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8 players I’m watching this NFL season

You owe it to yourself to pay attention to these guys.

By this point you’ve probably locked your Week 1 rosters for fantasy football, and that’s a good thing. Truth be told, I’m really pretty terrible at fantasy football. It’s a world that demands a very different mind to that of just appreciating NFL games. It’s like watching someone good play Madden, someone really good, who has an innate understanding of what breaks the A.I. and will always pick up a big gain on offense.

Instead I want to talk about the players I just can’t stop thinking about. The guys who I know will do something incredible every week, and who I cannot wait to see back on the field.

Justin Jefferson

God, I’m such a sucker for LSU wide receivers. I have no idea what’s in that Baton Rouge water but the Tigers need to bottle it and give it to every pass catcher around the nation. It feels like it’s been such a long time since we’ve truly seen a receiver so good he makes up for his quarterback, but that’s exactly what Jefferson did for the Vikings in his rookie season.

I’m not here to litigate the skills of Kirk Cousins, because Kirk Cousins is too boring to even warrant time on the court docket. Instead we should focus on a dude who caught 88 passes for 1,400 yards in his friggin’ rookie season. Know the last time that’s happened in the modern era? How about never.

Anquan Boldin: 1,377 yards

Odell Beckham Jr.: 1,305 yards

The GOAT himself, Randy-freaking-Moss: 1,313 yards

I want nothing more in this world that to see Jefferson dominate again, because frankly it’s been too damn long since the league had a must-watch receiver. Hell, it’s probably been since OBJ was making stupid one-handed catches and flexing on the entire league, and go figure, he was from LSU too.

I’m a sucker for feeling like I’m a part of history, and the possibility of seeing the emergence of one of the greatest receivers of all time is enough of an allure that I’ll actually subject myself to watching Kirk Cousins play football.

Derrick Henry

I’ve been trying to limit my red meat consumption under the assumption that reducing my carbon footprint will help the world, so Derrick Henry is my giant weekly helping of beef.

Everything about football is time and place. Go back a decade and Henry would be in the mix with a lot of stellar, league-defining running backs. Now, he’s an iconoclast in a league that keeps pushing more and more towards passing, and ignoring the sweet science of mashing a dude into the turf with a stiff arm and a steely grin.

The season, perhaps more than any other, I cannot wait to see what Henry does in Tennessee. With Julio Jones in the mix it’s going to be a fascinating weekly drama of “who’s defending who?” with Henry more than likely getting a chance to do his own thing and obliterate people, because that’s favorable to giving up 20+ in the air.

If Derrick Henry turns his own teammates into sacrificial lambs, then what the hell is he going to do to his opponents?

Every single poor sap on the Texans

Okay look, I know this breaks my conventions a little because “58 players I’m watching this NFL season” doesn’t have the SEO-friendly ring to it, but I’m lumping the entire Texans team into this scenario as one sorry player.

I truly did not believe things could get worse for Houston than last season, but by gawd they found a way, didn’t they? You know David Johnson? The running back they traded DeAndre Hopkins for? He’s their backup running back to a 31-year-old Mark Ingram now.

I honestly feel slightly bad for the individual players on the Texans, because there are a ton of genuinely delightful individuals on this team. Collectively their depth chart looks like Santa’s workshop if all the elves decided to run off and become dentists, so dolls were pieces together by unskilled labor.

The elves really should have unionized.

Daniel Jones

Let it be known that above all else I am a petty, petty bitch — and while Daniel Jones is, by all accounts, a nice gentleman, he does represent something I love to hate on with the fury of 1,000 suns: Dave Gettleman.

I watched firsthand while Gettleman systematically destroyed my beloved Carolina Panthers are turned away team legends like Steve Smith with a bedside manner best described as “imagine if Jason Vorhees was your orthopedic surgeon.”

Jones represents his biggest roll of the dice. The guy Gettleman took and told the world to “trust him.” He passed on Josh Allen, gave Jones the rope to let Justin Herbert fly by a year later, now he’s getting one more year to prove he’s the guy, following a draft where New York could have selected Justin Fields.

I know Giants fans have reached the same point Panthers fans did with Gettleman. He made us all chuckle with his old man phraseology to start his tenure, then it became abundantly apparent he was still looking at football as if it was being played during the Reagan administration with no appreciation for what was happening in the modern game.

I don’t think this story is going to end well, and while I’m sorry for Giants fans, I promise it’ll be worth it to get rid of Gettleman.

Justin Herbert

Hey, it’s the guy I just talked about the Giants passing on. Cool.

Anyway, I love watching Justin Herbert play ... a lot. He looks like a 12-year-old and plays like a 40-year-old veteran. In fact, I’m not 100 percent sure Herbert really is entering his second year, and he’s not some wily veteran like Peyton Manning aging backwards like Benjamin Button.

I’d really like Herbert to succeed because dammit, I want the Chargers to succeed. I don’t know if there’s a more historically likable team than this one, but who never, ever seems to catch a break. Philip Rivers was a really nice guy, LaDanian Tomlinson was also a delightful fellow — I want Herbert to succeed where they didn’t and finally, FINALLY pull the Chargers out of the doldrums.

Also, it would be fun as hell if we get another elite quarterback in the AFC West for the next decade next to Patrick Mahomes.

Brian Burns

Here’s a guy who nobody outside of the Carolinas really talks about, but totally should. Sure, Burns doesn’t have a double-digit sack season to his name ... yet, but I think it’s about to happen.

The reason I just want to see him play is baked entirely within that sentence: I just want to see Brian Burns play. Last season he registered 9.0 sacks, but these weren’t effort, fight his way into the pocket type sacks. Burns flies off the line with unnatural speed and even without a tremendous array of pass rushing moves, he’s able to overwhelm defenses with his first step.

Burns ranked Top 10 in the NFL in total QB pressures last season, and I think that will jump ahead again. This could be a breakout season, and it’s just fun to see how this guy plays football.

Trevor Lawrence

I’ve just gotta know. I have to know if all these years of watching, and waiting for the best college QB since Andrew Luck actually materializes in Jacksonville and FINALLY gets that team over the hump.

The Jaguars got so monumentally lucky to have this situation fall in their laps and get to take Lawrence, and this was a franchise in dire need of luck. Oh god, that’s three mentions of “luck” in two paragraphs, my editor is going to hate me (sorry Ricky). Shit, now it’s four. Better quit while I’m ahead.

I just want Jaguars fans to be happy in a way that doesn’t require copious amounts of pre-game liquor and vandalism. Is that so much to ask?

Kyle Pitts

In a similar vein to Lawrence I’m just fascinated by seeing what Kyle Pitts does this season. The rookie tight end is being asked to fill some tremendously large cleats with Julio Jones being traded away, but thankfully he is a large man who I presume has feet to match.

Before I get too carried away with feet references and y’all start rumors about me on the internet, let me just say that I think Pitts can be one of those iconic, league-defining players that makes us totally re-think the tight end position. I believe he’s that damn good.

Now, I know there’s also a learning curve here and that transitioning to tight end in the NFL is damn, damn difficult (I mean hell, no rookie TE has broken 1,000 yards since Mike Ditka), but there’s just something transcendent about how Pitts plays football. I need to watch him play and develop this season to satiate my own curiosity.