Brady, Arians and the system: Match made in heaven or hell?

By Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)

Tom Brady’s decision to move to Tampa Bay and join Bruce Arians had many heads turning when it was announced back in March, as one of the great play-callers in the league was going to get to work with quite possibly the greatest quarterback in the games history.

TB12’s decision to leave his spiritual home in New England and head south to the sweltering heat of Florida, surprised the majority of sports media who had spent a month predicting his imminent arrival in Los Angeles as a Charger.

Now however, with the dust settled, and Brady firmly moved into Derek Jeter’s sprawling mansion, its time to work out whether Arians is going to have to compromise his vertical system for a quarterback creeping towards 45 and a history of papercutting his opponents to death.

In 2019, Brady threw a total of 60 deep pass attempts in the regular season, with a 41.7% completion rate on those passes, which ranks 9th in the league per playerprofiler.com which certainly doesn’t sound like someone who is struggling to dial up the ball deep.

That being said, the season was probably best summed up, in terms of the deep throw, in the New England Patriots home game against the New York Giants in Week 6.

New England Patriots Vs The New York Jets: 15 Key Moments In The ...
Nick Laham – Getty

In that game, Brady made a throw well off the mark down the seam that was picked off at the 13 yard line by Janoris Jenkins less than 10 minutes into the game, only to come back in the 3rd quarter and dial up an almost identical deep ball, this one an absolute dime, over the defence and into the diving hands of Julian Edelman.

The big question is then, has Brady still got the skills to make Arians system tick?


So, what actually is the Bruce Arians system?

Arians offensive system has become known as a sort of air raid. Designed to drive the ball deep over the defence at any opportunity with as many receivers on the field as is possible.

Having spent a lot of his time in the NFL as a QB coach, to some of the best players that the league has to offer like Big Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning, Arians has made his system very stat-friendly to whoever is under centre.

Black and Gold: Don't blame Arians for Steelers' poor offense
Sports Illustrated / Damian Strohmeyer

Known as a “QB-whisperer”, Arians has managed to get the best out of the players he has worked with, and Brady should be no different.

Despite all the benefits to working with Bruce, it does also rely on having someone who can make a five or seven step drop and take constant advantage of man-to-man coverage on the outside with accurately thrown deep-routes.

When Arians took charge in Tampa Bay, everyone could see that he had arguably the best receiving duo in football to run this down-the-field system with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

Arians duly took advantage of having such a dynamic combo in his first year, with both players going for over 1100 yards in 2019.

He also loves to have his receivers on the field at any time, in case a deep shot opportunity presents itself, but that means that his guys also have to be ready to block in the running game, something that Evans and Godwin were not shy to do last year.

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They even got Breshad Perriman, former-first rounder and NFL journeyman, to rank fourth in yards per catch last year, as the Buccaneers saw all three of their receivers in the top 13 of that category which clearly shows how Arians is using his weapons to stretch the field as far as possible.

With Jameis Winston at the helm last year, there was no discussion at all whether they could take advantage of those 20+ yard routes with the arm strength, but ultimately, his 30 interceptions bought a close to the Arians and Winston experiment.

Brady will almost certainly be far more reliable with the ball, but whether he has the arm to make the most of Arians system is the real question.


Can Tom still make all the throws?

For Brady, it seems more as though he hasn’t been asked or provided with the weapons to stretch the field vertically since that infamous 2007 season and his time with Randy Moss, rather than his inability to make the throws.

In that unbeaten regular season where Moss average over 93 yards per game, Brady also experienced his first campaign with Wes Welker which led to TB12 registering career highs in almost all passing categories.

Chargers reportedly in hunt for Tom Brady as free-agency frenzy ...
Maddie Meyer / Getty

In that season, with the downfield threat on his side, Brady managed 8.3 yards per attempt, compared to the measly 6.8 that he scored in his final year as a Patriot.

For reference, that ranked sixth lowest in the league in 2019.

Some may say that the numbers come from putting together a “Tom Friendly” system, making use of short routes and throws to a committee of running backs to make up for his lack of physical gifts in the deep passing game.

It seems more likely however, knowing what Bill Belichik is best at, that the team instead chose to go death by a thousand papercuts based on the lack of deep threat that the roster offered last year.

The comings and goings of Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon showed glimpses of what Brady could still give you down the field, but a serious lack of over-the-top weapons hurt any chance the Patriots had of getting back to their own deep-ball system.


Compromising is Key

The answer to making this combination of styles work, is of course going to be some compromising and some progression.

With both Tom Brady and now Rob Gronkowski in Tampa, Arians has all the blueprints to making the most out of Brady’s mental and physical skillsets by including the best that the Patriots system has to offer.

Rob Gronkowski: Tom Brady should 'test out the market' in free agency
Maddie Meyer / Getty

A potential combination of the deadly air attack of Bruce Arians and the suffocating high percentage throws of Tom Brady is rather a terrifying prospect for any defence, and one that will likely catch out many teams this coming year.

And it seems as though these discussions are already in full swing, with the Buccaneers QB coach Clyde Christensen telling the Athletic that: “”I think what we’ll see here (in Tampa Bay) is Bruce’s offense with a Brady influence”

He also went on to say that Brady’s desire to do what is needed to win has already been noticeable.

“We did some good things last year. Tom has been terrific as far as saying, ‘Just tell me what you want to do’.

“He’ll make it better. That’s what the great ones do. He’ll have some great ideas so we’re anxious to get his take on things.”

Clyde Christensen – Buccaneers QB Coach

As fans, all of us are excited to see what the offensive scheme will look like, but the main takeaway should be that Brady can definitely still make all the throws and do so as accurately as any player Bruce Arians has had since he worked with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis when he’s asked to.

However this experiment goes between two of the greats in their respective fields, the marriage between Arians and Brady will be one of the major news stories all year long.

And we can’t wait.

Fantasy Football Nightmares for 2020 – Part 1

By Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)

The 2020 NFL Draft has finished, the excitable young rookies have found their new homes and the ripple effects are in full force in the fantasy football world.

What are going to be the biggest headaches through the off-season and maybe throughout your 2020 league seasons? Here are some to just skim the surface and there are plenty more headaches out there that will make up part 2 of this series.

If you have any particular backfield or Wide Receiver room you want me to look at and guide you on, please let me know on Twitter (@Full10Yards).


Dallas Wide Receivers

CeeDee Lamb being drafted in the 1st round of this year’s draft was a jaw-dropper for everyone. He joins studs Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in Dallas in what looks to be a case of too many mouths to feed. But is it?

The bad news is that there are very few offences ever that have supported 3 WRs in fantasy. The good news is that Dallas had the most yards on offence last year by some distance, almost amassing 7,000 of them, with 4,902 (71%) through the air.

CeeDee Lamb displays elite hands snatching his phone from woman ...
CeeDee Lamb showing elite handwork he’ll bring to the Cowboys

To create a bit more wiggle room, Jason Witten (529), Randall Cobb (828) and a few other small contributors have vacated over 1,500 yards of receiving output so even if Amari Cooper (1189) and Michael Gallup (1107) sustain their high production or get near it, the left over could more than funnel its way to CeeDee Lamb to be able to break the milestone in his first season.

Even if you bring Dak Prescott’s high watermark in passing yards from last season down by 10%, there is still viability that these 3 WR could all achieve 1,000 yard receiving seasons, something we have not seen since the 2008 Arizona Cardinals (Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston) and has only been seen 5 times in the NFL since the merger.

So where’s the problem I hear you ask? Well unfortunately, there are going to be a multiple number of weeks where 1 WR comes to the fore and scores a TD or 2 and hits 100yds, 1 has a mediocre output (say 5 receptions for 76yards) and 1 which takes a backseat (1 catch, 12 yards). THIS is your nightmare! Not being able to predict where the targets are going week to week is what will keep you awake every day of the week.

