The Most Beloved Player on Each NFL Team
Each NFL team has a player who is embraced by its entire fanbase, and this slideshow presents each and every one of them.
Feel free to comment if you think there is a better choice.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Ever since Fitzgerald entered the league, he has been among its best WRs, and fans across the country are amazed by his unbelievable catching skills. Fitz is the lone offensive weapon on a team that is down in the dumps, but he still never loses patience with his team or loses his All-Pro ability or the undying support of Cardinals fans.
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Matty Ice always seems to save his best performances for when he's in Atlanta, which is part of the reason why Falcons fans love him so much. They know whenever they go to see him at home, he's giving it all he's got, and he usually comes away with a win.
Matt Ryan wasted no time getting the Falcons back on track when he entered the league in 2008, and he led them to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC last season. Ryan is truly an elite QB who is a little underrated considering his immense skill, and I have yet to meet a Falcons fan who has not welcomed his presence in Atlanta.
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Is there any question about this?
Ray Lewis has been the face of the franchise since Baltimore regained a NFL team. Year after year Lewis gives everything he has on the field, and the city of Baltimore embraces him as an icon.
Even at the old (by NFL standards) age of 36, Lewis shows no signs of slowing down and still leads the Ravens to consistent success. No matter how he is received outside of Maryland, he is the most beloved celebrity in the state since Johnny Unitas.
Buffalo Bills: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Marc Serota/Getty Images
It was a really close three-way race between Fitzpatrick, Paul Posluszny and Lee Evans, who has quietly been very consistent over his career.
Before last season, though, it seemed like it didn't matter who was getting the nod for the Bills at QB because it was still going to be a catastrophe.
However, Fitzpatrick threw for 3,000 yards and 23 TDs in 14 games with a respectable 81.8 passer rating last season. At the very least, Fitzpatrick provides the Bills a short-term starter while they get their other issues sorted out, and he has the potential to be more.
Ryan Fitzpatrick's solid season last year gave Bills fans hope for the future, and although it has only been one season, he is already beloved in Buffalo.
Carolina Panthers: Steve Smith
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
It would be a sad day in Carolina if Steve Smith leaves next year. He has stayed with the Panthers his entire career and was a big reason why they made it to the Super Bowl against the Patriots in 2003.
Smith is easily the most beloved Panther because of his playmaking ability, great work ethic, antics and improbable success due to his small size. His presence in the huddle and on the field would go a long way in helping Cam Newton adjust to the NFL.
There aren't too many other players in Carolina who have found a place in the hearts of fans, and Steve Smith rises far above the rest.
Chicago Bears: Brian Urlacher
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Bears didn't take the heavily contested NFC North nor make it to the NFC Championship Game because of Jay Cutler and the offense.
They got there because of a good old-fashioned, hard-hitting defense, led by elite linebacker Brian Urlacher.
He continues the trend of dominant middle linebackers in Chicago and hardly ever disappoints Bears fans during games. Urlacher is one of the most iconic Bears players ever and one who will be remembered for a long time.
Brian Urlacher is to Bears fans what Jonathan Vilma is to Saints fans. He doesn't have the impact Ray Lewis does, but Urlacher is like the quarterback of the defense and is an extremely smart, extremely strong player who is loved in Chicago.
Cincinnati Bengals: Chad Ochocinco
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
The Bengals had some issues last year, and there is no doubt Chad Ochocinco had a disappointing season.
Nevertheless, no other Bengal has come close to stealing the hearts of the fans the way Chad has over the years.
He's had several great years as a receiver, and his touchdown celebrations and off-the-field antics have cemented his place as the most beloved Bengal.
Although many people have been calling for his head because of last year's failure and the ways he has kept busy during the lockout, what else is he going to do, go to training camp?
A player who has had as much impact on his team as Chad has can't be judged by one down year. Ochocinco is a dedicated player who also likes to have fun and has entertained Cincinnati residents for years.
Who else would take his place, Dhani Jones?
Cleveland Browns: Peyton Hillis
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
I don't think there's any question.
Joe Haden had a great season last year, and Joe Thomas is as consistent as they come, but Peyton Hillis means everything to Cleveland. He put raw power and dedication back in the Browns offense and is a great guy on top of all that.
There is no doubt Hillis—and possibly his backfield partner, Montario Hardesty—will play a huge role in Cleveland's future, and the fans embrace that fact. Hillis took the pressure off rookie QB Colt McCoy, rushing for over 1,000 yards and double-digit TDs and also grabbing 61 receptions for almost 500 yards and two TDs.
