The NFL’s Top 10 Must-Watch Players: A Viewing Guide
Let’s be honest, the entertainment value of football just hasn’t been there like it once was. The quarterback position has by far the worst selection of talent out of any position in the league, and every year the game becomes more and more centered around that very position.
The amount of padded practices have decreased tremendously over the years and the NFL’s understandable push against helmet to helmet contact has resulted in confusion about what constitutes as a penalty and has made players more vulnerable to taking season ending hits to the legs.
These are all trends that validate the sentiments of many lifelong NFL fans who feel the game isn’t as quality of a product as it used to be.
Nevertheless the NFL still has quite a few talented players worth watching. And luckily for y’all, the Grandmaster Hog Maw himself is here to cut the fat and direct your attention to the players who deserve your attention.
Big Play Ability (20 possible points): Making highlight reel plays for your given position. Tight window throws, tough catches, ability to make defenders miss, big hits, penchant for creating takeaways, etc.
Skill (15 possible points): This is the substance of the player, the productivity they bring to the table in between highlight plays.
Situation (10 possible points): How many touches are they going to get? Do they have the coaching staff and teammates that will put them in a position to succeed? Is the player going to be playing in a lot of meaningful football games?
Personality (5 possible points): Do they talk cash shit and do it well (on and off the field)? Can we count on them to give us a decent celebration after a big play? How likely are they to get hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty?
This gives us a total of 50 points which we then turn into percentages to reflect their watchability.
Think of these like TV/film ratings. If someone tells you to check out a show and you see it’s got a 80% rating or higher on Metacritic or Imdb, you might be more inclined to follow through. These players are those safe bets for good television.
10. Dion Lewis - Tennessee Titans, RB
Big Play Ability: 18/20
He’s the human joystick. There’s almost a Kyrie-esque element to Dion’s game; you know when he’s got the ball you’ve gotta get containment, but Dion glides through defenses as if he’s aware of every defender’s plan before they attack. He’s electric on the ground, in the pass game and as a returner.
He’s got some of the best hands in the league as far as running backs go. He’s a patient runner who lets his offensive line open up holes for him before he accelerates to the second level of the defense.
This season Dion is primed to get more touches than he ever has in his career. Derrick Henry is a solid back but Dion is far and away the best player in that backfield and he should be treated as such. The Titans have a pretty damn good offensive line and they’ve brought over Matt LaFleur who was the quarterback coach during Matt Ryan’s MVP year and the coordinator for last season’s Rams breakout offense.
Also LaFleur is a cool ass name. I’m buying into LaFleur’s ability to put Lewis in positions to succeed and I’ve already bought into the name LaFleur many a times before this article was published. Remains to be seen how relevant the Titans will be in the grand scheme of the NFL, though.
I’ve never heard him do anything out of the ordinary in terms of celebrations or antagonizing opponents. I’m sure a decent bit of that has to do with him playing on the Patriots so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and granting him 2 free points based off something I have little knowledge to support. With a bigger role he’ll have more opportunities to flex.
Watchability Rating: 83%
9. DeAndre Hopkins - Houston Texans, WR
Big Play Ability: 17/20
Save for Odell, no other receiver is capable of making a lot of the catches that Nuk comes down with. He doesn’t stretch the field as often as some of the other elite receivers, but I think him not having any QB’s who can throw deep might be the culprit. With a full season of DeShaun Watson you can expect him to put that 4.41 speed to use more often.
He’s got some of the strongest hands in the game and incredible concentration. He’s great at making tough sideline catches, tapping his toe down in the most seemingly impossible of moments.
He’s finally in what should be a stable quarterback situation with one of the best young quarterbacks in the league under center. He’s someone who is going to get targeted heavily regardless of how tough the coverage is he’s facing because of his amazing ability to come down with the 50/50 ball.
With Nuk it’s more of a 80/20 ball. Even if for whatever reason Watson goes down again or has some regression in his 2nd season, we’ve seen DeAndre excel with some of the worst QB’s to ever set eyes on a pigskin so his situation isn’t entirely contingent on QB play.
Some of DeAndre’s best work last year came in garbage time, but the Texans should be a better football team this year with a lot of players returning from injury and a few key offseason acquisitions as well.
He talks some trash on the field and off the field but for the most part he keeps to himself and just worries about wrecking the league. DeAndre is a dog and he carries himself as such. He’ll snag an incredible jump ball on a fade route that only a handful of players throughout NFL history can come down with and he’ll walk straight to the sidelined stone-faced. Sometimes its what he doesn’t do that makes him a decently compelling personality.
