32 NFL teams, 32 people to root for: From Lamar Jackson to Lovie Smith to Laura Fryar — and beyond

As journalists, we are supposed to be objective. Just the facts, ma’am.

But the reality is we have biases just like everyone else does, particularly in sports. We take a little more pleasure in the success of some players and coaches than we do in that of others.

I don’t hide the fact that I am a fan of Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson — the player and the person. The poise and grace he showed during his draft night back in April of 2018, when he plummeted to the bottom of the first round, remains an indelible memory. The camera kept focusing on him and his mom in an increasingly empty green room, the two of them leaning against each other, shoulder to shoulder, while seated, heads down, tension rising. It was debatable who was more uncomfortable in that moment: Jackson or the national television audience. Once the fall was over, once Baltimore traded back into the first round and selected him with the final pick of Day 1, Jackson chose to look ahead, not back.

“I’m here. I’m a Raven. It’s on. All year, every year,” he told Deion Sanders, then of NFL Network. “They gonna get a Super Bowl out of me. Believe that. Believe that.”

The next morning, after Jackson arrived at the Ravens facility, I asked him to choose one or the other: A Super Bowl win or a Hall of Fame jacket. He didn’t hesitate.

“If you’re winning Super Bowls, things like gold jackets can follow,” he said.

For someone to have that much wisdom, poise and humility at such a young age struck me. Truth is, it has never left me. It’s why I have no problem admitting my bias when it comes to Lamar.

It’s against this backdrop that I arrive at today’s assignment: to identify one person whose success I delight in at each NFL franchise. Essentially, one person to root for at every one of the league’s 32 branches. The task was harder than I anticipated because there are a lot of good people — players, coaches, management — on every team. That said, here goes:

He has started 130 games since entering the league as a seventh-round pick in 2012, but more impactful is the time and energy he has devoted to providing resources to marginalized students in hopes of bridging the digital divide.

Related Links

  • NFL Power Rankings: Which teams improved most after 2022 NFL Draft?
  • 2022 NFL Draft class rankings: Chiefs, Jets, Ravens shine brightest
  • 2022 NFL schedule: Which teams should receive the most prime-time game assignments?
  • 2023 NFL Draft: Compensatory pick projections for every team
  • Top 10 games of the 2022 NFL season: Chiefs-Bucs, Packers-Bills make list
  • Next Woman Up: Mindy Black, Director of Performance Nutrition for the Jacksonville Jaguars

If you saw the pre-draft video his family made, in which they discussed their love for him and highlighted the type of character that should make the receiver a longtime leader for the Falcons, then you will understand why he had an immediate fan in this writer.

His talent is surpassed only by his humility, which makes him beloved among teammates and fans.

The self-proclaimed foodie introduced me to some of the tastiest chicken wings I’ve ever eaten, at Revival in Minneapolis, making him one of my permanent all-time favorites.

The Jets wanted him, then got rid of him. The Panthers wanted him, then spent part of the offseason looking to replace him. Redemption, let thy name be Darnold.

Young signal-callers often fail not because of a lack of talent, but because they’re dropped into dysfunctional situations. Here’s to hoping this offseason’s coaching and management changes give Fields a more stable foundation on which to build.

The soft-spoken team captain was a quiet leader through lean years, but has yet to receive the lucrative multi-year extension he desires. Here’s hoping he has a big year playing on the franchise tag, then cashes in with the Bengals or someone else.

Dallas essentially gave him away, apparently unhappy with his 2021 production relative to his salary. The film shows his drop-off was about others more than it was about him, a reality that could become abundantly clear with Deshaun Watson throwing him the ball, depending on the quarterback’s availability in 2022.

This will be Fryar’s first season without her mom, Marylyn Love, who passed away in March after 40-plus years as executive assistant to owner Jerry Jones. Love was a popular and beloved figure within the organization, someone whom Jones called his best friend.

He burst on the scene as a 12-sack rookie in 2018, but has struggled with injuries since then. Would love to see what he could do as a veteran if fully healthy for a season.

We often shake our heads at some of his strange and colorful soundbites, but really, it’s a welcome change in a league of coaches whose Crayola boxes are filled with shades of gray. Beyond that, his team played with grit from Game 1 through Game 17 last season, which speaks to his ability to connect with players.

