X’s 2016 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings

X’s 2016 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings (8/14/16):

1. Cam Newton, CAR (last year’s preseason position rank: 10)

The reigning MVP of the league was nothing short of brilliant last year. He set a career high in TD passes with 35 (11 more than his previous career high) while throwing a career-low 10 INTs. With the impending return of his #1 target from 2014 Kelvin Benjamin, Newton could have another big passing season in store. What separates Newton from the pack continues to be his legs. He led the Panthers in rushing TDs for the fifth straight year, and since 2011 has more rushing TDs (43) than LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, and Matt Forte.

2. Aaron Rodgers, GB (last year’s preseason position rank: 2)

Needless to say, Jordy Nelson was sorely missed by Rodgers last year. Despite attempting a career high 572 passes, Rodgers had his lowest passing total of any season in which he started at least 15 games (3,821 yards). Last year, Rodgers averaged 238.8 passing yards per game and 6.7 yards per attempt. Over the previous two seasons, those averages were 276.7 yards per game and 8.5 yards per attempt. Nelson’s return should enable Rodgers to regain the level of production we grew accustomed to seeing before last year’s relatively modest numbers.

3. Drew Brees, NO (last year’s preseason position rank: 7)

Sean Payton’s words and the Saints’ 2015 offseason moves all indicated a slight change in philosophy – not being quite as reliant on the passing game as they had been in previous years. The result – Brees attempted over 620 passes for the eighth time in nine years, and led the league in passing yards for the fourth time in the last five seasons. He still finished tied for 7th in TD passes (32) despite throwing his fewest TDs since 2007 – a sign of how high his floor is. Increased athleticism to his weapons (Coby Fleener, Michael Thomas) gives Brees’ value a slight boost.

4. Russell Wilson, SEA (last year’s preseason position rank: 4)

For the first nine games of 2015, Wilson was ordinary at best. He threw 10 TDs and 7 INTs over that span, with only one game in which he threw multiple TDs. He also failed to hit 240 passing yards five times during that stretch. However, he was the best quarterback on the planet over the last seven weeks of the season – tossing 24 TDs and just 1 INT. He finished the year with 3+ TD passes in six out of seven games, and topping the 240 passing yard mark in all but one game. While that pace is unsustainable, it demonstrates just how high Wilson’s ceiling is. He could have an expanded role in the offense due to Marshawn Lynch’s retirement.

5. Tom Brady, NE (last year’s preseason position rank: 6)

I was on the record last year saying I did not believe Brady would be suspended in 2015, and I was proven right. It looks like the 4-game suspension will stand this time around, putting a small dent in Brady’s fantasy draft day value. Even with a 12-game season ahead, Brady remains a top fantasy option at QB based on his level of production. His 402 completions last year were a career high, while his 36 TD passes were the most in the league. Pairing Rob Gronkowski with Martellus Bennett can only mean good things for a quarterback who thrived in the past when he’s had two strong receiving option at tight end.

6. Andrew Luck, IND (last year’s preseason position rank: 1)

Between a dip in production and injuries, last season was a disappointing one for Luck. He missed nine games (shoulder, ribs, kidney) after never missing a game in his first three years. When on the field, he put up career lows of 6.4 yards per attempt and a 1.25 TD:INT ratio. However, fantasy football is largely about workload, and Luck should have a hefty one. Luck would have been on pace to attempt 670 passes over 16 games, which would have led the league. Now fully healthy (and of course fully paid), Luck should be able to do far more than he did last year with his ample opportunities to put up stats.

7. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (last year’s preseason position rank: 3)

Roethlisberger led the league with 328.2 passing yards per game in 2015. He has averaged over 300 yards per game in each of the last two seasons after never averaging 290 yards per game in any of his first ten seasons. Over his last 21 games, Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 340 yards 13 times. Losing Martavis Bryant (and his 14 TD catches in 21 career games) for the season (suspension) doesn’t help, but the Steelers should still be strong on offense. Roethlisberger led the league with 8 2-point conversions last year. He could receive a bump in value if Mike Tomlin continues to go for two more than everyone else.

8. Carson Palmer, ARI (last year’s preseason position rank: 14)

Health has been the main caveat for Palmer, and last year we witnessed what a healthy Palmer is capable of. Playing in all 16 games for just the second time in five seasons, he established career highs in passing yards (4,671), 300+ yard passing games (9), and TD passes (35). His career best 8.7 yards per pass attempt easily led the league, a reflection of how Palmer has been a perfect fit in Bruce Arians’ vertical-based passing offense. Palmer was the only QB last year to throw for over 4,400 yards while attempting fewer than 600 passes, an illustration of just how efficient he was.

9. Eli Manning, NYG (last year’s preseason position rank: 8)

For the first time in his career, Manning has thrown at least 30 TD passes in consecutive seasons. He joins Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees as the only four quarterbacks with 30+ TD tosses in each of the last two seasons, so he is keeping elite company in that regard. Manning has seen his pass attempts increase in each of the last three seasons, and there is no reason to believe the Giants won’t continue to lean on their passing game. If Sterling Shepard lives up to the offseason hype, Manning will have the luxury of throwing to an extremely dynamic wide receiver duo.

10. Philip Rivers, SD (last year’s preseason position rank: 15)

In eight games with Keenan Allen last year, Rivers averaged 344.3 passing yards per game, completed 69.9% of his passes, averaged 7.9 yards per pass, and threw 18 TDs. In eight games without Allen, those numbers declined sharply to 254.9 passing yards per game, 62.0% completions, 6.5 yards per attempt, and 11 TDs. Rivers’ production with Allen in the lineup suggests that he still has high-end fantasy value when his primary weapon is available. The Chargers’ run game and defense remain questionable, which could mean more heavy workloads for Rivers after attempting a league-leading 661 passes a season ago.

11. Jameis Winston, TB (last year’s preseason position rank: 21)

It was an uneven rookie season for Winston, but there were encouraging signs of progress. Winston posted a 6:7 TD:INT ratio in his first four games, but proceeded to throw 16 TDs and 8 INTs over his final twelve games. He threw for at least 295 yards in each of his final three games after hitting that mark only once in his first thirteen games. His 6 rushing TDs ranked 2nd among QBs, and it will be a boost to his fantasy value if he remains a running threat in the red zone. His conditioning is reportedly much improved, and his coaches have said they’ll put more on his plate. The arrow is pointing up for Winston (especially if Mike Evans stops dropping passes).

12. Tony Romo, DAL (last year’s preseason position rank: 9)

The 2015 season was a nightmare for Romo, who threw almost as many INTs in four games (7) as he did in fifteen games two years ago (9). A newly-reinforced left collarbone and the return of a healthy Dez Bryant are reasons to be optimistic for a bounce back season. Two years ago, Romo became the first QB since 2007 to throw over 30 TD passes while having fewer than 450 pass attempts. So while the Cowboys will look to throw less and focus on the run game (similar to their 2014 offensive approach), a lighter workload could prove to be beneficial to Romo’s production (and durability).

13. Andy Dalton, CIN (last year’s preseason position rank: 23)

Prior to breaking his thumb in Week 14, Dalton was having a career year last season. He established career highs in yards per attempt (8.4) and completion percentage (66.1%), while throwing fewer than 1 INT per game for the first time since his rookie season in 2011. His five games with 3 TD passes was only one fewer than Tom Brady had in a full 16 games. The concern for Dalton is that he failed to reach 250 passing yards in all but one game after Week 5. Tyler Eifert (who caught 48% of Dalton’s TD passes last year) coming off of offseason ankle surgery and Brandon LaFell replacing Marvin Jones are factors that work against Dalton’s fantasy stock.

14. Tyrod Taylor, BUF (last year’s preseason position rank: 29)

Taylor was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2015 season, for both fantasy and reality purposes. His sterling 20:6 TD:INT ratio only got better as the season went on (12 TDs, 2 INTs over his last ten games). His fantasy value got a huge boost with him rushing for 40+ yards in nine of his fourteen starts. Limited opportunities to throw the ball could cap Taylor’s fantasy ceiling. Among QBs who made at least six appearances last year, Taylor ranked 33rd in pass attempts per game (27.1). His size and style of play create mild durability concerns. He missed two starts with a sprained MCL and was forced to battle through a shoulder injury during last season.

15. Derek Carr, OAK (last year’s preseason position rank: 22)

Carr showed some signs of progression in his second NFL season, and had stretches where he got hot. He threw for over 300 yards in four of five November games, and opened that month with consecutive 4 TD games. He made modest improvements in his completion percentage and yards per attempt, though he finished outside the top 20 in both of those categories. Carr did have a disappointing finish to the 2015 campaign, averaging just 218.4 passing yards over his last five games. If second-year players Amari Cooper and Clive Walford take their anticipated steps forward, Carr will greatly benefit.

16. Matthew Stafford, DET (last year’s preseason position rank: 13)

Sparked by a change in offensive coordinator to Jim Bob Cooter and a great home matchup against a porous Eagles defense, Stafford wrapped up the 2015 season with six straight games with multiple TD passes. Over that stretch, Stafford completed 72.3% of his passes and complied a 17:1 TD:INT ratio. Based on a strong finish, there is reason to believe Stafford could finally be putting it all together. Obviously the loss of a premium weapon like Calvin Johnson puts a damper on Stafford’s fantasy outlook. The acquisitions of Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin, and development of Eric Ebron should mitigate the loss of Megatron, but they won’t totally make up for it.

17. Kirk Cousins, WAS (last year’s preseason position rank: 26)

Cousins proved he can exploit favorable matchups at a high level last year. He had three games with over 300 passing yards and 4 passing TDs. Those games came against the Eagles (30th ranked defense), Saints (31st ranked defense), and Bills (who were without Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams in the secondary). Cousins threw for under 220 yards seven times last year (not counting the Week 17 game he was pulled from early), so questions about his consistency still linger. Despite not being a big running threat, Cousins had more rushing TDs (5) than the rest of his team combined (4). With no proven commodities in the backfield, he could receive more goal-to-go running opportunities.

18. Blake Bortles, JAX (last year’s preseason position rank: 30)

Bortles finished the 2015 season tied for 2nd in passing TDs, and was one of four QBs to have over 4,700 combined passing and rushing yards (joining Brees, Brady, and Rivers). Those were the positives. His league-worst 18 INTs and 23 total turnovers, along with his 58.6% completion percentage illustrate the flaws in his game that still remain. The Jaguars 31st ranked scoring defense and 27th ranked rushing offense contributed to Bortles having to do more than his coaches would have preferred. The addition of Chris Ivory in the backfield and a made over defense should lead to a lighter workload for Bortles, reducing his fantasy value.

19. Matt Ryan, ATL (last year’s preseason position rank: 12)

Ryan is one of two QBs to throw over 600 passes in each of the last three seasons. Yet he is not among the sixteen QBs with at least one season of 30+ TD passes in that span. The opportunities have been there for Ryan, but the results haven’t. Even with a heavy workload, a premium weapon in the passing game (Julio Jones), and a well-respected offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan), Ryan somehow managed the second lowest TD total of his eight-year career (21), and second highest INT total (16). Ryan has been underwhelming at times in his career, but one would think there are too many favorable factors surrounding him to not improve from last year.

20. Ryan Tannehill, MIA (last year’s preseason position rank: 11)

Despite setting career highs in passing yards (4,210), yards per attempt (7.2), and 300-yard games (6), last season was a disappointment for Tannehill. He started the season by throwing 9 INTs in his first seven games, and finished the season with a mere 4 TD passes over his last five games. The Dolphins have brought in a renowned offensive coach in Adam Gase. The explosive DeVante Parker is finally healthy, and rookie Leonte Carroo has been added to the mix. Arian Foster is an excellent receiving RB when healthy. The pieces are in place – it’s time for Tannehill to start delivering on a consistent basis.

