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NFL players to root for in 2020: Joe Burrow, Dak Prescott excite

As you might have heard, Marshawn Lynch is considering a return for a 13th NFL season. It's hard to find anybody out there who doesn't love Beast Mode. The guy is an absolute bulldozer on the football field. He's smart. He's not afraid to do things his own way. He's one of those guys you love to watch, as long as he's not playing against your team.

The NFL is brimming with tons of dudes like that, so I've put together my list of guys I'll be rooting for this season. I'm not saying that these are the best players on their respective teams. They might not have the most-heartwarming backstories. But these are the guys I'm going to love watching in 2020.

ARIZONA CARDINALS: DeAndre Hopkins, WR. He's listed here mostly because it was straight-up disrespectful for the Texans to trade him and a fourth-round pick for David Johnson, a second-rounder and a fourth-rounder in next year's draft. Instead of a first-round pick and even more valuable draft capital, like the Vikings acquired in exchange for Stefon Diggs, Houston got a running back who peaked in 2016. I understand it's not unusual for top-flight NFL receivers to be traded (especially in recent years), but this seemed odd. You wonder if Bill O'Brien just called the first team in the directory and took whatever low-ball offer Cardinals GM Steve Keim threw out. Man, I hope Nuk has, like, 200 receptions this season.

ATLANTA FALCONS: Todd Gurley, RB. I've been a big Todd Gurley guy since his days at Georgia. I never understood why he wasn't given more of a chance in the Rams' Super Bowl loss to the Patriots 15 months ago (10 carries for 35 yards). And even though Gurley got 200-plus carries for the Rams last year, it just felt strange. It was like a couple that you knew was going to break up but they kept telling everyone they were fine. Like Hopkins with the Cardinals, I hope Gurley goes out and crushes it for the Falcons this season.

BALTIMORE RAVENS: Calais Campbell, DE. The Jaguars are clearly in rebuilding mode after parting ways with some big-name talents this offseason. Campbell might be better suited for a team poised to win now, like the Ravens. Which is great. I always appreciated how he didn't take shots or start a Twitter feud with the owner on his way out of Duval. He's also the reigning Walter Payton Man of the Year. So, yeah, I'm rooting for this guy to succeed with his new team.

BUFFALO BILLS: Stefon Diggs, WR. This has been a weird one for me, because I love Diggs as a player, but as a Bears fan, it's not like I could be too obvious about it when he was helping the Vikings win football games. I mean, I did always have him on my fantasy teams, so I could outwardly cheer for him without getting side-eyed glances from fellow Bears fans. But now I don't have to pretend at all, with Diggs being traded from Minnesota to Buffalo and everything. Although I won't have his cryptic tweets to look forward to, I'm anxious to see the pairing between Diggs and Josh Allen, one of the most underappreciated quarterbacks in the game. Going into Year 3 with a receiving corps including Diggs, John Brown (another favorite of mine) and Cole Beasley is pretty nice for Allen.

CAROLINA PANTHERS: Christian McCaffrey, RB. Well, some of these will come from a really selfish place. And for me, a lot of this has to do with all of the fantasy football success McCaffrey has brought me. But also, in a world where running backs have been underappreciated and underpaid, I'm really rooting for McCaffrey to reward the Panthers for the faith they showed by making him the highest-paid RB in the league, as it might help others down the road. Also, one time I was interviewing McCaffrey and he noticed my 4-year-old as my screen saver and mentioned that she was adorable (she is), and I told him he would forever be my favorite player.

CHICAGO BEARS: Allen Robinson, WR. Former Pro Bowl safety and current ESPN analyst Ryan Clark recently claimed that Robinson isn't a No. 1 receiver. While I certainly respect Clark's football knowledge, that is a completely preposterous take, in my opinion. Allen has been one of the best players at his position, despite some uncertainty (to put it mildly) at the quarterback position during his time in Jacksonville and Chicago. I would say Robinson is a top-10 receiver, at worst. And really, I would make the case that he's in the top five. I mean, he ranked seventh in receptions (98) and 14th in receiving yards (1,147) last season, while catching passes from Mitchell Trubisky and Chase Daniel. Not only is he a nails, clutch receiver (as you can surmise from the visual evidence on the thread from the tweet below), but he's also been honored for his great work in his community. Good player. Even better guy.