Watchability Rating: 84%
8. Rob Gronkowski - New England Patriots, TE
Big Play Ability: 18/20
He’s good for coming down with the jump ball in a triple team, he’s good for dusting linebackers, he’s good for juking safeties, he’s good for running over corners…he’s good. No tight end stretches defenses down the field more consistently than him.
He’s the greatest tight end in NFL history. He helped revolutionized the way offenses deploy tight ends and made front offices place a new emphasis on linebackers’ and safeties’ abilities to drop in man coverage.
Injuries will always be a question mark for Gronk and at times can turn him into a shell of himself or even a decoy. Luckily for all of us, even shell of himself Gronk is a more entertaining tight end than anyone not named Travis Kelce.
With Brandin Cooks gone and Julian Edelman suspended, Gronk should be seeing just as many targets as he’s ever seen in his career if not more. As a New England Patriot, he’ll be a part of a sometimes boring meticulous offense, but he’ll likely also play in more meaningful football games than anyone else in the league. As long as he’s healthy there will be plenty of opportunities to catch him in primetime.
The Gronk spike, the yacht parties, the immaturity, he’s one of the more endearing personalities in the league. He’s one of his own biggest fans, going crazy after big plays as if it were an out-of-body experience he got to witness with the rest of us.
Watchability Rating: 86%
7. Jalen Ramsey - Jacksonville Jaguars, CB
Big Play Ability: 16/20
One of the hardest hitting defensive backs in the NFL. His interception numbers have been fairly run-of-the-mill two seasons into his career but he doubled his rookie total of 2 while playing in front of a better pass rush. As seen by his incredible interception in the wildcard round last season, he’s got amazing ball skills. Hopefully the Jaguars’ front seven will continue to give him opportunities to display those skills.
He’s one of the most physically impressive corners in the game, using his length to knock receivers off balance and to deflect well-placed passes. He’s also one of the most sound tacklers at the cornerback position, routinely shedding blocks from receivers to make plays in the run game. Even when he’s not forcing takeaways he’ll be on camera a decent bit.
The Jaguars are prepped to make another playoff run this season and will be led by one of the best defenses in the league. You can make a very strong argument that Jalen Ramsey is the second best cornerback on his team and as a result, he’ll still get a decent amount of targets coming his way.
He also plays behind the league’s best front 7 and their monstrous pass rush will funnel plenty of wobbly passes into the secondary. The main drawback Ramsey has going is he’s a cornerback and he’s really good at being a cornerback. So even though his situation is optimal for a player of his caliber, his camera time should be limited in comparison to the offensive skill players on this list.
The best shit talker in football. We say we want athletes to speak their mind and no athlete gives us more soundbites than Jalen Ramsey.
Watchability Rating: 87%
6. Alvin Kamara - New Orleans Saints, RB
Big Play Ability: 19/20
Just watch his game against the Rams last season. All you need to know about Alvin Kamara is that he can’t go. He’s not a fan of being tackled so if not being tackled means juking you, spinning around you, running through you, or jumping over you; that’s just what he’s going to do. The only thing knocking him from a perfect score is his limited track record.
Just one season into his career he established himself as one of the league’s premier pass catchers out of the backfield. There will be times where the run game gets stuffed but his ability as a receiver will always keep him relevant throughout the game.
He’ll play in a lot of meaningful football games this year as his team is geared up to contend for a Super Bowl. The Saints do a great job of getting Kamara in open space, they have an athletic offensive line and a quarterback who can keep defenses honest. However, as remarkably talented Kamara is, we’re still working with a relatively small sample size of production compared to the rest of the players on this list.
After an early run of insane efficiency, Kamara was held to just 3.4 yards per carry from week 14 through the NFC Divisional round. Kamara should have another season filled with jaw-dropping plays but it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to being the focal point of opposing defenses.
The guy is as comfortable in his own skin as any other player in the league. Doesn’t do too much shit talking or dancing, but he’s got an undeniable swag to his game and his persona that jumps off the screen. The whole eating airheads thing is pretty cool too.
Watchability Rating: 88%
5. Aaron Rodgers - Green Bay Packers, QB
Big Play Ability: 17/20
One of the greatest arms in NFL history and one of the greatest operators outside of the pocket. He’s made more incredible throws than any other quarterback in the league and it’s not that close. The negatives? As incredibly talented as Rodgers is, he’s still fairly conservative and the offensive minds behind him are fairly inept. This has led to Rodgers posting YPAs of 6.7, 7.3 and 7.0 over the past 3 seasons. Nonetheless he’s worth taking a few hours out of your day to watch more times than not.