With the amount of talent in each of those wide receivers, it could be a case of “flavour of the week” every week and for players that you are going to be spending early to mid round picks on, this is not ideal. Amari Cooper will likely be the defacto #1 (at least in 2020) due to his big offseason contract that was signed, making him a $100m receiver. But are you willing to spend a 2nd round redraft pick on him with the headaches that will come attached to it when you have the likes of Kenny Golladay, Cooper Kupp, the Tampa Bay WRs (which we’ll get to shortly) and Keenan Allen?

Stock Report: Cowboys Michael Gallup On the Rise? - RotoExperts
Ron Jenkins / AP

Michael Gallup, who had an under the radar stellar second year almost seems certain to fight it out with Lamb for the 2nd look. With Lamb being a shiny new toy, you’d expect him to go drafted ahead of Gallup so there could be value in taking Gallup in the mid to later rounds.

All of these guys will have safe floors and you’d expect them to all be low WR2/high WR3 come the end of the season. But on a week to week basis, there’ll likely be more ups and downs than the bigger dipper at Blackpool.

That being said, this definitely a WR core to invest in for your Bestball leagues.


LA Rams Running Backs

With the exit of Todd Gurley, the question before the draft was whether or not they saw fit to replace their former star RB… the answer was emphatic.

Rams select RB Cam Akers with 52nd pick in 2020 NFL Draft
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

With their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft at number 52, the Rams selected Cam Akers out of Florida State. Will Cam Akers come in and take the bulk of the load? Probably. But the nightmare here is the decision to hold either or both of the handcuffs as it could possibly be burning holes in your benches, especially in shallower leagues.

Dynasty leagues with bigger benches, you can probably get away with holding Malcolm Brown, but what if Henderson makes a 2nd year leap? What if it turns into a hot hand approach or a nasty 3 headed monster in the backfield?

For the Akers’ truthers, they’ll point to his tape behind a poor O-line in college and still managing to achieve 5ypc along with the fact that McVay and the coaching staff already knew what they had in Henderson and Brown, yet still decided to use their first pick in the draft on him.

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However, the poor offensive line play from the Rams recently supercedes all of these backfield quandaries. If you have poor offensive line play to the tune of being ranked 31st in 2019 by PFF, it doesn’t matter how good your running back is or the volume he gets, the ceiling is already capped.

Do you want to be wasting a 1st round rookie draft pick on a guy that could be in a 3 way time share. Akers should get goal-line work which gives you a bit of hope that he’ll perform adequately in fantasy, but why give yourself the headache?


Cleveland Tight Ends

Tight Ends aren’t the most exciting of positions at the best of times, but to take the 2019 TE6 and usually reliable fantasy option Austin Hooper and slotting him into the Browns means that we potentially have 2 to choose from.

David Njoku has not pulled up any trees since joining the league and was injured for the majority of last season. THe nightmare here is primarily for Austin Hooper owners. Tight Ends generally take a few years to acclimatise to the NFL before any production is seen. David Njoku is now looking to hit that sweet spot and break out entering his 4th year and has had his 5th year option exercised by the Browns. Clearly the Browns plan to do something with him. Kevin Stefanski, the new Browns HC even had this to say:

“I think there’s an obvious skill set there. It’s a big year for David, and a lot of that is gonna be up to him and the work that he puts in to this. We have big plans for him, but it’s about for him coming back in the building and working. And then ultimately seeing if we can utilize him in role that will take advantage of his skill set.”

Kevin Stefanski – at the NFL Combine.

These two are going to be far from the Gronk/Hernandez pairing from yesteryear so that leaves you with the headache of which one (if any) could post usable fantasy points at any given week.

You need to weigh up whether Stefanski’s words about Njoku or the actions of signing Austin Hooper to a 4 year, $44m dollar deal are worth following up on.


Miami Running Backs

Of all running back conundrums, the Miami one is certainly the one that most warrants pulling your hair out over.

They signed Jordan Howard in Free Agency to a deal and then went and traded for Matt Breida during the NFL draft for a 5th round pick.

Since 2016, Howard has the third-most rushing yards and seventh-most rushing touchdowns in the NFL. Howard’s consistent touchdown production makes him one of just five players to rush for at least six scores in each the past four seasons, yet he finds himself on his 3rd team in 5 years.

During his three-year career, Breida averages an even five-yards-per-pop and he’s scored 10 touchdowns and compiled 2,463 yards from scrimmage on just 448 touches (381 carries and 67 receptions).

49ers trade Matt Breida, Marquise Goodwin to Miami, Philly
Nhat V. Meyer

In summary, Matt Breida seems to at most be the 1b here as a 5th round pick investment doesn’t say too much that he’ll come in an get the lions share. Most will be surprised that the Dolphins didn’t invest in this years draft directly for a running back, and that says to me they are more than happy to roll with Howard for the most part in what could be a a lightning and thunder approach. Jordan Howard getting early down work and Breida getting the pass catching duties (though both are sufficient at either) and a mixture at the goal line.

What this means to your fantasy teams is that they are at best, week to week flex plays. Trying to decipher who will be better in positive or negative gamescripts can help, but its not going to be that simple with these two newly acquired backs. Add in a sprinkle of Patrick Laird and my friends, you have a nightmare.


Houston Wide Receivers

Time to look at another muddling wide receiver core. This time we take a look at the Texans. We don’t need to reopen the DeAndre Hopkins wounds for Texans fans but as we are all too aware, he packed his bags for Arizona.

The replacements? Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks through Free Agency/Trades and Isaiah Coulter in the draft. Add these to Will Fuller and Kenny Stills and you have a mess bigger than the M25 at rush hour.

This wide receiving core may end up sorting itself out as most of these players have been dogged with injuries. Will Fuller would kill for working hamstrings and Brandin Cooks has had multiple major concussions that his alarm bells ring 24/7. But drafting these guys prior to season start or trading for them at any time will come with the compulsory crossing of fingers.

Let’s look at investments of the players brought in;

What are the Rams' options with Brandin Cooks moving forward?
Jonathan Bachman/Getty

Brandin Cooks was traded to the Houston Texans for the 57th pick in the NFL draft, not quite the previous 1st rounders when traded to the Patriots and Rams but you have to say he could be the equivalent of Soccer’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink or Nicholas Anelka in terms of the amount of investment paid for a player. Considering the lack of draft capital the Texans had and currently have going forward, this is a big indication to me that DeShaun Watson and Brandin Cooks will be a constant sentence in 2020 (injuries aside).

Randall Cobb was given a 3 year $27m (almost $19m guaranteed) deal to move him just down the road from Dallas to Houston. Kudos to Randall’s agent on that one. I am reliably informed that the Houston Texan’s offence will suit Randall Cobb and could be a sneaky key contributor to this offence. So I’m all for it in the last round of PPR leagues, maybe a bit of bestball too. However, he himself has had injuries over his 10 year career in the NFL, so beware.

Talking of Bestball, that is where Will Fuller’s safest purchase can be found. He isn’t worth trying to figure out or rely on week to week and I don’t think he ever has. The former 1st round pick back in 2016 is an unrestricted free agent in 2021 and is currently in his exercised 5th year option. You have to wonder if BO’B let’s Fuller walk, especially with Houston’s lack of draft capital.

Kenny Stills isn’t going to trouble leagues unless it’s a deeper bench or unless the aformentioned teammates hit the treatment table.

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Isaiah Coulter is highly thought of here at Full10Yards HQ and the 171st overall pick in the NFL Draft from this year is yet another piece of the cake that has too many ingredients in.

All in all, I would only consider Brandin Cooks if in the mid to late rounds of draft. There will be plenty that will have written him off. Randall Cobb as a late round dart in PPR redraft leagues and Will Fuller in the alter rounds of Bestball. If you pivot these players into formats other than those listed, welcome to nightmare heaven.


Tampa Bay…everything

How things can look different after 12 months. This time last year, Bruce Arains was taking over at the helm, everyone was getting excited about an OJ Howard breakout and Jameis Winston was looking primed for a big season in a contract year.