CINCINNATI BENGALS: Joe Burrow, QB. It's fair to say Joe is coming off one of the best seasons (if not the best season) in college football history. It's also fair to say the Bengals haven't had a lot of success on the field in recent years. It wouldn't have been unconscionable to imagine that Burrow could have really put his foot down and demanded that he not end up playing for the team holding the No. 1 overall pick, like Eli Manning and John Elway famously did when they entered the league. Instead, Burrow gladly accepted the selection and wants to go out and make the Bengals a winner. I'm here for it.

CLEVELAND BROWNS: Jarvis Landry, WR. I'm a big fan of Odell Beckham Jr., but I often feel like Landry is overlooked when it comes to the discussion of best receiver on the team. It's kind of like how Kofi Kingston was always secretly the best wrestler in The New Day) (no disrespect Big E or Xavier). But then he finally got the chance to show the world what he could do. I'm looking forward to that happening for Landry someday.

DALLAS COWBOYS: Dak Prescott, QB. Maybe a certain group of Cowboys fans are too spoiled because their franchise history includes quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach. But to be so on the fence about Dak is one of the most ridiculous things I can imagine. I say this as somebody who roots for a team that has struggled historically at quarterback (the Bears): I would gladly welcome Dak with open arms if you don't think he's all that good. I don't want to go all Teddy KGB, but pay the man his money.

DENVER BRONCOS: Phillip Lindsay, RB. I love Melvin Gordon. I feel like he's going to be very good in his first season with Denver. But what does Lindsay have to do to get a little respect around here? He was an afterthought, signing with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent the same year they drafted Royce Freeman in the third round, and Lindsay went out there and played much better. I love that Gordon wanted to go to the Broncos to stick it to his former team. And there had to be some reciprocal interest from the Broncos to make this work. But give my guy some love.

DETROIT LIONS: Jeff Okudah, CB. Obviously, he's a great player. He was rated the best corner in the draft for good reason, and he overcame tragedy to get here. Okudah lost his mother just six days after he stepped foot on campus at Ohio State. Hearing about that story hits you in the feels, especially if you ever lost a parent at a young age. So that's the kind of player that you would like to get behind. Even if he is playing for a division rival of your favorite team. Can't help but cheer for him. The Bears just don't have to throw it in his direction when they play Detroit.

GREEN BAY PACKERS: Allen Lazard, WR. The former undrafted free agent who was signed from the Jaguars' practice squad has become such a key part of the Packers' offense. In fact, the team decided that it didn't even need to draft a wide receiver this year. That's some respect and I hope that the young man can live up to those expectations.

