Chargers TE Antonio Gates
Bolts From The Blue: The obvious answer is Antonio Gates. The guy came out of nowhere to have a Hall of Fame career. On top of that, he's been a team leader for the better part of a decade and works as hard as anyone else in the league. It doesn't hurt that he's a genuinely good guy with a thousand-watt smile, either.
Some people would choose Philip Rivers here, but I think a few take issue with his temperament during games. Eric Weddle would be a good choice, but one could argue that he does more showboating than Gates. Also, who doesn't like rooting for offensive players that score touchdowns?
Bears QB Jay Cutler
Windy City Gridiron: Before Jay Cutler arrived in Chicago, the most notable quarterbacks in franchise history were guys like Jim McMahon from the 1980's and Sid Luckman from the 1940's. Sprinkled in every decade or so would be a guy who could be considered average but ,for the most part, it's been an unpleasant experience to say the least.
Enter The Gunslinger.
He's a player who has the brains and athletic ability to break all of Chicago's passing records, but an unstable offensive line and turnstile of offensive coordinators has been too much to allow him to settle in thus far in his career. Cutler is now in the final year of his contract, and under the tutelage of a head coach known to be an offensive guru, so it's finally time for Cutler to show what he's got. Personality aside, I think most Chicago Bears fans will be rooting for him to blow it out of the water.
Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts III
Big Cat Country: It's unquestionably Cecil Shorts III. Maybe it's that he's a Division III player, maybe it's that he's smaller than your average receiver, or maybe it's because he manages to make the most exciting plays possible. In two of the first three games of the 2012 season, Shorts scored long, go-ahead touchdowns with less than a minute remaining.
If he can remain healthy in 2013, he's an exciting player that could become the first Jaguars receiver in eight years to finish a season with more than 1,000 yards receiving.
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III
Hogs Haven: This is pretty much a no-brainer with RGIII. No matter how bad the situation is with a 3rd and long, there's always that feeling that RGIII will find a way to make it happen. When's the last time a Redskins QB has given me that feeling? I think I was still learning my ABCs.
Rams DE Chris Long
Turf Show Times: Affable. Funny. Earnest.
There are many descriptors you could attach to Chris Long, very few of them negative.
When opposing coaches refer to you as "a rolling ball of butcher knives", you're doing something right. For Long to have racked up 24.5 sacks in his last two years, it's fair to say he's made good on his #2 overall selection back in the 2008 NFL Draft, now being teammates with the only player to precede him in that draft, LT Jake Long.
He may not be the most seasoned veteran on the defensive side of the ball, but he's the heart and soul on the field when the Rams are without the ball. Locked up through 2016, he's not going anywhere any time soon. That's a good thing, too, because when you talk about who's on this roster that I want to root for every week for the foreseeable future, Chris Long stands out for me.
Saints RB Darren Sproles
Canal Street Chronicles: I like Darren Sproles in this spot. He is a character guy, quiet, fast and athletic. The way he makes the bigger guys miss is amusing to watch. He may be the smallest guy on the field, but he blows up my fantasy team numbers nearly every week.
Chiefs LB Tamba Hali
Arrowhead Pride: Tamba Hali was taken by the Chiefs in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, and was a high selection primarily because of his incredible work ethic and motor. Others in the NFL might have more natural talent, but his perfected technique and relentless drive make him one of the NFL's best. The Chiefs have only had two winning seasons in Hali's seven years in the league, so it'd be nice to give him some finer moments on the backside of his career arc.
Browns LT Joe Thomas
Dawgs By Nature: It's a tough question considering this franchise just lost two players who fans could root for any day of the week in kicker Phil Dawson and special teams return man Joshua Cribbs. Dawson played for this team from 1999-2012 at an extremely high level, but he only got to experience one playoff game during that stretch. Cribbs put his body on the line and his heart and soul into being the best special teams player possible from 2005-2012.
This team has a lot of relatively new players on it considering it's one of the youngest in the NFL. Therefore, there aren't many players who fans are attached to yet. I have a feeling many other teams are picking an underdog in this category, but for the Browns, we're going with our best player: left tackle Joe Thomas.