The prototypical quarterback. No quarterback in the history of the game has been more well-rounded. He’s extremely accurate on all three levels of the field and maintains that accuracy while on the move. Rodgers has also ranked no worse than 7th in quarterback rushing yards in every full season he’s played, placing in the top 3 on 3 occasions.
His receiving corp isn’t the best it’s ever been but Davante Adams is on track to become one of the league’s best wideouts. Randall Cobb is still an above average offensive weapon to have and they’ve added Jimmy Graham into the fold to attack the middle of the field.
He should also have the ability to sell play action better than he’s had at maybe any point in his career, as Aaron Jones is the most talented back he’s played with in his career. Should Jones come back strong from suspension, he adds a much welcomed element to the Packers offense that makes Rodgers an even more effective quarterback.
He’s a pretty damn funny dude and one of the greatest commercial pitchmen of his generation. His ranking amongst quarterbacks in terms of production is about on par with his ranking amongst quarterbacks in terms of swag, gracing us all with one of the cooler signature touchdown celebrations the game has seen.
Watchability Rating: 90%
4. Marcus Peters - Los Angeles Rams, CB
Big Play Ability: 20/20
There hasn’t been a player with a nose for the ball like Marcus Peters since Ed Reed. Over the past 25 seasons, only Ed Reed has picked off more passes 3 seasons into a career. In addition to his 21 interceptions he’s tacked on 5 forced fumbles, racking up 10 more takeaways over the past 3 seasons than the next best defender (Reggie Nelson with 16). He’s also got a mean euro-step when he returns interceptions.
He’s not nearly as bad of a tackler as advertised, he can lay the wood if the situation requires. While he’s known as a ballhawk, he’s still a very fundamentally sound man to man corner excelling in press and off coverage. Even when he’s not getting takeaways there should be some quality replays being shown of him locking up receivers outside.
The hit on his watchability like with Jalen Ramsey, comes with him simply being a cornerback. Great cornerbacks are rarely on camera. And while Marcus seems to always be around the ball, there will be stretches where you forget he’s on the field. On one hand, you’ve gotta think offenses will be avoiding the Rams’ entire secondary and getting the ball out quick to backs and tight ends before Suh and Donald can collapse the pocket.
But on the other hand, quarterbacks and offensive coordinators are generally not that smart, and Marcus Peters on a Wade Phillips defense with all of that talent around him could mean he’s getting ready to shatter Night Train Lane’s single season interception record. It’s a toss-up so I’ll just rate his situation at a 7.
Marcus Peters wants to win more than anyone else and it’s clear as day whenever you watch him on the field. Whether he’s snarling at opposing players, looking up at the stars and analyzing the sky and asking “why???” whenever he misses out on an interception (that only he would’ve caught), punting/throwing the ball into the stands, or even when he’s screaming at a coach on the sideline; it’s all rooted in a contagious competitive spirit.
He studies the game as hard as anyone and there will be times where he feels like he knows better than everyone else, because he actually does. He’s also as Oakland as it gets.
Watchability Rating: 92%
3. Tyreek Hill - Kansas City Chiefs, WR
Big Play Ability: 20/20
Quite possibly the fastest man to ever step on a football field and he’s got the stats to back it up. Over his first 2 seasons in the league he’s averaged nearly 60 yards per touchdown. The only player in NFL history to have more 50+ yard touchdowns through their first two seasons is Devin Hester. He’s arguably the best return man in the league, he’s growing into one of the best receivers in the league, and he’s liable to take it distance as a runner as well.
Many mislabeled Hill a gadget player heading into his second season and it didn’t take long for him to tear apart that narrative. He’s becoming a more technically-sound route runner by the day and has consistently shown the toughness to work across the middle and make catches in traffic. If you press him he’s jetting past you, if you lay off of him he’ll gladly take a short route and punish you after the catch. There’s not much of a answer for him.
He can run faster than anyone in the league and his quarterback might be able to throw the ball further than anyone in the league, it’s a match made in heaven. The Chiefs will also likely finish the season with one of the league’s worst defenses so Hill and company will be called upon to put up points until the clock hits zero. His only drawback is he ranked 31st in passing targets last season and with Sammy Watkins added into the fold chances are we don’t see much of a jump in his target numbers.