Fast forward 365 days and we now have a new QB (Free Agency), new RB (draft) and a new TE (out of retirement) to add to the mix.

Patriots willing to pay Tom Brady $30M per year to keep QB - NFL.com
Damian Strohmeyer

Tom Brady doesn’t strike many as a guy who can support 2x 1,000 wide receivers, mainly because he was devoid of any talent on the outside for so long in New England and became the dink and dunk master. Is that what Tampa Tom Brady looks like? TB12 will be 43 when the season (eventually) rolls around. Does he still have the arm? Possibly not. Does he still have the skill? Absolutely. Tom Brady will walk into Raymond James stadium and the player’s locker room and not know what to do with all the weapons at his disposal.

For fantasy, there is the potential headache of not knowing what the change at QB means for Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Change generally means a dip in production in first year whilst you allow for the new player to acclimatise. Tom Brady will be no different, especially with the pandemic threatening to curtail the offseason workouts and building any chemistry.

Added to the mix of hungry hippos chomping at the bit for targets, we have 3 Tight Ends. We all know the history of Gronk and Brady and we all know the history of how much Brady loves tight ends. But was that as a consequence of a lack of outside talent? What will Tom Brady’s tendencies be in this new Bruce Arians offence – a typical vertical type offence. Does Brady still have the arm for it?

If the answer to that question is no, Mike Evans could be the guy that ends up disappointing those taking him with a 2nd round fantasy draft pick. Godwin’s versatility should see him be as safe as last year.

Another factor we must bear in mind is the decision making change at the quarterback decision. For all the intereceptions Jameis threw, he made up for it with the yardage and touchdowns afterwards whilst in comeback mode. You wont have that dynamic anymore in Tampa Bay, which will directly impact possessions and total yardage through the air. Couple that with the fact that the defence should be a bit better than it was last year (through talent but also probably having to spend less time on the field thus, being a bit fresher and not as worn down and ultimately should not concede as many points).

The nightmare was there for all to see last year with Godwin and Evans generally taking it turns to post big games with the other being taken out of the game, epitomised by only one game where both scored touchdowns.

Mike Evans (left), Chris Godwin (right) 2019 production

The headache remains for 2020 and we no longer have gunslinger and interception thrower Jameis Winston to bail us out. Pass me the aspirin.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Not only do we have pass catching nightmares, we potentially also have rock carrying ones too.

Tampa Bay invested a 3rd round pick/#76 overall in Ke’Shawn Vaughn, running back out of Vanderbilt. He comes in to do battle with Ronald Jones, the much maligned 2nd round/38th overall pick in the 2018 draft.

So what’s the outcome?

One factor to key in on here is Tom Brady’s love of dump offs to the running back. This is one of the main reasons why James White, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk (the list goes on) are given more love in the fantasy world and are so undervalued in real life by fans.

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In Tampa, considering the investments, this screams time share. Whilst Vaughn is more competent at the pass blocking which gives him a good opportunity to ciphen work away from Jones even from week 1 , Jones is still learning and is improving as his career and skill sets evolve. I think both with be flex worthy players during the season, but again may be one for bestballs rather than you redraft/dynasty leagues. Vaughn kind of fits the Arians/David Johnson mould of someone that can be a 3 down back but due to his exposure going to Tampa, everyone wants a piece and it’s not a piece I am looking to overpay for. He isn’t going to be peak David Johnson, before any starts to put those two dots together.

Still, there is one silver lining: at least we don’t have Peyton Barber to worry about – probably the only Barber that won’t be in demand after Covid19 is over.


What are your fantasy nightmares for 2020? Let us know through our social media @F10YFantasy and we’ll be happy to help solve them! Watch out for part 2 over the next few weeks.

Five teams that nailed the 2020 NFL Draft

By Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

From the record-breaking television ratings to the lack of technical issues, the NFL’s first virtual draft was an undoubted success (unless you’re a Green Bay fan). Like a bizarre episode of Through The Keyhole, we also saw inside the homes of the star players, and the makeshift war rooms of the general managers and coaches: Kliff Kingsbury’s huge villa, Dave Gettleman’s basement and Mike Vrabel’s total madhouse. As I alluded to earlier this week, some teams left us with more questions than answers but here’s a quick round-up on who ‘won’ the 2020 NFL draft.


BALTIMORE RAVENS


Most analysts concur that Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta and Head Coach John Harbaugh knocked this draft out of the ballpark, with A and A+ grades being handed out like candy. They made their 10 picks count with good value on both sides of the ball and didn’t seem to reach. Instead, they waited for the likes of LSU linebacker Patrick Queen (#28) to fall into their laps, as well as Ohio State running back JK Dobbins and speedster WR Devin Duvernay on Day 2.

Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Queen should make an impact in the heart of the defence with his sideline-to-sideline speed, especially after Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes left in free agency. Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike also had many a pundit purring, with the defensive tackle getting snaffled at pick #71 despite being widely predicted to go in the 30s.

Alongside Mark Ingram, Dobbins should give yet more oomph to their league-leading rushing offense, while linebacker Malik Harrison and guard Ben Bredeson add depth across the board. Baltimore also picked up a couple of late steals, with receiver James Proche, who logged almost 4,000 receiving yards and 39 receiving touchdowns over four seasons at SMU, and Iowa safety Geno Stone, rated by both Move the Sticks’ Daniel Jeremiah and PFF’s Mike Renner as the best value pick of the final round.

Baltimore were exceptional last season and didn’t have many needs. But even so, they improved even more over the weekend, staying neck and neck with the Chiefs as the team to beat in the AFC Conference.

In short: they smashed it.


DALLAS COWBOYS


When drafting, the big question that faces every team now and again is whether you go for the best player available or fill your biggest need. The Cowboys entered the 2020 draft with the league’s top offense and obvious needs in defence, yet opted to spend their first-round pick on Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Bullseye.

Alonzo Adams/AP

Lounging around on his quarter-of-a-billion-dollar super-yacht, team owner/president Jerry Jones must have been laughing into his champagne cocktail when he picked Lamb at #17. Arguably the best receiver in this loaded class, there was no way he should have been the third off the board. With the ‘Boys having signed Amari Cooper to a $100 million extension, Lamb probably wasn’t on the radar but taking him was a no-brainer: Christmas came early in Texas. Preventing their receiver-needy rivals in Philadelphia from securing his run-after-catch abilities was just the icing on the cake.

Only then did Dallas move on to address their two main areas of need, cornerback and defensive tackle, and they did so with great value picks. Stefon’s lil’ brother Trevon Diggs, mocked by many to go (to Dallas, as it happens) on Day 1, landed in the second round to help fill the void left by CB Byron Jones. Oklahoma’s huge defensive lineman Neville Gallimore also came a day later than many expected. Steals? All three picks border on daylight robbery.

Rewriting the draft textbook, the Cowboys also picked up Utah edge rusher Bradlee Anae with pick #179 (90 picks later than predicted by Mel Kiper of EPSN). I saw a comparison with Maxx Crosby recently, which means he should be a viable replacement for the departed Robert Quinn. They also snatched up another corner in Reggie Robinson, adding depth in a weak spot, and Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz, arguably this year’s top center. If he can stay healthy, he could step straight in for the retired Travis Frederick.

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After a disappointing campaign in which they didn’t seem to want to win the NFC East, despite the stuttering Eagles handing them chance after chance, Dallas are shaping up nicely to boss the division in 2020. Jones can now start to focus on getting Dak Prescott’s deal inked. With a mouth-watering trio of targets at his disposal – Lamb, Cooper and Michael Gallup – it’s time to keep the franchise QB (and his bank manager) happy.


MINNESOTA VIKINGS


Vikes GM Rick Spielman is probably still resting up after selecting a massive 15 players in the 2020 NFL Draft, the biggest haul since the seven-round format was introduced in 1994.

