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The NFL's Most-Liked Players

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Oct 13, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis (85) and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) congratulate each other after the game at Candlestick Park. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 32-20. (Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

Playing a position known for its divas and showboats, he manages to keep it low key, even though he’s better than all of them. He’s mostly let others celebrate the yards (over 10,000) and touchdowns (80) he’s amassed since 2004.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals catches passes with one hand or two. He catches passes with defenders hanging all over him. He’s been to seven Pro Bowls in nine seasons. Off the field, he make little news aside from showing his subtle humor in an ESPN “This is Sportscenter” commercial in which he casually catches falling plants and people during a stroll through the office.

[Forbes in Pictures: The NFL's 10 most-liked players]

Fitzgerald’s awareness meter among the public doesn’t register with the likes of Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III.  But those who know him really like him. It’s enough to declare Fitzgerald the most-liked player in the NFL, according to the latest surveys from E-Poll Market Research, an Encino, Calif.-based firm that tracks the marketing power of celebrities through its E-Score, compiled by measuring dozens of attributes including awareness, likability, and other perceived qualities like influence, talent and confidence.

In this case, we’re narrowing the focus to likability and awareness – who do people “like” or “like a lot” among NFL players that register a minimum awareness level of 10 percent of the public. Fitzgerald leads the pack with a whopping 74 percent. “He’s had no real help over the past few years,” says E-Poll CEO Gerry Philpott, speaking of the Cardinals’ fall to mediocrity since their last playoff season in 2009. “But you don’t hear him whining about it. He’s done nothing to upset anyone, his ‘dislike’ score is negligible.”

Right behind Fitzgerald: Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson, who awed people by shaking off a serious ACL injury to rush for over 2,000 yards last season. And like Fitzgerald, he did it in non- hot dog fashion (shortly after this list was compiled, Peterson suffered the death of his two-year-old son).

While the top two spots go to a receiver and runner, the overall list is, predictably, quarterback-centric. Griffin and Manning both make the list, as does old standby Drew Brees, still the patron Saint of New Orleans since leading the club to a post-Katrina Super Bowl title.

Joining them this year is Seattle’s Russell Wilson, a solid 2012 rookie who nonetheless registers as a bit of a surprise given how much he was overshadowed by other top quarterbacks including Griffin, his fellow rookie from the 2012 draft class. Philpott points out that Wilson probably would have missed the awareness threshold (he wound up sneaking in at 11 percent) if not for a pair of impressive playoff performances in Washington and Atlanta last January. Beating RG III head-to-head certainly didn’t hurt.

“He comports himself very professionally, he’s got a good story going for himself that seems to be reflected in the numbers,” Philpott says.

With Seattle off to a strong start this year, Wilson may get plenty more chances in this year’s playoffs, perhaps even the Super Bowl. One of those can go a long way. Just ask Fitzgerald, who notched 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his only Super Bowl appearance almost five years ago. People have been paying attention to him ever since.

Here are the five most-liked players in the NFL:

1. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

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