XFL 2016: The Half-Season All-Stars
By: Connor Lenahan
Ahh, the middle of the XFL season is upon us once again. With just under 24 hours until tomorrow’s noon trade deadline, we have reached the halfway point of the year. Kind of. Because we play 13 regular season games there really isn’t a precise middle, but after next week we will have completed 7 games with 6 to play. You know what? I just want to give out the mid-season All-XFL teams. I can try to logic my way around this all I want but it won’t change the fact that I just kinda feel like shaking it up. Sue me, I’m 2-4, and this will make me happy.
This year’s All-XFL teams follow for the first half of the 2016 season. The players were selected not by using total points, which unfairly skews the results against players with byes in Weeks 4-6, but rather their averages per game. The flex for each team was selected after the first, second, and third team positional players were filled. Is this system perfect? No, not even remotely, and not just because of selections.
This season has been plainly skewed by two big absences early. Both Tom Brady and Le’Veon Bell missed the beginning of the season due to suspensions, but both have been great since returning. Le’Veon has averaged 253.3 points-per-game (PPG) since returning, which is third among all running backs. Tom Brady, meanwhile, has averaged a get-the-fuck-outta-here 577.5 PPG in his two games back. Yes, that’s only two games, but he has looked extremely prepared and handsome during both games. Brady’s PPG would be the best in the league by 60 PPG if it weren’t for being unjustly accused of a crime he never committed. All of this is to say that the mid-season teams are in some way inaccurate, but given that both suspensions were levied before the season, not unexpected. Brady and Bell specifically figure to be major factors the remainder of the season and justified inclusion, albeit not on the rosters below. With that caveat, the mid-season All-XFL teams.
1st Team All-XFL
QB: Drew Brees (516 PPG) – Oklahoma City Lions – There’s some great news and some potentially tough truth to Drew Brees’s continued stay as the best gift that has ever been given to Lions coach Andrew Rebensky. The great news is that he has once again stolen the best quarterback this season over the first six weeks and rode him to a 5-1 record to open the season. The tough part of this team is that Brees is carrying a lot of the weight. Brees has been responsible for a whopping 31.3% of the points scored by the Lions this year. Yes, this makes sense given that he’s a QB, but it’s still a lot of production that’s one bad move away from disappearing – ask Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger, who finished as the 4th best QB before tearing his meniscus last Sunday. For Andrew, he can and should ride Brees for as long as possible, and thankfully his injury history post-shoulder-reconstruction is pretty clean. Hopefully, it’s more of the same for the Lions, who could be in the title game for a third straight year this winter.
RB: David Johnson (280.8 PPG) – Baltimore Bears – David Johnson is the best non-quarterback player in football. This probably isn’t true, but it’s not false either. DJ has played out of his mind this season and last night’s evisceration of the New York Jets to the tune of 425 points was ridiculous. We knew that Johnson was going to be good coming into this season, and we thought the Cardinals would find a way to incorporate him into their pass-heavy offense. If the current trends remain, the Green Bay Blizzard will have a decent chance to pick a game-changing Cardinal in a newly run-heavy offense with the top overall selection.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott (275.8 PPG) – New York Titans – For as terrific as Zeke has been this season we still need to remember that he’s past the age of 30 and might finally start wearing down after putting so many miles on his legs in Minnesota all these years. Oh, what’s that? Zeke Elliott is looking as dynamic a runner as Adrian Peterson and is having the season many expected the future Hall of Famer to have this season? And he’s not only a rookie but only 21 years old? I have never been happier about a bye week matchup change than getting to miss Zeke this week against the Titans because he is somehow better than the sky high expectations we had for him.
Flex: Melvin Gordon (184.2 PPG) – Oklahoma City Lions – Melvin Gordon’s 2016 season was one that I’m not sure anyone saw coming. He’s the beneficiary of the Danny Woodhead injury and has been remarkably solid after an objectively bad rookie season. Plus he has an absurd 6 rushing scores despite scoring none last year. Gordon has been kept out of the end zone for two consecutive weeks now and has only eclipsed 100 yards once so far, but with Woodhead and Keenan Allen out for the year, it’s not like the Chargers have better options. Gordon is probably going to finish as a low-end top 12 running back, but that more than helps the Lions succeed.
