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NFL players to root for in 2021: One selection from each team

The 2021 NFL Draft is behind us, which means we have a new group of players to root for this coming season. I know a lot of my fellow Chicago Bears fans are really excited about the 2021 campaign. I will be touching on that in just a moment. But for right now, I would like to highlight one player from all 32 teams that I will be rooting for this season. Not just rookies, though you'll find a half dozen of 'em below.

I could continue spelling out this concept, but I'd rather get to talking about Justin Fields ASAP, so let's get started.

I know the Cardinals generated a lot of headlines when J.J. Watt made a somewhat-surprising decision to sign with the team in March. I mean, I saw a lot of Watt jersey swaps on social media while he was a free agent. I don’t remember seeing one for the Cardinals. Anyway, with so much attention on Watt, are we overlooking Jones, who had 19 sacks in 2019? I mean, probably. He totaled 49 sacks in the three seasons prior to 2020, when he played in just five games and recorded only one sack before suffering a biceps injury that required surgery. Let’s hope he can get back to being a dominant force once again. 

Cominsky exited high school as a 218-pound option quarterback. Then he switched over to defensive end at the University of Charleston and found his true calling. He was the first player from the school to be drafted in 76 years. Yes, 76 YEARS. He’s still developing, but could end up taking a leap this season. I’m here for it. 

Bozeman is a former sixth-round pick who became a starting guard for a pretty good team, which by itself is enough to make you want to cheer for the man. But the dude also spent a year living in a RV with his wife, Nikki! I mean, can you imagine? I love the idea. I think many of us have thought about living in an RV, saving money on rent and being able to go where you please. It’s one thing to talk about over drinks, but Bozeman actually did it!

I had Stefon Diggs in this space last year, and he had the best season of his career. He even ruined one of my fantasy teams when I was going up against him in Week 16 last year. You will understand if I can’t root for Stefon again. But Davis could have a massive breakout this year for the Bills as he continues to grow as a receiver. I understand the Buffalo did add Emmanuel Sanders to the mix this offseason, but watch out for Davis, who had a TD catch in four of the last six regular-season games of 2020.

I like Sam. I’ve followed his career since he went to San Clemente High School. Imagine that: playing for your local high school team and not transferring to some other Orange County powerhouse. Anyhow, I feel like every quarterback deserves an Adam Gase mulligan. Now that Darnold's playing for up-and-coming Panthers OC Joe Brady, there are no more excuses. It’s time to really see what Sam can do. 

I don’t want to make too big of a deal about this, but most Bears fans have never experienced life with a true franchise quarterback. Jim McMahon was great in 1985. Jay Cutler was better as a reality TV star (though I still contend Mike Martz ruined his football career). And sure, Cutler was a way better player than people give him credit for. But the trade up to select Justin Fields led to the first time, in what seems like forever, that Bears fans left the first round of the draft feeling elated. Now it’s time for him to become the Bears quarterback we’ve always wanted. 

I’m a little upset because, as a fantasy enthusiast, I was looking for a huge season from second-year Bengals WR Tee Higgins. That’s less likely to occur following the team’s selection of Chase at No. 5 overall. A lot of folks on Twitter roasted the Bengals for not going offensive lineman in the first round. (Maybe they weren’t aware there are six more rounds in the draft? The team did select guard Jackson Carman in Round 2.) But I want Chase to leave all of those naysayers in the dust and have a Justin Jefferson-like rookie season. It could happen, too. 

I know this might seem like a strange choice, considering Garrett’s role in the highly publicized brawl between the Browns and Steelers during a Week 11 game in 2019. His actions that night were no doubt disturbing. I mean, I even remember my own snap judgment being pretty harsh on Myles. But he was the team’s nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year last season. He deserves to be recognized for his positive impact on and off the field since that incident. And to be honest, I kind of like pulling for the Browns. 

Dak gets way too much criticism. All he’s done is be an excellent quarterback for the Cowboys since replacing Tony Romo in 2016. It looked like 2020 was going to be the best season of his career, but then he suffered his own devastating injury in Week 5. Now I want him to come back and show everybody what he is all about. Because I will never understand why he gets so much grief.  

