The Packers are set to play a couple high profile teams chock full of big names over the next couple weeks, giving fans an opportunity for an up close and personal look at some of the league’s biggest stars.
In 2018, though, you don’t really have to wait until your team faces off with a given opponent to see the best and brightest from around the league. It’s easier than ever to keep tabs on your favorites.
With that in mind, we asked our writers to share who they enjoy watching on teams other than the Packers.
Bob Fitch: Tyreek Hill
What the NFL is full of: 6’2-6’6 230-260 lb. athletes. What the NFL is not full of: 5’9 185 human/rocket hybrids that scorch everyone else in their path. Hill is the epitome of saying “eat my dust”, currently the holder of the two fastest recorded player speeds so far in the 2018 season. How many other players can do this?
Not only can he do this on receptions, he can do it on a handoff or a return. The guy is must-see TV every time he touches the ball. Do yourself a favor and watch his highlight video and you’ll see what I mean.
Paul Noonan: Smart coaches, and also any pass-catching running back.
The last Kansas City game was such a pleasure to watch, with Andy Reid scheming people open constantly and Pat Mahomes hitting everyone perfectly. I’ve always enjoyed watching the elite coaches work more than anything else, and when I’m not watching the Packers I watch KC, the Rams, and the Pats, just to see good football.
My other hobby is receiving backs, and in particular, any back that puts up something close to WR numbers. You will generally find Todd Gurley alone in that regard, but Tarik Cohen is right there with him this season, as are Saquon Barkley, James Conner, and Jalen Richard. This is still one of the most undervalued and underused assets a team can have, and nothing creates more havoc for a defense than a multi-dimensional, catch-first back.
Shawn Wagner: Patrick Mahomes
To me, watching Mahomes is as close to watching Brett Favre again as you can ask for. Only, when Mahomes throws interceptions, I don’t have to cringe.
The Chiefs’ quarterback was my favorite long-term prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he has progressed far quicker than I ever thought he would. Mahomes carried the young Favre-like comparisons throughout the process — big arm, gunslinger mentality, improvisation, some mobility — and was drafted by a person very familiar with Favre in John Dorsey while being coached by Favre’s old quarterbacks coach in Andy Reid. It only added to the intrigue around Mahomes as a prospect when Kansas City felt comfortable enough to trade up and get the potential franchise quarterback.
Watching Mahomes this season has been a treat. For every interception that one would scream “don’t throw it!” (like a red zone interception against New England before halftime on Sunday Night Football), Mahomes will throw 40-yard lasers downfield with a flick of the wrist to one of his plethora of playmakers for a quick score. He will throw left-handed to avoid a sack and can run for first downs when the play breaks down. He’s going to throw off his back foot or across his body with mixed results, but that’s just him being a competitor. No matter what happens, the seat next to him on the bench after the drive will be occupied by Reid, who must be glowing at the opportunity to work with Mahomes.
Mahomes has a bright future in this league on a team garnering mentions by others in this walkthrough. Right now, he’s by far my favorite player to watch in the NFL.
Evan “Tex” Western: former Wisconsin running backs
As a UW alumnus, I’m always pulling for Wisconsin players to do well in the NFL, but recently I have found myself rooting specifically for players at the running back position over the past few years and tuning in whenever I can to see them. So many Badger backs over the last few decades have had exceptional college careers only to stink it up — or at the very least, fail to live up to expectations — when they got to the NFL. From Ron Dayne to Michael Bennett to Brian Calhoun to Montee Ball, it was a rough go for the Badgers.
But suddenly, there are three former Wisconsin runners who are excelling in the pros. Melvin Gordon is a dynamic player for the Chargers, having developed his receiving ability to become a truly complete back. James White has been a do-it-all weapon for the Patriots for a few years, with 400-plus receiving yards in three straight years (and soon to be a fourth), while Corey Clement has become an excellent rotational player who can carry the load on occasion. Seeing the latter two go head-to-head in the Super Bowl last season was a blast, particularly since both had impressive performances in that game.