21. Marcus Mariota, TEN (last year’s preseason position rank: 24)

The overriding theme of the Titans’ offensive approach to the 2016 season has been condensed to one hashtag – #ExoticSmashmouth. While the term is catchy (for better or worse), it doesn’t bode well for Mariota’s fantasy value. Trading for high-priced DeMarco Murray and drafting Derrick Henry suggest Tennessee is committed to leaning on the run, and not Mariota’s arm. The hope is that this ground-based attack means more runs for Mariota himself. He is too gifted a runner to have fewer rushing attempts per game than guys like Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick like he had last year.

22. Ryan Fitzpatrick, NYJ (last year’s preseason position rank: 27)

It was not a very efficient season for Fitzpatrick last year, as indicated by his subpar 59.6% completion percentage and 6.9 yards per pass attempt (ranked outside of top 25 QBs in both categories). However, he was solid for fantasy purposes due to his stud WR duo. 80.6% of Fitzpatrick’s TD passes (25 out of 31) went to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. As long as he gets to throw to them, Fitzpatrick will carry some fantasy value. Adding another pass catcher to the backfield in Matt Forte and the impending return of Jace Amaro should help the Jets’ passing game a bit.

23. Joe Flacco, BAL (last year’s preseason position rank: 20)

Before he went down after a Week 11 ACL tear, Flacco was on pace to attempt 661 passes – which would have tied Philip Rivers for the NFL lead. Even with backup QBs finishing out the last six games of the season, the Ravens still led the league in passing attempts. The opportunities should be there for Flacco, but the pass-catching personnel is questionable. Concerns about the health of Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman, and the effectiveness of Mike Wallace dampen Flacco’s fantasy outlook. Flacco’s 46 INTs over his last 42 games is a problem as well.

24. Alex Smith, KC (last year’s preseason position rank: 25)

Smith threw for a career-high 3,486 yards in 2015, which ranked 20th in the league. This is a clear illustration of just how low Smith’s ceiling is for passing stats. He threw for under 200 yards eight times last year, including in each of his final five games. Smith’s ability to pick up yardage by running is the saving grace to his fantasy value. His 498 rushing yards were also a career high, and 4th among QBs. He had at least 5 rushing attempts in eight of his last nine games, rushing for over 30 yards on seven occasions during that stretch. If Smith keeps running, he’ll carry a bit of sneaky fantasy value.

25. Brock Osweiler, HOU (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)

While the Texans are known as a run-oriented team, they did tie for the 9th most passing attempts in the league last season. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett attempted 35 or more passes in seven of their fourteen combined starts. Considering the almost franchise-level deal Houston signed Osweiler to, they’ll likely to be inclined to give him more opportunities than they gave to those backup-caliber QBs. Osweiler threw for 250+ yards in five of his seven starts with the Broncos. It’s a small sample size, but perhaps an indication that he may have a decent floor even if his ceiling is relatively low.

26. Jay Cutler, CHI (last year’s preseason position rank: 19)

The Bears dealt with all sorts of injuries at the offensive skill positions last year, which undoubtedly contributed to Cutler’s mediocre fantasy output. His decreased workload over the latter portion of the season didn’t help either. Through Week 9, Cutler attempted at least 33 passes in every game – with four games with 40+ attempts.But from Week 10 on, he only threw 33+ times in a game once. This was part of the reason Cutler threw a modest 8 TDs over his last seven games. Limited opportunities and significant durability concerns with all of his pass catchers make Cutler a shaky fantasy option.

27. Teddy Bridgewater, MIN (last year’s preseason position rank: 16)

In 29 career games, Bridgewater has only thrown 28 career TD passes. In an era of inflated passing stats, throwing just under 1 TD per game makes him a useless fantasy commodity in all but the deepest of leagues. Fantasy football is largely about opportunities, and Bridgewater simply doesn’t get enough of them. Despite starting all sixteen games, Bridgewater attempted a mere 447 passes. That’s fewer attempts than Ben Roethlisberger had in 12 starts, and only 34 more attempts than Joe Flacco had in 10 starts. Unless your league gives points for handoffs, Bridgewater won’t do much for you.

28. Sam Bradford, PHI (last year’s preseason position rank: 17)

To Bradford’s credit, he stayed on the field more than most people thought he would and wound up throwing for a career-best 3,725 yards. There was no easing him back into the mix, as Bradford attempted 52 passes in his first game in a year and a half. He ended up ranking 9th among QBs with at least three starts in passes per game. However, he goes from having the aggressive Chip Kelly running the offense to the much more conservative Doug Pederson. While Pederson will certainly look to reduce Bradford’s workload from last year, the Eagles’ porous defense is likely to force Pederson to air it out a bit more than he would like.

29. Robert Griffin III, CLE (last year’s preseason position rank: 35)

There is a ton of uncertainty surrounding Griffin, which makes him a volatile fantasy asset at best. As everyone is aware, Griffin was benched/deactivated for the entire 2015 season, and has only appeared seven games since September 15, 2014. Griffin has turned the ball over 26 times in his last 22 games, a trend that needs to end if he has any shot at redemption this year. The Browns’ offensive line is replacing two very good players (Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz) with unproven commodities. Even Josh Gordon is a major question mark, assuming he makes it back to the field and stays on it. There is upside here, but it feels like too many concerning factors are in play to expect reliable results.

30. Blaine Gabbert, SF (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)

Shockingly, Gabbert showed signs of life last year after being completely irrelevant for the previous couple of seasons. He threw for 354 yards in his last game against the Rams, and 318 earlier in the season against a good Cardinals defense. Those were the two highest yardage games of Gabbert’s career. He also ran for 75 yards in another game after never for running for more than 98 yards in a season before. Gabbert appeared to gain a lot more confidence last year than he ever had in Jacksonville. His role on the team might end up being a week-to-week proposition, but for the first time it looks like there might be a little something here.

31. Jared Goff, LA (last year’s preseason position rank: N/A – rookie)

Rams QBs attempted 30 passes or less in ten of sixteen games last year, and finished last in the NFL in total completions. While Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin had occasional outbursts as receiving threats, this remains a low-volume passing offense lacking a true go-to target. Without premier weapons, and being inserted into an offense that projects to be heavily run-oriented, Goff’s fantasy value is minimal. Though some “rookie coachspeak” could be in play, the fact that Goff hasn’t been able to clearly separate himself from a replacement level QB like Case Keenum clearly indicates expectations should be low in year one.

32. Mark Sanchez, DEN (last year’s preseason position rank: 33)

Whoever wins the starting job in Denver will have the chance to throw to a prolific pair of receivers. Even with a down year at the quarterback position for the Broncos, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were able to combine for over 2,400 yards. However, as we saw last year, Gary Kubiak will not hesitate to bench a QB who is turning the ball over. Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler were both benched after games with 3+ turnovers. Sanchez has been turnover prone in his career (71 turnovers in his last 44 games), and will have a short leash if he doesn’t cut those mistakes down.

33. Jimmy Garoppolo, NE (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)

It is rare that you have a situation where you know the backup QB will receive playing time going into a season. But thanks to the Tom Brady 4-game suspension, this is the case for Garoppolo. The Patriots are always opponent-specific with their game plans, and will likely put the ball in Garoppolo’s hands if they think an opposing defense is vulnerable through the air. Garoppolo faces a tough week 1 challenge (at Arizona), but then will get three consecutive home games which may help him settle into his short term assignment.

34. Case Keenum, LA (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)

In five starts last year, Keenum averaged 25 pass attempts per game and threw for under 140 yards three times. It appears that Keenum may serve as a bit of a bridge QB for rookie Jared Goff, but for as long as he is the starting QB for the Rams he’ll have a very limited ceiling. If nothing else, Keenum did a nice job of protecting the football (1 INT in 125 pass attempts) so that may buy him a bit of time. Ultimately it would be surprising if Keenum made more starts than Goff this year.

35. Josh McCown, CLE (last year’s preseason position rank: 32)

For the second time in three seasons, McCown was able to string together a series of three straight games with 340+ yards passing. He has proven he can be successful as a starter in short spurts. Given that he is playing a QB in Robert Griffin III who has had issues with durability and consistency, and is coming off of a year of virtual inactivity, it is feasible that McCown gets another one of those “short-stint” opportunities this year. There is an outside chance McCown gets traded if another team loses their starter, adding a bit of intrigue.

36. Colin Kaepernick, SF (last year’s preseason position rank: 18)

Coming off of offseason surgeries on his left shoulder, left knee, and right thumb, Kaepernick has a lot of work to do to rebuild his value. Even if he is not the Week 1 starter, he could get a look from Chip Kelly at some point if the 49ers aren’t competitive with Blaine Gabbert under center.

37. Trevor Siemian, DEN (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)

Not too long ago it would have seemed far-fetched, but it is feasible that Trevor Siemian could see meaningful playing time. While he carries a low ceiling, Siemian could be seen as a stabilizer at QB if Mark Sanchez plays erratically and rookie Paxton Lynch isn’t deemed ready.

 38. Chase Daniel, PHI (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)

Sam Bradford stayed relatively healthy last year, but still has not played in all sixteen games since 2012. Odds are good that an Eagles backup QB makes at least one start this year, and Daniel’s familiarity with Doug Pederson’s offense would make the transition smoother if a reserve is needed.

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings

For X’s Fantasy QB rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/xs-2015-fantasy-football-quarterback-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy RB rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/xs-2015-fantasy-football-running-back-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy WR rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/xs-2015-fantasy-football-wide-receiver-rankings/

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings (9/5/15):

1. Rob Gronkowski, NE

Gronkowski has scored double digit TDs in each of the four seasons in which he has played more than seven games. He scored 8 TDs in his last eight games last year, and ripped off a stretch of ten straight games with over 60 yards (had over 90 yards six times over that span). Gronk is a mild injury risk but he’s easily the best TE in the game right now.

2. Jimmy Graham, SEA

There are concerns about Graham’s fantasy outlook after going from a pass-happy offense in New Orleans to a run-based offense in Seattle. The Seahawks didn’t trade a pro-bowl center and a first round pick to acquire a tight end they didn’t have big plans for. Even if he doesn’t hit the 85+ receptions he has in each of the last four years, he’s still a solid bet to catch 9+ TDs for the fifth straight year.

3. Greg Olsen, CAR

There is one TE in the NFL who can say that he has at least 5 TD catches in every year since 2008. His name is Greg Olsen. Last year, he had his first career 1,000 yard season and set a career high with 84 catches. With Kelvin Benjamin out for the season, Olsen’s role in the offense could expand even more as Cam Newton continues to rely on him as Carolina’s sole reliable target.

4. Martellus Bennett, CHI

Despite playing with the heavily targeted duo of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, it was Bennett who led all TEs with 90 receptions in 2014. Last year marked the third straight season in which Bennett set new career highs in receptions and yards, and he also scored a career-high 6 TDs. Now that Brandon Marshall is gone, Bennett could see a few more red zone looks making him that much more valuable.

5. Travis Kelce, KC

Kelce finished last season ranked 23rd among TEs in percentage of snaps played (keep in mind several TEs ranked below him only because they missed games and Kelce didn’t), just behind former teammate Anthony Fasano. Now that Fasano is out of the way, Kelce should see more snaps which of course raises his fantasy ceiling. Kelce has more lost fumbles (3) than TDs (1) in his last eight games, so fantasy owners will hope for improvement in those areas and should see some.

6. Jason Witten, DAL

Thanks to the Cowboys going to a highly run-heavy offense last year, Witten had his worst statistical season since 2006. Despite that, he still managed to rank among the top ten TEs in receptions and receiving yards. Old reliable Witten has one of the highest floors for TEs in fantasy, keeping his stock strong. DeMarco Murray’s departure most likely means more passing from Dallas’ offense, which means good things for Witten’s numbers.