WR: Julio Jones (221.7 PPG) – Waverly Chargers – Last year’s Atlanta Falcons looked great early and then collapsed down the stretch. I think that this year’s team, although mimicking their 2015 start, might actually be the real deal. The Falcons have been one of the, if not the, best offenses in football this year, and were one bad pass interference call from beating the Seahawks this week. Julio Jones is getting a lot of help thanks to other offensive weapons on the Falcons, but he’s still crushing defenses. Did I mention he had 300 yards two weeks ago? Did I mention my first child, regardless of gender, will be named Julio Stafford Lenahan?
WR: Odell Beckham Jr. (200 PPG) – Chicago Hitmen – Okay so OBJ finally got back on track this week against the Ravens but that’s not surprising. He’s so otherworldly good that it’s not interesting to talk about. Jason made a smart pick and it paid off. There isn’t controversy there. So I instead would like to officially register my concern for all this kicking net stuff. Look, Odell taking the net to the face was outright hilarious. Jokes about the net keeping him down against the Vikings were deserved and fun. Hugging the net after scoring his first TD of the season in Green Bay was closure. But proposing to the net this Sunday? The joke was made, man. We all moved on, Odell probably should too.
TE: Greg Olsen (200.8) – Las Vegas High Rollers – Greg Olsen is still racking up points despite the Carolina Panthers well-documented struggles this season. His magnum opus thus far was a 325 point game in Week 5 for Dan Griffith’s High Rollers, and if he can continue ripping through defenses and catching nearly every ball thrown in his direction then the High Rollers and Panthers might be due to recover as the season progresses.
K: Adam Vinatieri (110 PPG) – Las Vegas High Rollers – I haven’t fact checked this, but I’m pretty sure Vinatieri was in the theater when Lincoln was assassinated and he’s still nearly 20 points better than the next best kicker. Just unreal.
Team Total PPG: 1989.3 – The 1st Team would be the best single roster in XFL history on a game-by-game basis, and easily lap current league leader Baltimore’s 1474.16 PPG.
2nd Team All-XFL
QB: Matt Ryan (419.7 PPG) – Philadelphia Panthers – Matt Ryan has looked better than ever this season and it’s been a shocking surprise. Well, that is if you didn’t own him last year, in which case it feels like a spiteful betrayal. I would curse Ryan more, but he’s helping my son’s namesake get his, so I’ll pass for now, begrudgingly. Similar to Julio, the Falcons look legit, and once they get to run through the NFC South for a second time Matt Pettinato will be beaming.
RB: DeMarco Murray (240.8 PPG) – Denver Blaze – This was the running back that no one wanted to gamble on this season, but Ryan Gilbert and Pat Haggerty elected to trust Mike Mularkey with their RB1 and gave Murray a chance. I don’t think they would have anticipated Murray being this much of a home run, but it certainly is a welcome development. I remain concerned about his health over a full season, but then again I was concerned when he had his world destroyer season in Dallas two years ago. The Blaze have a nightmare backfield duo…
RB: LeSean McCoy (239.2PPG) – Denver Blaze – …because LeSean McCoy is great again! Last year I got more column fodder out of McCoy’s failure to succeed in Denver/Buffalo than I could ever properly thank my former workhorse for, but good lord is this an 180. McCoy has been stellar since the Bills changed their offensive coordinator, which is something nearly everyone thought was the wrong move. Maybe Rex Ryan is not as washed up as we thought. Sunday saw McCoy go down with what looked to be a season-ending injury, only to return and score another TD. For as much teasing as I tossed at Denver last year, they have shut me up and then some this season. I feel proud, yet scared because I still have them to play.
Flex: Mike Evans (184 PPG) – Oklahoma City Lions – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may not be that good this year, but Mike Evans sure as hell is. This shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise given that Evans has a very legitimate claim to being the most physically imposing wideout in the game. He’s 6’5″, 225 pounds, and borderline uncoverable. The beautiful part about Tampa struggling is the increased need to whip the ball in Evans’s direction every game, and the news that Vincent Jackson is heading to IR only helps this case. I don’t think he will end up climbing much higher up the wide receiver ranks – he’s currently 10th – but Top 10 is Top 10, which makes Andrew a happy man.