He did a great job addressing the team’s needs, particularly in the first three rounds. To replace wide receiver Stefon Diggs, he used the 22nd pick to take LSU’s Justin Jefferson. Jefferson can play out wide or in the slot, and should give Kirk Cousins a tasty option alongside Adam Thielen, if his 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns last year are anything to go by.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

They then moved down a few spots, giving #25 to the 49ers in return for the 31st and two later selections, but still found another would-be star in TCU corner Jeff Gladney. Minnesota then double-dipped to take Cameron Dantzler (#89) to boost a depleted cornerback room missing Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes, while Ezra Cleveland should add useful depth at left tackle.

A total of 11 picks on Day 3 brought several more decent pick-ups, including James Lynch, a defensive tackle from Baylor, Oregon LB Troy Dye and defensive end Kenny Willekes.  

Boom. Job done.


CINCINNATI BENGALS


Who knows if any trade offers were received and rejected but with the first pick in the draft, the Bengals held fast to secure their quarterback of the future and their franchise poster boy.

Joe Burrow was the obvious choice, having just completed the best college football season by anyone, ever. He starts from the get-go as the incumbent QB, Andy Dalton, was finally released (while I was writing this article) after a lack of trade interest. If Burrow’s success at LSU is any guide, the 2019 Heisman winner could eventually end Cincy’s three-decade playoff win drought and have the Who Dey Nation eating out of his hands. I bet they’re already planning a statue outside Paul Brown Stadium.

Associated Press

After last season’s struggles, just picking the Ohio native makes Cincinnati a winner in this draft. Admittedly, he can’t reverse their fortunes alone, so it’s just as well de facto GM Duke Tobin and HC Zac Taylor kept their foot on the gas. Mirroring the 2011 draft when they picked AJ Green and Andy Dalton in the first two rounds, they paired Burrow with WR Tee Higgins with the first pick of Day 2. The 6’4” jump-ball specialist notched 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final season at Clemson, and has been compared to Green, his new teammate (and favourite player). Higgins may even replace the franchise-tagged wideout in time.

With the only slight gripe being a (misguided) belief that their O-line didn’t need help, three of their five remaining selections were used to beef up their underperforming linebacker corps. Cincinnati opened Round 3 with Logan Wilson, who excels in pass coverage, while Akeem Davis-Gaither is a one-man highlight reel who might see some special teams action early doors. The Bengals chose a third linebacker in Purdue’s Markus Bailey with their final pick. Touted to break the Top 100 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury last season, Bailey may yet prove to be a real find, if he can stay healthy.


TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS


Let’s face it. Before Cincinnati was even on the clock, Tampa had probably won the offseason, having replaced turnover merchant Jameis Winston with GOAT Tom Brady, and then enticed TE Rob Gronkowski out of retirement for one last hurrah alongside his ol’ pal. But the Buccs complemented their trade prowess with a strong draft, focusing on giving their new (but old) QB some much-needed O-line help and more offensive weapons.

In Round 1, Tampa traded up one place to #13, coughing up their 14th and 117th picks to the 49ers, to ensure Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, arguably the draft’s top tackle, was theirs. He wasn’t expected to drop that far after storming the Combine, so I bet the Buccaneers did some last-minute big-board shuffling.

Getty Images

In the third round, they turned to skill positions, collaring Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn (#76) to beef up their backfield before diving into the deep wide receiver class to come up with Tyler Johnson (#161). Johnson’s Minnesota teammate, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (#45), is a versatile ball hawk could yet turn out to be one of the best snares over the three days. For added spice, his dad was a Pro-Bowl defensive back who intercepted Brady in 2001 when playing for the Bills.

If Bruce Arians deploys the battle-weary Gronk sparingly, alongside his other tight ends OJ Howard and Cameron Brate, the Buccaneers could be a team to watch next season.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS


INDIANAPOLIS COLTS GM Chris Ballard filled a lot of needs, even without a first-round pick (traded for 49ers DT DeForest Buckner, which won’t do them any harm). Second-rounder Michael Pittman Jr. from USC could become a top receiver, while explosive RB Jonathan Taylor – averaging 2,000 yards a year over three years – is a hot prospect, despite some concern about the tread left on his tyres after his heavy workload in Wisconsin. A day later than many predicted, the 6’6” Washington quarterback Jacob Eason got picked up in Day 3. The big-armed gunslinger won’t play next year but, under HC Frank Reich, he’ll be groomed to take over from Philip Rivers in due course.


The MIAMI DOLPHINS had 14 darts – including three first-rounders – and most hit the target (though they did use one on a long snapper). Despite some pre-draft smoke and mirrors, GM Chris Grier and HC Brian Flores selected Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa first. Who knows if his injury woes are behind him but the Dolphins had to take the risk on the most naturally talented QB out there. His hip injury was bad luck but it made him available at #5, an equivalent slice of good fortune after Miami didn’t quite #TankForTua. Tua will line up behind a shiny new offensive line including another Round 1 pick, tackle Austin Jackson, and while cornerback Noah Igbinoghene was one of Day 1’s biggest reaches, they got better value in later rounds with DE Jason Strowbridge and edge rusher Curtis Weaver. Outside the draft bubble, acquiring Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson, Byron Jones and Matt Breida only increases the sense that Miami will be much, much better next year.

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY

Earlier this month, I suggested going best defensive player available for a few rounds might be a wise tactic for the CAROLINA PANTHERS. Well, whaddya know? Despite having a new offensively minded Head Coach in Matt Rhule, GM Marty Hurney used all seven of his picks on defence, including a big ol’ run stuffer in Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown (#7) and athletic Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos (#38). Later on, they traded up to the last pick in Round 2 to get safety Jeremy Chinn, while cornerback Troy Pride Jr. was also good value in the fourth. The moves they made in free agency – replacing Cam Newton with Teddy Bridgewater and adding Jets receiver Robbie Anderson – should also reinvigorate the team’s offence, making the Panthers a contender again.


I also liked the high-risk, high-reward approach of the ARIZONA CARDINALS. Picking at #8, GM Steve Keim somehow ignored the team’s needs at offensive tackle and went for Clemson linebacker/safety hybrid Isiah Simmons. It might have been a risk (especially having shipped out their second-round pick in the DeAndre Hopkins trade) but 63 picks later, the ace in the pack came up when they snaffled Houston left tackle Josh Jones. After standing out at the Senior Bowl, there was some Day 1 hype about him but he fell… and fell… and fell. Apparently, Kliff Kingsbury even called Jones’ college coaches to ask if there was something he ought to know about. Some steals feel like pick-pocketing but getting Jones in Round 3 was a ram-raid.

XFL Week Five Preview

By Michael Lavery (@MichaelLavery98)

We have reached the half way point folks. Week five this weekend and we can slowly start to see the playoff picture taking place. Teams who looked like high flying certs at the start of the year have now fallen, and those who got off to slow starts look to be on the rise.


GAME ONE:

SEATTLE @ HOUSTON


A game which is heavily favoured for a Houston win is also a must win for the 1-3 Dragons. The Roughnecks sit atop all rankings with a 4-0 perfect start to the season and they can thank their star Quarterback for getting them there. PJ Walker has shone brightest of anybody in the league so far and having thrown for 987 yards and 12 TD’s he leads the way for Quarterbacks in the league. 

Last week Seattle made a change at QB. Brandon Silvers was benched in favour of BJ Daniels who entered the game against St. Louis and gave the Dragons a bit of life. I don’t think he has what it takes to get them over the line against Houston this week but I do think moving forward he will be a better fit for the offense. Seattle need to figure out a solution for their run game. The three headed rushing monster they had been attempting to go with just isn’t working. It’s time they place their trust in Kenneth Farrow and build an offense around him and Daniels.

Expect to see a lively hometown crowd cheer on their undefeated Roughnecks in a game which I expect will result in a double digit win for the home side.