HOUSTON TEXANS: J.J. Watt, DE. He's been one of my favorite players since he entered the NFL in 2011. And he also realizes that jalapenos are one of the best toppings on a pizza. But I feel for him because his little brother, T.J., is on the cusp of passing him as the best defensive player in his family, if it hasn't happened already. Also, I want to give a shoutout to Duke Johnson, who should be a three-down back in this league and it's a shame nobody wants to give him that opportunity. He is the University of Miami's all-time leading rusher, for crying out loud.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Philip Rivers, QB. Rivers could really have made a bigger deal about the Chargers' move to Los Angeles a few years ago, but he played the loyal employee, commuting back and forth to his home in San Diego in a tricked-out vehicle that allowed him to watch tape during the drive. I would love to see Rivers make a deep postseason run with his new team. I feel like he's never received the credit that he deserves.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Josh Allen, Edge. Hey, as mentioned before, the Jags have waved goodbye to some big-name players this offseason. But let's take a moment to talk about one of the guys who is staying. Allen was one of those overlooked players, a two-star recruit who ended up catching on at Kentucky with a late scholarship offer. Now look at him. He had 10.5 sacks during his rookie season, as the Jags did pretty well in last year's draft. He's poised for an even better season in Year 2.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Mecole Hardman, WR. I think it should go without saying, but if you buy your parents a house, then you're on my list of players that I'm rooting for. I'm going to single out Hardman here because his story was such a great one last year. It's pretty difficult to watch the video of him surprising his mom with the new house and not feel a little emotional. I became a fan for life after seeing that.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: Derek Carr, QB. He's included here mostly because some folks decided he was about to become a member of the Chicago Bears for a few hours after after his cryptic Instagram post in February. Love the sense of humor. But Carr is often disrespected, and even though he's coming off his best year since his 2016 MVP-level campaign, some people were looking for the Raiders to move on from him this offseason. As if. Carr thrived last year without much help from the wide receiver position. They brought in Antonio Brown last offseason, and you know how that worked out. His most reliable wide receiver was fifth-rounder Hunter Renfrow, and he made tight end Darren Waller into a fantasy superstar. But now he'll have first-round pick Henry Ruggs III at his disposal, as well as third-rounder Bryan Edwards. How are you not rooting for this guy?

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Derwin James, S. The Chargers landed quite a steal when James fell to them with the 17th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He earned All-Pro honors as a rookie before an injury limited him to five games in 2019. However, he's proven that he's a top talent on the field, and this offseason, he's showing a lot of his colleagues that he's one of the best in Madden, as well. During a recent Madden tournament, James worked a bunch of his fellow players, absolutely embarrassing Tyreek Hillin the finals. I would love to see James playing against some of the top Madden players around the world.

LOS ANGELES RAMS: Andrew Whitworth, OT. A fellow bald guy with a beard. What's not to love? Obviously, Sean McVay deserves so much credit for getting the Rams back to respectability after the Jeff Fisher era. But one of the low-key great moves the organization made at that time was bringing in Whitworth, who solidified the offensive line and made a lot of the success on the field possible. The Rams re-signed him to a three-year deal in March. So much respect to the elder statesman.

MIAMI DOLPHINS: Jordan Howard, RB. I still might be a little miffed that the Bears unceremoniously dealt him to the Eagles last offseason. Now he's on his third team, and that doesn't seem right. The Dolphins didn't spend any of their top draft picks on a running back, which was a good sign for Howard, but they did trade for Matt Breida on draft weekend, which is fine. Howard could certainly bring the thunder and still be a huge piece for Miami this season.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Anthony Harris, S. This is one of the things that always bugs me about the draft process. Harris was a first-team All-ACC pick as a junior at Virginia. He played through a torn labrum (shoulder) as a senior, which required surgery after the season. And yet, nobody wanted to draft him. Like, not even risk a fifth-round pick on him. He signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent and then became (unsurprisingly) one of the best safeties in the game and the team used the franchise tag on him this offseason. It's crazy. As a Bears fan, I wish his success didn't come at our expense (well, the Bears swept the Vikings last year, so no worries), but I'm happy to see him doing so well.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Jarrett Stidham, QB. Everybody just assumed that Bill Belichick was going to draft a quarterback this year. And maybe he wanted Jordan Love but got a little too cute with everything. Who knows? But to me, it would be the most baller move to go out and win the AFC East with Stidham. Because you know Belichick would like to prove that he can win without Tom Brady. This could also be good for Julian Edelman, who would add an extra layer to his case for the Hall of Fame if he catches 100 passes from Stidham this season.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Cam Jordan, DE. One of the best Saints players. A stalwart on the defensive side of the football. He's walked through the halls of NFL Network, and he's a really cool dude. But the one thing I can't get out of my mind about Jordan is this promo with Mr. Perfect. The NFL player in this video is Vikings tight end Steve Jordan. That's Cam's father. I know it's a weird reason to root for Cam. But at least I didn't pick Taysom Hill.

