It's hard to believe there won't be a McCourty brother taking an NFL field in the fall for the first time since 2009. My twin, Devin McCourty, joined me in retirement earlier this offseason after 13 years in the league (all with the New England Patriots).
Dev is obviously one of my favorite people on the planet, and it was so fun rooting for him in 2022 -- my first year out of the league since I was drafted by the Tennessee Titans back in '09. But now that he's hung up his cleats forever, I've decided it's time to publicly support others -- well, at least in writing.
Today, I am highlighting one person -- a player, coach or front office executive -- on each of the 32 teams. Here's who I'll be rooting for in 2023.
Ertz has been a top-tier player at the tight end position throughout his decade-long career, and it was such a bummer to see his 2022 campaign cut short by a knee injury. He's a ton of fun to watch, snagging everything that comes his way, and will be one to follow on an Arizona team starting over in many ways in 2023. I'll be rooting for him to provide the veteran leadership these transitioning Cardinals need and to continue playing at a high level in Year 11 once he's fully healthy.
I was in Tennessee in 2011 when Smith joined the franchise as a defensive quality control coach. Judging by what he did last season with Atlanta's young offensive talent -- including rookies Drake London, Tyler Allgeier and, down the stretch, Desmond Ridder -- Falcons fans should be excited about the future of this team. After back-to-back seven-win campaigns in Smith's first two seasons as a head man, I'm excited to see if his team can break through in a wide-open NFC South this fall.
I was so happy to see Lamar and the Ravens finally get a deal done. And it wasn't just any deal. The five-year, $260 million contract -- which includes $185 million in total guarantees -- made him the highest-paid player in the entire league by average annual salary ($52 million). His family is set for generations. Now, I think we all want him to go out there, stay healthy and help the Ravens seriously compete for a Lombardi.
Miller and the Bills had such a good thing going last season. The veteran pass rusher racked up eight sacks in his first 10 games with Buffalo before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in Week 12. He's brought a championship pedigree to a squad on the brink of doing something special. The hope is that Miller regains his form on the field and helps the the team get over the hump in January.
I spent one season with special teams coach Chris Tabor in Cleveland (2017). He makes meetings fun and engaging, and he's the type of coach you want to run through a wall for. The Panthers were wise to keep him amid an offseason full of change.
There are so many talented players in the league right now, but I don't know if there's a more exciting one than Fields. He was simply electric on a talent-poor Bears squad last season. Now he'll take the field with dynamic wide receiver D.J. Moore, among a series of other roster upgrades. The sky's the limit for this young quarterback.
Bengals secondary/cornerbacks coach Charles Burks, whom I played under in my final NFL season in Miami in 2021, told me Awuzie was going to be "the one" in his unit prior to the 2022 season. The veteran cornerback was enjoying a fine campaign last year before a season-ending knee injury sidelined him in Week 8. I'm looking for Awuzie to come back strong this fall for a Cincy team aiming to defend its back-to-back titles in the North.
Bitonio is heading into his 10th NFL season, all in Cleveland, and we were teammates there in 2017, during that tough, winless campaign. He is a tremendous locker room guy and performs at a high level on the field, earning five Pro Bowl selections and a pair of first-team All-Pro nods. This is a guy who deserves more than just one postseason game on his résumé, and I'd love nothing more than to see Cleveland string together enough wins to get him back to the playoffs.
Dak catches a lot of flak as the quarterback of "America's Team." In 2022, he had the thumb injury and led the league in interceptions (15) before taking "100 percent" of the blame for the Cowboys' postseason exit. As someone who embraces the process and does everything the right way on and off the field -- he was, after all, the 2022 Walter Payton Man of the Year -- Prescott is set for a bounce-back season with Mike McCarthy calling plays and Dallas itching to get back to the Super Bowl.
After back-to-back seasons with at least 50 receptions and 700 receiving yards, Patrick was poised for a breakout 2022 campaign before he tore his ACL in training camp. In early April, Patrick was "cleared to do everything," giving him plenty of time to get in some offseason work in Sean Payton's offense.