I don’t want this to end up as a situation where Broncos fans are looking back years from now and wondering what might have been if the team had drafted Justin Fields instead of Surtain at No. 9 overall. I mean, it won’t be too bad. I’m sure Jets fans aren’t bummed at all that their team drafted Jamal Adams instead of Patrick Mahomes in 2017. I’m confident nobody is ever going to bring that up again. But if Surtain is a stud, it will make it easier to take if Fields goes on to do great things.

I recently heard some Bears fan say they hope that Khalil Mack drives Sewell all the way into the backfield to sack Jared Goff. All right, that was me. That said, the Lions are another team that could have drafted Justin Fields in the first round this year. Instead, they passed and chose to ride with Goff. That’s an interesting strategy for the Lions. I hope it pans out for them. Actually, I don’t. But I want Sewell to do well for Detroit. The team deserves some good fortune.

Dillon showed promise last year, providing a glimpse into why the Packers were willing to spend a second-round pick on him last year even though they already had Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams on the roster. Dillon was undoubtedly a big reason why the Packers did not re-sign Williams this offseason. I have to admit there is a fantasy bias in this because Dillon could be the kind of late-round running back who helps you win a fantasy title.

I don’t know what Lindsay has to do for people to respect him. Any time I watch his tape, he looks like one of the best running backs on the planet. And I know he’s not going to carry the ball 350 times during an NFL season. But he’s the perfect type of committee running back who can help you win games. I just want him to be properly utilized now that he’s moved from Denver to Houston. 

I’m sure many of you saw the NFL 360 feature on Paye leading up to the draft. Just an amazing story. And my heart sank as he slipped out of the top 20. But at least he landed with one of the best organizations in the league at No. 21 overall. And the moment when he told his mom she was done working and officially retiredwow. Kwity became my favorite player in the NFL.

Robinson went out and crushed it as an undrafted rookie last season, and my friends down in Duval County rewarded him by drafting Travis Etienne in Round 1. Which, I can kind of understand. I mean, I suppose Shad Khan and Urban Meyer are more interested in winning games than helping my fantasy team. But damn, Robinson had to be so excited to play with Trevor Lawrence, and then the Jags draft the No. 1 overall pick’s Clemson teammate. Talk about a third wheel ...

Anybody his age who can drop Beastie Boys lyrics is always going to be a favorite in my book. Seriously, I work with some Gen Z kids who have never heard of the hip-hop artists. Kelce wins fantasy titles for you. And he’s the life of the party. He was also the Chiefs’ nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2020. That’s a winning combination for me. 

Carr has thrown for 4,000-plus yards with 19 or more TDs and 10 or fewer INTs in each of the last three seasons. But once Aaron Rodgers’ name starts getting thrown around in hypothetical trades, Raiders fans just start drawing up these dream scenarios. And I know Bears fans dreamed about Russell Wilson earlier this offseason, but we were coming off a bad breakup and in a very vulnerable place. You’re fine. 

James made a huge splash in the NFL when he was a first-team All-Pro selection as a rookie. He’s had some terrible luck with injuries over the last two seasons, but here’s hoping he ends that streak in 2021. And as much as I admire him on the field, he also impressed me by crushing dudes in Madden last year. Now I would love to see him get back to dominating on the gridiron.

I can’t tell you how excited I am for Stafford to get an opportunity to play with Sean McVay and the Rams. I mean, we’ve all said things in the past like, “If Stafford could just get on the right team …” Well, now it’s happening. There are no longer any excuses available. I’m of the mind Stafford is going to have the best season of his career. And yes, that might be my fantasy bias talking once again. 

Two years ago, fans were telling the Dolphins to tank for Tua. They didn’t and won some games in 2019. Miami still ended up with Tua, though. But last year was a bit uneven for the rookie. He got pulled a couple of times for Ryan Fitzpatrick. And some people were saying the Dolphins should have drafted another first-round quarterback this offseason, which was ridiculous. I mean, Tua was coming off a major injury last season. Now that he has been reunited with first-round pick and former Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle, we will get to see what he’s all about.

