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Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Best of NFL: NFC West players

By Mike Sando

Best of NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the NFC West:

Steven Jackson
Steven Jackson, shown here at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in the fall of 2010, is known for dressing to the nines.
Best dressed, Steven Jackson: The St. Louis Rams' Pro Bowl running back prefers fashion runways to the ones his team uses when traveling to road games. Jackson's passion for fashion has taken him to shows in Paris, Milan, New York, Las Vegas and beyond. He wears custom, handmade suits from top designers, accompanied by the finest shoes, watches, cuff links, etc. Rams employees cannot recall seeing Jackson wear the same suit twice. Jackson's website even features its own fashion section complete with images from a photo shoot showcasing No. 39 himself. Jackson has hosted a three-day charity event around a youth football camp, celebrity golf tournament, auction and, you guessed it, fashion show.

Best instant legacy, Marshawn Lynch: The Seattle Seahawks' running back gave the team a hard-nosed presence on the ground at times after arriving from Buffalo via trade, but his first regular season in the Northwest was largely underwhelming. That all changed in the playoffs. Lynch's 67-yard touchdown run against New Orleans relieved all the Seahawks' frustrations at once, and without warning. Qwest Field rocked hard enough for local seismologists to take note. Lynch somehow broke eight tackles. He bulled over one defender, stiff-armed another and eluded others. Lynch was the first and only Seattle player to rush for 100 yards in a game, during a season in which the team was constantly shuffling its offensive line. No matter what happens from this point forward, Lynch's place in Seattle sports lore is secure.

Best tour guide, Larry Fitzgerald. The Arizona Cardinals' perennial Pro Bowl receiver qualifies for all-world status based on how many faraway lands he frequents during NFL offseasons. South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, the Seychelles, England, Italy, Portugal, Jordan, Israel and Turkey have been among the destinations on Fitzgerald's itineraries over the past several years. The photo gallery and travelogue from a recent trip to Africa set Fitzgerald apart from other frequent fliers with NFL pedigrees. Fitzgerald on the mountain gorillas he tracked in Rwanda: "Their size alone created tropical chaos as they moved about, over and around the bamboo-laden underbrush. It was a marvel to watch their facial expressions, their majesty, their speed and agility, their grace, and their contentment with the lush environment -- all from a proximity of five to 10 feet."

Best homegrown strongman, Isaac Sopoaga. Every NFL team has weight-room warriors. Sopoaga had relatively little experience playing football, let alone honing his physique through organized weight programs, when his homegrown strength carried him to a stunning performance at the 2004 scouting combine. Sam Good of 49ers.com broke it down earlier this offseason. The short version: Sopoaga didn't know his own strength, specifically how many times he could bench 225 pounds. After breezing through 18 reps, he stopped to ask officials how many he needed to beat the other competitors. The number was 41. Sopoaga hit the mark without trouble, then stopped to size up the players who had not yet lifted. Sopoaga then set down the bar. As legend has it, Sopoaga built his strength as a kid by lifting the coconuts and logs available to him in American Samoa. He climbed coconut trees to strengthen his legs. None of this would matter so much if Sopoaga weren't a solid player. He recently made our list of the underrated. Sopoaga has missed only one game over the past six seasons.

Best patriot, Jason Brown. The Rams' center takes the extra step in connecting with members of the U.S. armed forces, and for good reason. His older brother, Lunsford Bernard Brown II, died while serving in Afghanistan eight years ago. Jason Brown takes the lead in the Rams' efforts to honor veterans. He brought the Rams' offensive line to meet with seriously injured vets at Jefferson Barracks on Veterans Day last season. He speaks to children of military families. He welcomes military personnel to the Rams' facility. As Brown told the injured vets last season: "We just wanted to come in and spread some love and cheer, and let you all know you are very much loved. ... It has been a great opportunity to bring smiles to their faces and let them know how much they are appreciated. One thing my brother definitely taught me was service and sacrifice. That is one thing I have to pass on to our community and definitely to our veterans."