WR: AJ Green (195 PPG) – Las Vegas High Rollers – AJ Green has never had less than 1,000 yards in a season or less than 6 TDs, yet he still doesn’t get mentioned in the same pre-draft breath as Allen Robinson or DeAndre Hopkins, even though only Green is on one of these teams. The Bengals are not the same team they were last year, and that actually might be to Green’s benefit. While Hue Jackson was running teams into an oblivion, the current team can’t get Jeremy Hill rolling like the star he once appeared to be, and Giovani Bernard is far from an every down back. Green remains a world destroyer and will have to bail the Bengals, and ultimately the High Rollers, out of plenty of deficits this season. Lucky for Dan, fantasy careers can be made in trying to salvage games in garbage time – Mr. Matthew Stafford stands as the ultimate example.
WR: Brandin Cooks (195 PPG) – Chicago Hitmen – I hate to be harsh, but Cooks spot on this team is largely bullshit. Cooks is immensely talented and fast beyond belief, but this season has come down to two games for the New Orleans dynamo. Week 1 against the Raiders, Cooks had 410 points, and in Week 6 against the Panthers, he scored 400 more. He has just 165 points combined in his other 3 games. When a staggering 83% of your points come from two games that’s what we call unreliable. I happen to like Cooks, but he’s going to need to actually play to his PPG to help Jason on a weekly basis. Giving him multiple intermittent league-leading scores isn’t worth the other games where he’s a lower end WR2.
TE: Jimmy Graham (135 PPG) – Denver Blaze – Now THIS is what the Seahawks had traded for! Jimmy Graham was a surprise this season not just because he’s coming off a fairly major knee injury, but because he didn’t look to fit the Seattle offense in the games before getting injured. This year he’s been a saving grace to the injured Russell Wilson, and this point matters to the rest of the season. Seattle has been underwhelming thus far due to two leg injuries for Wilson, but once healthy they have the right personnel to wreck opponents. Graham is performing well now and I don’t think we’ve hit his ceiling as a Seahawk. The Jimmy Graham that was a first rounder all of two years ago might be on his way back soon.
K: Justin Tucker (88.3 PPG) – Pittsburgh Spikes – Are the Ravens good or bad? This isn’t a rhetorical question, I’m seriously asking. Like, all of their games this season have been decided by one score, and normally less than that. I don’t know what kind of backward magic they are working, but Tucker gets to clean up for scores and red zone trips that fall out. Again, look for kickers on teams that are just good enough to get in range, but not good enough to score regularly.
Team Total PPG: 1697 – Not a ton of analysis to do here, but it is curious how the gap is so wide between the first and second team. Think, for RB and WR these are the 3rd and 4th best, and the collective team is roughly 300 points worse. This is a crazy year.
3rd Team All-XFL
QB: Andrew Luck (413.3 PPG) – Washington Senators – Andrew Luck is maybe the most talented quarterback in XFL history to rack up his points by desperately trying to win games for his team late. Matt Stafford and Blake Bortles have had great success throwing the ball as many times as possible, but Luck is supposed to elevate this team out of the gutter. Yet here we are. His gunslinging evolution has been a saving grace for Cary Lenahan, and a delightful payoff for a first round pick. It still seems likely that Luck is going to get hurt behind his offensive line at some point given that a block of swiss cheese and a colander provide fewer holes, but this is a bridge that we cross when it comes. Until then the Senators can and should ride out Luck’s luck.
RB: Spencer Ware (229.0 PPG) – New Orleans Tigers – Spencer Ware is interesting this season because he’s been great for the New Orleans Tigers while also proving to be the cover for a bad pick at the draft. Jamaal Charles tore his ACL last year and has seen only slight playing time so far this season. The Tigers figured and hoped it wouldn’t take him this long, but nabbed Ware anyway. Now comes the interesting part: Ware has been playing very well so far this season, and just logged his career high in yards last week. Jamaal Charles is the franchise running back, and may very well regain his number one spot in the coming weeks. The best thing that can happen for Paul Bruzzano is for one of the backs to become the lead and get almost every carry. Splitting time between the two doesn’t help much unless New Orleans is committed to playing Ware and Charles weekly. My gut is telling me the job is Ware’s going forward, but my head says otherwise.