Prediction: Seattle 15 – 32 Houston


GAME TWO:

NEW YORK @ DALLAS


This game is going to come down to whichever backup quarterback steps up to the plate best. Luis Perez and Philip Nelson will suit up for the Guardians and the Renegades respectively. Two 2-2 teams facing off in Dallas, where the Renegades are yet to register a win this season, will both be hoping to get on the right side of the win/loss scale.

New York had an important bounce back win against the Wildcats last weekend in the meadowlands after losing their two previous games. As for Dallas, well they were on the wrong end of the score line in last weeks “Texas Throwdown” when they lost to the Roughnecks.

Both teams will need to help their QB’s the best they can, scheming easy throws and perhaps looking towards their run games. Dallas may rely heavily on the work of Cameron Artis Payne or TE Donald Parham who have both been producing well on offence over the past couple of weeks.

I favour the Renegades at home in this one, but will say that if either team opens up a two possession scoring advantage, I don’t see them being caught.

Prediction: New York 20 – 24 Dallas

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GAME THREE:

ST LOUIS @ D.C


The sudden collapse of D.C from 2-0 to 2-2 over the last two weeks caught the attention of just about everyone. Cardale Jones’ perfected recorded as a starter was shattered and the overall on field product turned to dust. Two games on the road in a row resulted in two losses and now DC returns to Audi Field to face a Battlehawks team who has been on the ascendency since week one.

St Louis have won their last games convincingly, bouncing off the home town energy in the Dome. Its obvious St Louis has missed their pro football and they are showing a passion toward the Battlehawks and they have ever so gracefully repaid them. Jordan Ta’amu has been consistent at a high level for pretty much the whole season and based on both teams current form, it is going to take one hell of a performance from DC to stop St. Louis.

 It will be interesting to keep tabs on how D.C perform being back at home as opposed to being on the road. They were perfect at home before losing two straight while on their travels. Similarly it will be telling of the commitment of the XFL fan bases to see how they turn out to support a struggling Defenders team.

If Ta’amu and the Battlehawks hit their rhythm early then I can see this becoming a runaway victory.

Prediction: St. Louis 29 – 15 D.C


GAME FOUR:

TAMPA @ LOS ANGELES


A defining game in both teams seasons. The opportunity to move to 2-3 after both earned their first victories of the season against the aforementioned Defenders. The crazy yard gaining Tampa offence will hope to keep their winning formulae going as they travel cross country to face the Wildcats.

400 yards offence has become somewhat of a benchmark for the Vipers despite only having one win but it is fair to assume they are one or two pieces away from everything falling perfectly into place for them and allowing them to rack up more wins. As for LA, well the waters are slightly murkier. The team’s identity is still not clear after their opening losses, a shock win against D.C and then a somewhat disappointing loss against a struggling Guardians team.

Winston Moss will have to “Give it to his players RIGHT NOW!” (See week 4 sound bites to get that reference) if he has any hope of them getting something out of this game. Better play calling will be required this week as the Vipers will almost certainly try to lock down Tre McBride knowing full well he’ll be the main target with Nelson Spruce still out.

A tough one for the home team and a golden opportunity for the road team.  

Prediction: Tampa 30 – 24 LA

Hope you enjoyed this shortened format. How do you see this week’s games panning out? Let me know on twitter @MichaelLavery98

XFL WEEK TWO PREVIEW

Following an exciting opening weekend of football, the XFL train rolls into week two and it’s time to break down each of the games one by one. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out or brand new XFL Podcast with myself and Shaun from the Full10 Yards family where we talk all things XFL breaking it down for you in audio form!  

Last week’s predictions got off to an average start, guessing 2/4 winning teams correctly. As always I will have my predictions at the end of segment. Disagree with any? Let me hear it on twitter @MichaelLavery98


GUARDIANS @ DEFENDERS


The first game of week two is between two teams who were able to secure a win in week one and it provides an opportunity to open up the season 2-0 and taking an early stronghold on the Eastern Conference.  

The Defenders will want to build on an impressive opening week, carrying on dominant play across all three phases of play. Quarterback Cardale Jones will be hoping to maintain his perfect record as a starter as they welcome in Matt McGloin and the New York Guardians.

Carrying on from last week, it will be interesting to see if Defenders HC Pep Hamilton steps up his aggression levels when it comes to some of the calls he has to make mid game. Last week the Defenders were successful on 1/3 1PAT tries and went 1/1 on 2PAT tries. Perhaps something that the DC staff will want to look into and adjust going forward and as a result we may see more 2PAT attempts from the Defenders.

They will be coming up against a strong Guardians defense who last week won the turn over battle against a poor Tampa Bay Vipers. I can’t imagine this will in any way deter the Defenders and their air attack which worked seamlessly last week, but we may see DC return to the run game. Last week the team rushed for only 68 yards and 28 of which were provided through by the quarterback. 40 yards total rushing for a game indicates a very on dimensional offence and I think we will see Pep Hamilton trying to scheme open some bigger run plays.

As for New York, they will be hoping Matt McGloin can continue on from their opening weekend victory and keep the team playing at an efficient level. One thing worth noting, in terms of travelling as a “road” team this week, the Guardians will have significantly less distance to travel than all other teams on the road this week, something which will undoubtedly benefit them when it comes to game time and how fresh they feel. This is in comparison to the Dragons who last week had to fly cross country to face a Defenders team who benefited from being at home. The Defense in New York will be hoping for similar production turnover wise but will want to clamp down on the amount of yards they allowed against them as Cardale Jones and the Defenders will not be as incompetent in the redzone as the Vipers were last week.

These two teams combined for over 50 points last week and would indicate in every way that we are in for an offensive battle. D.C averaged 5.3 yards per play where New York averaged 5.0. Neither team was overly successful on 3rd down last week – NY going 1/10 and D.C converting only 5/15 but both had 100% records on 4th down. How will the teams adjust for that this week?  

Prediction: Guardians 21 – 26 Defenders


GAME TWO: VIPERS @ DRAGONS


Both of these teams had disappointing losses in week one but for different reasons. Seattle were unfortunate not to stay in the game with a chance to tie or go for the win in the 4th quarter. Tampa however, were just very poor when it came to redzone efficiency and didn’t manage to get into the redzone.  They will hope to bounce back this week but will face a difficult task travelling cross-country to play in Seattle – a notoriously difficult city to play in as a visitor.

During the week, Seattle announced they had already sold 25,000 tickets for this week’s opener and after an additional 1,000 tickets were put on sale this week they were reported to have “Sold out very quickly”. Typically raucous and intimidating, it will be insightful (in terms of league interest levels) to see what kind of crowd shows up to CenturyLink Field on Saturday.

As for the on field product, Seattle will be hoping to benefit from similar production levels from wideout Austin Proehl. Last week Proehl had 5 receptions for 88 yards and 2 touchdowns and by all accounts had a decent game. His quarterback, Brandon Silvers will hope to cut down on the turnovers and have a cleaner performance. He threw 3 touchdowns but also had two picks in the loss against D.C.

Tampa will need to get on the board early this week and quiet the crowd if they want to get anything from this game. Benefiting from the league’s leading receiver, Daniel Williams, he had 123 yards receiving and will hope to produce similar numbers this week but the team as a whole failed when it came to redzone production. Yes they had nearly 400 yards of offensive (394 total) but as the saying goes “Drive for show and putt for dough”. Last week the Vipers couldn’t finish and that’s the difference between winning and losing.

As of Friday it was announced that quarterback Aaron Murray would not start week two due to injury, but the team made no official announcement whether Quinton Flowers or Taylor Cornelius would assume the starting role this Saturday.

Prediction: Vipers 17 – 29 Dragons


GAME THREE: RENEGADES @ WILDCATS


Frustrating results in week one for both the Renegades and Wildcats will test their strength as a team when it comes to week two.