A 2022 sixth-round pick, "Rodrigo" became an overnight star during HBO's Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Detroit Lions, and went on to enjoy a great rookie season on the field. He totaled 87 tackles (eight for loss), three QB hits and a sack in 16 games with 15 starts. As a sixth-round draft pick myself, I know the young linebacker will have to prove himself every year; though he played well in 2022, nothing is promised for 2023. With the Lions re-signing Alex Anzalone in free agency and drafting Jack Campbell in the Round 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft, I'm rooting for Rodriguez to beat the odds once again, earning a spot as a starter and making a big jump in Year 2.
This has been quite the offseason in Green Bay, with so many elements out of Love's control. Now that the dust has settled and Aaron Rodgers is officially a New York Jet, the newly extended signal-caller can focus on leading the franchise on and off the field. Being the Packers' QB1 comes with high expectations -- especially when you're following up 31 years of Brett Favre and Rodgers -- which is all the more reason to root for the 24-year-old.
Metchie's story is filled with adversity, as the Alabama product tore his ACL in his final college game and then missed his entire rookie season after being diagnosed with leukemia. The young wideout has made his way back onto the Texans' practice field this offseason -- "He's making progress," according to GM Nick Caserio -- and the hope is that he'll make his NFL debut this fall. What a moment it'll be when he runs out of the tunnel.
Taylor is a quiet leader who's coming off a down year, having averaged a full yard per carry less than during his rushing-title season of 2021. Injuries certainly played a role in those struggles, as did the poor play of the offensive line and rest of the offense. Taylor is a superstar who should return to being the prolific focal point of the offense this fall -- especially if/when we find explosive rookie Anthony Richardson under center. I expect Taylor to find plenty of success in a bounce-back year.
Recently reinstated after a yearlong suspension for violating the league's gambling policy, Ridley owned his misstep with a candid letter. We all make mistakes and it's tough to own them -- especially in the public eye -- but what matters is how you respond. Ridley appears to be locked in and determined to get back to form on the field, as he's already put in work with Trevor Lawrence. Ridley can elevate Lawrence's game to new heights and help get the Jags back to the playoffs.
Toney (a.k.a. Yung Joka) is such a fun guy to talk about. Coming off the "biggest game" of his life, in which he had a pivotal fourth-quarter touchdown to give the Chiefs their first lead in a Super Bowl they would eventually win, Toney is in position to get more opportunities with the offseason departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster. With his tremendous agility and dynamic skill set, Toney can take the Chiefs' offense to another level if he can stay healthy.
Mad Maxx is an nightmare off the edge in the Raiders' front, fresh off a career-best 12.5-sack season. He is the heart and soul of that defense with a relentless motor and larger-than-life personality. His story of overcoming addiction only adds to his likability.
An undrafted free-agent signee in 2018, Jackson worked in New England to become one of the best cornerbacks in the league, ultimately earning himself a big payday last offseason. But August ankle surgery hampered his early days with the Bolts, and upon return, he struggled in coverage before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 7. The 27-year-old has grit and the ability to fight through adversity. Expect him to rebound in a big way in 2023.
All the players I've talked to who have played for Morris rave about him. The Rams' defense ranks in the top five in rushing yards per carry allowed, passing TDs allowed, INTs and red zone TD percentage since Morris became defensive coordinator in 2021. He has previous NFL head-coaching experience in Tampa (2009-2011) and Atlanta (interim HC in 2020) and has interviewed for a number of HC vacancies over the last few years. I hope he gets another shot -- sooner than later -- to lead a team.
Noland is an awesome leader who does a great job helping players prepare for life in the NFL from a media relations/communications standpoint. She was with me at three different organizations: Tennessee (2016), New England (2018-2020) and Miami (2021). It's been a treat watching Anne work her way up to a senior director position, and she's deserving of all the praise.