Under the new NFL rules last season Hill lead a couple cute group touchdown celebrations, one of which was a faux potato sack race. He’s also good for chucking up the deuces to opposing players on his way to the end zone after a big play.
Watchability Rating: 93%
2. Antonio Brown - Pittsburgh Steelers, WR
Big Play Ability: 19/20
AB gets yards in bunches with the best of them, leading the league in yards per touch last season with 14.2. One of the best receivers with the ball in his hands after the catch, slipping out of tackles like he’s in the middle of a gamebreaker. And much like Steve Smith, he’s shown the world that coming down with jump balls is as much about heart as it is about height.
He’s still out here toe tapping better than everyone else, running routes more precisely than everyone else and attacking the ball better than everyone else. He’s the king of fundamentals, he makes the simple things look sexy.
We’re now heading into year six of Antonio Brown being that guy. Everyone knows what’s coming. They know where Ben Roethlisberger is going with the ball, they know you’ve got to double if not triple team AB, they know you need several defenders to contain him after the catch: and it doesn’t matter a single bit. He’s the best player in the NFL. No player has been more reliable than AB over the past 5 seasons so expect the same ol’ same ol’. The Steelers will contend for a Super Bowl as long as he’s on the field.
He’s got one of the greatest signature touchdown dances of all time. He’s quite bold with the pregame/postgame fashion. He knows he’s the greatest in the game and he acts like it. But he’s juuuust reserved and humble enough to keep sports fans from losing their shit over diva receivers ruining the game…so I had to knock him down from a 5 to a 4.
Watchability Rating: 96%
- Odell Beckham Jr. - New York Giants, WR
Big Play Ability: 20/20
You’ve seen the catches, you’ve seen the jukes, you’ve seen the breakaway speed, he’s got it all. No other player in the NFL has gotten to the end zone as consistently as Beckham since he made his debut in 2014.
When he’s not snagging one handed grabs or making defenders look foolish after the catch, he’s running some of the crispest routes the game has ever seen. He earns his high volume of targets by consistently creating separation.
Eli Manning is his quarterback. The Giants were awful last season. He’s coming back from a fractured ankle. All reasons to be skeptical of ODB’s situation. Luckily, even I could get the ball to Odell Beckham Jr., the selection of Barkley at no. 2 overall the Giants effectively puts the Giants in win now mode (whether or not it’s a good idea remains to be seen), and Odell is always going to finish the season amongst the league leaders in passing targets.
The Giants should be decently competitive as long as Odell is on the field and he should be must-watch television from week 1 through season’s end.
Odell is going on 26 years old and just signed a record breaking 95 million dollar contract, so maybe some changes are on the horizon with the way he carries himself. But until then, me and the rest of the fun-loving NFL fans are all here for the a1 dance moves and the occasional unharnessed anger directed at opposing CB’s and ally kicking nets.
Watchability Rating: 98%
Missed the Cut But Still Worth Watching
Todd Gurley - Los Angeles Rams, RB
Made a strong case for MVP last season as he reasserted himself as one of the league’s premier open field runners. The final spot on the list came down to Gurley, Johnson, Hunt and Lewis.
The ranking ended up boiling down to my personal preferences as much as anything else but Gurley should still be a compelling football player this season. He gets a boatload of touches, he’s in a good offense, and he’s on a football team that should play in plenty of meaningful games.
David Johnson - Arizona Cardinals, RB
For my money the best running back in football when healthy. Doesn’t break for the biggest gains on the ground but definitely gives viewers their money’s worth shaking defenders off in between the tackles. Drawbacks are he’s a very nondescript personality who will be stuck on a fairly boring and uncompetitive football team.
Kareem Hunt - Kansas City Chiefs, RB
The rushing king outpaced the league in yards after contact last season, making a pretty subpar run blocking line look much better than it was. He’s a menace in between the tackles and has deceptive acceleration for his stature, breaking off countless big plays on the ground and as a receiver.
The drawbacks are The Chiefs might be playing behind quite a bit with their awful defense and Andy Reid is always here for jumping at the first chance to take the ball out of his Pro Bowl running back’s hands. Kareem probably won’t get nearly as many touches as he deserves.
Marshawn Lynch - Oakland Raiders, RB
It’s what should be Beast Mode’s last hurrah. Despite all the struggles from top to bottom in Oakland last year, the then-31 year old Lynch was still one of the league’s most elusive backs, ranking 8th in yards after contact amongst qualifying runners.