Dallas were the only team to lose at home in week one, perhaps a damaging result in terms of team moral, but, a welcome boost will have come this week in the form of the announcement that Landry Jones will start at quarterback for the Renegades this week having spent last week on the side lines. His professional calibre will be a welcome addition to the huddle this week as they look to take advantage of a Wildcats team who have had defensive problems this week with the announcement that their defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson had been fired.

The Wildcats will be hosting the game at the Dignity Health Sports Park – an arena we are used to seeing filled with opposing team supporters when it’s the Los Angeles Chargers playing at home. Will we see a different side to the LA football fandom this week as the Wildcats prepare to host their home opener?

Neither side was able to get the ball moving with any meaningful rhythm last week as their offenses stalled out on numerous drives. The Wildcats were shut out in the second half against the Roughnecks – a tough look on a team where fuses seem to be short in regards to personnel shifts. Both teams did however start with their back-up quarterbacks and this week we will hopefully be treated to the full spectacle of QB1’s. Chad Kanoff missed practice due to injury and Josh Johnson was upgraded to limited.

I expect this to be a surprisingly fun watch and based on their quarterback status will give the edge to the visitors.

Prediction: Renegades 31 – 22 Wildcats


GAME FOUR: BATTLEHAWKS @ ROUGHNECKS


The final instalment this week comes from TDECU stadium in Houston. Both teams riding high of the momentum of impressive opening weekend games, they will hope to take the next step on Sunday by securing another win.

St. Louis successfully navigated a road win in a tricky victory against Dallas, and Houston flexed their muscles beating the Wildcats by 20. Roughnecks quarterback, PJ Walker will be eager to prove that last week wasn’t just a one off and that he is talented and capable enough to perform at such a level, week in, week out. As for the Battlehawks, it is the hope of team Head Coach Jonathan Hayes that his quarterback, Jordan Ta’amu, can continue to get it done under centre. We also saw a clear commitment to the run game last week as the Battlehawks stuck with it and tried to wear down the Renegades defence. 191 yards on the ground last week, including 77 from Ta’amu.

It was announced during the week that the first ever XFL Championship game will be played at TDECU stadium, perhaps a somewhat motivational and inspiring announcement for the Roughnecks players as they hope to gain home field advantage in the biggest game of the year.

The Battlehawks will be hoping to get through this week with a win and return home to St. Louis with a perfect record and hopefully play to an electric fan base who will be more than ready to have a hometown team once again.

In my opinion I think this will be the game of the week, a tough job for the Battlehawks on the road and a proud Roughnecks team looking to defend home turf, I’ll give the edge to the team who displayed the most star power and flare in week one.

Prediction: Battlehawks 22 – 35 Roughnecks

Season in Review – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

By Sean Tyler (@seantyleruk)

Time to take a look at Mr 30/30 himself and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arguably one of the most exciting teams to watch (not always for the right reasons) in 2019 but what did Bruce Arians achieve this season and what has he got to do to try and obtain a winning record in 2020? More importantly, does it involve Jameis Winston?


ENTERING THE SEASON


Hoping to improve on 5-11 from the previous year, Tampa Bay spent the spring re-signing, extending and acquiring a whole host of players. These included offensive tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson, and leading rusher Peyton Barber. WR Breshad Perriman was a decent pick-up in free agency, but linebacker Shaquil Barrett was arguably the best signing (by any team) in 2019.

Paul Sancya/AP

A couple of months later, former LA Rams defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh also joined the fray, and in the NFL Draft, the Bucs stayed D-heavy. Other than kicker Matt Gay and receiver Scotty Miller, every other pick was a defender. Headed by another linebacker (LSU’s Devin White) at No.5 overall, followed by corners Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, NFL.com recently gave the rookie class an A+ grade.

Not surprisingly, the Bucs’ pre-season games were close, low-scoring affairs, with a two-point loss at Pittsburgh preceding wins over Miami (16-14), Cleveland (13-12) and Dallas (17-15). 


DURING THE SEASON


To the uninitiated, their eventual 7-9 record might appear to have been an unremarkable campaign for the Bucs. But in many ways, it was anything but; in fact, the record-book writers were kept pretty busy.

Providing a snapshot of what was to come, Jameis Winston featured heavily in the highlight reel of the opening day 31-17 loss to San Francisco, for all the wrong reasons (three interceptions, including two pick-sixes). The Bucs’ win at Carolina in Week 2 featured some solid last-ditch defending to keep Christian McCaffrey out of the end zone but then they blew an 18-point lead against the New York Giants, with rookie kicker Matt Gay missing what would have been a winning FG as the clock hit zero.

In Week 4, Suh, a former LA Ram, iced the 55-40 victory over the reigning NFC champions with a 37-yard fumble return. The win took the Bucs over the 50-point mark for the first time.

Bucs Report

Despite their early promise, the Buccaneers hit a wall and limped to 2-6 with a run of four defeats. In a lacklustre 31-24 loss to New Orleans, Teddy Bridgewater threw four TD passes, while the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson went one better a couple of weeks later. Worryingly, Tampa shipped almost 1,000 total yards in those two games alone.

In between, Tampa lost 37-26 in their Panthers rematch, with Winston (five interceptions – there’s a theme here, people) fumbling twice and getting sacked seven times in the second NFL game at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. After the bye week, our erstwhile quarterback hero (four turnovers) carried on where he left off in a 27-23 loss to the Titans.

Somehow, things picked up with a run of five wins in six, starting with Arians getting the better of his former team the Arizona Cardinals. After another loss to the Saints (Winston: four interceptions), the Bucs hit their stride, tormenting Matt Ryan, Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew in wins over Atlanta and Jacksonville. And in defeating the Colts 38-35, Winston (three turnovers) nabbed five total touchdowns and threw for 456 yards, surpassing his own single-season total with three games to spare. The win lifted the Bucs to 6-7, but it wasn’t enough to avoid elimination from postseason contention.

In setting yet another NFL benchmark – two consecutive games of 450+ yards passing – Winston threw for four TDs in a dominant 38-17 win over the Detroit Lions. Third-choice wideout Breshad Perriman – suddenly the target man after Chris Godwin and Mike Evans sustained hamstring injuries – set career bests down the stretch with 134 yards receiving (week 17 vs Atlanta) and three TDs (week 15 vs Lions), and finished the season with three 100-yard games.

Leon Halip / Getty Images

Disappointingly, having battled to back to 7-7 and the chance for a winning season, Tampa lost their last two against the playoff-bound Houston Texans and NFC South rivals the Atlanta Falcons, in which Devin White returned a fumble 91 yards to the house.

Looking back, the season was awash with new franchise records: most touchdowns (54), most points (458), fewest rushing yards allowed (1,181) and, to put the icing on the cake, Shaq Barrett smashed his one-year ‘prove-it’ deal out of the park with 19.5 sacks. The Bucs also led the NFL in run defence, allowing only one player (Seattle’s Chris Carson) – and only three entire teams – 100 yards rushing.

Even Jameis Winston himself set new highs: 5,109 passing yards, 33 touchdown passes, 626 passing attempts and 389 completions. But on the flip side, he also led the NFL with 30 interceptions. Amazingly, that wasn’t a franchise record (thanks to Vinny Testaverde back in the Eighties).

Reaching 7-9 in 2019 – with Head Coach Bruce Arians at the helm for the first time since being hauled out of retirement – the Buccaneers weren’t a million miles from the playoffs. That said, their eventual failure extended the NFL’s second-longest postseason drought to 12 years.


OFFSEASON OUTLOOK


At this time of year, which Bruce Arians has referred to as “monotonous”, there are no gaping holes to fill but Tampa Bay do have 19 unrestricted free agents, which muddies the waters somewhat. Even keeping the half-dozen regular starters like Suh, Dotson and Perriman will put a sizeable dent in their $92 million of available cap space (the third most in the NFL). While they’ll want to keep the bulk of their young defence in tact, the priorities remain two-fold: Shaq Barrett and Jameis Winston.