Titans CB Alterraun Verner
Music City Miracles: Alterraun Verner. This is an easy one for me. ATV has been great to the site and is a really fun player to watch. He doesn't have the best physical ability in the world, but he knows how to play football and he seems to really love the game. It is always fun to root for a guy like that.
Broncos QB Peyton Manning
Mile High Report: Peyton Manning. Four neck surgeries, 37 years old, an annual playoff exit, one Super Bowl victory. Manning has the opportunity to retire as the greatest NFL quarterback of all time. But he has to win another Super Bowl or two to make the argument and this year's Denver Broncos may be his best chance.
Ravens RB Ray Rice
Baltimore Beatdown: This one's fairly easy, even with Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed now in Houston. Ray Rice has a certain charisma that makes him liked by not only Ravens fans, but by NFL fans of any team (well, except Pittsburgh, but that's certainly understandable.) Rice is one of the toughest players on the team and he always exudes a good attitude on and off the field. His anti-bullying efforts, as long with other community events, has resonated through the Baltimore area.
Eagles OT Jason Peters
Bleeding Green Nation: With the roster having so much turnover and with a scheme change on defense, there is a lot to take into account. Obviously, there are two types of players that people root for: the ones you know are good and the ones you hope will be good. I think the most universally liked player on this team is Jason Peters.
The guy hasn't played a regular season game since January of 2012 but, prior to that, he was easily the best offensive lineman in the league. He tore his Achilles last season (twice) and missed the entire year, which really impacted the offense. I think Eagles' fans want him to succeed more than anyone because of what he means for the team. If I had to pick runners-up, I would say Evan Mathis, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy due to their work ethic and personalities.
Packers DE Johnny Jolly
Acme Packing Company: This one's easy - it has to be defensive end Johnny Jolly. He was a Packer from 2006 to 2009 before he was jailed and suspended for actions related to a codeine addiction. Now he is back in Green Bay after spending 9 months in jail and completing a full rehabilitation program. By all accounts, he has turned his life completely around and disassociated himself fully with that former life so he can focus on football and family.
Though he seemed a long shot to make the team early on in camp, Jolly was consistently making impact plays in preseason games and showing off his trademarks from the 2009 season: swatting down passes at the line of scrimmage and showing surprising athleticism for a 330-pound man. Even if he doesn't become a true impact player, the fact that Jolly has restarted his life and is back on the right track is admirable and very much worth Packer fans' support.
Cowboys LB Sean Lee
Blogging The Boys: Since Sean Lee has been a Dallas Cowboy, he has been (as Jason Garrett has said), "Everything that is good about football." He goes all-out all the time, whether it's in the weight room, on the practice field or in front of 80,000 people at AT&T Stadium. He also happens to be arguably the Cowboys best defensive player when he's healthy.
But that's the problem ... he hasn't been. He missed 10 games in 2012, one in 2011 and two in 2010. When he signed his new six-year, $42 million contract, he gave the Cowboys a break on guaranteed money and even agreed to a significant amount of playing time incentives to be included in the deal. One of his first statements following the contract revolved around knowing that he needed to find a way to stay on the field to help the team win. He is everything you want a Dallas Cowboy to be, and the easiest Dallas Cowboy to root for.
Patriots WR Kembrell Thompkins
Pats Pulpit: He overcame a lot of adversity to get to the NFL -- multiple arrests as a teenager, playing community college football before going to Cincinnati and then going undrafted in April. He's a man who's overcome so much, has a huge chip on his shoulder and is poised to be Tom Brady's No. 2 option at wide receiver in his first NFL game ... as an undrafted free agent. How can you not root for this guy?
Steelers WR Derek Moye
Behind The Steel Curtain: With the tragic passing of his father just a few weeks before training camp started, Moye's effort and ability to make plays landed him on the 53-man roster for the first time in his career.
The season-ending injury suffered by Plaxico Burress possibly opened a spot for Moye, and he took full advantage this preseason, catching 10 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown.
