XFL 2015: Who’s Interesting?
By: Connor Lenahan
Let’s start this week by addressing the obvious: Knees are evil. Just when we begin getting into the nitty gritty of the season one of the more visually entertaining players in the world, Jamaal Charles, has his knee give out on him during a run. That’s not only not fair for him – Charles by all accounts seems like an awesome dude – but it’s not fair for fans of football. Jamaal Charles is a monster. Further, he was the bell-cow back for the Las Vegas High Rollers. His injury makes the team have a lot of questions going forward – suddenly having Isaiah Crowell and Knile Davis as starters doesn’t bring much fear, but Julio Jones & AJ Green do.
This week, however, we aren’t going to exclusively focus on the bad news. This week is a big one. The trade deadline is on the horizon, as is the midway point of the season. With that in mind, let’s not only take our regularly scheduled look at how the teams are doing, but let’s highlight the most interesting player from each.
This isn’t simply going to be a “best of” list. For example, there’s not all that much interesting about Tom Brady averaging north of 500 points per game. Yes, that is interesting, but it’s not exactly unexpected. The dude is a machine, arguably the best QB of all time, and the reigning Super Bowl champion. But someone unexpectedly becoming a megastar? That, ladies and gentlemen, is interesting.
Denver Blaze (0-5)
Most Interesting: Arian Foster
There is not a particularly nice way for me to put it but to be blunt. This year’s Denver Blaze team is not great. That is not really the fault of coaches Pat Haggerty and Ryan Gilbert either. They have hit bad luck across the board. When your first two picks – LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Hill – both fall off the face of the Earth, and their next three picks after – Alshon Jeffrey, Matt Stafford, and Andre Johnson – all somehow flame out that’s a borderline cursed season. But hamstring injuries, general lack of production, calf injuries, somehow forgetting how to play QB, and age respectively have made this a season to forget in Denver.
At this point the team will likely need an unreal stretch of games to make the playoffs. We are talking 8-0 or 7-1 from here on out. It’s not impossible, but Arian Foster will likely be the man to answer the call if any. Foster has yet to come back proper from his groin injury – make that somehow six picks in a row that fell through, I’m so sorry guys – but will need to snap back to being a world destroyer ASAP to help the Blaze. However, all is not entirely lost. They do get pole position on picking Rodgers or Brady (or Dalton?) #1 next season if this all turns out poorly.
Philadelphia Panthers (1-4)
Most Interesting: Eddie Lacy
Paging Eddie Lacy, come in Lacy. I’m not exactly sure where Lacy has disappeared to this season, but disappeared he has. Lacy was the first round draft pick of the Panthers and was a very popular pick to have a strong season. Instead he is scoring outside the top 35 of all running backs. If you sort by RB/WR combined on the XFL, Lacy doesn’t even appear on the first page. This is about as mysterious as it gets.
Lacy, I think, injured his ankle a few weeks ago, but it’s not as if he’s been sitting. He just has suddenly dropped from top-5 back to top-40. That doesn’t happen. Further, I know, and we all know, he’s talented enough to put up a great season. That’s why I refuse to buy this. Lacy would be the ultimate buy low option in the league, but Matt Pettinato might want to hold out to see if Lacy could bounce back. If he does the Panthers improve drastically in an instant.
New Orleans Tigers (1-3-1)
Most Interesting: Thomas Rawls
Just when the Tigers needed a win most they… tied. One of the more ridiculous outcomes possible in the XFL happened this week as the Tigers and High Rollers were deadlocked at 1120. However, if it wasn’t for Thomas Rawls the Tigers wouldn’t have come remotely close to even tying the Sin City team.
Let me be the first to say hooooooooooooooooly shit about Thomas Rawls. Talk about making yourself a household name. Thanks to a 69 yard TD on a good Bengals defense, in Cincinnati no less, Rawls led all position players with an unbelievable 430 points. It’s a stretch to say that’s sustainable – although keep this thought – but it’s extremely fair to start asking the question we raised while watching Sunday: Is he going to replace Marshawn Lynch. The long term answer is an enthusiastic yes from the Seahawks, but while Lynch has finally shown wear and tear on his body this year, the sudden emergence of Rawls (who also rushed for 104 yards against the Bears, proving this less fluky) is as needed as ever. After a slow start to Seattle’s season, there is a reason at last to keep your eyes glued to the Seahawks and Tigers.
Kansas City Killers (2-3)
Most Interesting: Doug Martin
Welcome back to the league Doug Martin! The Muscle Hamster had a terrific week 4 with 310 points and proceeded to best it with 405 more in week 5. That’s not only not bad, it was enough to shoot Martin to the 4th overall RB slot. And best of all? Jameis Winston is not looking great thus far, meaning the Buccs will be calling #22’s number often.
But here’s where this gets especially interesting: Is anyone other than me getting the sense that Kansas City might quietly be good? They’ve won their last two games, will get Dez Bryant (a gigantic game changer) back at some point soon, and might be one or two moves away from being sneaky competitive. Peyton Manning looks fairly done, but swinging a deal for one more piece could have KC back in the playoffs again. Call me overly optimistic, but some early week bad luck can be overcome.