RB: Lamar Miller (186.7 PPG) – Waverly Chargers – Bout damn time, Lamar. The former Dolphin scored his first TDs as a Texan on Sunday night and juked roughly half the city of Indianapolis to the ground on the second score. Miller was supposed to be a dynamic presence in this offense and has shown flashes of brilliance, but not what we anticipated. Well, maybe he’s due to break out now. His early slate saw the Texans take on the Bears (surprisingly not garbage on defense), Chiefs (ditto), Patriots (destroyed the Texans on a Thursday), and Vikings (best defense in football). Miller plays in the same division as the Colts, Titans, and Jaguars. His quarterback is the incredibly overpaid Brock Osweiler. He’s had at least 19 rushes in every game save for a Minnesota drubbing, and that’s before factoring him into the passing game. Miller might be primed to advance a team or two as the season progresses.
Flex: Marvin Jones (182.5 PPG) – New Orleans Tigers – I think the Lions are the first team in NFL history to decide they were going to throw the ball 85% of the time and succeed. The Lions have been in one score games all seasons thanks in large part to a redesigned offensive attack without Calvin Johnson. Marvin Jones is getting used as a bigger weapon in Detroit than he was in Cincinnati, but the nature of the Lions offense is to spread the ball around rather than target one player, which was the only play call when Megatron was on the team – “Throw it to Calvin, Pray.” Jones might not get the same WR1 numbers as some of the other top players on this list, but he remains dynamic enough to get consistent production with the sneaky threat of torching defenses like he did in Green Bay.
WR: Amari Cooper (194.2 PPG) – Philadelphia Panthers – Is there a more fun team this year than the Raiders? Jack Del Rio is taking the types of gambles that teenagers playing Madden do and is succeeding. I love this team so, so much. Cooper is an absolute monster when he gets off the line, and Derek Carr continues to develop into one of the most talented passers in the league, creating a crazily fruitful pairing. The Raiders defense is porous beyond belief this season, so passing will be the norm in Oakland. Matt Pettinato can sit back and enjoy the continuous highlights the Alabama alumni provides.
WR: TY Hilton (186.7 PPG) – Pittsburgh Spikes – The skeptic in me would like to mention how Hilton has scored 68% of his points in a two-game stretch that included two late game bombs from Andrew Luck. The owner that lost to the longer of those two would like to personally curse his name and force him to play in cleats made of Legos. But the logical part of my brain has settled on the following: If the Colts are as bad as they are, and they is, then Luck is going to need to try and pull every trick he can. The only receiver he can get the job done with? TY Hilton. So while so much of me wants to call bull on his season, I think he’s due for a good season, if not a Top 5 one.
TE: Martellus Bennett (132.5 PPG) – Baltimore Bears – A couple years ago the football world salivated at the thought of a two tight end offense with Tom Brady at the helm. Then Aaron Hernandez had to dabble in murder and suddenly that plan went belly up, full of evidence fit to put Hernandez in jail. Martellus Bennett is overwhelmingly underrated and was an absolute steal of a pickup by New England. Even though Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in football history, Tom Brady passes to tight ends more than anyone. Bennett is going to be a force all season long.
K: Dustin Hopkins (78.3 PPG) – Free Agent – I would be more disappointed in us as a league for not owning Hopkins if it weren’t for the fact that kickers don’t really, really matter.
Team Total PPG: 1603.2 – So the gap between the 1st and 2nd team is roughly 300 points, but the 2nd and 3rd are within 100 of each other? This is a weird season, man.
Week 7 Matchups:
Waverly Chargers vs. New York Titans
Denver Blaze vs. Philadelphia Panthers
Baltimore Bears vs. New Orleans Tigers
Oklahoma City Lions vs. Seattle Rage
Chicago Hitmen vs. Las Vegas High Rollers
Pittsburgh Spikes vs. Kansas City Killers
Green Bay Blizzard vs. Washington Senators