Hillis' simple policy of powering through defenders and doing whatever it takes to gain solid yards resembles Cleveland great Jim Brown, and there is no question Hillis brings back fond memories to fans.
Plus, he didn't get to the cover of Madden 12 with an indifferent fanbase.
Dallas Cowboys: Jason Witten
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Witten narrowly beats out monster pass rusher DeMarcus Ware for most beloved Cowboy.
Ware may arguably be the most talented Cowboy, but Jason Witten is the most loved because of how much he loves Dallas and how much it loves him in return.
I'm sure every loyal Dallas fan remembers his run against the Eagles where he lost his helmet and kept running without it. That single play showed everyone how dedicated he is to football and the Cowboys, and any fan will ramble on and on about why he is the best tight end in the league.
Witten is well rounded, powerful and devoted, and Cowboys fans love him for it.
Denver Broncos: Champ Bailey
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Tim Tebow may very well take this spot in a couple years, and, of course, Denver fans practically worship John Elway, but right now Champ Bailey is the most beloved Bronco.
Bailey has been playing corner at an elite level for years and has been a constant leader in Denver's past few troubled seasons. The Broncos are in the process of rebuilding, and Bailey has helped speed that up because of his incredible skill at corner and his ability to play a huge role in the defense.
Bailey will go down as one of the best corners to play football, and right now he definitely has a home in Denver.
Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson
J. Meric/Getty Images
The Lions don't have a very happy history when it comes to first-round draft picks, but they struck gold when they took Megatron.
No other player on the Lions has had nearly as much impact as Calvin Johnson these past few years, and without him, Detroit would still be going nowhere at the bottom of the NFC North, winning maybe two or three games a season, instead of being a potential playoff team for 2011 or 2012.
If Matt Stafford stays healthy in 2011, he and Megatron could form a lethal duo, but Calvin's numbers didn't suffer at all in 2010 when he had Drew Stanton and Shaun Hill at QB. He showed he can make things happen no matter who is under center, which is reminiscent of Larry Fitzgerald.
Calvin Johnson adds so much to the Lions offense, and fans all over Detroit thank him for it.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers
Perhaps no other city in the country cares about its NFL team more than Green Bay, so when you win the Super Bowl, you are larger than life.
Aaron Rodgers didn't just win the Super Bowl—he replaced one of the greatest QBs ever to play and posted huge numbers while hinting that the best is yet to come for the Green Bay Packers.
Clay Matthews is a dominant force on the other side of the ball, but this was really no question. Rodgers immediately made an impact in the NFL and was able to keep the injury-prone Packers from falling apart last year. He also gave the city of Green Bay and seasoned vets such as Donald Driver and Charles Woodson a meaningful ring.
I don't think there is a single person living in Green Bay who has a bad thing to say about Aaron Rodgers.
Houston Texans: Andre Johnson
Bob Levey/Getty Images
No question about it, Andre Johnson is the most popular player in Houston.
His extraordinary play at receiver is the main reason the Texans are on the edge of making the playoffs, and he won even more support from Houston fans by giving rival Titans corner Cortland Finnegan a much-deserved beating.
Arian Foster had an incredible breakout season last year, but Johnson has been playing at an All-Pro level for years, and Houston fans greatly appreciate his dedication and intensity.
Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
Just in case you forgot what the big deal is about Peyton Manning, he has been the best QB in the league for the past decade and is a sure Hall of Famer.
No other Colt comes close to playing on his level, and few NFL players in general do. He's an incredible player, and Colts fans adore him.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
I love this guy—so does Jacksonville.
One of the smallest running backs in the league, Maurice Jones-Drew plays like one of the biggest. He can level guys like Shawne Merriman, outrun corners going down the sideline and pound-for-pound is probably the strongest guy in the league.
They call him Pocket Hercules for a reason: He's small, and he's Hercules.
Any sensible defender is going to think twice (at least) about making fun of MJD's height, because if he does, MJD will make sure to embarrass him—and it will play on the highlight reel for weeks.
The Jags are an incredibly mediocre team, but they boast one of the best running backs in the league, and the fans know it.
Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles
Tim Umphrey/Getty Images
Matt Cassel and Thomas Jones are good.
Dwayne Bowe and Tamba Hali are very good.
Jamaal Charles is on another planet—not even Barry Sanders could manage to average the 6.4 yards per carry Jamaal boasted last year.