NEW YORK GIANTS: Xavier McKinney, S. I had McKinney as a first-rounder in my mock draft. And while it wasn't a shock that he fell to the second round, I think the Giants certainly got a steal with the former Alabama safety. It reminds me of Eddie Jackson falling to the fourth round before the Bears selected him in the 2017 draft. Jackson was coming off an injury, but McKinney just sort of fell as some teams went for offense instead. To me, the Giants got a Pro Bowl player with the No. 36 pick.

NEW YORK JETS: Sam Darnold, QB. I'm always going to be drawn to dudes who played at a local high school here in Southern California. And before you ask, I was a big fan of Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez. But Sam and I bonded some time ago over a common high school rival, so we will always carry that with us. I'm also really excited the Jets addressed both the offensive line (first-round pick Mekhi Becton) and the receiver position (second-rounder Denzel Mims) with their top two picks in the draft. I think Mims is a stud who can help Darnold out a lot this season. Also, a late add and shoutout to new Jets signee Frank Gore!

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Matt Leo, DE. The Eagles recently acquired the former Australian Rules Football player from the NFL's International Player Pathway Program. Leo was in his early 20s and working as a plumber in Australia when he decided to move to the United States to give football a shot. Leo, now 27, spent the last three years at Iowa State and now he has a chance to fulfill his dream of playing for an NFL team.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: T.J. Watt, OLB. As mentioned previously, T.J.'s brother, J.J., is one of my favorite players in the league. And I'm worried that J.J. is losing his top spot in that family. But I'm also a younger brother, so I know what it's like when you finally emerge as the dominant sibling. Or, I can only hope to know what that is like and I will live vicariously through T.J.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB. For starters, he grew up a few towns over from me in Arlington Heights, Illinois. But I thought he was on the receiving end of an extreme level of disrespect this offseason for a guy who just helped lead his team to the Super Bowl. Everybody was trying to fantasy book Tom Brady to the team. Or maybe San Francisco would trade for Tua or something. Jimmy G is a franchise quarterback, and I know 49ers fans are spoiled with a history that includes Joe Montana and Steve Young. But seriously, back off. (Honorable mention to Richard Sherman for his Twitter beef with Darrelle Revis.)

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Russell Wilson, QB. I know it seems weird that I would pick one of the most popular players in the NFL for this list. I get that. That said, Wilson is one of the most underappreciated players of his era. Most people would agree that he's one of the most valuable players in the league. The Seahawks have struggled on the offensive line for what seems like years and it's Wilson who has carried them. And yet, he's never received a single MVP vote. Not one.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Mike Evans, WR. It feels like Evans is a big key for the Bucs this season. He's been the man since he was drafted out of Texas A&M, but now he has to share a little more of the spotlight with Chris Godwin. And the Bucs have added a bonafide superstar in Rob Gronkowski to the mix. But the dude never complains. Evans isn't asking for a trade. He's just going out there to do his job. I think that's amazing.

TENNESSEE TITANS: Ben Jones, C. The Titans' offensive line has been a huge hit ever since gaining notoriety for its antics during a Nashville Predators playoff game. And you probably already know that Taylor Lewan is my guy. But a special shoutout to Jones, who's not only an absolute mauler at the center position but also was his team's nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Dwayne Haskins, QB. Look, I know some people wanted the Redskins to pull the same type of move the Cardinals did a year ago and take Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 2 pick in this year's draft after selecting Haskins 15th overall in 2019. But I'm here for giving Haskins another chance. Yes, we all fawned over 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow, but it was Haskins who ended up sending him to Baton Rouge in the first place. Now he has another chance to make people forget about Burrow by going out and crushing it, like he did at Ohio State in 2018.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @adamrank.

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