Falcons WR Julio Jones
The Falcoholic: Wide receiver Julio Jones was a controversial pick in the 2011 NFL Draft because of what the Falcons were willing to give up to draft him, but he has emerged as one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL. His athleticism and natural talent are matched only by his work ethic. He even had an interception in the end zone to end the divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Jones finished last season with 1,198 receiving yards, good for 11th in the league, plus ten touchdowns. What can't Julio do?
49ers LB Patrick Willis
Niners Nation: There are a host of players that are popular for one reason or another, but for me, the easiest guy to root for has to be linebacker Patrick Willis. He has established himself as arguably the best middle linebacker in football and has become more nationally recognized over the years.
It is a bit of a bandwagon pick based just on talent, but Patrick Willis also has unparalleled work ethic and a strong sense of humility. He had perfect attendance through the voluntary offseason and remained at the facility even as he dealt with a broken bone in his hand. Many people would look at an underdog as the easiest player to root for, but with Willis, you get every positive trait you could want from the leader of the team.
Panthers DE Greg Hardy
Cat Scratch Reader: There are a lot of deserving players, but it's hard to look past defensive end Greg Hardy. He has some bizarre moments on and off the field, but Hardy's interaction with fans and desire to give the defensive front a nickname (Monsters Inc.) has made him a fan favorite.
On the field, a good season for Hardy will shape his future with the Panthers. Another 10-sack season makes him one of the team's most important defensive players and his contract status makes him easy to pull for this year.
Dolphins DE Cameron Wake
The Phinsider: The easiest answer here is Cameron Wake. The All-Pro defensive end is a beast. Dolphins fans are going to be rooting for Ryan Tannehill to take that next step this year, and a lot of Dolphins fans will be rooting for Lamar Miller, as the former Miami Hurricane takes the starting running back position for the Dolphins. But, in the end, I think Cameron Wake, who always seems to do the right thing, say the right thing, and plays the right way (plus gets a ton of sacks), is the easiest player to root for.
Texans WR Andre Johnson
Battle Red Blog: J.J. Watt is the quick answer here. He's beloved in Houston like few other athletes have ever been.
But fans of the Houston Texans would be remiss if they didn't give considerable thought to answering this question with the name of Andre Johnson. He's been the face of this franchise since 2003, and 'Dre makes every Texans fan proud to be a supporter of this organization. He's one of the best in the world at his craft. He's active in the community. He was, quite simply, one of the only reasons to keep rooting for this team throughout the dark years of the Charley Casserly Era. J.J. Watt has the city in the palm of his hand, but Andre Johnson has carried this team like no one else.
Raiders FB Marcel Reece
Silver and Black Pride: Reece is a great player, great person and the Raiders' only Pro Bowler from last season. He worked his way up from undrafted free agent and even switched positions twice. He was a wide receiver in college, signed by the Raiders as a tight end and switched to fullback due to injuries while trying to find his place in the NFL. He found his place for sure. He is known as the most-versatile fullback in the league and one of the biggest mismatches in football.
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald
Revenge of the Birds: The Cardinals have a whole bunch of players that are easy to cheer for, but Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best superstars there are in terms of character. You can't help but like Patrick Peterson. Sam Acho is probably the nicest guy on the team. Ryan Williams has dealt with injuries and adversity. Calais Campbell is also super nice.
The easiest, though? That would probably be Fitz, who just wants to win. He does everything right. I don't think that there is anyone in the game or a fan of the game that doesn't want him to win a championship.
Bucs RB Doug Martin
Bucs Nation: Now that Ronde Barber has retired, it would have to be the Muscle Hamster himself. He's quiet, but personable. He's a nice, unassuming guy. And, most importantly, he's a great and consistent football player who hasn't made any dumb mistakes. He's everything you'd want out of a running back, and to do what he did as a rookie endeared him to many people.
Bills RB C.J. Spiller
Buffalo Rumblings: And it's not even close. He has rare athletic traits, is a household name thanks to his amazing college career and the prominence of fantasy football, and is the primary source of per-touch excitement for a football team that hasn't made the playoffs this century. Buffalo has one superstar on its roster right now, and it's Spiller.
