Monday, July 15, 2024

Spoiler alert: Players around the NFL think Patrick Mahomes is pretty good. The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and two-time MVP was our runaway winner as the best player in the game today, according to the 85 players our beat writers from The Athletic spoke to over the past month. That’s no surprise, but the rest of the answers weren’t so obvious, as we set out to conduct our first anonymous NFL player poll. We asked each player we spoke to the same set of questions, although not every player answered them all. They were granted anonymity in order to candidly offer their opinions on the league’s players, coaches, commissioner and some of the biggest topics facing the league today — including running back salaries, the grass versus turf debate and more. Players were polled on who dishes the best trash talk, which coach besides their own they’d like to play for and who are the most underrated players in the league. Some of the more entertaining responses came when players were asked which team has the most annoying fan base. “Buffalo,” one player responded. “They be mooning folks and it’s like, ‘Why y’all showing y’all ass?’ F— outta here with that.” Sorry, Bills fans, just like the standings right now, that wasn’t enough to get you into first place. Throughout this player poll — and upcoming stories that will dive deeper into some of the questions — we hope you learn more about what today’s NFL players really think. (Editor’s note: In some cases, the combined percentages of all the answers to a question may not add up to 100 percent, because individual percentages have been rounded up or down to the nearest tenth of a percentage point. Half-votes were awarded if a player gave two answers to a question.) Did you really expect anybody else? Nearly half of the respondents selected Mahomes, many without giving it much thought. “He’s Patrick Mahomes,” said one player. “Don’t you have to say him?” added another. “There’s nobody like him,” one more said. As if any justification for this vote was needed, one player offered this: “No matter how much you’re down, he still can bring your team back.” GO DEEPER The lessons Patrick Mahomes learned as a high school safety that helped him become an elite QB That said, more than half of the 84 respondents to this question went a different direction, with Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald earning runner-up honors. “It’s self-explanatory on that one. No one can stop him,” offered one player. Said one player who chose the Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett: “I was gonna sit here and debate quarterbacks, but there’s your answer. The guy is out of this world.” Talking trash is a part of sports, but there are some players in the NFL more inclined to ruffle feathers with their on-field chatter. Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who is now with the Detroit Lions after spending last season with the Philadelphia Eagles during their Super Bowl run, tops the list. He did so despite not playing since Week 2, when he injured a pectoral muscle. “I think that’s just kind of like his schtick,” one player said. “I don’t know if it necessarily works, but it’s what he reverts to.” Jalen Ramsey, who also missed extended time before returning to the field last month for the Miami Dolphins, received the second-most votes. “He has a lot to say,” one player opined. And don’t for a second think trash talk is limited to just defensive players. The Los Angeles Chargers’ Keenan Allen, one of the NFL’s most consistent wideouts, is known to have a thing or two to say during games. “Big-time s— talker,” one player said. “It’s nonstop.” Offensive linemen tend to get in on the act, too. Said a player of Carolina Panthers guard Austin Corbett: “I think his trash-talking is pretty elite. It’s the psychological warfare. It’s so nice you don’t even know what’s going on.” Nearly a quarter of the players we spoke to chose C.J. Gardner-Johnson as the league’s best trash-talker. (Rey Del Rio / Getty Images) When in doubt, go with the head coach who remarkably has never had a losing season. That continues to be the distinction for Mike Tomlin, who again has the Pittsburgh Steelers well on their way to a 17th consecutive .500 or better campaign with him in charge. “His messaging, leadership and attitude seem consistent with a winning formula,” one player said. “He’s tough and accountable, and he demands that out of his players,” added another. From the veteran, Super Bowl-winning coach in Tomlin, players shifted to the young, quirky offensive mastermind in Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel. “He seems like a pretty fun coach to play for,” one player said of the 40-year-old in his second season in Miami. Not far behind were Kansas City’s Andy Reid and Detroit’s Dan
Campbell, the latter of whom might be the favorite for this season’s NFL Coach of the Year award. “A guy who really loves ball,” said a player who chose Reid. “So I think that’s a really good coach.” Of Campbell, another player said: “I appreciate coaches that are players’ coaches and get the best out of their players.” Sometimes on-field production doesn’t always lead to players getting the respect they deserve. Regardless of how well some perform, their names aren’t brought up as much when discussing the top guys at their respective positions.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins led the vote, but there are a multitude of players who received recognition among their peers for being underrated.“His production speaks for itself, and nobody ever talks about him when the topic of best RBs in the league comes up,” one player said of Chargers dual-threat running back Austin Ekeler. “He’s vital to that offense running and also in the pass game,” another player added.And though the tight end discussion is normally dominated by Chiefs All-Pro Travis Kelce, players feel the San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle and Baltimore Ravens’ Mark Andrews should get even more credit than they already do. “I think he’s the best tight end in the league,” one player said unapologetically about Kittle.“I don’t know how underrated he is, but everybody is always talking about Kelce and Kittle, not him,” another player said in regard to Andrews. It turns out players aren’t scared away from the sight of the stadium that’s hosted five consecutive AFC Championship Games. (Then again, maybe Arrowhead Stadium’s steady presence on their TV is influencing their decision.)Whatever the reason, players love playing in the NFL’s third-oldest stadium (opened in 1972) even if some did mention issues with Kansas City’s cramped locker rooms. “That place is electric,” one player said. “That’s one of the coolest places to play. In my opinion, the loudest in the NFL.” It may be one of the NFL’s oldest venues, but players appreciate the loud atmosphere at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. (Kara Durrette / Getty Images)Minnesota’s seven-year-old U.S. Bank Stadium — despite being an indoor stadium with turf — was lauded for many of the same ear-rattling reasons. “That place was f—ing loud,” one player said.Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium also fared well, along with Green Bay’s historic Lambeau Field — “The fans and the atmosphere are the best in the league.” — and Seattle’s Lumen Field. “If it was grass — whoo! — it would be perfect,” one player who chose Seattle said, while another added: “It almost feels like you’re in a bird’s nest. Gotham City.” Arrowhead and U.S. Bank led the way for best stadiums, but players had opposite viewpoints of MetLife Stadium, FedEx Field and Highmark Stadium, which were the top vote-getters for worst to play in. The Commanders’ home field has never been a popular playing destination, and this poll solidified that even before Sunday, when there wasn’t any hot water or sufficient water pressure for players to shower after the New York Giants’ win over Washington. “Almost everything about (FedEx) is below the standard of what an NFL stadium should be,” one player said. “The place is just a dump,” said another. As for MetLife, where both the Giants and Jets play, a player voiced that the “turf sucks and the whole place is lame.” Another agreed about the turf, adding that the “fans are horrible. Everything about that place is horrible.” Though Lambeau Field was among the top five for best stadium, it was also top five for the worst stadium — for one obvious reason: “F—ing Green Bay, because it’s super cold!” Meanwhile, the Oakland Coliseum hasn’t been used since the Raiders moved to Las Vegas…

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