You know it is football season when the office starts grumbling about the offensive name of the local football team, or when co-workers start asking, "What ever happened to Tim Tebow?" Still others, "What is fantasy football?"
Politics aside, I went ahead and compiled a little fantasy team for Sojourners, featuring both prominent and less-prominent Christians thriving in the NFL. So if you own a fantasy football team, or are starting one for the first time, here are some picks to help inject some strong faith in your team. (I don’t get paid to do football analysis so take this for what it’s worth).
QB: Robert Griffin III, Washington football team.
On faith: “Robert Griffin is known on the Baylor campus for his faith as well as his football skills. He attended University Baptist Church, while a student at Baylor and Truett Seminary. God has entrusted him with a unique combination of outstanding intellect, NFL-quality ability, and world-class speed. And he has been an excellent steward of his gifts.” (Christian Post)
JC: Washington finished last in the NFC East last season (5-11). Rex Grossman led the team in passing (3151 yards, 16 TDs, 20 Int). Mike Shanahan is an experienced coach, having led the Denver Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowls in the 90s. I’m not sure we can expect RG3 to have the same numbers that Cam Newton had last year, but I think he could be a solid fantasy starter come mid-season.
RB: Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
Forte on faith: “As a pro athlete, I face a number of challenges, but God is faithful to help me through any and all situations. I rely heavily on our team chaplain Ray McElroy's weekly Bible studies and team chapels, which offer us great spiritual guidance. The pre-game chapels are especially important since we play in a league where we can't attend Sunday-morning church services. Without those chapels, it would be really tough to grow in my faith.” (Sharing the Victory)
JC: Even though he rushed for fewer yards due to injury than in previous years (997 in 2011, compared to 1069 in 2010), his yards/carry increased (4.9 in 2011, 4.5 in 2010). If he stays healthy, Matt Forte should produce consistently for your team, especially now that teams have to account for the Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall tandem.
RB: Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
Stewart on faith: “In order to be a doer of the word of God, I have to read and study it. I have to allow myself to let go of my own desires and let God alter my heart daily so that my desires and dreams line up to what he wants for me. I will only know what he wants for me if I seek him. When I become a doer I feel complete. I have joy, hope, and peace. I know and have faith that my prayers and desires will be met by God because I begin to see my purpose in him. I have no worries because he is faithful and has proven so many times before.” (Personal website/blog).
JC: I had Stewart on my fantasy team last year and was disappointed. Yes, he just signed a new deal with the Panthers, but he’ll also be sharing carries with DeAngelo Williams, newly acquired Mike Tolbert, and Cam Newton. Stewart has the big-play ability, and could be a very dangerous receiver out of the backfield (he had 47 catches last season) with defenses focusing on containing WR Steve Smith and TE Greg Olsen.
WR: Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers
On faith: Jennings famously proclaimed “To God be the glory” after the Packer’s Super Bowl win in 2010. Luke 12:48 appears to be his verse – it’s part of the mission statement of his foundation, and it’s all across his Twitter feed (@GregJennings)
JC: Jennings had a huge fantasy year in 2011, in part due to QB Aaron Rodgers’ passing dominance. The Packers Wide Receiver Group is one of best in the NFL, and has been for the past few years. Look to see Jennings continue to see good numbers while sharing time with Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Driver, Randall Cobb, and TE Jermichael Finley.
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
On faith: “Larry Fitzgerald, the gifted Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, is one of about 35 teammates who participate in Bible study each week. ‘It was sad to see,’ he told me this week. ‘It was a bit disrespectful. [Tebowing] is a quiet tribute to the Lord and should not be mocked.’ (in response to people criticizing Tim Tebow for giving thanks to God after each touchdown; ESPN)
JC: Fitzgerald has been one of the most dominant receivers over the past seven years. He’s averaged more than 1,000 receiving yards and nine touchdowns per season since 2005. ESPN projects him catching 84 passes for 1309 yards and nine touchdowns, making him the second most-coveted fantasy receiver after Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions). The addition of Michael Floyd (rookie from Notre Dame) will also help balance Arizona’s passing game even though Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are pretty average quarterbacks.
TE: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
On faith: “A teenager basically raising himself, Graham gained a foundation through his weekly visits to the church. He discovered fellowship, a pastor who would become his high school basketball coach, a guardian who gave him stability in an unstable life, and a congregation joyful with encouragement. “It was like everybody there believed in me,” Graham said. “My whole life, I always felt different and out of place, and I finally felt like people cared about me and people wanted me to succeed… They told me I was too smart and too talented. It was like that entire church believed in me. They used to tell me every day, ‘You’re going to do great things in this community and in this world,’ and that support meant everything.’’ (ProCanes).
JC: Jimmy Graham is coming off of a great 2011 season where he caught 99 passes for over 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns. With QB Drew Brees still in his prime, Graham could very well challenge Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots) as the No. 1 fantasy tight end in 2012.
K: David Akers, San Francisco 49ers
Akers on faith: ““It’s more important I come home Sunday night and my daughter still knows I love her and I’m still a good husband to my wife… God has put me in this position because he wants me to succeed. If not, He has another reason for putting me there. God has a plan and a purpose for my life and for this team.” (Florida Baptist Witness)
JC: The 49ers had a breakout season last year, which meant lots of action for Akers. Even at age 37, he still booted 44 field goals (including nine from 50+ yards) — the most he’s ever kicked in one season. And don’t forget about his arm: week 17 against the St. Louis Rams, Akers connected with Michael Crabtree for a 14-yard touchdown pass.
Do you have an idea for a witty team name? Do you know of another football star who should've been featured? Write it in the comments section!
James Colten is the former Sojourners Campaigns Assistant and currently transitioning into his new role as Assistant to the CEO. On any given Saturday this fall, you can find him playing wide receiver for his church's flag football team. Follow him on twitter (@jamescolten).