Some people might think that the best way to gauge the popularity of NFL players it to look at who the fans vote into the Pro Bowl. Unfortunately, there are two things wrong with this way of thinking. First, fan votes only account one-third of the selections, the rest being made by players, coaches, and league officials. Second, fans can vote as many times as they want. So, if some lonely guy living in his parents’ basement in Buffalo really wants Ryan Fitzpatrick, his voice can count a lot more than the average person who doesn’t have time to vote 1,000 times. So no, looking at the Pro Bowl roster is not the best way to see who the most popular NFL players are.
What is? Jersey sales. If a bunch of people are willing to spend a hundred bucks just for a shirt with your name on it, they must really like you. Today, therefore, with the 2012 NFL season now entering the home stretch, we’re going to take a look at the 15 best-selling player jerseys in the NFL.
But we’re not just going to see where guys stand right now. We’ll also take a look back at where they stood before the season began to see how (or if) their bandwagon ridership has increased or decreased.
Ready to start? Great. Let’s do it.
Preseason Rank: 18th
There's only one guy from the preseason top 15 who didn't make the top 15 as of November 27: Tony Romo.
The beneficiary of Romo's putrid season, obviously, it Ray Lewis. Of course, even if Romo wasn't haven't a bad season, Lewis probably would have bumped him from the list on the strength of this terrifying photo alone–this is why people love him.
15. Ray Lewis (Ravens)
Preseason Rank: 11th
Cam has experienced a pretty nasty sophomore slump after racing out of the gate last season. And with the way he was pouting on the sidelines earlier in the season, I'd say he's lucky to still be sitting at #14.
14. Cam Newton (Panthers)
Preseason Rank: 15th
We all know why Clay Matthews is so popular, and it's not because of his personality. It's those long golden locks.
13. Clay Matthews (Packers)
Preseason Rank: 12th
Brees was 12th in jersey sales from April through September, and he's still 12th heading into week 14. That's not bad for a guy whose team went from the cream of the NFL last year to curdled skim milk this year.
12. Drew Brees (Saints)
Preseason Rank: 13th
If Bill Belichick can manage to resist playing Gronkowski on special teams and the guy stays healthy long-term, there's not doubt in my mind that he'll continue to develope into one of the NFL's elite players. That, combined with his legendary personality, will only increase Gronk jersey sales.
11. Rob Gronkowski (Patriots)
Preseason Rank: 8th
Patrick Willis is one of the game's premier defensive players. Still, I was at first surprised that Willis cracked the top 10 and Clay Matthews did not. Then I realized something: while Matthews probably has greater national recognition and appeal, he also has a certain superstar teammate selling a ton of jerseys within his fan base. Who does Willis have to compete with? Alex Smith? Yeah, I don't think Niners fans are completely convinced he's going to work out. Lord knows Jim Harbaugh isn't.
10. Patrick Willis (49ers)
Preseason Rank: 10th
At #9, Polamalu is the highest-ranking defensive player on the list. And while his skill is obvious, let's be real here: he's popular because he does all those Head & Shoulders commercials.
9. Troy Polamalu (Steelers)
Preseason Rank: 3rd
Last year, Tebow's Broncos jersey was the second-best-selling jersey in football after Aaron Rodgers. Then, after he was traded to the Jets, his jersey sales remained strong. However, this season it would seem his lack of snaps has seriously cut into his jersey sales.
8. Tim Tebow (Jets)
Preseason Rank: 9th
Hey, who doesn't love a touchdown-scoring, salsa-dancing wide receiver?
7. Victor Cruz (Giants)
Preseason Rank: 6th
Andrew Luck's QB rating has suffered a lot from his league-leading interception total poor completion percentage (third-worst among starters at 55.5%—just above Mark Sanchez). However, the guy is racking up yardage and, more importantly, wins. So it's no wonder the rookie's jersey is the 6th-best selling one in the NFL.
6. Andrew Luck (Colts)
Preseason Rank: 7th
You keep your Tom Brady jersey. I'd rather have a Giselle jersey.
5. Tom Brady (Patriots)
Preseason Rank: 5th
What should the caption be on this photo? Personally, I'm going to go with, "Sure, Peyton is the 'greatest' quarterback in the Manning Family."
4. Eli Manning (Giants)
Preseason Rank: 4th
He was #1 last year, but thanks to some big moves in the offseason—including the two guys left on this list—he got bumped down to 4th to start the season. But hey, at least Mr. Discount Double-Check has climbed back into the top 3. Leading the league in QB rating again will do that for you.
3. Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
Preseason Rank: 1st
Having missed all last season, Peyton Manning wasn't in the top 10 at all. However, this year his wildly successful move to the Broncos has put his jersey sales right back where they belong.
2. Peyton Manning (Broncos)
Preseason Rank: 2nd
You had to figure this one, right? Griffin was the most-hyped #1 draft pick in years, and that alone was enough to put him at #2 before the season. But now that he's 12 games into his career and is sporting a 104.4 QB rating along with 714 rushing yards—which is to say, now that he's officially lived up to the hype—his jersey sales are through the roof.