7. Tyler Eifert, CIN

A significant elbow injury cost Eifert all but one game in 2014, but heading into this year he is a breakout candidate. Jermaine Gresham is one of eleven TEs to catch at least 60 passes last year as the Bengals’ go-to TE. Eifert is more athletic than Gresham and should provide Dalton with a more dynamic target at the position. Eifert is said to be having a strong summer, and has a fairly high fantasy ceiling.

8. Delanie Walker, TEN

Due to a struggling run game and an underwhelming WR corps, Walker finished in the top 5 among TEs in targets. It’s possible that neither of those issues will prove to be resolved in Tennessee this year, so Walker should continue to remain a top option for the Titans offense. If so, the upgrade from Locker/Whitehurst/Mettenberger to Mariota means Walker has a shot to improve on last year’s career season.

9. Antonio Gates, SD

While the four-game suspension diminishes Gates’ fantasy value, he remains a top ten option at the shallowest position in fantasy. His 12 TD receptions from last year was more than he had in 2012 and 2013 combined, and was his highest total since 2004. Gates averaged 5.8 catches over his last five games, and even going into his age 35 season, he should remain highly involved in the offense once he returns.

10. Jordan Cameron, MIA

There aren’t many TEs that can be looked at as big play threats, but that is what Cameron was last year as he averaged 17.7 yards per catch. Charles Clay’s 6 targets per game from last year bodes well for Cameron receiving more opportunities to make plays in Miami. Cameron does have a concussion history, so fantasy owners should be aware of that when deciding how much they want to invest in him.

11. Julius Thomas, JAX

Thomas’ high fantasy value over the last two years was based on his 24 TD catches over his last 27 games. He won’t be getting the red zone opportunities in Jacksonville that he had in Denver, so his fantasy stock declines sharply this year. Thomas tends to get banged up (as exemplified by his recent hand surgery) and doesn’t play well through injuries (66 total receiving yards and 0 TD in his last four games while dealing with an ankle sprain), so he is a very risky fantasy asset.

12. Coby Fleener, IND

Fleener enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season last year, finishing among the top eight in TEs in receiving yards (774) and receiving TDs (8). One thing to keep in mind is that 4 of Fleener’s 8 TD catches came in the three games Dwayne Allen missed last year. Allen’s presence and the Colts’ use of three-WR sets lower Fleener’s fantasy ceiling, but if anything were to happen to Allen then Fleener would reemerge as a top ten option.

13. Kyle Rudolph, MIN

Rudolph does not rank this highly on the list because of past production. He has never hit 500 receiving yards in a season and has only played in 17 out of a possible 32 games over the last two years. Rudolph gets placed here solely because he has a mildly high ceiling at a weak fantasy position. Having TE friendly Norv Turner calling plays and a year experience with Teddy Bridgewater, Rudolph has favorable conditions to be productive if he could just stay on the field.

14. Zach Ertz, PHI

Ertz showed tremendous upside in Week 16 of last season by bringing in a franchise record 15 receptions against the Washington Redskins. That one game accounted for more than one fourth of Ertz’ total catches for the season, and he only had one other game with more than 4 receptions. His inability to beat out Brent Celek for a full-time role limits his fantasy value. Undergoing groin surgery during the preseason doesn’t help his case either.

15. Heath Miller, PIT

Miller won’t be the most exciting player to own, but on a weekly basis he’ll at least offer a higher floor than most TEs. His 66 catches last year ranked 7th among TEs, and marked the fifth time in the last six years that he has had over 50 receptions in a season. The only thing thing keeping Miller’s value down is a total lack of red zone production. He only has 6 TDs in his last 38 games, a major drain on his fantasy value.

16. Vernon Davis, SF

It’s hard to imagine that Davis won’t improve on what was an absolutely disastrous 2014 season. Davis is a proven scoring threat, having caught 44 TD passes from 2009 to 2013. It would seem to take a series of unlikely and unfortunate circumstances for Davis to be held to 2 TD like he was last year. As a fantasy owner you can’t bank on a bounce back season from him, but at some point it’s well worth gambling on his ceiling even if it’s not as high as it was in 2013.

17. Jared Cook, STL

A notoriously frustrating asset within the fantasy community, Cook somewhat quietly finished 12th among TEs with 634 yards while reeling in a career-high 52 receptions. With Nick Foles now at the helm in St. Louis, Cook has a legitimate shot to improve on these numbers. Cook is very much hit-or-miss and can be streaky at times, but he can be a serviceable option for a bye week or if your fantasy starter has to miss a couple of weeks.

18. Dwayne Allen, IND

Allen has developed into a strong weapon in the red zone, and has scored 9 TDs in his last thirteen games. One of the problems for him is that he only has 30 receptions over that span, as he is not consistently involved in the offense. Durability is starting to become a problem for Allen as well. He missed three games last year and was limited in others. If you’re playing Allen, you’re just hoping he scores a TD as he did in seven if his first nine game last year.

19. Jordan Reed, WAS

In eleven games last year, Reed had three games with 70+ receiving yards and four games with 7+ catches. If the ranking was based solely on talent and potential, he has shown enough to be much higher on this list. However, he has missed twelve games over his first two seasons and already missed time over the summer with a hamstring issue. His next injury always seems to be around the corner, and his 3 TDs in 20 games isn’t too useful either.

20. Larry Donnell, NYG

Donnell looked like a true breakout candidate through the first four games of last season. He averaged 6.3 catches and 59.0 yards while scoring 4 TDs and was a red hot pickup in fantasy leagues. Then Odell Beckham Jr. came along and not coincidentally Donnell’s production declined. Donnell did not catch a TD over the final six games of the season (Beckham had 9 TD in that span) and failed to reach 30 receiving yards four times in that stretch. He may not be able to produce much with Beckham and (eventually) Victor Cruz around.

21. Charles Clay, BUF

The surprisingly huge investment the Bills made in acquiring Clay (5 years, $38 million with $20 million guaranteed) would suggest major plans for Clay. But once you look at the fact that this is projected to be a run-heavy offense with unproven QBs and solid options at WR, it’s hard to see how Clay would consistently put up good numbers. He’s a versatile player who finished strong last year (218 yards, 1 TD over his final three games), but he is tough to endorse in Buffalo’s offense.

22. Owen Daniels, DEN

Coming off of an injury-curtailed 2013 season, Daniels  put up decent production in Gary Kubiak’s offense last year. Even though he is not the athlete he once was, he is clearly a favorite of Kubiak and will continue to get opportunities based on that alone. Don’t expect Daniels to give the Broncos the same 12 TDs Julius Thomas gave them the last couple of years, but a #1 TE in a Peyton Manning offense has at least some value.

23. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TB

Seferian-Jenkins’ rookie season was marred by injuries, making it tough to gauge his fantasy potential. The injury concerns go back to college, so it’s discouraging that he was only able to play in nine games as a rookie. If he can manage to stay healthy, Seferian-Jenkins is intriguing as a large and athletic target the Buccaneers would love to involve in the offense – even if he will see limited targets behind Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson.

24. Mychal Rivera, OAK

Rivera was one of just six TEs to be targeted 100 times last year. While it’s a given his targets will fall due to the presence of better WRs on Oakland’s roster, it’s clear Derek Carr has a high level of trust in him. That connection should keep Rivera involved in the offense to some degree. The addition of Clive Walford had threatened Rivera’s role, but Walford’s hamstring injury in training camp probably earned Rivera some extra playing time.

25. Eric Ebron, DET

Ebron struggled his way to a 25-catch rookie season. He is still very athletic, and was drafted extremely high for a TE so the Lions have plenty of incentive to try to find more ways to get him involved. Ebron’s hands remain questionable and that’s not likely to change, but the team almost has to be patient with him given their investment. He has had a good summer and will be squarely on the fantasy radar if he can maximize his physical gifts.

26. Richard Rodgers, GB

Plenty of targets in Green Bay (around 150) are up for grabs with Jordy Nelson out. Rodgers could see a handful of those targets, giving a modest boost to his fantasy stock.

27. Crockett Gillmore, BAL

Outside of Steve Smith Sr., Joe Flacco doesn’t have a lot of proven weapons to work with in the passing game. Gillmore is unlikely to match Owen Daniels’ 48 catches from a year ago, but he remains ahead of rookie Maxx Williams and could contribute.

28. Ladarius Green, SD

Green has been a popular sleeper pick in the fantasy community for a couple of years but has never lived up to it. He’ll have a prime opportunity to show his worth while Antonio Gates serves a four-game suspension.

29. Brent Celek, PHI

Against the wishes of many fantasy owners, Celek is locked in as the starting TE for the Eagles. Playing in a full-time role, Celek will stumble into a bit of value. He has 32 catches in each of his seasons in the Chip Kelly offense.

30. Josh Hill, NO

Hill’s 5 TD catches in 2014 were tied for 11th among TEs. The Jimmy Graham trade seemingly opened up a big opportunity for him, but the coaches seem to prefer the less fantasy friendly Benjamin Watson. Hill is worth monitoring, but at the moment he doesn’t project to get many opportunities.




X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings

For X’s Fantasy QB rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/xs-2015-fantasy-football-quarterback-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy RB rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/xs-2015-fantasy-football-running-back-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy TE rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/xs-2015-fantasy-football-tight-end-rankings/

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings (8/30/15):

1. Antonio Brown, PIT

Brown has been the epitome of fantasy football consistency. He is riding an NFL-record 33 straight games with at least 5 catches and at least 50 yards. He had at least 7 catches and 70 yards in each of the final eleven games from a season ago, with six 100+ yard receiving games in that span. Perhaps even more motivated by a huge contract being within reach, Brown is probably the safest non-QB asset in fantasy.

2. Dez Bryant, DAL

Playing in a run-oriented offense last year, Bryant still managed to lead the NFL with a career-high 16 TD catches. Bryant has caught at least 12 TDs in each of the last three seasons, and his 41 total TD receptions over that time frame are the most in the league. The Cowboys no longer have that bell cow RB to turn to, which means Bryant has an even higher ceiling this year.

3. Julio Jones, ATL

Jones finished last year 2nd in the NFL in receiving yards per game, and that was despite playing in multiple games at less than full strength with various hip/oblique/ankle ailments. He showed his fantasy potential in Weeks 14-16 of last year, when he picked up 555 yards over a three-game span. If the Falcons can finally figure out how to maximize him in the red zone (8 TDs in his last 21 games) he will be a fantasy beast.

4. Odell Beckham Jr., NYG

We’ve never seen a wide receiver burst on the scene the way Beckham did last year. After a modest start as he recovered from a hamstring injury, Beckham turned it on in a major way. He tied an NFL record by recording 90+ receiving yards in nine straight games. That dominant stretch included six games with 130+ yards. If his hamstrings hold up, Beckham could overtake the #1 spot in this list.

5. Calvin Johnson, DET

An ankle injury played a large role in Johnson having his least productive year since 2009 (Matthew Stafford’s rookie season). Still, Johnson managed to put up his fifth straight season with 70+ catches and 1,000+ yards – a reminder of how high his floor remains. Three of Megatron’s five 100+ yard games last season came in the final five weeks, and if he can avoid getting nicked again his production should stay at that level.

Jordy Nelson, GB (out for season – torn ACL)

Nelson continues to ascend in one of the league’s most prolific offenses. Last season was the second year in a row in which he set new career highs in receptions and receiving yards. Nelson was a highly consistent scoring threat as well, as he never had back-to-back games without a TD. He projects to be one of the steadiest fantasy assets in the league once again.

6. Demaryius Thomas, DEN

Thomas is the only player in the NFL with at least 1,400 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons. Last year, he obliterated that mark, finishing 2nd in the league with 1,619 yards. He has also recorded over 90 catches and double-digit TDs in each of the last three years. Denver is expected the run the ball more than they have during the Peyton Manning era, but Thomas is too good to be overly impacted by that.