Back in December, Arians said that Barrett “ain’t going anywhere”. Alas, the Pro Bowl linebacker only signed for a year so if he’s staying, he’s gonna get paid. And if he’s not staying, he’s still gonna get paid. They could franchise tag him but if not, a DT like Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina) or Iowa’s edge rusher AJ Epenesa could be Round 1 draft targets.

As for quarterback, heaven only knows what they’ll do. At 67, Arians can’t wait forever for Winston to eradicate the errors. After their final game, he summed up the dilemma perfectly: “There’s so much good, and so much outright terrible.”

Octavio Jones / Tampa Bay Times

So do the highs outweigh the lows enough to pay Winston the $25m he could expect? It’s hard to tell.

They could move him on and get a bridge quarterback (a la Dalton or Bridgewater). They might keep him – possibly on a franchise tag – but still sign a new young thing to wait in the wings in case he goes turnover-crazy again. (And since his 30 TD/30 INT season ended, he’s had eye surgery so maybe we can expect something nearer 20/20 next year?) Or they could just let him compete against some of the game’s best QBs in a crowded free agent market, and sign a newbie. Whatever the case, Arians likes ‘em big and strong, so Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts or Jacob Eason from Washington could well be in the frame when they’re on the clock at the NFL Draft with pick #14.

So in summary, Buccaneers fans should be looking ahead to the coming year with a degree of optimism… as long as they can tie down a few of their best performers (#ShackleShaq) and solve The Great Winston Conundrum.

Oh, and there are some snazzy new uniforms in the pipeline…

XFL 2020 – Season Preview

The sight of a coach drenched in Gatorade and a field covered in ticker tape usually signals no football for 7 whole months. Yes we have the combine, free agency and draft to get excited about but nothing beats the excitement of an actual game. The AAF had a brief cameo last year but hopefully football fans we have a more permanent spring offering starting up on Saturday as XFL kicks off.  8 new teams, some interesting tweaks on rules and a UK home to watch it all on, here’s a preview to get you in the mood. 

The Teams and Coaches

  • Dallas Renegades – Bob Stoopes
  • Houston Roughnecks – June Jones
  • LA Wildcats – Winston Moss
  • Seattle Dragons – Jim Zorn
  • New York Guardians – Kevin Gilbride
  • DC Defenders – Pep Hamilton
  • St Louis Battlehawks – Johnathan Hayes
  • Tampa Bay Vipers – Marc Trestman

The Draft

With 8 new teams, rosters needed to be formed. The XFL player allocation process was held in multiple phases, separated by position groups. Each XFL head coach submitted a list of their preferred quarterbacks, with the league assigning one quarterback to each team prior to the draft as “tier 1” quarterbacks. The remaining players were drafted by position group using a traditional “snake format” with each team given 90 seconds per pick.

  • Phase 1: Offensive skill positions
  • Phase 2: Offensive lineman
  • Phase 3: Defensive front 7
  • Phase 4: Defensive backfield
  • Phase 5: Any remaining players

Teams drafted 71 players, with a requirement to be cut down to 52 for opening weekend kickoff.

Notable Players Selected

At quarterback, there are a couple of former household names from big-time programs, including Landry Jones from Oklahoma and Cardale Jones from Ohio State. Both men spent time as back-ups in the NFL so will be keen to prove their worth leading the Dallas Renegades and DC Defenders respectively.

In the offensive skill positions familiar faces Matt Jones, formerly of the Washington Redskins and former Carolina Panther Cameron Artis-Payne will be carrying the rock out of the backfield. 2 former AFC North receivers will see the field as ex Steeler Sammie Coates and ex Cleveland Brown, Antonio Callaway suit up.

On the defensive side of the ball, former 1st and 2nd round NFL draft choices Matt Elam and Rahim Moore will team up together in Dallas. Kony Ealy who recorded 3 sacks in Superbowl 50 has signed on with Houston. Nick Novak will be a recognizable name on special teams, whilst Scooby Wright III wins quite simply the most memorable name prize.

The Schedule

The 10-week regular season starts Saturday, February 8, less than a week removed from the Superbowl, with the DC Defenders hosting the Seattle Dragons, followed by the Los Angeles Wildcats traveling to Houston for a game against the Roughnecks. 

The XFL’s first weekend continues on Sunday, February 9, when the New York Guardians host the Tampa Bay Vipers and concludes later that day as the Dallas Renegades host the St. Louis BattleHawks. Additional regular-season highlights include home openers for Seattle on February 15, Los Angeles on February 16, Tampa Bay on February 22, and St. Louis on February 23. The 2 biggest US markets, New York and Los Angeles, meet only one time on February 29, when the Wildcats take on the Guardians at MetLife Stadium. The first of two Texas intrastate match-ups between the Roughnecks and Renegades follows on March 1 in Dallas.

Following the regular season, the top two teams in each division will square off for the right to play for the league championship on Sunday, April 26. The East Final is scheduled for Saturday, April 18, and the West Final will be held Sunday, April 19. The first-place team in each division will host its respective division final.

UK fans will be able to catch coverage of the games across the BT sport network or via ESPN player.

The New Rules

When the XFL kicks off on Feb. 8, the new league will feature exciting gameplay innovations that are designed to deliver a faster pace of play and more action. With 5 Gameplay Innovations, 5 Timing Changes, and 5 Common Sense Rules, the league is building on traditional football while preserving its authenticity. 

5 Gameplay Innovations:

Kickoff | Point-After Touchdown | Punt | Double-Forward Pass | Overtime

5 Timing Changes: 

25-Second Play Clock | Comeback Period | Running Game Clock | Timeouts | Replay Rulings

5 Common Sense Rules: 

One Foot Inbounds | Ball-Spotting Official | Coach-Player Communication | Simplified Illegal Man Downfield | Shorter Halftime

Check out this useful summary video via youtube here.

Time To Get Excited

In summary, its more football to enjoy and I’m really interested to see how some of the new rules play out. The XFL appears to have learned from its previous failings and has the financial backing to be a success. I would suggest you pick a team and have a bit of fun for the next 12 weeks, its surely better than refreshing twitter to see which free agents your NFL team has overpaid for.

Half-Term Report: AFC/NFC South

Today’s Half-Term report focuses on the AFC and NFC South.

Which teams are heading south in terms of short term outlook and which teams will we be watching in January?

Let’s find out.


AFC South

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Current Standings

  • Indianapolis Colts 5-2
  • Houston Texans 5-3
  • Tennessee Titans 4-4
  • Jacksonville Jaguars 4-4

*Indianapolis Colts*

Midseason Grade: B+

How has it gone so far?

Having your starting franchise quarterback retire on the eve of the season would knock many of a franchise for 6. Thankfully for the Colts, they had a very good back up plan in Jacoby Brissett. He has marshalled the troops to a 5-2 record and crucially a big win in the division against the Houston Texans. Another significant road win was earned at Arrowhead as the Colts took down the Chiefs. They are positioned nicely for any potential tie breaks that may come into play come the post season shake up.

Marlon Mack is on pace for over 1000 yards rushing as there has been a clear commitment to establish the running game. With that said, T.Y Hilton is also putting together a nice receiving campaign and has already found the endzone on 5 occasions. 

Rest of Season Outlook:

With games against the Steelers and Dolphins next on the slate you would have to fancy the Colts reaching a 7-2 mark ahead of a vital 3 game divisional game stretch. They then face 3 foes from the NFC South before closing out the campaign away at Jacksonville which could be a hugely important contest. 

Ranked as a top 10 defence, expect the Colts to continue to be involved in competitive games but get enough production offensively to come out on top more often than not, particularly if the ask is for Adam Vinateri to kick the game winning field goals, something he has done consistently better than anyone else ever has done.

Regular Season Record Prediction – 11-5 (Division Winners)


*Houston Texans*

Midseason Grade: B

How has it gone so far?