A few non-Badger honorable mentions for me: Patrick Mahomes (good call, Shawn) and DeAndre Hopkins.
Peter Bukowski: Deshaun Watson
Let me go football hipster on the Patrick Mahomes hype because Watson was Mahomes before Mahomes. I absolutely loved watching Watson play in college at Clemson and was a staunch defender of his coming out of college against the specious claims he was too small or didn’t have a big enough arm. He’s a star.
Watson is so tough, so determined, he literally couldn’t get on the team plane for the Texans’ trip to Jacksonville, so he rode a bus. Houston won, they’re in first and Watson is as big a reason as any. It’s not just the scintillating throws. There’s something uniquely satisfying about watching him elevate a thoroughly mediocre offense, standing in the pocket and taking shots, lowering his shoulder into linebackers on runs and willing his team to wins.
Bonus points watching Watson: Getting to watch the J.J. Watt/Jadeveon Clowney combo when the Texans are on defense.
Jon Meerdink: A.J. Green
There’s something about A.J. Green that just looks…off. He’s almost too tall and spindly, as though someone didn’t pay close enough attention when they were creating a player and the proportions got just a little off.
Whatever it is about him exactly, it’s fascinated me since he came into the league, and I make a regular practice of looking up Bengals highlights every week to have a look at number 18. He just doesn’t look like the sort of player who should be regularly putting up big numbers catching passes from Andy Dalton (of all people). Maybe slashing down the baseline and dunking on some hapless oaf in the NBA, sure, but not sprinting down a sideline dishing out stiff-arms.
I really don’t watch a game for a player anymore. However, there was a player I loved watching before he retired last year. I’m a former college offensive lineman so I’m a big fan of the offensive line and loved watching several players throughout the past decade or so. The last player I loved watching when he played was Joe Thomas. Besides the “former Wisconsin kid” factor, Thomas will go down as one of the best offensive linemen to play in the NFL and it was always a learning experience when watching him. It was just a shame that he played for such a bad Cleveland organization. I give him an amazing amount of credit for playing his whole career there and never complaining (too much) about his situation. He played his best and honored his contract that he signed and that’s a rare thing in the NFL today.
When Thomas retired last year it didn’t totally leave a void for me to watching NFL games. After I graduated college, I lived in South Florida and became a bit of a Dolphins sympathizer from my time there. It started as a relationship where I would have fun with the Dolphins fans as they struggled from year to year. However, after a couple of years, some of those fans became friends and it turned me to watching and cheering for the Dolphins. While there was never a doubt the Packers were number one, I still watch them if they are on my NFL channels on Sunday and hope they do well. Except for when they play in a couple weeks. It’s all Packers that Sunday.
I also try to watch the Browns if they are on television this year. Just something about watching the organization that was a symbol of dysfunction and losing finally turns it around is fascinating. Whether they win or lose this year, doesn’t matter to me. I can see that John Dorsey, Eliot Wolf, and the other former Packer front office crew are making a difference and will eventually build a winter in Cleveland.
Kris Burke: Baker Mayfield
Yeah, it’s a rookie. So what?
I can’t help but be reminded of a younger Brett Favre when watching Mayfield take the field. He has all the fire and passion the ol’ gunslinger has and when you combine that with him being the future of an eternally downtrodden franchise, you have the recipe for some excitement. The fact he re-enacted Favre’s 1991 draft day photo does not hurt either.
You don’t know what he’s going to do on the field and that’s part of his appeal to me. He’s got all the skills and intangibles you want in a quarterback but he’s lacking experience. That will come in time.
The Browns are clearly in need of a savior much like the Packers were in 1992. The fact they have a front office composed of many Green Bay transplants and that Mayfield was such a fan of Favre is just so much fun to me.
Throw in the long-suffering Browns fans and how much they love their team (as Packers fans who watched the team struggle from the end of the 1960s up until 1992 can attest) and this could be such a feel-good story that I will drop everything I am doing to watch Mayfield play unless, of course, the Packers are also on. Aaron Rodgers overrules all at that point.