7. A.J. Green, CIN

A problematic toe injury caused Green to have his least productive season as a pro last year. Still, Green’s career lows of 1,041 receiving yards and 6 TDs were useful for fantasy owners. Improved health and Andy Dalton getting more comfortable in Hue Jackson’s offense would certainly help him get back closer to his 2012-2013 level of production. Playing in a run-heavy offense means his ceiling is a little lower than the WRs ranked above him.

8. Mike Evans, TB

Evans is going to be a significant scoring threat each and every week he is out there. Despite mediocre quarterback play, he caught 10 TD passes in the final nine games of his rookie campaign. He set franchise records for most TD catches in a season (12) and most receiving yards over a three-game stretch (458). With a more talented QB who is more willing to toss up jump balls to big targets, Evans is primed for a major impact.

9. T.Y. Hilton, IND

From Week 6 to Week 12 of last season, there was a six-game stretch in which Hilton had four games where he scored a TD and averaged over 23 yards per reception. He is a big play threat, and that was exemplified during that run. He plays with an aggressive QB in Andrew Luck, and his recent contract extension is a clear sign that the team has major plans to continue to take advantage of his explosiveness.

10.  Alshon Jeffery, CHI

Jeffery got hot late last season, catching at least 1 TD pass in all six games from Week 11 to Week 16. He also had 70+ receiving yards in five of those six games. With Brandon Marshall now gone, Jeffery becomes the clear cut #1 WR in this offense. He also has one less big receiver to compete with for red zone targets. Assuming all gets well with his training camp calf injury, Jeffery has a chance to approach the 1,421 yards he put up in 2013.

11. Randall Cobb, GB

When Cobb signed a free agent deal which was larger than Jordy Nelson’s deal, it raised a few eyebrows in the sports world. Now that Nelson is out for the season (ACL) Cobb has a golden opportunity to prove he was worth the investment. Cobb is coming off of his first 1,000+ yard season, and his 12 receiving TDs last year were 1 fewer than his career total heading into last year. He stepped up big in a contract year, but now has to prove he’s a legitimate #1 WR in the NFL.

12. DeAndre Hopkins, HOU

Hopkins’ breakout 1,210 yard season from a year ago came despite having Andre Johnson around. Now that Johnson, who was targeted over 140 times in 2014, is gone Hopkins is locked in as the go-to WR in Houston. Hopkins’ season ended in disappointing fashion with just 43 yards total over his final two games. Blame Case Keenum for that. The Hoyer/Mallett combination should be better for Hopkins than Keenum was.

13. Amari Cooper, OAK

We saw some big seasons from rookie WRs last year (Odell Beckham Jr, Mike Evans, and Kelvin Benjamin immediately come to mind) and Cooper could have that kind of impact in 2015. It is apparent that the Raiders plan to use Cooper in a large variety of ways and will look to force-feed him as much as possible. Expect a very high usage rate here, which will mean only good things for the precision route runner.

14. Jordan Matthews, PHI

In each of Chip Kelly’s two years coaching the Eagles, his offense has produced a 1,300 yard receiver. Stepping into the #1 WR role for the Eagles this year is Matthews. He was overshadowed by bigger names in his draft class, but Matthews is coming off of a solid rookie season in which he had 8 TD receptions. All reports indicate he has looked faster and better in camp, and he should be the next WR to post big numbers in the Kelly system.

Kelvin Benjamin, CAR (out for season – torn ACL)

It took Benjamin no time at all to prove his value to Carolina’s air attack last season. He caught a TD pass in five of his first seven games, immediately establishing himself as the new #1 WR in the Panthers’ offense. Only five players in the league saw more targets than Benjamin did in 2014, and he was relentlessly targeted whether he had broken away from coverage or not. No veteran help was brought in, so he should continue to be a high volume productive receiver.

15. Brandon Marshall, NYJ

Playing under Chan Gailey should be beneficial for Marshall. Gailey had current Chargers WR Steve Johnson in Buffalo from 2010 to 2012, and those just happen to be the only three 1,000 yard seasons of Johnson’s career. Don’t be scared off by Marshall having Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB. DeAndre Hopkins managed to have a breakout year in Houston with Fitzpatrick, and Fitzpatrick had his best seasons in the Gailey offense.

16. Emmanuel Sanders, DEN

It’s hard to put a guy this far down the rankings who is coming off of a season with over 100 catches and over 1,400 yards. However, with Gary Kubiak and his run-oriented offense coming to town we can expect Sanders’ career numbers from last year to decrease in 2015. Just ask him – Sanders says “My goal is really to try to get 1,000 yards to just help this team win ball games.” (source – denverbroncos.com) He can still go well over 1,000 yards with Peyton Manning still at the helm but probably will fall short of another 1,400-yard season.

17. DeSean Jackson, WAS

The quarterback carousel in Washington did not stop Jackson from posting his second straight season with over 1,100 yards. His 20.9 yards per catch was a full 3 yards more than any player in the league with at least 30 receptions, and was his highest average since 2010. The instability at QB isn’t going away any time soon, but Jackson has proven to be capable of big plays and games no matter what happens under center.

18. Andre Johnson, IND

Usually, a 34-year-old player who saw a 468 yard decline in yardage from two years ago to last year (despite only playing one fewer game) would not be ranked this highly. An exception has to be made for Johnson. First of all, Andrew Luck is far and away the best QB Johnson has ever played with. Also keep in mind he had back-to-back seasons in 2012 and 2013 with over 100 receptions and 1,400 yards. Despite playing a complementary role to T.Y. Hilton, Johnson is almost guaranteed to bounce back in the Colts’ offense.

19. Jeremy Maclin, KC

Maclin bounced back from a lost 2013 season by having far and away the best season of his career in 2014. He will now be reunited with his former coach in Philadelphia in Andy Reid. Maclin appears to be better than ever now, but it is worth noting that he never reached 1,000 yards in his previous four years under Reid and only reached 900 yards once. Having the overly cautious Alex Smith at QB could stunt his fantasy value.

20. Brandin Cooks, NO

Getting targets shouldn’t be a problem for Cooks. Before going down with injury last year, he averaged just under 7 targets per game. With Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills out of the way, that number has a chance to increase even with the Saints projected to throw the ball less often. The only issue is whether Cooks can consistently make plays down the field. His mediocre 10.4 yards per catch last year kept his value down (especially in non-PPR leagues). He’s showing an expanded route tree in the preseason which is a great sign.

21. Keenan Allen, SD

Allen had more catches in his mildly disappointing sophomore season than he did in his impressive rookie season. Opportunities weren’t the issue with Allen in 2014, doing something with those opportunities was the issue. His 10.2 yards per catch ranked outside of the top 100 qualifiers last year after ranking 28th in that category in 2013. The opportunities will once again be there for Allen this year. He is reported to be leaner and quicker in camp this year, so a return to his rookie year form is well within reach.

22. Golden Tate III, DET

We learned last year that Tate has an awfully high ceiling if anything were to happen with Calvin Johnson from an injury perspective. In weeks 4-9 when Johnson was either unavailable or significantly limited, Tate had four games of 110+ yards and in three of those games he went for 130+ yards with a TD. Johnson is fully healthy right now which pushes Tate back to a complementary role in the Lions’ offense. Still, even if Johnson is healthy for all sixteen games Tate is a solid bet for another productive season.

23. Charles Johnson, MIN

We saw the potential of the Norv Turner effect on WRs in 2013 when Josh Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards. Johnson may not be quite as talented as Gordon, but as far as physical tools go he is not too far off. Turner has been a fan of Johnson’s for a while and brought him over from Cleveland when he took the coordinator job in Minnesota. Johnson flashed some potential last year. If you project his numbers from Week 11 to Week 15, he would have 1,136 yards and 6 TDs over a full season. With a clear role and an ascending QB, he is primed to break out.

24. Sammy Watkins, BUF

Watkins only needed two games to have his first career 100-yard performance. From a pure talent perspective, he has more than enough ability to be much higher on this list. Question marks at the quarterback position are the main things keeping his ranking down. Tyrod Taylor could be a major wild card in that factor, and if he emerges as just a decent option, Watkins can get closer to his ceiling. Playing in a run-based offense doesn’t help Watkins either, but his explosiveness can mitigate the impact of having fewer opportunities than some of his peers.

25. Steve Smith Sr., BAL

In his first year in Baltimore, Smith was nothing short of dominant to start the 2014 season. In his first seven games, he had four 100+ yard games, one game under 50 yards, and 4 TDs. In his final nine games, he had no 100+ yards games, six games under 50 yards, and 2 TDs. Smith is the unquestioned #1 target for Joe Flacco this year, but based on last year’s numbers there has to be concern as to whether or not he can carry a passing offense for an entire season at age 36.

26. John Brown, ARI

As a rookie, Brown managed to tie Larry Fitzgerald for the team lead with 103 targets. Fitzgerald is almost exclusively a possession receiver at this stage of his career, while Michael Floyd has become almost a deep ball specialist. Brown, though not necessarily #1 on the depth chart, looks like the team’s most complete receiver with the ability to attack short, medium, and deep. He has added about 10 pounds of muscle from his rookie year. Brown is one of my favorite “risers” who will turn heads this year if Carson Palmer stays healthy.

27. Torrey Smith, SF

On paper, San Francisco appears to be an excellent landing spot for Smith from a fantasy perspective. The 49ers are expected to open up the offense (either by design or by necessity) this year, so Smith should get plenty of deep looks. Colin Kaepernick is known for his big arm, and Smith is easily the best deep threat he has ever had so he may be quite anxious to test his new weapon out. Smith was highly inconsistent last year, but did catch 5 TDs in his final five games.

28. Vincent Jackson, TB

Jackson posted a career-low in yards per catch last year, and his 2 TD catches were his lowest total since his rookie year of 2005. Still, he did put up his third consecutive season with 70+ receptions and 1,000+ yards. Even though he isn’t the downfield threat he once was, he can still be productive. Jackson is now the clear-cut #2 WR in this offense behind Mike Evans, but moving around different formations in Dirk Koetter’s offense should keep him highly involved in the offense.

29. Jarvis Landry, MIA

Landry proved to be a reliable target during the second half of last season, catching at least 5 passes in each of his final nine games. He averaged 6.6 catches over that span, a pace for 105 receptions if projected over a full season. The troublesome part of the equation is that he averaged just 9.0 yards per catch, second worst among WRs. Because he’s not a big play threat, he has to become a big factor in the red zone. He has reportedly showed improvement in that area, which will make him a solid fantasy asset if true.

30. Davante Adams, GB

Adams showed some potential in Week 13 of last season with a 6 reception, 121 yard performance against the Patriots. However, that game was the only time after October that he went over 20 yards. With Jordy Nelson out for the season, the Packers need Adams to grow up in a hurry and help fill some very large shoes. He’ll play a key role in the offense, but it would be too much to expect Nelson or Randall Cobb type of numbers from the second year receiver.

31. Mike Wallace, MIN

Wallace just wrapped up his third consecutive season of less than 1,000 yards, although on the plus side he did tie a career high with 10 TD catches. He still has plenty of speed to burn, but his skill set didn’t mesh well with Ryan Tannehill or with Bill Lazor’s offense. With a fresh start, a better deep ball thrower in Teddy Bridgewater, and a more aggressive play caller in Norv Turner, Wallace has everything in place he could want. He’ll be the #2 WR in this offense but he should still have his share of explosive games.

32. Julian Edelman, NE

Over the last six games regular season games he played in, Edelman averaged 7.8 receptions per game – catching at least 7 passes in five of those six games. He will continue to be heavily involved in the offense, and maybe even see a slight uptick in targets in Brandon LaFell’s mysterious foot injury proves to be a long-term situation. Edelman isn’t a big producer around the goal line, although his 3 receiving TDs over his last six games are encouraging.

33. Anquan Boldin, SF

Boldin’s numbers took a bit of a dip last year, but he still managed to have his second straight season of over 80 catches and over 1,000 yards playing with Colin Kaepernick. Going on age 35, there is no reason to believe Boldin can’t still be productive. The 49ers will probably air the ball out a bit more than usual, and Torrey Smith’s presence outside could help open up the middle of the field for one of the toughest WRs in the game today.