What a fun team to watch! The Texans always seem to be involved in a game packed with points or lead changes. DeShaun Watson is a special player who Texans fans can look forward to seeing playing for many a year, especially if he is protected. Thankfully the team took steps to address the protection issue by trading for Laremy Tunsil. Yes, the price was high but the pay off has been instant as the sack numbers have come down over the past month.

Carlos Hyde has been a nice addition in the backfield and DeAndre Hopkins is on pace to reach over 1200 yards receiving. The biggest surprise has been the production from tight end Darren Fells who along with Watson himself paces the team with 5 touchdowns.

Rest of Season Outlook:

Similar to the Colts, the Texans have a big stretch of key divisional games coming down the tracks. In an ultra competitive division it’s obvious to say how crucial these games will be. One of those games is this weeks matchup with the Jags in Wembley as they make the plane journey across the pound for the first time. A marquee matchup with the Patriots is also looming on the horizon which could have bearings on AFC playoff seedings all around. 

Expect more great value out of the Texans as we head towards the business end. The loss of JJ Watt is a massive blow and possible keeps them behind the Colts but still very likely to be playoff bound.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 10-6 (Wildcard spot)


*Tennessee Titans*

Midseason Grade: C+

How has it gone so far?

A huge opening day win had people talking about the Titans. 7 weeks on and rather unsurprisingly the Titans sit at a 500 record. A team so inconsistent they are impossible to get a read of.

The inconsistency has lead to a much overdue change at the quarterback position as former Dolphin, Ryan Tannehill has replaced the underwhelming Marcus Mariota. The Titans have responded with 2 wins in his 2 starts as he looks to stake his claim on the job for the long term.

AJ Brown has been a nice addition at the receiver position giving whomever plays quarterback a nice big target on the outside. Derrick Henry continues to churn out yardage and defensively Logan Ryan is having a nice campaign having forced 3 fumbles and compiled 3 interceptions so far on the year.

Rest of Season Outlook:

Almost impossible to predict what this team will do. One thing is for sure though, if nothing else, the next 8 weeks are a trial for Ryan Tannehill. The Titans only sit 1 game back on the divisional lead so they can not be written off by any stretch of the imagination but there can also be no amount of confidence placed in them either.

The only thing I can say with relative confidence is the Titans finish somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 8-8


*Jacksonville Jaguars*

Midseason Grade: B-

How has it gone so far?

The Jags celebrated the off-season moves to address the quarterback position. Nick Foles threw a beautiful touchdown pass in his opening game but got injured on that play. It might be the best thing that could have happened to the Jags.

Enter Gardner Minshew.

The unfancied rookie has been phenomenal, throwing for just shy of 2000 yards with 13 touchdowns to just 2 picks.

Leonard Fournette has put together a nice season on the ground and the locker room looks a far more harmonious place following the trade of Jalen Ramsey to the LA Rams. 29 sacks on the season also has the “Sacksonville” label ready to return.

Rest of Season Outlook:

The biggest question ahead of the Jags, is can Minshew hold onto the job when Nick Foles returns to fitness? The London game starts a sequence of 3 divisional games which as per all of these teams will be vital given the tight nature of the standings.

Outside of the remaining divisional games the schedule is favourable with the Bucs, Raiders, Chargers and Falcons on the slate a realistic playoff opportunity is in sight.

I feel they just miss out on a tie breaking scenario.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 9-7

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NFC South

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By Chris Todd (@ctdk1980)

Current Standings:

  1. New Orleans Saints (7-1)
  2. Carolina Panthers (4-3)
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5)
  4. Atlanta Falcons (1-7)

*New Orleans Saints*

Midseason grade: A

How has it gone so far?

After franchise icon Drew Brees’ injury in week 2’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams, most hoped backup QB Teddy Bridgewater could keep them in playoff contention until Brees returned. Bridgewater managed that and more, winning all 5 of his games during the future Hall of Famer’s absence.

With Ryan Ramczyk and the rest of the O-line performing at a high level, running lanes have been there for both Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, with Saints averaging well over 4 yards per carry this year and only giving up 12 sacks on the year so far, while largely neutralising rushers of the calibre of Khalil Mack and JJ Watt.

The defence has also more than played their part with the 2nd ranked rush defence, Cameron Jordan playing to all-pro standard and Demario Davis leading the linebacker core.

Rest of season outlook:

This squad is set up for a deep run in the playoffs and will hope to bring a 2nd Lombardi trophy back to the Big Easy. A matchup with the unbeaten 49ers looms large on December 8th which could go a long way to deciding playoff positioning.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 13-3 (#1 Seed)


*Carolina Panthers*

Midseason grade: B-

How has it gone so far?

Carolina’s season has been a confusing one to say the least, franchise QB Cam Newton continued to struggle in the early part of the season, continuing a worrying trend from the latter part of 2018.

When he succumbed to lingering issues after week 2’s loss to the Bucs most thought the Panthers hopes relied on him returning form injury in short order, however up stepped second year undrafted QB Kyle Allen, winning 4 four consecutive games to drag the Panthers to the edge of the NFC playoff race before week 8’s sobering blowout loss to the 49ers.

Rest of season outlook:

While the odds would appear to be against the Panthers making a playoff run, any team with the talents of all-pro LB Luke Kuechly and the electric Christian McCaffrey can’t be entirely ruled out. It will no doubt hinge on when (or maybe even “if” at this point) Cam Newton returns and how much ring rust there is to shake off.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 9-7


*Tampa Bay Buccaneers*

Midseason grade: C-

How has it gone so far?

Tampa look like a franchise approaching a turning point. With QB Jameis Winston in a contract year and the same old issues of turnovers blighting the offence, it would appear there are poised to reset at the position after this year. However, there are other issues that need to be addressed before the Buccaneers can make a realistic run at the postseason. While Winston is certainly not without blame for his poor ball security and decision making, the offensive line is porous at best.

There are certainly pieces promising a better future, with Chris Godwin making his awaited step forward this year, to give a formidable 1-2 at receiver with Mike Evans. Shaq Barrett, Carl Nassib and Devin White have all impressed at times this season, but the secondary is a real weakness surely that must be addressed this offseason, with the 31st ranked pass defence this season.

A huge plus so far has been the top ranked run defence, shutting down the likes of Gurley, McCaffrey and Barkley. Certainly however, the Bucs have a lot of question marks going into the offseason, surely they must identify a QB to take the team forward but will HC Bruce Arians stick around to be a part of it?

Rest of season outlook:

Bruce Arians has a lot of deadwood potentially to clear out on the roster on the offence whilst the secondary always seems to be a quandry for the Buccaneers so i would expect the HC to use the rest of the season to assess players that he wants to use going forward and those that he wants to chuck out.

That includes 1 Mr Jameis Winston.

*Atlanta Falcons*

Midseason grade: E

How has it gone so far?

Arguably no team has been more disappointing than the 2019 Falcons, the defence has had a myriad of problems leaving HC Dan Quinn under huge pressure to salvage his job over the second half of the season.

While only 7 sacks in 8 games tells its own story of where things have gone wrong, things have hardly been much better at the other end of the field with the secondary giving up big plays on a regular basis. Keanu Neal’s season ending injury in week 3 meant one of the big leaders in the secondary was missing for almost the entire season for the second year running.

While the offence has got plenty yards from messrs Ryan, Freeman, Jones et al turnovers have plagued the offence, giving away 9 interceptions and 6 fumbles, ranking 28th in the league for turnovers allowed.

Rest of season outlook:

While spirited showings late in games seem to show the locker room is still working for Quinn, big questions hang over this franchise’s future direction. Don’t be surprised that if by the time you are reading this, he is out the exit door.

The season is already over to the dismay of the Falcons’ faithful and you have to wonder whether it’s time to blow most of this team up and try to start again because despite all the talent on both sides of the ball, something just isnt right here. Maybe all it’ll take is a coaching change…