I’ve been a huge Kendricks fan since his days at UCLA. (I even remember him playing with my nephew at Hoover High School in Fresno.) Eric is widely regarded as one of the nicest players in the NFL. And that was backed up when this story started making the rounds on Twitter:

The Patriots aren’t shy about moving on from their star players after a certain amount of time. Even Tom Brady parted ways with the club last year. So you’ll forgive me if I’m a little worried for McCourty, who has been with the team for 11 seasons. But he’s still going strong and I would like to see him make one more run with this team. 

Cam is one of my favorite players in the league. Great personality. Great guy. And I know that I’ve brought this up before. And I really don’t mind if I’m repeating myself here because this a pretty important PSA I’m about to give you here. Not only did Cam’s dad, Steve, play in the NFL, but he was also in this Mr. Perfect vignette

I’ve been a huge fan of his since his college days at Washington. Obviously, he had some injury issues in Cincinnati. And the most heartbreaking thing was when he got hurt running a route in practice two plays after coaches had talked to him about playing defense, so he never even got the chance to help out at CB. He’s the kind of dude I want to see succeed. I hope he makes the most of this second chance in New York. 

I really like what the Jets did during the draft, and Moore is one of my favorite rookie receivers. Selfishly, I kind of wanted him to come to the Bears. Instead, I’ll just have to settle for rooting for him on my fantasy squad. Am I wrong for thinking the Jets’ offense could be really fun to watch this season? 

It was tough to watch when the Eagles made a switch at quarterback in the regular-season finale. But the moment after the game when Kelce went back out to the field with Zach Ertz and Carson Wentz ... well ... it wasn’t the curtain call from Madison Square Garden, but it was somewhat similar. The longtime offensive core spending one last moment together. With the Eagles preparing for the future at center, here’s hoping Kelce goes out strong if this is his last hurrah in Philly.

I find his whole, I totally would have signed with Kansas City if the Steelers hadn’t reached out thing a little dubious. It’s kind of like how I once claimed I was going to make an eagle, but my friend had left the rake outside of the sand trap and I hit it. But it was disturbing to me that so many people took issue with JuJu having a little fun on the field last year. I mean, this game is supposed to be entertaining, right? 

How am I not supposed to like a guy who loves professional wrestling as much as I do but also isn’t afraid to roast me on Twitter? I mean, I could be mad about that, but he’s right. Not about the fries, but about missing on that prediction a couple years back. So, it’s safe to say George is one of my favorites in all of the league. And after watching him struggle through injuries last year, I’m looking forward to seeing him rebound with a monster season. 

I was going to give a quick shoutout to Russell Wilson, who was the Bears’ starting quarterback for a week this offseason. Or at least it seemed that way. But I’ve been a huge fan of DK for some time now. I was able to do a fan event with him over Zoom this year and he was super cool and down to earth. Plus, he’s an excellent football player, so that also helps. 

I also did a fan event with Chris last August and he was super cool, as well. Actually, it was a fantasy football event. And Chris had great insight on his Bucs teammates and some former Penn State guys, as you would expect. But he had a great grasp on the rest of the league, too. He called Calvin Ridley’s breakout, so I have to give him his due respect. Not only is he great at his job -- he’s kind of better than me at mine. 

I mean, how do you not like Henry? There was one time he was at the NFL Network studios and I saw him walking through the newsroom. Looking at him from a distance, I asked myself, “Who is this lineman walking through here?” And then when he got up close and I saw that it was him, I was like, Whoa, how does anybody ever stop this person?

I know you’re thinking I’m a fantasy football dork. And you’re right. But I’m going with my guy McKissic. Aside from him saving my butt in fantasy last season, I love that he’s finally getting a chance to flourish for the FT after bouncing around from Seattle to Detroit before landing in our nation’s capital. And the team didn’t draft an RB this year, which bodes well for him.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter.

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