisive runner with the power to break tackles and the speed to go the distance at any time. He has a slick and immediate cut which can leave defensive backs flailing at thin air as he takes them out of the play and aims for open ground.
If he can repeat his success of last year and extend it over a full season as the unquestioned starter, then the media storm that surrounds the Dallas Cowboys will quickly let you know about it.
Murray will become a star over the course of the season and the rightful successor to Emmitt Smith as the running face of America's Team.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons
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Another way to become a media darling? You have to have a gimmick, and a size gimmick is one of the best kinds.
Darren Sproles gets all kinds of media love in part because he's a successful, dynamic and versatile weapon, but let's be honest, it's also largely because he's comically small by NFL standards.
If Sproles were doing what he is doing at 5'10" and 190 lbs, nobody would bat an eyelid. In fact, if he were doing that, he'd essentially be Reggie Bush, the guy he was brought in to replace in the Saints offense.
Instead Sproles is listed at 5'6" and 190 lbs, making him a clear foot shorter than half of the people on the field.
Jacquizz Rodgers has the same gimmick and figures to see much more playing time in the Atlanta offense in his second season.
Rodgers is listed at the same 5'6" as Sproles and 193 lbs, and he has a similar ability to be shifty and make people look silly by leaving them grasping at nothing as he skips past them.
While I'm not convinced that the play of Michael Turner has actually changed much in the past couple of seasons, I am convinced that the Falcons want to limit his workload and integrate Rodgers more into the offense.
So figure he gets more opportunities in 2012.
If he can make the most of them and show some serious versatility with the ball, then he could become the new Darren Sproles: the pint-sized, electrifying playmaker that everybody loves to watch.
Mistral Raymond, Minnesota Vikings
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This might be a long shot, but the media loves a cool name. (Who doesn't?)
And it doesn't get much cooler than Mistral Raymond.
The second-year player has a legitimate shot to win the starting job next to top draft pick Harrison Smith in the Vikings secondary thanks largely to the retirement of Hussain Abdullah, and he just might have the skills to take advantage of that opportunity and never look back.
Raymond already has quite a story of perseverance and determination against the odds attached to him.
He had to force his way into the college game through a community college after not being recruited at all out of high school. He then battled his way to South Florida before eventually doing the same all the way onto an NFL roster and into playing time, despite the odds as a rookie.
The media loves an underdog, their very own Rudy story, and Raymond is a pretty good version of that, in addition to having cool hair and a cool name.
If he can lock down that starting job and give a good account of himself as a starter, then don't be surprised to see the media giving him some serious attention and bringing the story of Mistral Raymond to the big stage.
I for one would be fine with that.
Trumaine Johnson, St. Louis Rams
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This is both the least likely and most frivolous reason for a player to become a media darling in 2012, but I would be remiss not to talk about it anyway. Everybody loves a cool nickname, and Trumaine Johnson might have the best one since Andre "Bad Moon" Rison.
Trumaine "Big Sky" Johnson has a shot to be the third corner for the Rams, after the starters of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins.
With Finnegan's ability to play the slot, Johnson would likely come in for nickel and dime personnel packages and play outside on one side, with Jenkins the other, allowing Finnegan to cover slot receivers on the inside.
Of course, in order to do this, he will have to prove he is a better option and belongs higher on the depth chart than Bradley Fletcher, a talented corner for the Rams who has battled injuries in recent seasons.
If Fletcher is back to 100 percent, then he is no dead weight to climb above.
That being said, if Johnson can earn himself significant playing time and stay out of trouble, there isn't an announcer in the land that will be able to resist going too long without informing the world of the nickname the Montana product brings to the game.
Everybody wants to see Big Sky pick off a deep pass and return it for a touchdown. Don't say you're not one of them!
Bryan Anger, Jacksonville Jaguars
He has his own highlight reel!
Nothing makes a media darling like a specialist kicker or punter being taken unusually high in the draft.
Sebastian Janikowski has been a media fascination ever since Al Davis drafted him in the first round way back when, and this season the Jaguars made Bryan Anger the highest-selected punter since 1995.
The player that was drafted in 1995? Todd Sauerbrun, himself often a media fascination.
Anger doubtless has the leg of a donkey in the same way Janikowski and Sauerbrun had, otherwise he would never have been taken near the 75th pick in the draft, but he already has something of a cult following as a player.
He even has his own video highlight reel, complete with hang times and distances.
This is a punter!
He may not have much influence on it himself, but the Jacksonville Jaguars have thrust Bryan Anger into the media spotlight with the pick with which they drafted him. Given the struggles of the Jaguars offense last season, he may well get ample opportunity to kick himself into the limelight.
Every time he comes out to punt this season, you are going to hear about his draft status.
If he can break out some booming punts to start to justify that status, you're going to see Anger turn into a story the media loves running with all season long.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
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Nothing makes an instant media darling like a super athlete.
If you can combine that with an exceptionally pleasant demeanor and the kind of genuine, smart and engaged personality that Griffin has, you're in serious business.
RGIII has the athleticism of Michael Vick (maybe better) and an arm that is as strong but seemingly far more accurate than the former Falcon and current Eagles star. From the moment Vick set foot on the NFL stage he was a star, with the media in awe of his electrifying ability and never-before-seen athleticism.
Time has made those traits no less desirable to the watching world, and though Griffin will want to be a pocket passer first and foremost, there will be more than enough plays in his rookie year when he will have to use his eye-popping athleticism and speed to make something happen.
If nothing else, his instincts will take over, and then the show will start.
Like it or not, you are going to be seeing a lot of highlights and hyperbole about RGIII this season, and if you enjoy football, there's no reason you shouldn't like it!
Add that to the fact that RGIII seems genuine and has an easily accessible personality, and the media will be all over him.
Especially in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., with one of the largest and most vocal media markets always on hand.
Tim Tebow, New York Jets
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You didn't think we could get to the end of a piece like this without a single mention of Tim Tebow, did you?
The bottom line is that even though Tebow is a polarizing figure, with people either loving him or hating him, he has more than enough ardent followers to become an overnight media darling in the market of New York.
When Mark Sanchez struggles—and let's face it, that's going to happen at some stage during the season—the clamoring for Tebow will become unbearable.
When he finally does get a start, things are going to go ballistic, and if he actually strings together some decent play or shows significant improvement as a quarterback from his time in Denver (not beyond the realms of possibility), then we will be hip deep in Tebowmania before you know what happened.
Tim Tebow is, and has been for a long time, a media institution all of his own. There is no escaping the pull he has and the ability to generate column inches.
The pull is just too strong.
Like a gigantic black hole at the center of a galaxy, Tebow simply draws every available writer into his gravitational field.
And then it's game over: That's what you will be reading about, whether you can stand it or not.
Tebow is an intriguing NFL prospect. He is still young, and he has talent, which tragically gets lost in the media storm that surrounds his every move. If it were a purely footballing decision, I would have been fully behind the decision of the New York Jets to bring him in and see what they could get from him.
The problem is that there is no way of distancing him from the media storm, and in this case the Jets seem to enjoy playing with fire.
I suspect it is just a matter of time before this fire proves too hot to handle and burns them in 2012.