The negatives are that the Raiders will likely be one of the worst teams in the NFL after this Khalil Mack trade. Also, he is a 32 year old running back who has taken his fair share of contact. As captivating as he can be, no self-respecting human being would want to see Marshawn go out sad.
And while I wouldn’t be one to wait on Marshawn’s downfall, it’d be silly to turn a blind eye to all the negative circumstances surrounding him this year.
Josh Gordon - Cleveland Browns, WR
The last semi-full season he played he was one of the best players in football. Possibly the most physically gifted receiver in football. Flash has appeared to have gotten more buff each time I’ve seen a picture of him during the offseason/training camp. On top of his physique he still appears to be just as fast as he ever was. He’ll also be playing with by far the best quarterback he’s ever had in Tyrod Taylor. If things swing right he could easily find his way at the top of this list next year.
Travis Kelce - Kansas City Chiefs, TE
One of the best receivers in football after the catch. As the years have gone by, he’s grown more and more as a reliable pass catcher in traffic and a more reliable pass catcher on 50/50 balls.
He’s got the speed to break away from linebackers and safeties and he’s got the frame to box out corners for easy possession work. He should also benefit from Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill taking away safety help and providing a lot of room to operate in the middle of the field.
Cam Newton - Carolina Panthers, QB
He’s equipped with what should be the most talented group of skill players he’s had in his career. He’s still an incredible runner and he still has an incredible arm. When the offense is clicking Cam is one of the best tickets in sports. The problem is there are so many ebbs and flows with Cam. He’s liable to throw some awfully inaccurate passes even when they don’t end up in the hands of the opposing team. It can be pretty bad to watch.
Russell Wilson - Seattle Seahawks, QB
He’s as dangerous as any QB when he’s rolling out of the pocket and flings the deep ball about as effortlessly as any QB as well. His offensive line should be improved as they have nowhere to go but up and he has a decent group of weapons.
I expect Brandon Marshall to have somewhat of a comeback season with Wilson and he’ll have Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny in the backfield to make defenses respect the play action more. The downside with Wilson most seasons is there will just be games where the Seahawks cannot move the ball an inch and its some of the ugliest football known to man.
But with the defense losing many of its foundational pieces, we can expect Wilson to be forced into quite a few shootouts that’ll have some entertainment value.
On The Rise
Kenyan Drake - Miami Dolphins, RB
Tremendous field vision and can make cuts on a dime. The Dolphins will likely be one of the worst teams in football but while the games are still close, Kenyan Drake is certainly one of the league’s most entertaining backs.
Saquon Barkley - New York Giants, RB
The New York Giants took what many considered to be the best player in the draft number 2 overall yet the pick still comes with a world of risk. Barkley was phenomenal in college, breaking the internet routinely early in his junior year campaign at Penn State.
But we’ve watched physically gifted backs who dominated the NCAA ranks get taken atop of the draft only to be outperformed by running backs taken in the later rounds on numerous occasions. We’ll have to wait and see with Barkley, but the potential for being a must-watch player is there.
JuJu Smith-Schuster - Pittsburgh Steelers, WR
I knew this man would be a star the second I saw him literally wave on a defender to come and tackle him so he could greet said defender with a monstrous stiff arm while he was at USC.
It didn’t take long for him to take Martavis Bryant’s job and when he did he immediately became one of the league’s premier big play wide receivers. He continued to look the part this preseason and we’ll see if he keeps it up.
D.J. Moore - Carolina Panthers, WR
He’ll likely spend the early portion of his rookie season fighting his way up the depth chart, but if D.J Moore takes a big role in the Carolina offense he can be electric. Amazing ball skills, sound route runner, and is truly an incredible player with the ball in his hands after the catch. I can comfortably say he’s got some Odell in him without feeling hyperbolic.
Deshaun Watson - Houston Texans, QB
Limited sample size, first year post-ACL jitters QB’s tend to have, and sophomore slumps are all clouding over Watson, keeping him from cracking the top 10. But if he comes back this year and plays even at 80% of the level we saw before his injury he will be one of the league’s most entertaining players. He loves to drive the ball downfield and he’s got the arm talent and the weapons to get it done. He’s one of the better rushing quarterbacks in the league.
Patrick Mahomes - Kansas City Chiefs, QB
A lot of Chiefs on this list and Mahomes could end the season being the most compelling of them all. In his lone start and his preseason action he’s shown generational arm talent. We’ll see if he can minimize his mistakes enough to be a worthwhile watch.