Fans love Charles, and he helped turn a pretty dismal team into the division leader and a playoff-caliber team. Now fans in Arrowhead Stadium finally have something to cheer about again, and Jamaal could prove to be better than his predecessors, Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes.
This fan favorite dominated defenses last year and will certainly not disappoint this year. Chiefs fans love Jamaal Charles, and he rewards them by being unstoppable.
Miami Dolphins: Brandon Marshall
Marc Serota/Getty Images
This one was also very close, and I could've gone with either Cameron Wake or Jake Long, but I decided Marshall was the best option.
Fans were definitely excited about Marshall's arrival in Miami last season, and although he didn't quite have the season people were expecting, he still added a dynamic receiver to the Dolphins offense who could be a deep threat or possession receiver.
Dolphins fans know the issues about who's under center need to be resolved, but at least they know they have an extremely talented receiver who can adjust to mediocre quarterback play.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Peterson has dominated every team in the league, and Vikings fans are crazy about him. He is undoubtedly the best running back in the league today, and no other Viking gets the kind of attention from the fans that he does.
Peterson is by far the most talented Viking and one of the most talented players in the league today, and fans certainly appreciate it.
New England Patriots: Danny Woodhead
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Whether he's breaking a big run or selling his own jerseys at Modell's, Danny Woodhead is one of the most lovable fans in the NFL—unless you are a Jets fan.
Tom Brady has been winning in New England for years, but I gave Woodhead the nod here because in one season with the Pats, he excelled as a runner in the New England backfield committee, and as a receiver out of the backfield, he won over almost all of New England as a whole (and probably parts of Canada).
At first I figured Woodhead was popular because he is 5'8" and it is funny to watch him run. Now I know he is popular because he is 5'8", it is funny to watch him run and he's GOOD.
It's easy to think of this as Danny Woodhead's 15 minutes of fame, but many NE fans would like to see him around for a while, seeing as he is already one of the most popular NFL players.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Words can't describe how much New Orleans loves Drew Brees. Everything about the 2009 Saints was touching, from the 13-0 start that gave hope to the recovering city to the miracle wins in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl to Drew Brees holding his young son afterwards.
Drew is absolutely adored in New Orleans for bringing the city a Super Bowl win that meant so much more than just a ring. He will go down as the greatest Saints QB of all time and one of the best QBs to play the game.
The only people who hated Brees were the teams stuck in the path of destruction paved by the champion Saints, and even after a disappointing finish to 2010, Saints fans still love and admire Drew Brees.
New York Giants: Eli Manning
Nick Laham/Getty Images
He may draw a lot of criticism from the other 31 fanbases, but Giants fans love Eli.
Any Giants fan could tell you how Eli Manning gallantly led the Giants to a Super Bowl win over the Pats in 2007, despite how much truth is actually present in that statement. Giants fans do have a more accurate idea of Manning's worth, though, and do not hate him just because of his significant lack of being Peyton Manning.
Eli is embraced by the Giants community and has given many people high hopes for the 2011 season.
Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are by far the most popular (and best) players on the defense, but it seems Eli has found a special place in the hearts of New York fans.
New York Jets: Darrelle Revis
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Sorry Rex, it has to be a player.
Darrelle Revis is the best corner in the league, the best player on the Jets and also has the coolest island in the league.
He is a huge part of the elite Jets defense, and his emergence into a star is one of the main reasons why the Jets are on the edge of a Super Bowl berth.
LaDainian Tomlinson, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and arguably Santonio Holmes may have the edge name-wise, but fans have definitely embraced Darrelle Revis.
Oakland Raiders: Darren McFadden
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
A lot of people love Nnamdi Asomugha, but he may be leaving Oakland before next season.
Raiders fans still have a lot to cheer for, though, due to the emergence of Darren McFadden, who was just about to be slapped with the label "injury prone."
After a disappointing first two seasons, McFadden's breakout season last year, plus his mix of strength and speed, has earned him the nickname "Run-DMC" and a lot of love in Oakland.
Darren McFadden was a big part of the Raiders' division sweep last season, and he will be a key factor in any future Oakland success. Plus, the fans love him.
Philadelphia Eagles: Michael Vick
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
He is hugely popular all over Philly after having his best career season as an Eagle, and when you play for Philadelphia, it's good to know you're on your fans' good side.