34. Marques Colston, NO

Jimmy Graham, who caught 26 TDs over the last two seasons, is no longer around and someone is going to have to soak up some of those red zone targets. The 6’4” Colston is a candidate to benefit from an increase in red zone opportunities. He only has 10 total TD receptions over the last two years, but even in a more balanced offense he has a golden opportunity to become Drew Brees’ most trusted target around the goal line.

35. Larry Fitzgerald, ARI

It’s clear that when Carson Palmer is under center, Fitzgerald can still be a fantasy asset. Fitzgerald topped the 90-yard mark in three of the six games Palmer managed to start. However, his production falls off of a cliff when Palmer is out. Fitzgerald finished last season by failing to reach 40 yards in each of his last five games. He is still a solid fantasy asset to own, but just keep in mind he becomes nearly unstartable if anything happens to Palmer.

36. Roddy White, ATL

The opportunities will be there for White if he is healthy, the question is just how healthy will he be? After never missing a game from 2005 to 2012, White has missed a pair of games in each of the last two years while playing hobbled in others. Routine knee drainings and minor elbow surgery are mild concerns heading into the 2015 season. All of that said, he caught at least 6 passes in six of his last seven games. White can still produce when his body allows him to.

37. Eric Decker, NYJ

As expected, Decker’s numbers fell last year after leaving Peyton Manning’s Broncos and going to the Jets. Still, a 962 yard and 5 TD season is still impressive given how poor the quarterback play often was for the Jets in 2014. Ryan Fitzpatrick is far from elite, but he should at least stabilize the position to some degree. Decker did finish last season with a 221-yard performance, reminding us of what he is capable of with good QB play. He falls back into a #2 role for this season, but should still get his fair share of looks.

38. Allen Robinson, JAX

If you take away the 1-catch dud in his NFL debut, Robinson averaged 5.2 catches for 60.9 yards last year. Projected over 16 games, that would give you an 83 reception, 974 yard season. There is little reason to believe Robinson won’t lead the Jaguars’ WRs in targets by a wide margin this year. Limited scoring chances due to playing in a still developing offense and the presence of Julius Thomas as a red zone threat put a cap on Robinson’s fantasy potential.

39. Devin Funchess, CAR

Now that Kelvin Benjamin is lost for the season, the Panthers desperately need someone from their WR corps to step up and overachieve. In an ideal role, Funchess would be the guy. He is not as good as Benjamin, so it wouldn’t be fair to expect the same level of production from him. However, Funchess will be placed into the Benjamin role and although not quite as big he is similar in stature. He should be force-fed at times, meaning opportunities should be there.

40. Eddie Royal, CHI

The shin injury to Chicago’s top pick Kevin White ensures that Royal should have a significant role in this offense. Royal is coming off of his best season since his rookie year of 2008 and finished out by going over 80 yards in three of his last five games. He has shown an ability to be productive when given a chance, and he should have a significant chance with little WR depth in Chicago. Royal has 15 TD catches over the last two years despite playing in a complementary role, so he has a knack for finding the end zone.

41. Martavis Bryant, PIT

A four-game suspension puts a damper over what should be a breakout year year for Bryant. He is not an every down player, which means he’ll get a limited number of targets. His value comes from the fact that he is as good of a big play threat as there is in the league. His 21.1 yards per catch would have led the league if he had enough catches to qualify. He managed to scored 8 TDs on just 26 receptions. He’ll be a weekly boom-or-bust option when he returns, but even in a part-time role he can be a difference maker.

42. Kendall Wright, TEN

While it’s difficult to project how the distribution of targets will play out in Tennessee, it’s a safe bet that Wright will end up being the leader in targets. Mediocre QB play and missing a couple of games due to injury led to a 37 reception drop for Wright from 2013 to 2014. Marcus Mariota is an upgrade at the QB position, and Wright’s career highs in yards per reception (12.5) and TDs (6) are encouraging signs. He needs to find a way to create more big plays for his value to increase.

43. Brian Quick, STL

When Austin Davis was at his best last season, Quick posted solid numbers. Over the first four games of last year, Quick averaged 5.3 receptions and 80.5 yards with 3 TDs. That would have been on pace for an 84 reception, 1,288 yard, 12 TD season when projected for 16 games. Foles is not a great QB, but he should stabilize the position more than Davis and Shaun hill did last year. Quick is coming back from a serious shoulder injury, so there is still some question as to whether or not he can fully return to form.

44. Michael Floyd, ARI

Floyd was able to bookend the 2014 season with a pair of 100+ yard games, so he started and ended the season on a high note. In between those performances were five games in which he recorded either 0 or 1 catch. Floyd is a big play receiver who averaged over 19 yards per reception in each of his final four games. He runs a ton of low-percentage vertical routes, which makes him a real high-risk, high-reward option.

45. Percy Harvin, BUF

Joining his fourth team in four years, it has become nearly impossible to project what Harvin’s role in this offense will be. Working against him is the fact that he’s never had a 1,000 yard receiving season (although he did have over 1,300 yards from scrimmage in 2011) and the fact that we know this will be a run-oriented offense. Perhaps working in Harvin’s favor is that his 106 rushing attempts since 2011 suggest that he will touch the ball one way or another. If he can stay reasonably healthy (already dealing with a hip issue), he’s explosive enough to make the most out of even a handful of touches.

46. Markus Wheaton, PIT

Last year was supposed to be the breakout year for Wheaton. It started out promisingly enough (6 receptions, 97 yards in Week 1) but just never materialized. Wheaton has once again been advertised as a breakout candidate, and will have a great chance early on to validate that prediction. With Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant serving early season suspensions, Wheaton will be relied on a little more. We should know early if he is ready to take that next step.

47. Steve Johnson, SD

After being sorely underutilized in San Francisco, Johnson is in position to reemerge back to relevance with the Chargers. San Diego’s passing offense is predicated on lots of intermediate routes, and that is the area of the field in which Johnson does his best work. Eddie Royal saw 90+ targets last year, and most if not all of those targets could end up going to Johnson – especially with Antonio Gates beginning the season with a suspension.

48. Pierre Garcon, WAS

Garcon had one of the best seasons in franchise history in 2013, but after last year’s disappointing campaign 2013 feels like a distant memory. Still, even though it was DeSean Jackson who had the standout year for the Redskins, it was Garcon who once again led the team in targets. There aren’t any indications that the pecking order will change this year, so Garcon should once again get more than enough looks to have a decent season.

49. Victor Cruz, NYG

Cruz had over 100 receiving yards in each of the two games before Odell Beckham Jr. made his debut. However, in the 6+ quarters he did play alongside Beckham, Cruz only had 38 total receiving yards. Of course that is a small sample size, but it raises questions on how productive Cruz can be as second fiddle to Beckham. The bigger question is can Cruz be an effective player coming back from a torn patellar tendon? All of the uncertainty surrounding Cruz makes him a total roll of the dice in fantasy despite his past production.

50. Michael Crabtree, OAK

Crabtree’s 698 receiving yards from 2014 was the lowest total of his career for a full season (at least 12 games) and his 10.3 yards per catch were the worst of his career. It’s tough to judge Crabtree based off of last year because he was returning from an Achilles’ tear (which often takes two years to fully recover from) and he was part of a sinking ship in San Francisco. Now healthier and in a more stable situation, he is in good position to have a bounce back year even though he’ll likely see far fewer targets than Amari Cooper.

51. Nelson Agholor, PHI

Agholor will likely split snaps with blocking WR Riley Cooper and maybe Josh Huff. However, he should get enough snaps in a high-powered offense to get onto the fantasy radar.

52. Terrance Williams, DAL

Williams has shown a ton of playmaking ability, but frustratingly doesn’t get enough opportunities to be a reliable fantasy option.

53. DeVante Parker, MIA

Parker has a ton of potential and may be the most talented WR on the roster, but ongoing issues with his injured foot are troublesome.

54. Allen Hurns, JAX

Hurns has cemented the #2 WR spot for the Jaguars and although inconsistent, does bring big play ability to the table.

55. Kenny Stills, MIA

Stills had a mini-breakout at the end of last year with over 60 yards in four of his last five games. The only question is will there be enough targets left over in Miami for him if/when DeVante Parker returns.

56. Doug Baldwin, SEA

Baldwin is far from an exciting player, but he did catch multiple passes in every game last year and has a relatively high floor for a receiver ranked here.

57. Dwayne Bowe, CLE

Bowe did manage to reach 60 receptions in his infamous 0 TD season last year. Once again, he is the #1 WR in an uninspiring passing offense.

58. Marvin Jones, CIN

Jones is a wild card coming off of a significant foot/ankle injury. When he was healthy in 2013, he showed a nose for the end zone with 10 TD catches.

59. Kenny Britt, STL

Britt’s 48 catches from last year was actually a career high despite poor QB play. With Nick Foles at the helm, he has a shot at his first 50 catch season but not much more than that.

60. Brandon LaFell, NE

Based on his production from last year, LaFell deserves to be higher than this. His foot injury (of which we have no details) makes him a major gamble in fantasy.








X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings

For X’s Fantasy QB rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/xs-2015-fantasy-football-quarterback-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy WR rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/xs-2015-fantasy-football-wide-receiver-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy TE rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/xs-2015-fantasy-football-tight-end-rankings/

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings (8/17/15):

1. Le’Veon Bell, PIT

Starting the season with a two-game suspension takes a little air out of the balloon, but Bell’s fantasy stock remains extremely high. He got the ball a lot last year, finishing 3rd in the league in carries and 2nd among RBs in receptions. Bell had 25+ touches in seven games last year. That kind of workload makes him fantasy gold.

2. Adrian Peterson, MIN

This is an aggressive ranking for a 30-year-old RB coming off of a lost season, but Peterson is the exception to every rule. He did have 21 carries in his only game last year, and there’s no reason to expect for him not to touch the ball a ton. He had double digit rushing TDs in every season before last, and after the much less talented Matt Asiata rumbled for 9 rushing TDs last year, Peterson should be a threat for another 10+ TDs in 2015.

3. Marshawn Lynch, SEA

Last year Lynch set career highs in rushing TDs (13) and receiving TDs (4), and his 17 total TDs were most in the league. His 367 receiving yards were also a career high. Losing Max Unger from his offensive line doesn’t help, and Jimmy Graham could take away a handful of red zone opportunities from him this year. Despite this, Beast Mode remains a great bet for top 5 RB production.

4. Jamaal Charles, KC

Charles is highly efficient. He has averaged 5+ yards per carry in every season he has been in the league and his career average sits at 5.5 yards per rush. His consistency and explosiveness means a moderated workload shouldn’t hold him back. Charles’ 12 receiving TDs since 2013 leads all RBs. He benefits from playing with a QB who likes to throw TDs to non-WRs.

5. Eddie Lacy, GB

Lacy has developed into a strong three-down RB, which is great news for his fantasy outlook. He was one of three RBs last year to pick up 400+ receiving yards, while averaging 10+ yards per catch. That contribution in the passing game along with his rushing workload makes him a strong fantasy commodity. His 9 total TDs over his last eight games is a promising sign of things to come.

6. LeSean McCoy, BUF

McCoy fell short of sky high expectations last year, but he still has a very bright fantasy outlook. He is the only RB to have over 300 carries in each of the last two seasons. Playing under Rex Ryan, he’ll have a shot at making it three seasons in a row with 300+ carries. It may not always be pretty, but he should be a strong volume producer.

7. DeMarco Murray, PHI

Murray will not come close to the massive 449 touches he received last year. He is still the lead RB for a high-potential offense though, and is still playing behind a strong offensive line. Murray is a natural fit in Chip Kelly’s north-south running system, and the reduced touches greatly increase the chances of getting another 16-games season out of him. Even with limited touches, Murray’s stock remains high.