Seattle Rage (2-3)
Most Interesting: Travis Benjamin
It genuinely annoys me how much better Seattle’s team should be. Exactly no part of that is Greg Fenn’s fault either. Ben Roethlisberger’s and Kelvin Benjamin’s knee injuries took a giant hit to an otherwise solid team. I am betting hard on Seattle bouncing back with Big Ben soon, provided he isn’t actually out for the season and Pittsburgh isn’t telling anyone. But they also are holding onto one of the most fascinating developments of the season.
Five weeks in an Travis Benjamin is still the #1 wide receiver in the XFL. That is officially no longer a joke. It’s easy enough to do it in a small sample size – see: DeAngelo Williams early season success – but to hold that designation over Julio Jones, AJ Green, DeAndre Hopkins, and more is impressive. Benjamin might actually have something going this year. Throw in Rage teammate Larry Fitzgerald rising like a Phoenix from his career ashes and suddenly Greg looks like a wideout whisperer.
Chicago Hitmen (2-3)
Most Interesting: Blake Bortles
This might be really jumping the gun, but is Blake Bortles starting to put this all together? He might play on an otherwise bad team, but that doesn’t matter. The Jags are going to have to pass to keep themselves in games and 373 points-per-game is no joke. He’s seventh in the league right now, ahead of at least three QBs taken in the first round of this year’s draft (Ryan, Wilson, and Brees). Having watched the Jaguars a bit – thank you Allen Robinson – I have come away thinking that Bortles is actually pretty good. Make no mistake, he has to get a lot better for the Jags to have a shot, but for the Hitmen?
Think of it this way: Which QB gets to throw to Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Julius Thomas, and more, and which gets Greg Olsen, Ted Ginn Jr., and an old shopping cart. It may very well be time to unleash the Bortles Beast in Chicago over Cam Newton. Related, Bortles is my single favorite last name in sports to write.
New York Titans (3-2)
Most Interesting: Lamar Miller
Chase scolded me for only writing about Aaron Rodgers as of late but that’s not why I instead chose Lamar Miller to write about. Rodgers is The Truth. That’s fairly clear. He can, as previously mentioned, carry that team week to week by himself. But champions are deep with talent. And that’s where Lamar Miller piques my interest.
With Miami firing Joe Philbin and replacing him with Dan Campbell the team will likely take a more “physical” approach to football from this point out. Know what that’s code for? Running the rock. At least that’s how I heard it. Lamar Miller isn’t a terribly bad player, he just isn’t all that great. But being a B+ player is fine if you get a boatload of carries. Way worse players than Miller have put up gaudy numbers in the past. This is where he has me curious. Lamar Miller does not need to turn into Adrian Peterson. All he has to do is to do even moderately well with a high volume of carries and he will get stats. Will this happen? Maybe yes and maybe no, but if he suddenly starts getting enough work to end up with 90+ yards a game that takes the pressure off Rodgers and, in the process, greatly improves a New York team that could end up fairly strong in the end.
Green Bay Blizzard (3-2)
Most Interesting: DeMarco Murray
Even with all the insane blockbusters from the Wonderful Wizard of Trades Matt Bruzzano, it’s still the DeMarco Murray trade that will prove the most important, at least in theory. DeMarco Murray was the best running back alive on Earth last season and this season has turned into a potato. Like Eddie Lacy before him, that doesn’t just happen – well, unless you play for Crazy Ass Chip Kelly.
But last week DeMarco Murray finally got to play like the star he thinks he is. I’m always a tad bit convinced that Murray is going to get hurt – check back at the beginning of his career for more – but if he stays healthy he is legitimately great. Last week he had 240 points, and if he could keep up those kind of numbers, as well as his involvement in the running & passing games, Bru’s grand experiment might start paying dividends.
Waverly Chargers (3-2)
Most Interesting: Todd Gurley
30 rushes and 159 yards against a stellar Green Bay defense. Todd Gurley is not only officially here in physical presence, but Gurley has suddenly transformed from a question mark to an exclamation point. Looking at his highlights from Georgia led anyone to believe the kid was special. If it weren’t for his ACL tear last year he’d have won the Heisman, something many forget. But now he’s back healthy and the Rams are very, very excited.
But the question will of course be his health going forward. As it stands now they have been overly cautious if anything with Gurley’s knee, and apparently think it’s healthy enough to give him the ball 30 (!!!) times last week. If he stays on the field we are going to have a special talent on our hands. He’s the offensive rookie of the year right now, and no one is close. He’s torn through two good defenses – Green Bay and Arizona – thus far. If you’re not salivating at his week 7 date with Cleveland, you should be now.