News that she celebrated her 20th year with the Packers earlier this offseason can only mean she began working for the team while in middle school. She can always be counted on for a helpful hand and friendly smile, which makes her a favorite.

There were multiple options — SEE: Davis Mills, Derek Stingley Jr., Pep Hamilton — but Smith got the nod because of my respect for him as a man and his desire to create more opportunities for black coaches.

The former league MVP is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, and it would be awesome to see him win a Super Bowl and make 28-3 (no explanation necessary) a footnote on his résumé.

The 11th-year veteran has never won a playoff game, going 0-3 with Cincinnati and 0-1 with Detroit. A postseason victory with the Jaguars would allow the former American Idol tryout to hit a new high note.

It’s amazing he remains as positive as he does after being passed over for head-coaching opportunities the past few years despite having a résumé that’s more accomplished than most of those who were hired.

I’ve never seen a Pro Bowl-caliber QB more maligned by his own fans. You half wonder if winning a Super Bowl would be enough to win them over.

Statistically speaking, his first two seasons surpassed those of many all-time greats. The thought of him displaying his talents on the postseason stage makes the heart race.

We should appreciate every opportunity we have to watch Donald, one of the greatest to ever don shoulder pads and a helmet. He plays the game the way it’s meant to be played: physically and relentlessly. And seeing him put off the Super Bowl celebration with his team to play in the confetti with his children and wife took my respect for him to an even higher level. Family first.

People love pointing out the things he can’t do. Now, with some high-quality help around him, we should finally get the chance to see what he can do.

I marvel at not only his football skills, but also his 4 handicap in golf. He’s had a lot of time to work on his game over the past six seasons, with no playoff appearances. It would be great to see that change.

It would be an understatement to call his first three seasons disappointing, which is why I’m hoping the former first-round draft choice has a breakout campaign in 2022.

The popular veteran is going back to his roots, returning to the state where he first made his national name exactly one decade after his final year at LSU. Who doesn’t love a good homecoming story?

The fifth-year pro had a dynamic rookie season, posting a league-best 2,028 yards from scrimmage. He has not been the same since because of his injuries and the Giants’ suspect personnel moves, but hopefully good health and changes to New York’s coaching staff and front office put him back on track.

He may have lost games last season, but he never lost respect for his players or the sometimes-unrelenting New York media. It will be fun to see what he can do after the Jets upgraded the roster with a strong offseason.

It is not true that everyone is waiting for him to fail, so they can say, “I told you so!” But it sure FEELS like that at times. With an upgraded cast around him, and a second year in the offense, Hurts has his best chance to succeed.

How can you not respect a man who, in an attempt to eliminate alleged racial bias among NFL teams when hiring head coaches, put his career and livelihood on the line by suing the league?

The “Can he or can’t he play?” discussion is exhausting. Understandable, but exhausting. Time to silence the doubters.

He isn’t Russell Wilson, but the Seahawks are building the type of offense that won’t ask him to be. If Lock performs as well on the field as he did in his introductory press conference, the playoffs will be in reach.

His first stint as a full-time head coach came with a dysfunctional Jets team, one whose biggest failure was at the quarterback position. Bowles now steps into a stable situation that includes a deep and proven roster — and also the greatest QB in league history.

We talk so much about the importance of mental health and viewing a request for help as a sign of strength instead of weakness. This was top of mind recently when Tannehill, after a terrible performance in this past January’s Divisional Round defeat, admitted to seeking professional help to get through it. His openness hopefully will help someone else find safety in seeking help.

As if it weren’t enough trying to change the fortunes of a team that’s finished below .500 in seven of the past nine seasons, Rivera is trying to change the culture within an organization whose leadership was investigated for sexual harassment and misogyny, with owner Daniel Snyder ultimately being fined $10 million and relieved of day-to-day operations of the team for an indeterminate amount of time. The franchise also remains under investigation by the league, while Congress has explored potentially deceptive business practices (claims which the Commanders deny). Rivera, who had cancer and made a full recovery, just received the 2022 George Halas Award for overcoming adversity.

Follow Jim Trotter on Twitter.

Source: Read Full Article