8. Matt Forte, CHI

Forte doesn’t expect a repeat of his record-setting 102-reception season from a year ago, but he should still be heavily involved as a receiver. Even before last year he was averaging 56.8 catches per year for his career, so don’t expect him to disappear from the passing game. His drop from 4.6 yards per carry in 2013 to 3.9 last year is somewhat concerning, but he’s in line for enough carries to overcome some inefficiency.

9. Jeremy Hill, CIN

Hill had five games last year with at least 20 carries. He ran for 100+ yards in each of those games, and went over 140 rushing yards in four of them. As long as the Bengals remain in games, Hill will be a major part of the offense. He finished last year by picking up 395 rushing yards in his final three games. If he picks up where he left off last year, he’ll be a fantasy stud.

10. C.J. Anderson, DEN

Anderson topped 80 rushing yards in six of his final eight games last year after coming out of nowhere to seize the starting job. Gary Kubiak prefers to have a go-to RB, whether it’s Justin Forsett in Baltimore last year or Arian Foster in Houston before that. Kubiak’s workhorse RB preference along with Peyton Manning being willing to throw a little less this year both bode well for Anderson.

11. Justin Forsett, BAL

It was impossible to see Forsett’s breakout 2014 campaign coming. He picked up 1266 yards on the ground after never having a season with even half of that total in his previous six NFL seasons. Marc Trestman says the Ravens will stick with a zone running scheme, which suits Forsett perfectly. He also wants Forsett even more involved in the passing game. There will be plenty of chances to prove last year was not a fluke.

12. Jonathan Stewart, CAR

The golden opportunity has finally arrived for Stewart. In his eighth NFL season, this will be the first year he does not have to share the backfield with DeAngelo Williams. Stewart played four games at the end of last year with out Williams and had two 100 yard rushing performances in that span – his first time hitting the 100 yard rushing mark in a game since 2010. Durability concerns persist (he has missed 20 games in the last three years) but if healthy he should easily get his second career 1,000 yard season.

13. Frank Gore, IND

Old reliable Frank Gore has gone over 1,100 rushing yards in five of the last six NFL seasons. Even going into his age 32 season, he still seems to have a fair amount left in the tank. Gore’s 5 total TDs from last year were the lowest he has ever had in a season in which he played at least 15 games. That was a reflection of the dysfunction the 49ers operated in last year. He should have plenty more opportunities to score in a much better offense and with no competition in the backfield.

14. Lamar Miller, MIA

Miller enters this season as the unquestioned lead back, yet there are still some minor concerns about his workload. He never received 20 carries in any game last year and has only had one game in his career with that many rushing attempts. This won’t be an issue however if Miller can maintain his 5.1 yards per carry from a year ago. He could be in line for an expanded role if he proves he can handle it without wearing down.

15. Latavius Murray, OAK

The Raiders appear ready to feature Murray in their backfield, which should excite fantasy owners. He possesses an ideal combination of size and speed, and that was on display last year when he ran for 112 yards and 2 TDs on just 4 carries against the Chiefs in Week 12. Durability is a legitimate concern here, as he has already suffered a torn ACL and a concussion in his young career. His upside is immense when on the field, and he is worth the risk.

16. Alfred Morris, WAS

Since they entered the league together, Morris has always been a far more effective RB with Robert Griffin III under center. As a result, Morris has seen steady decreases in his yardage in each of the last two seasons after an elite rookie campaign in 2012. His lack of contribution in the passing game and the presence of rookie Matt Jones limit his ceiling. If RGIII can somehow bounce back, Morris will too.

17. Chris Ivory, NYJ

The departure of Chris Johnson should mean good things for Ivory’s fantasy outlook. While he has never been a real feature back, Ivory did receive a career-high 198 rushing attempts last year and caught more passes (18) than he had in his first four NFL seasons combined. With Stevan Ridley coming off of a major knee injury and Bilal Powell best suited as a passing down back, Ivory has a good chance of exceeding 200 carries for the first time. He can be had in most fantasy leagues at a discounted price.

18. Joseph Randle, DAL

To be clear, Randle is not DeMarco Murray. He won’t come close to the massive production Murray provided for the Cowboys last year. Randle did show flashes in limited playing time which suggest he could be an interesting fantasy commodity. He is playing behind an elite offensive line and is the lead back in what should be a highly productive office. If Dallas doesn’t add another RB into the mix, Randle should easily establish himself as the head of this committee.

19. Mark Ingram, NO

Sean Payton said he wants the Saints to be able to score fewer points to win games. That would suggest an increased emphasis on the running game in New Orleans, and trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills would indicate Payton is serious. This potential change in philosophy can only benefit Ingram, who is coming off of a career year. Ingram finished last season by scoring in three consecutive games for the first time in his career.

20. Andre Ellington, ARI

Operating as a lead back for the first time, Ellington’s yards per carry plummeted from a league best 5.5 in 2013 to a dreadful 3.3 last year (5th worst in the league among qualified players). Less is more for Ellington, as fewer touches this year should keep him fresh and yield a return to his signature explosive form. His lack of goal line work puts a cap on how high his fantasy ceiling can go.

21. Ameer Abdullah, DET

At the very least, Abdullah has pulled even with Joique Bell in the Lions’ backfield pecking order. He is far more explosive than Bell, and with Bell coming off of a mildly disappointing 2014 season it will be hard for the Detroit coaching staff to keep the rookie off the field. Abdullah has the look of a big play threat and even if he is not the Week 1 starter he would be my bet to lead the Lions’ RBs in scrimmage yards this year.

22. Doug Martin, TB

Injuries and ineffectiveness caused Martin to have fewer than 1,000 rushing yards combined in 2013 and 2014. All indications however suggest that he has had his best offseason in years, and looks leaner and quicker. He’s not exactly a favorite of the coaching staff, but the Bucs don’t have a better option for a lead back. So Martin should get the majority of the carries when healthy and hopefully he’ll regain some of his 2012 form.

23. T.J. Yeldon, JAX

Fantasy owners of Yeldon may have to be patient at the beginning of the season, as he may not emerge as the leader of the backfield in Week 1. His coaches are high on him, and his understanding and ability in pass protection will earn him more playing time early. He has the potential to develop into an every down back before the season is over which makes him highly intriguing.

24. Rashad Jennings, NYG

Jennings touched the ball a lot in his first eight games with the Giants (22.5 touches per game). However, he dealt with knee and ankle injuries during the year and sputtered to a forgettable finish over the final four weeks. Jennings has the skill set to be a three-down back, but Shane Vereen’s presence will drastically cut into his passing down work. Jennings will retain the lead back job but the Giants’ backfield has morphed into much more of a committee than last year.

25. LeGarrette Blount, NE

There may not be a fantasy player who will carry more week-to-week value than Blount. The Patriots are very opponent-specific, when it comes to game plans. When they feel like they can punish the other team on the ground, Blount will have high value. When they decide to exploit the other team’s secondary, Blount’s value will fall sharply. Fantasy owners should expect a roller coaster ride, but Blount’s work on early downs and in goal line situations make him a decent fantasy asset.

26. Carlos Hyde, SF

Frank Gore’s departure means Hyde will certainly get more work than the 5.9 carries per game he received last year. Hyde should claim the majority of the early down work. The addition of Reggie Bush and the return of Kendall Hunter limit his fantasy potential. Hyde will look to build off his season best 55 rushing yards he picked up in the last game of his 2014 rookie season.

27. Arian Foster, HOU

Foster will be a complete roll of the dice for fantasy owners this year, but could pay major dividends if all goes well. His groin surgery is expected to keep him out for roughly half of the season, although there is huge variation in his timetable to return. Foster received 20+ carries in nine of the thirteen games he appeared in last year, so we know the Texans will ride him when he’s available. But with this groin surgery being the latest in a litany of soft tissue injuries for him, Foster just simply isn’t reliable.

Note: Arian Foster moved from #41 to #27 as of 9/4 due to more optimistic timetable for his return from groin surgery.

28. Devonta Freeman, ATL

Going back to college, we’ve never really seen Freeman featured in anyone’s backfield. So even though he seems to have the inside track for starting duties in the Falcons’ backfield, it’s tough to envision him getting a large workload. He has flashed good hands in the passing game which helps his case. But he will have to improve on last year’s 3.8 yards per carry to have any real consistent fantasy value.

29. C.J. Spiller, NO

In his three years playing with Drew Brees, Darren Sproles caught 232 passes – averaging 5.3 catches per game. Spiller projects to be the passing down back in the Saints’ offense, and he has a quarterback and a coach who enjoy getting the RBs involved in the passing game. He likely won’t  quite match the receiving numbers Sproles put up in New Orleans, but this was a great spot for him to land in. His recovery from recent arthroscopic knee surgery is worth monitoring.

30. Melvin Gordon III, SD

The Chargers have high hopes for Gordon long-term, but he projects as a RB who might struggle early on with his transition to the NFL. Coaches have noticed that he can be indecisive in the backfield, which may be OK in the Big Ten but not so much in the pros. He has had trouble in pass protection in camp and is sharing the backfield with a third down ace in Danny Woodhead. He can be a special runner but expectations should be tempered in year one.

31. Tre Mason, STL

Last year, Mason went from not playing in the first four games to getting 17+ touches in seven out of of the final twelve games. With highly touted Todd Gurley II still recovering from an ACL tear, the Rams’ backfield will belong to Mason to start the season. Gurley’s eventual return hurts Mason’s overall fantasy value, but Mason will be a solid player to own early on.

32. Isaiah Crowell, CLE

Crowell was part of a committee last year with Terrence West and (at least for a while) Ben Tate, but he scored twice as many rushing TDs (8) as either of the other RBs. The coaching staff’s preference for Crowell inside of the red zone gives him the upper hand in this year’s committee in Cleveland. Ball security has been a concern for him, but if he holds onto the ball he should be the #1 RB for the Browns by a slight margin.

33. Alfred Blue, HOU

Blue was last in the NFL last year in yards per carry for any player who ran the ball at least 100 times. While he should improve on his dismal 3.1 yards per rush from his rookie season, he is doubtful to be an efficient back. The good news here is the Texans will commit to the run no matter who is in the backfield. With Arian Foster out indefinitely, Blue will be a high-volume RB for at least the first month or two of the season.

34. Shane Vereen, NYG 

As he was in New England, Vereen figures to have a larger impact in the passing game than in the running game. Ben McAdoo has suggested that Vereen is not just a third-down RB in his eyes, which suggests he could be on the field with Rashad Jennings or Andre Williams split out wide. Expect Vereen to have more receiving yards than rushing as he’s done in each of the last two seasons.

35. Joique Bell, DET

Bell did run the ball more effectively in the second half of last season than the first, averaging 4.4 yards per carry over his final eight games compared to 3.2 per carry over his first seven. Disappointingly, he didn’t have any 100 yard rushing games (only hitting 90 rushing yards once) and failed to catch 50 passes for the first time since 2011. Ameer Abdullah seems to be rapidly ascending meaning Bell is unlikely to see the 257 touches he got a year ago.

36. Bishop Sankey, TEN

It’s concerning that the first RB taken in the 2014 NFL draft couldn’t distinguish himself from a crowd of uninspiring backs last year. The Titans didn’t invest heavily in the RB position this offseason, but did bring in some fresh blood in David Cobb and Antonio Andrews. The coaches and front office have to be hoping Sankey establishes himself as the lead back this year, and therefore he’ll be given every opportunity. However, there haven’t been any in-game signs to suggest Sankey will make that jump.

37. Giovani Bernard, CIN

Due in large part to the emergence of Jeremy Hill, Bernard saw fewer than 10 carries in three of the Bengals’ final four games last year. He did manage 18 receptions over that same time span. That usage rate is likely a good barometer for what to expect in 2015. Bernard is a big play threat, so he can retain some value as a backup RB if he can get 12-14 touches per game.