Vick could be a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he keeps up his success, and fans have high praise for him and high expectations for 2011.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Troy Polamalu
Rob Carr/Getty Images
I couldn't put Ben Roethlisberger for obvious reasons—Troy beats him anyway—and I feel like Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall just don't mean as much to Pittsburgh fans as Troy does.
Polamalu has led the Steelers defense for years and is a household name in the NFL. There is not a soul still alive in Pittsburgh who hates him, and his jersey is the best-selling out of all the Steelers.
Pittsburgh fans go crazy for Polamalu, and every clutch play and hard hit he makes just makes him more popular in the city.
He also has the best hair.
San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Antonio Gates is huge in San Diego as well, but Rivers, the star QB, takes the cake here.
The Rivers-Manning trade will go down as one of the hugest draft day trades in history and a huge gain by the Chargers. Rivers has had great season after great season, and long after he retires, many fans will still be wearing No. 17, as he will still be in the hearts of many fans.
San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
No, it's not Alex Smith.
Frank Gore means everything to San Francisco. Patrick Willis has emerged as the best inside linebacker in the league today, but Gore narrowly beats him out.
Year after year, Gore has carried the 49ers in game after game with his incredible running. He is a guy who doesn't get much mention when top players are being discussed, but he can make plays and shift the momentum in a game.
Maybe Willis will take this spot in a few years, but for now, it belongs to Frank Gore.
Seattle Seahawks: Matt Hasselbeck
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Marshawn Lynch had a mind-blowing run in the playoffs, Lofa Tatupu is a top linebacker, Earl Thomas had a great rookie season and Mike Williams finally hit his stride, but Hasselbeck has been there for the Seahawks for a long time.
Hasselbeck nearly brought Seattle a Super Bowl victory, which they only lost because of some terrible calls from the refs, and has played solidly with the 'Hawks for nearly a decade.
It would be a shame for them to lose Hasselbeck next season and become just another team with a lack of competence under center. Plus, Hasselbeck still has some left in him.
Whatever happens in 2011, count on Hasselbeck going down as one of the greatest Seahawks to ever play. He will be inducted into their Ring of Honor.
St. Louis Rams: Steven Jackson
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
If you looked at only Steven Jackson's stats, you'd think he was average at best.
However, he runs with the most intensity of anyone in the NFL (Marshawn Lynch's one run doesn't count; Jackson could do that), and Rams fans absolutely love him.
Sam Bradford is quickly becoming a star in St. Louis going into only his second season, but Jackson is not forgotten, seeing as how he is a lot of the reason for Bradford's success. Teams always have to plan for Steven Jackson's powerful running and explosiveness out of the backfield, so the rookie QB is an afterthought.
Jackson will be a big part of St. Louis' success in the future, and fans know it. Any fan will tell you he is a top-five running back, and he is an icon in the Gateway to the West.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Josh Freeman's successful 2010 season is a sign of things to come, and Bucs fans are definitely excited.
Tampa Bay was on the verge of making the playoffs last year, and fans have nothing but good things to say about Freeman and what he will accomplish in the future. He cut his interceptions by two-thirds from 2009 to 2010, and in a couple years he could be one of the elite QBs in the NFL.
Ronde Barber almost got the nod here because of how long he's been with the team and the high level at which he's been playing, but Freeman is young and promising, and fans can't seem to get enough of him.
Look for continued support for Freeman from Bucs fans everywhere in 2011.
Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Forget about Adrian Peterson: It's all about Chris Johnson in Tennessee.
He is by far the most talented Titan, and fans flock to stadiums to watch him make play after play, despite a full week of preparation just for him by an opponent.
Johnson is the main reason the Titans could be just a QB away from a playoff-caliber team, and the Titans will do whatever they can to keep him in 2011.
There is no player on the team who commands as much respect and admiration from Titans fans—and the league as a whole—so expect to see Chris Johnson in Tennessee for years to come.
Washington Redskins: Brian Orakpo
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
I almost said Santana Moss, but I think Brian Orakpo gets the edge.
Drafting Orakpo was something the 'Skins finally did right when they really needed it. He dominates as a pass rusher and has a lot of strength and heart on the field (but not enough to make up for Albert Haynesworth's lack of the latter).
Orakpo is possibly the most talented Redskin and will be a cornerstone of the young team the 'Skins seem to be trying to start over with.
In the midst of the failures of Haynesworth, Donovan McNabb and the 'Skins as a whole, Orakpo has still consistently produced, and he seems to be the one Redskin who can still get fans excited about watching him play. He will be an important and popular player in Washington for years to come.