Lions WR Calvin Johnson
Pride of Detroit: To me, he's the wide receiver version of Barry Sanders. He's the best player at his position and one of the best players in general in all of the NFL. He's dominant on the field and a great guy off it. What's more, he's constantly working to make himself even better.
He's the Lions' best player and definitely the easiest to root for on the team.
Bengals DT Domata Peko
Cincy Jungle: There are younger players that you're hoping to succeed like second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick -- who was forced to virtually red-shirt his rookie season with injuries, only to suffer a humiliating preseason defeat against wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Veteran defensive tackle Domata Peko is easily one of the "good guys" on the team because he's not only featured as a great family guy, but also as a mentor to younger players -- and he still has enough in the tank to be an effective shield for the team's linebackers.
This selection was close to being the Brandon Tate "I proved everyone wrong" campaign and another that just barely missed out is Andrew Whitworth who, after two years of decline, anticipates playing without the pain that affected his play -- once he rehabilitates his surgically repaired knee, of course.
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson
Daily Norseman: The best one, of course. And by "the best one," what I mean is "the best one in the entire National Football League." Seriously, after what he did last season, how do you not root for Adrian Peterson? The man's work ethic is probably the best in the NFL, he's probably the most exciting player in the league with the football in his hands (or, at least, he's on the short list), and he's a hell of a guy off the field, too ... unless you ask the Houston police department. Never did find out how a guy gets arrested for "resisting arrest" and nothing else, did we?
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch
Field Gulls: This is a softball of a question, but it's actually kind of hard to answer because how do you choose between the prototypical, ultimate role model of everything you'd ever want to be or want your kids to be in Russell Wilson and the most hilariously weird, quirky, bizarrely-badass and beast-modey Marshawn Lynch?
I literally don't know how you could ask me to choose between those two. Can't do it. Won't do it! But yes, Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch are both really easy to root for, for very different reasons.
Giants CB Terrell Thomas
Big Blue View: Thomas has torn his ACL three times and has missed the past two seasons because of back-to-back torn ACLs. He happens to be a great guy who has gone to hell and back trying to revive his NFL career. He is accommodating to the media. Follow his Twitter account (@TerrellThomas24) and you know how much is family means to him.
It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that Thomas is the easiest member of the New York Giants to root for. In fact, it doesn't take being a Giants' fan at all. If you're human, and you care about people who struggle with adversity, do everything in their power to overcome it, and grow from the experience you should be rooting for Thomas.
Jets WR Ryan Spadola and Muhammad Wilkerson
Gang Green Nation: It has to be undrafted rookie Ryan Spadola out of Lehigh. He's a local New Jersey guy so that instantly ticks a box for the player who's easy to root for. He reminds us of Wayne Chrebet, another guy in similar circumstances a few years ago. Chrebet went on to play for 11 seasons with the Jets and, although lightning rarely strikes twice, there is a lot of hope for Spadola who's shown good hands, good routes and an infectious personality.
For the defensive player,it's Muhammad Wilkerson. He is also a local Jersey guy, but that's where the similarities end with Spadola. Wilks was the Jets' first round selection back in 2011 and he just comes out to play every single game. He doesn't say anything, he's very quiet to the media and he's dominant on the field. When combining a great guy off the field with a guy who performs on the field -- and then add in that he's a local guy, it's hard to not root him. He likely breaks out this year so, if NFL fans don't already know his name, they will by this time next year.
Colts WR Reggie Wayne and P Pat McAfee
With Reggie, there is a certain reverence about him that was, at one time, reserved only for Peyton Manning. The fact that he turned down more money offered by the Patriots to instead stay with the rebuilding Colts pretty much solidified his near god-like status with fans, too. That, and he's a helluva receiver.
McAfee is well-liked because he is a goofball that works hard. For working class Indiana fans, they can immediately identify with this silly comedian (who now has his own show via IndyStar.com) who takes a workmanlike approach to his craft and profession. McAfee's ability to laugh at himself has also endeared him to fans.