Oklahoma City Lions (3-2)
Most Interesting: Allen Hurns
See: Bortles, Blake. The single most perplexing move of the season thus far is New Orleans dropping Hurns, despite the fact he’s been playing great all season. Andrew Rebensky picking up the Jacksonville wideout looks like a gigantic find. Allen Robinson has done very well this season, but shockingly Hurns has been the biggest recipient of the Bortles Beast so far. No joke, Hurns is the 7th WR in the XFL currently and is averaging just under 200 PPG.
Andrew might have stolen a huge piece to his chance at repeating off the waiver wire. Selfishly I’d like all of his targets to go to the other Allen, but watching Hurns in a suddenly entertaining Jags offense is extremely good television.
Pittsburgh Spikes (3-2)
Most Interesting: Chris Johnson
If you thought we’d have to be talking about Chris Johnson as one of the best backs in the league in 2015 you’d have been psychic. It took a ton of things breaking the once and forever CJ2K’s way to let this comeback tour happen. Andre Ellington had to get hurt, David Johnson had to give just enough concern in camp to let the team sign Chris in the first place, and the Cardinals had to become an unlikely juggernaut for CJ2K to jump back into the top 5 running backs.
Thanks to Jamaal Charles’s injury Chris Johnson is the fifth best, healthy running back in the XFL currently. Given the injury trouble of Marshawn Lynch and ineffectiveness of Jonathan Stewart, CJ2K might end up giving a much-needed jumpstart to the Deer. If he somehow regains any more of the speed that made him the baddest man on the planet a few years back? Fear the Deer, a lot.
Las Vegas High Rollers (3-1-1)
Most Interesting: Andy Dalton
Seriously, did anyone see this coming? The general consensus in Cincinnati before this season was that it might be time to move on from the TCU product Dalton due to his inability to be effective the past few seasons. Well, apparently, Andy Dalton heard this and, like the Hulk, is not likable when angry. Dalton is averaging just a shade under 500 points per game, and the Bengals sit at 5-0 on the season.
It would be an understatement to call Dalton the saving grace for this team, even before the Charles injury. When Romo went down the team was in need of anyone. They, casually, ended up with the best player in the league by accident. I have no idea if Dalton is going to keep this up, but this team is officially looking legitimate. Coming back from a 24-7 deficit against Seattle is very much a sign the Bengals are ready to compete. With weapons will AJ Green, Tyler Eifert, Gio Bernard, and more around him, Andy Dalton might be laying down the gauntlet. Long live the Red Rifle.
Washington Senators (4-1)
Most Interesting: Shane Vereen
The Senators, the league’s final undefeated team, fell this past week to the Chargers in their own version of bye-week hell. Being down Chris Ivory, Greg Olsen, and to a slightly lesser extent, Eric Decker, had the Senators down the majority of their scoring offense. But one loss isn’t the end of the world, especially with a potential discovery in the process.
This team will have it’s season ride on an underrated running back tandem of Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory, who are quietly averaging 327 PPG together. But Shane Vereen made his presence known on the Giants on Sunday night, finishing with 245 points. His competition is far from formidable in Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. Throw in that Vereen might be the best receiving running back in the league behind Le’Veon Bell and Matt Forte and you have a sneaky good flex player. Washington already has a strong ground presence, but having a passing game x-factor like Vereen, and being through the worst of the bye weeks already, could be extremely helpful in the nation’s capital.
Baltimore Bears (4-1)
Most Interesting: Devonta Freeman
We close things out here with the Death Star that is the Baltimore Bears. Laura LaBrecque is averaging 1732 points per game with her team currently, and one of those weeks was without Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Again I am stuck trying to find ways to poke holes in this team and again they blow out competition to ridiculous levels. For reference, the second highest scoring team, Las Vegas, is averaging 1451 points per game – an amazing mark that’s 300 points behind Baltimore weekly.
But the most interesting player on this team would be the sudden claim to the throne of “Best RB Alive,” Devonta Freeman. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are going to forever be destroying teams, but Freeman leaves a slight question mark. After three straight weeks where the Florida State product (didn’t know this, he was the RB for the Jameis Winston lead National Champ team) has scored 350+ points. He’s scored seven touchdowns in three games, eclipsed 400 points twice, rushed for over 140 yards twice, and even thrown in 10 yards per catch this season. So much points to Freeman being for real, and it would be terrific as an Atlanta supporter to see this carry on. But as the season wears on it will be interesting to watch if Freeman can keep this up.
He is a fireball right now. No one in the league can touch him. He will almost certainly cool off at some point, but how much is the key. Does he remain a league power or drop farther? Or does he remain scorching hot? We don’t know, but it’s going to be amazing to watch. Not that any of it matters, because much like John Cena, Baltimore will likely end up winning in the end anyway.
Week 6 Matchups
Waverly Chargers vs. New Orleans Tigers
Baltimore Bears vs. Chicago Hitmen
Green Bay Blizzard vs. Denver Blaze
Oklahoma City Lions vs. Kansas City Killers
New York Titans vs. Las Vegas High Rollers
Pittsburgh Spikes vs. Philadelphia Panthers
Seattle Rage vs. Washington Senators