I can't wait to see what Flores does in Minnesota, where he takes over a defense that just finished 31st in yards allowed and 28th in scoring. He's a great coach/play-caller, and someone I loved playing for in Miami in 2021. I believe we'll see the Vikings' D make some big improvements in 2023 -- which I hope, in turn, leads to another opportunity for Flores in the big chair.
Slater is one of the last Super Bowl-winning Patriots still with the team. Entering his 16th NFL season -- all in New England -- he's a true pro and leader in the locker room. As a 37-year-old special teams ace, Slater is one of the easiest guys in the league to root for.
Carr stands for everything you want in a human being, much less a football player. His exit from the Raiders was unceremonious, but he now has a chance to reach new heights in New Orleans, reuniting with the head coach who drafted him, Dennis Allen. The veteran gunslinger joins a team with talented offensive playmakers and a defense that just ranked fifth in yards allowed and ninth in scoring. He's in a great position to enjoy success in this new chapter of his career.
Reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Sauce Gardner gets a ton of love -- and rightfully so -- but Reed played his butt off in 2022. As part of a unit that kept the Jets competitive in most games last season, Reed logged 12 passes defensed, an INT and a career-high 80 tackles. He deserves more love.
Many people in the Eagles organization, including assistant head coach Jemal Singleton, rave about Johnson, the team's new offensive coordinator after Shane Steichen's departure to become head coach of the Colts. Johnson now has the opportunity to call plays for one of the most exciting offensive players in the league, Jalen Hurts. It'll be fun to see if Johnson can help Hurts -- and the rest of the Eagles' loaded offense -- take another step forward.
Heyward has been such a fun player to watch -- and guy to know -- over the years. He's the definition of reliable as a key cog in Pittsburgh's defense, recording double-digit sacks in each of the past two seasons. Watching him play alongside his younger brother, tight end Connor Heyward, in 2022 was a fun, new wrinkle in Heyward's illustrious career -- and something that really resonates with me, as I got to play with Devin for three years in New England.
Who didn't love watching Mr. Irrelevant help take the 49ers deep in the playoffs? From the family moments to defeating the G.O.A.T. in Santa Clara to winning a pair of playoff games, it was quite a story. But the ill-fated struggle through a crippling elbow injury in the NFC title game loss was such a letdown for him, the team and the 49ers Faithful. GM John Lynch said Purdy "has earned the right" to head into camp as QB1; I'm hoping he'll pick up right where he left off and help San Francisco win a lot more games in 2023.
I love what Smith told ESPN's Lisa Salters after Seattle stunned Denver and Russell Wilson in Week 1: "They wrote me off -- I ain't write back though." Instead of writing back, the journeyman quarterback strung together a stellar 2022 campaign, completing a league-best 69.8 percent of his passes while piling up career-high marks in passing yards (4,282) and touchdowns (30) en route to a playoff berth and the Comeback Player of the Year award. He heads into the 2023 campaign with a new contract and more talent around him. It should be another exciting campaign in the Pacific Northwest.
Though he's had mixed results as a starting quarterback in this league, Mayfield is a guy whom people are drawn to. Whether you love him or hate him, he's an interesting player to follow as a swashbuckling competitor with a charismatic personality that others rally around. Let's see if he sticks as the Bucs' new QB1 in this latest chapter of his career.
When I arrived in Tennessee as a rookie in 2009, Tuggle, then the team's director of player development, helped me and other youngsters get the resources we needed to adjust to our new normal. She is one of the best human beings out there and knows how to give you that tough love. Now the Titans' vice present/DEI officer, Tuggle is an invaluable mother figure to hundreds of players who've come through that organization -- leaving her inspiring mark on everyone she works with.
In a tough situation last year in Cleveland, Brissett played admirably and led the Browns on the field and in the locker room. Now set to back up Sam Howell in Washington this fall, Brissett is a veteran presence who can help steady the ship when necessary at the quarterback position.