38. Todd Gurley II, STL

Still on the mend after finishing his college career with a torn ACL, Gurley is expected to miss at least the first couple of games of the season. It’s anyone’s guess as to when he will make his NFL debut, but expect him to be eased into the mix as the Rams take a cautious approach with their top draft pick. Gurley will be an interesting player to stash for the second half of the season, but do not expect early fantasy dividends.

39. Danny Woodhead, SD

All reports about Woodhead’s recovery from last year’s nasty leg injury have been very positive and he should be good to go. Despite Melvin Gordon III joining the backfield, Woodhead should see a significant amount of snaps. Operating in a similar role in 2013 with the Chargers, Woodhead got 11.4 touches per game. His 76 receptions and 6 receiving TDs were both 2nd among RBs in 2013.

40. Ryan Mathews, PHI

The Eagles will not run DeMarco Murray into the ground the way the Cowboys did. In an effort to keep Murray fresh and available, expect Mathews to manage at least 10-12 carries even in a backup role. Because the Eagles run a fast-paced offense and like to run the ball, Mathews (though fairly injury-prone in his own right) is one of the top handcuffs in all of fantasy.

41. Tevin Coleman, ATL

Coleman only has the unproven Devonta Freeman in front of him, so there should be playing time available for him. He was highly productive in his final year of college and has the look of a constant home run threat. Toe surgery and a hamstring injury in the offseason have brought up durability concerns, so there may be a relatively low cap for his workload.

42. Duke Johnson Jr., CLE

The advantage Johnson has is that the coaching staff in Cleveland has already spent a year having their periodic frustrations with Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. Working with a clean slate, Johnson is the favorite to be the passing down back and could carve out an even more prominent role. A training camp hamstring injury doesn’t help his early season fantasy stock.

43. Reggie Bush, SF

Nagging injuries and reduced effectiveness caused Bush to see his rushing total drop 709 yards from 2013 to 2014 in just three fewer games. Joining a backfield featuring Carlos Hyde, Bush figures to have a marginal role in the 49ers’ ground game. Bush has caught at least 40 passes in seven of his nine NFL seasons, and his presence in the passing game remains key to his fantasy value.

44. Darren McFadden, DAL

For the first time in his seven years in the league, McFadden played in all sixteen games in 2014. It took a restricted workload (less than 10 carries per game) for him to finally make it through a whole season. He has already dealt with hamstring injuries in training camp, reminding fantasy owners of his history with soft tissue injuries. Moving from Oakland to Dallas brightens his fantasy outlook, but not by a lot.

45. Matt Jones, WAS

Jones announced his presence in a big way with an impressive preseason, and could be in line for a decent amount of regular season work right away. Alfred Morris is a non-factor in the passing games (37 receptions in 48 career games), so there is an immediate path to some playing time for Jones. Given that Morris is in the final year of his rookie deal, and Jones is the pick of the new regime in Washington, Jones could force a bit of a committee situation in the Redskins’ backfield.

Note: Matt Jones replaced David Cobb at #45 due to Cobb going on short-term IR with a calf injury.

46. James White, NE

Over his last 24 games with the Patriots, Shane Vereen averaged 4.1 receptions per game for 36.4 yards while catching 6 TD passes over that span. White is the favorite to take the old Vereen role in the offense, which means his value will be more as a receiver than a runner. He is not as athletic as the departed Vereen, so the numbers mentioned earlier probably represent his absolute ceiling.

47. Denard Robinson, JAX

Surprisingly, Robinson had a three-game stretch from Week 7 to Week 9 last year in which he averaged 19 carries for 109.7 yards. He has proven he can be an effective RB in limited work, and should receive a handful of touches each game as the change of pace back to T.J. Yeldon. Robinson has also proven he can fill in admirably as a short-term lead back if the Jaguars need him to.

48. Chris Johnson, ARI

After spending all summer toiling in free agency, Johnson finally found a landing spot with the Cardinals. While his role in Arizona is largely undefined at this point, he wouldn’t have been brought on board if Bruce Arians was fully comfortable with his backfield. Andre Ellington showed last year he’s not a true “bell cow” RB, so there should be leftover snaps waiting for Johnson assuming he beats out David Johnson for #2 duties.

49. Cameron Artis-Payne, CAR

Despite a productive final year of college in the SEC, Artis-Payne doesn’t stand out as a top end athlete. He is not the most exciting prospect, but he is the favorite for the top backup spot behind Jonathan Stewart. Given Stewart’s propensity for getting nicked up, there is a decent chance Artis-Payne makes at least a start or two this year.

50. DeAngelo Williams, PIT

Williams cracks the top 50 simply because we know he will get two starts at the beginning of the year while Le’Veon Bell serves a suspension. At 32 years old and coming off of the worst season of his career, Williams will only have minimal value in deep leagues as a handcuff once Bell makes his season debut.


X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings

For X’s Fantasy RB rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/xs-2015-fantasy-football-running-back-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy WR rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/xs-2015-fantasy-football-wide-receiver-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy TE rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/xs-2015-fantasy-football-tight-end-rankings/

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings (8/11/15 – updated 8/31):

1. Andrew Luck, IND

Luck was the only QB to hit 40 touchdown passes last year. Replacing Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks with the steady Andre Johnson and the speedy rookie Phillip Dorsett can only help. Luck can be the #1 fantasy QB if he cuts down on his 22 turnovers from a year ago.

Update: Andrew Luck moved from #2 to #1 as of 8/30 due to Jordy Nelson injury.

2. Aaron Rodgers, GB

Not much justification needed here, but I’ll still give you a little bit. Over his last 64 games, Rodgers has thrown 155 touchdown passes and just 27 interceptions. That’s good for a 5.7 to 1 TD to INT ratio. I don’t know about you, but those numbers work pretty well for me.

Update: Aaron Rodgers moved from #1 to #2 as of 8/30 due to Jordy Nelson injury.

3. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT

Last year, Roethlisberger set career highs in completions, attempts, completion percentage, and passing yards while tying a career high in TD passes. The Steelers have morphed into an offensive team and that should continue into 2015. With Le’Veon Bell suspended for the first two games, Big Ben could come out of the blocks fast this year.

4. Russell Wilson, SEA

Wilson finished last year tied for 16th in the league in rushing yards with breakout fantasy RB C.J. Anderson. He is by far the league’s best dual threat QB, running for 208 more yards than any other signal caller. Jimmy Graham gives Wilson the most imposing target he’s ever had (especially for red zone purposes), so he should continue to ascend.

5. Peyton Manning, DEN

Reports of Peyton Manning’s demise are premature and greatly exaggerated. Even in a “down” season, Manning was 4th in passing yards and 2nd in passing touchdowns. There will be a larger emphasis on the run this year, but now that his quad has healed Manning should still post strong numbers.

6. Tom Brady, NE

In his first four games of 2014, Brady threw 4 total TDs while failing to hit 160 passing yards twice. In the next ten games, Rob Gronkowski regained his form which led to 28 TD passes and five 300+ yard games from Brady. When Gronk is healthy, Brady is still one of the best fantasy options at QB. Note: I do not believe Brady will miss any games due to suspension.

7. Drew Brees, NO

Brees led the league in passing attempts last year (31 more than any other QB), but don’t expect that to happen again in 2015. The Saints traded away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills – who combined for 148 receptions, 1,820 yards, and 13 TD – for a power blocking center and a linebacker. They are transitioning to more of a “grind it out” mentality which should cause a minor dip in Brees’ typical production.

8. Eli Manning, NYG

Through the first seven games of last year, Manning averaged a pedestrian 224.7 passing yards per game. However, over his last nine that average shot up to 315.2 yards per game. If Manning can get a full year with the electric Odell Beckham Jr. and a reasonably healthy Victor Cruz, we could see more of the superb production he had during the second half of last year.

9. Tony Romo, DAL

The Cowboys don’t have the luxury of riding DeMarco Murray the way they did a season ago, which means more responsibility will fall on Tony Romo’s shoulders. Last year, Romo was 4th in the league in TD passes despite having fewer attempts than Kyle Orton and Brian Hoyer. More opportunities should make for more fantasy production.

10. Cam Newton, CAR

Kelvin Benjamin has a year under his belt now, and Devin Funchess is probably already better than any #2 WR the Panthers had last year. Those factors should lead to improved passing numbers for Newton this year. His legs will continue to make him a nice fantasy commodity. Newton has led Carolina in rushing TDs in each of his four NFL seasons.

11. Ryan Tannehill, MIA

Flying largely under the radar, Tannehill finished last year 11th in passing yards, tied for 12th in TD passes, 6th in completion percentage (min. 200 pass attempts), and 5th among QBs in rushing yards. He came quite a long way after nearly being benched (reportedly) after his first three starts. With improved weapons (Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Jordan Cameron), the dual-threat QB has high fantasy upside.

12. Matt Ryan, ATL

Ryan was 2nd in the league in pass attempts last year, and although the attempts may come down Ryan should still provide solid fantasy production. With nothing but unproven commodities in the backfield, more responsibility could end up falling on Ryan’s shoulders. Keep in mind new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan did get career years out of Matt Schaub (2009) and Robert Griffin III (2012).

13. Matthew Stafford, DET

Stafford was the only QB last year to attempt 600 passes, but fall short of both 4,400 yards and 28 TD passes. However, fantasy football is largely about opportunity and there is no reason to believe Stafford won’t close in on 600 more pass attempts this year. Having a healthy Megatron at his disposal and a year of experience in Joe Lombardi’s offense should benefit Stafford.

14. Carson Palmer, ARI

If you project Palmer’s per game averages from last year over a 16-game schedule, you would get 4,336 passing yards, 29 TD passes, and 8 interceptions. If he can stay on the field every week, he has top 10 fantasy potential in Bruce Arians’ aggressive vertical-based passing scheme. For now, there have been no reports of any shoulder or knee issues this summer, which is a good sign.

15. Philip Rivers, SD

Antonio Gates and Eddie Royal combined to catch 19 of Philip Rivers’ 31 TD passes a year ago. Neither of those targets will be available to start the season as Royal is now in Chicago and Gates is set to serve a 4-game suspension. Rivers threw 15 interceptions in his final nine games last year. He has to cut that turnover rate down before his stock can rise.

16. Teddy Bridgewater, MIN

Bridgewater showed tremendous growth and potential over his rookie season, highlighted by completing 72.1% of his pass attempts over his final five games. The return of Adrian Peterson should help his progression. The addition of Mike Wallace, continued growth of Charles Johnson, and the presence of a healthy Kyle Rudolph (maybe) all bode well for the rapidly ascending Bridgewater.

17. Sam Bradford, PHI

Bradford has thrown 27 TD passes and 10 interceptions in his last 15 starts, an impressive ratio. Of course the problem is he hasn’t started a regular season game since October 20, 2013. Bradford has talent, and in a very quarterback-friendly system he can thrive. Bradford can easily be a top 10-12 QB (or better) in Chip Kelly’s offense if his body allows him, but it’s a major risk to take.

18. Colin Kaepernick, SF

The new-look (leftover) 49ers coaching staff is rumored to have a desire to see Kaepernick run the ball more frequently. If true, this could be a big boon to his fantasy value. Kaepernick set career highs in both passing attempts and rushing attempts last year, finishing 2nd among QBs with 639 rushing yards. More running opportunities and a legitimate deep threat in Torrey Smith make Kaepernick a high-upside QB2.

19. Jay Cutler, CHI

The good news for Cutler is last year his 3812 passing yards, 66.0 completion percentage, and 28 TD passes were all his best totals since being traded to the Bears. The bad news is his 24 turnovers were his most since 2009, and they often came in bunches. Losing Brandon Marshall and his 31 TDs over the last three years doesn’t help. The mercurial Cutler remains a weekly high-ceiling, very low floor option.

