The NFL can make athletes incredibly famous, especially if they forge a connection with the fans.
Over the years, there have been a number of breakout stars that have simply found a way to engage with fans, irrespective of their team or allegiance.
Marshawn Lynch is one of the most popular players to ever feature in the NFL. Fans of all teams respect his worth ethic on the field and admire his attitude towards the media.
While there are those within the NFL who have failed to connect with fans and are universally disliked, those who are loved are also aplenty.
A number of players currently playing in the NFL are tremendously well liked, as well as individuals who have only recently retired. Let's look at five such popular players.
#1 – Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes is the poster child of the modern NFL. He is athletic, successful, and incredibly professional.
His style of quarterback play is incredibly exciting and gets people out of their seats, even if they aren’t Kansas City Chiefs supporters.
He has already achieved a lot in a relatively short period of time, including a Super Bowl championship, and his legacy is only going to increase from this point.
His jersey sales are exceedingly high, especially amongst young fans, and he is a good example for them too. It’s very difficult to find someone with a bad word to say about Patrick Mahomes. No wonder he continues to rule the roost as far as fans' hearts are concerned.
#2 – Larry Fitzgerald
Few players come around in sports that are just admired for their commitment to the game. Fitzgerald was universally liked and everyone wanted him to secure a Super Bowl title before he retired, but it wasn’t to be.
His charity work has provided children with a whole host of opportunities, especially those who are underprivileged.
He has the second-highest number of receptions in NFL history and he became the youngest player ever to reach 1,000 receptions, at just 32 years of age.
Fitzgerald’s on-field excellence has contributed greatly to him being so admired by fans. Added to his off-field work, he is the perfect role model for many.
#3 – JJ Watt
JJ Watt has played football at an exceptionally high level throughout his career with the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals.
Few players have entered the league and been as dominant as Watt, who wowed fans with his ability to play both offensive and defensive snaps.
The Texans have never really been anything other than a poor team, but Watt gave them a marketable star who was respected across the league.
Off the field, he chairs his own foundation for children, which provides them with after-school activities and a safe environment to participate in sports.
He raised over $37 million for victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, which surpassed his initial goal of $200,000. It was a testament to just how liked and respected Watt is that so many people donated.
Not only have NFL fans respected Watt for his stellar career on the field, but it is his response to tragedies that have touched almost every family in the USA.
Watt paid for the funerals of all those that died in the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018. He also gave merchandise and met with parents of victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting tragedy.
The combination of sporting brilliance and humanitarian outlook on life has made JJ Watt one of the most loved players in the NFL's history.
#4 – Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald has been the most dominant defensive player of the last decade. He has been incredibly consistent since being drafted by the St. Louis Rams, despite the fact that most of the teams he has played in have been poor.
NFL fans respect Donald for his work ethic, for how he has strived to improve as a pass rusher, and how he has simply shown loyalty to a franchise that gave him an opportunity.
Thus, there was nobody other than Cincinnati Bengals fans who were disappointed to see Donald finally win the Super Bowl in 2022.
Rather like the response to Bruce Arians’ success a year prior, fans respect those who put in years of service. Hence, there was universal contentment at Donald finally getting his hands on the trophy he desired the most.
#5 – Marshawn Lynch
NFL fans are united in their dislike of Roger Goodell, agents, and the media. The latter is due to distrust, with fans suspecting that the media is trying to trip players up and cause them trouble in the search for headlines.
This is why so many people were impressed when Marshawn Lynch took a rather emphatic stance on dealing with the press.
With players mandated by the league to speak to the media, Lynch had a novel approach of refusing to give answers or speak about sacred events in a locker room.
"I’m only here so I don’t get fined" is one of the most famous lines in the history of sporting interviews.
You can see it to this day on shirts or memes online, and Lynch is respected for how he valued the code of the locker room.
Lynch was merely about doing his business on the field. His rushing ability was stunning, perfectly balancing power and grace. He really should have had more than one Super Bowl title to his name.
Fans are still unclear why Pete Carroll called a pass play on the goal-line in the dying minutes of a Super Bowl, especially when they had the most dominant running back of his generation.
Lynch was exciting to watch on the field and was respectful of the game away from it. Fans recognize that and he is seen as a national treasure for it.