The Most Popular NFL Rookies & Hall of Famers in the U.S.

Published October 31, 2022

Title graphic for a blog about the most popular NFL rookies and Hall of Famers.
Thanks to the constant coverage from social media and 24/7 sports coverage from media outlets like ESPN, athletes are getting increasingly popular. But how does the popularity of today’s star players compare to the popularity of some all-time greats in the NFL Hall of Fame? For this study, we used search data from Google Trends to find out each state’s favorite football Hall of Famer and rookie.

Key Findings

  • Legends never die: In the age-old contest of experience vs. youth, NFL veterans and Hall of Famers won the title of the most popular overall in 27 states (53%).
  • Homefield advantage: when looking at NFL rookies alone, 13 states’ (25%) most popular rookie was one from a team based in their state.
  • Winning the first-round lottery: 28 states’ (55%) top rookie was drafted in the first round.
    Joe Montana is the most popular NFL Hall of Famer overall, winning out 8 states. When adding rookies into the mix, he won just 3 states overall.
  • Drake Jackson is the most popular NFL rookie overall, winning out 5 states. However, when we included his Hall of Famer counterparts, he only took 3 states.

Notable NFL Players in Every U.S. State

Graphic showing the most popular athletes in every U.S. state.

The most popular NFL Hall of Famer in the entire country, according to Google searchers, is Joe Montana. Joe Montana is a former American football quarterback who played in the National Football League for 16 seasons, primarily with the San Francisco 49ers. Montana is regarded as one of the best football players of all time, thanks in part to his fourth-quarter rallies. For many fans, Montana’s name is synonymous with comebacks. Perhaps his most impressive football feat was when he helped the 49ers erase a 35–7 halftime deficit against the Saints and defeat them in overtime 38-35.

Despite being the most searched-for athlete overall, Joe Montana was not the most popular footballer among Californians. The most searched-for athlete in the Golden State was Ronnie Lott. Similar to Montana, Lott spent most of his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers before going to play for the Los Angeles Raiders and the New York Jets. Ronnie Lott is known for being a complete player and surpassing the 1,000-career tackle mark in 1993.

Many NFL rookies are popular among sports fans in their team’s respective states, but this one was the most searched-for athlete in his former college stomping grounds, too. The Chicago Bears selected Braxton Jones as the 168th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Not only is Jones the most sought-out rookie in Illinois, but he is also the most searched-for player overall in the state of Utah. Currently, Jones is holding his own among the pros as the starting left tackle for the Chicago Bears.

Breaking Down Rookie & Hall of Famer Popularity Around the U.S.

In the sports world, the debate between experience versus youth tends to skew toward the former. When it comes to rookies, most states love a good hometown hero or someone who raises their small town’s reputation to new heights by making it to the big leagues. However, the names that seem to have the most staying power are those of the greats in the football hall of fame; names like Joe Montana, Emmitt Smith, and Dick Lane accounted for many searches throughout the U.S. In this study, the Hall of Famers inched ahead of the rookies, winning 27 states overall.

The rookies put up a noble fight and claimed 24 overall states, which is nothing to scoff at. The most popular rookie leading the charge was Drake Jackson. Like many other players in this study, Drake Jackson is one of the San Francisco 49er’s latest additions. During his collegiate career at USC, Jackson posted 12.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss in 27 games. At just 21 years old, Drake Jackson appears to be a legend in the making, following in the footsteps of greats before him.

Closing Thoughts

Today, sports news outlets and social media make it even easier for rookies to make a name for themselves. While their popularity may be on the rise, they still haven’t got what it takes to usurp the legends and Hall of Famers from their rightful thrones. Only time will tell if sports fans are still searching for these young bucks decades down the road in the same way they seek out stories about their favorite Hall of Famers, but many of them are off to a noble start.

American Football is one of the country’s most beloved sports and pastimes. From the preseason to Thanksgiving games to the Superbowl, football brings families together and inspires new generations of athletes to make a name for themselves on the field. Who knows? Maybe one day, these rookies’ training card’s value will rival the worth of their legendary counterparts.

Before you part ways with your valuable rookie or Hall of Famer trading cards, consider selling your life insurance policy with the help of Coventry Direct. Coventry helps retirees find peace of mind by helping them sell their qualifying life insurance policies for large cash sums. Let us help you get back to the things that matter– like watching football with the family!


To find out which rookies and Hall of Famers U.S. states were the most interested in, we turned to online search interest. We began with a list of 32 of the most pivotal NFL rookies in the 2022-23 season, one for each team. Next, we used Bleacher Report and Clutch Points to compile a list of 32 corresponding Hall of Famers. Finally, we ran the 64 rookies and Hall of Famers through Google Trends to analyze online search interest over the past year. From there we mapped out the most popular rookie, Hall of Famer, and overall NFL star in every U.S. state.

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