20. Joe Flacco, BAL

Even though Torrey Smith struggled with drops last year, his presence will be missed in Baltimore. Flacco loves slinging the ball deep, and Smith has led the Ravens in yards per catch (min. 10 catches) in each season since being drafted in 2011. Breshad Perriman was brought in to replace Smith as the speedster of the offense, but he is raw. Flacco may go through some growing pains with some of his inexperienced targets this year.

21. Jameis Winston, TB

Winston has the luxury of taking over an offense with three 6’5” targets, including an absolute beast in the making in Mike Evans. He took a lot of criticism for throwing too many picks in his final year at Florida State, but Winston’s willingness to throw into tight windows should reward fantasy owners with big plays. Winston showed plenty of comfort with throwing to big targets in college, hitting Kelvin Benjamin for 15 TDs in 2013.

22. Derek Carr, OAK

Carr did an excellent job with protecting the football as a rookie, but many times he was painfully overcautious. This approach led to him having the lowest yards per pass attempt (5.46) the NFL has seen from a starter since Blaine Gabbert in 2011. If Amari Cooper lives up to the hype and Michael Crabtree (Achilles) and Rod Streater (foot) return to pre-injury form, Carr should be much more willing to let it rip this season.

23. Andy Dalton, CIN

In year one with Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator, the Bengals went from 12th in the league in run percentage up to 5th. The emphasis in the run game resulted in career lows for Andy Dalton in pass attempts (482) and TD passes (19). Getting 16 games out of A.J. Green would help improve Dalton’s production, but there’s no reason to expect a drastic change in offensive philosophy from Cincinnati in 2015.

24. Marcus Mariota, TEN

The Titans seem to have no intention whatsoever to ease Mariota in. Expect Mariota to have the ball in his hands a lot by design, and maybe even more than the coaches plan for if they are trailing as often as they did last year. If he is given the freedom to take advantage of his skills as a runner, the fantasy ceiling will be a lot higher for him. The lack of a true go-to receiver and a questionable offensive line are limiting factors.

25. Alex Smith, KC

To give Smith credit, he has posted a touchdown to interception ratio of better than 3 to 1 in three of the last four years. The master of the checkdown won’t often hurt the Chiefs, but he also won’t often help his fantasy owners. Smith infamously failed to throw a single TD to a WR last year, a direct reflection of his complete unwillingness to challenge defenses. For this reason, his fantasy ceiling remains pretty low.

26. Kirk Cousins, WAS

Cousins threw for 250+ yards in each of his first five appearances last year, and threw multiple TD passes in four of those five games. Those numbers indicate there is a sliver of upside with Cousins for as long as he is the starter. Bear in mind however, Cousins had 11 turnovers in just six games and was ultimately benched for the remainder of the season after a poor showing against a subpar Titans defense. A lack of job security amidst the never ceasing drama in Washington could make Cousins a short-term option only.

Update: Kirk Cousins moved from #39 to #26 as of 8/31 after being confirmed as Washington’s Week 1 starter.

27. Ryan Fitzpatrick, NYJ

Geno Smith seems to have a firmer grip on the starting job than Robert Griffin III or Matt Cassel or else Fitzpatrick would be ranked a little higher. In three seasons under Chan Gailey in Buffalo, Fitzpatrick averaged over 3,400 passing yards and almost 24 TD passes per season. If the coaching staff decides to turn to the veteran at any point, he should do reasonably well in a familiar offense and with a good WR duo.

Update: Ryan Fitzpatrick moved from #36 to #27 (as of 8/17) as a result of the Geno Smith injury.

28. Nick Foles, STL

Foles goes from the #1 team in the NFL in offensive plays per game last year to the team that ranked 30th in offensive plays. Taking Tre Mason and Todd Gurley II in back-to-back drafts indicates Jeff Fisher won’t shy away from a deliberate pace any time soon, and he’ll rely on a run game and defense to try to win games. Foles is an upgrade over last year’s Davis/Hill duo, but he’ll be hurt by playing in a less aggressive passing offense.

29. Tyrod Taylor, BUF

It didn’t take long for Matt Cassel to relinquish his starting job to a young QB last year. History could repeat itself if Cassel is unable to make the occasional big play to keep defenses honest. Taylor has only attempted 35 passes in the NFL, and has never thrown a TD in four NFL seasons. Complete ineptitude from the other Bills QBs gives Taylor a legitimate chance to start. He projects as a dual threat QB which is always a fantasy-friendly attribute.

Update: Tyrod Taylor moved from #33 to #29 as of 8/31 due to winning the Bills’ starting job.

30. Blake Bortles, JAX

Bortles’ passing actually regressed over his rookie season. He averaged 240.1 passing yards in his first eight games but dropped all the way down to a meager 164.5 passing yards per game over his last six starts. Bortles’ significant drop off directly coincided with Allen Robinson’s season-ending injury, so a healthy Robinson could help restore Bortles’ game. He did pick up 50+ rushing yards in three of his last five games. If he keeps that up, he’s worth monitoring.

31. Brian Hoyer, HOU

Hoyer was feast or famine over his final seven games last year – throwing for over 300 yards three times and for under 200 yards four times. He ended the season on a down note, with 1 TD pass and 7 interceptions over his last four games. Hoyer’s willingness to take chances will result in sporadic big plays, but he is a streaky (at times downright bad) passer playing in a heavily run-oriented offense.

32. Josh McCown, CLE

In 2013, McCown had a tremendous run with the Bears, looking like a top level quarterback in what was an ideal situation for him. But in 2014, Josh McCown went back to being Josh McCown. The underwhelming journeyman failed to take advantage of a strong WR duo in Tampa. Now he finds himself in a situation where his most imposing WR might be former QB Terrelle Pryor. Don’t expect a flashback to 2013 any time soon.

33. Mark Sanchez, PHI

Sanchez is a clear cut backup to Sam Bradford at this point. However, he has the highest ceiling of any backup in the league thanks to Chip Kelly’s system. Sanchez completed 64.1% of his passes last year, a career high by a wide margin. He finished ranked in the top 10 in the league in both yards per attempt and yards per game (min. 220 attempts). If Bradford goes down (again) Sanchez instantly becomes a quality QB2.

34. Matt Cassel, BUF

In his last 30 games (spanning over four years), Cassel only has two 300+ yard passing game. Over that span, he has thrown more interceptions (34) than touchdowns (30). Having intriguing weapons at his disposal gives him a slight bump in fantasy value. However, Cassel’s inability to produce at a high level combined with Rex Ryan’s infamous “ground and pound” approach make him unlikely to be relevant in fantasy.

Update: Matt Cassel moved from #31 to #34 as of 8/31 after Tyrod Taylor won the starting job over him.

35. Robert Griffin III, WAS

The pieces are in place here. There is above average talent at the skill positions, the offensive line should be improved, and he has a coach who did manage to get 50 TD passes out of the less talented Andy Dalton between 2012 and 2013. Injuries and the constant threat of being benched have torpedoed Griffin’s fantasy stock. However, if he’s on the field he’s still a threat to at least post moderate fantasy production.

Update: Robert Griffin III moved from #28 to #35 as of 8/31 after being benched prior to the start of the regular season.

36. Geno Smith, NYJ

Smith finished last season on a high note, becoming the only player last year to have a game with a perfect passer rating in Week 17. Smith did show some improvement from year one to year two, and the duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker is a nice 1-2 punch. Chan Gailey’s system should be a plus for him as well. Smith can greatly exceed this ranking if he avoids the bench, but admittedly that’s a big if.

Update: Geno Smith moved from #27 to #36 (as of 8/17) due to fractured jaw and losing starting job.

37. Ryan Mallett, HOU

On the field, Mallett has done very little to prove he can be a starter in the NFL. Mallett does have the physical look of an NFL quarterback however, and that alone could buy him another opportunity for playing time. Hoyer is not a long-term answer at the position, so if the Texans aren’t vying for a playoff spot it could be audition time for Mallett again. He’s not that good, but there is a realistic path to playing time.

38. Johnny Manziel, CLE 

There is a strong chance that Josh McCown gets benched at some point during the season. Despite Manziel’s ineffective passing in spot duty last year, the Browns’ front office is not going to throw in the towel on him after just 35 pass attempts and 2 starts. From the outside looking in, Manziel appears to have taken this offseason much more seriously than last year’s. If nothing else, he should be more prepared to play this time around.

39. Colt McCoy, WAS

It’s no secret Jay Gruden is not exactly a fan of Robert Griffin III. Factor in Griffin’s injury history on top of that and it’s fairly likely another QB will start games for the Redskins at some point next year. Kirk Cousins’ propensity for bad interceptions could leave McCoy as the man who gets a chance if Griffin falters or goes down. McCoy is unspectacular, but he did complete 71.1% of his passes last year in limited duty and Washington does have good run after catch receivers.

Update: Colt McCoy moved from #33 to #39 as of 8/30 due to apparently falling to third on Washington’s depth chart.

X’s Three Stars of the Week (7/26/15 – 8/1/15)

Here is a look at this week’s “three stars” – according to X Marks the Sport.

1. Kyle Busch (NASCAR/Auto Racing)

In February, Kyle Busch went down with a compound fracture in his right leg and another fracture in his left foot as a result of a nasty collision with the inside retaining wall at Daytona. Due to the injury, Busch’s season got off to a pretty slow start. He heated up in July however, winning his previous two Sprint Cup races heading into the Brickyard 400. Busch was the one who ended up kissing the bricks on Sunday, picking up his fourth win in his last five Sprint Cup starts. The Brickyard is a major race on the NASCAR schedule, and Busch called Sunday’s win the “biggest of [his] career so far”. He became the first driver since 2007 to win three consecutive Sprint Cup races and the first driver not named Jimmie Johnson to win three in a row in this millennium. Busch closed the week out by winning the World Truck race at Pocono, his seventh win across different racing circuits since June 13.

2. Carlos González (RF – Colorado Rockies)

Amidst murmurs of trade rumors, Carlos González managed to lock in and have his best stretch of the season. In last Sunday and Monday’s games alone, he had a solid week or two worth of production. He had 7 hits in those two games, and launched a pair of home runs in each game. After a 6-RBI outburst on Sunday, González came right back the next night and drove in 4 more. Two days later, he left the yard for the 8th time since July 22. For the week, González compiled a .423 batting average (11-26) with 5 home runs, 12 runs batted in, and 10 runs scored. He also demonstrated excellent plate discipline last week, drawing a base on balls in six of the seven games. The walks helped González reach base 17 times over that span, earning a fantastic .515 on-base percentage for the week. This hot streak is a reminder that when healthy, CarGo can be one of the best offensive players in the sport.

3. Lucas Duda (1B – New York Mets)

On July 24, the New York Mets made a trade with the Atlanta Braves to acquire Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson. There had been speculation that Johnson could have been brought in to take at-bats away from Lucas Duda or even replace him as a starter. After all, prior to the trade Duda was terrible – batting .138 with 2 HRs and 5 RBI over 18 July games. The talked of potentially being benched seemed to reinvigorate Duda, and the result was a power surge at the plate. Duda hit 6 home runs last week (including a 3-home run barrage on Wednesday against the San Diego Padres) and capped off a streak which saw him have 8 consecutive base hits all go for home runs. He was the entire offense for the Mets on Saturday in a big win over the division rival Washington Nationals, hitting 2 homers and driving in 3 runs in the pivotal 3-2 victory. Duda’s stat line for the week was a a .389 average (7-18) with 6 home runs, 8 runs batted in, and 6 runs scored. He is a streaky player and prone to slumps, but when he gets his power stroke going he can help carry an offense.


X’s Three Stars of the Week (7/19/15 – 7/25/15)

Here is a look at this week’s “three stars” – according to X Marks the Sport.

1. Cole Hamels (SP – Philadelphia Phillies)

Well, this one was hard to see coming. Cole Hamels did not exactly come into Saturday’s start on a hot streak, or even a decent streak. In his previous two starts, Hamels failed to make it to the 5th inning and put up a dreadful 19.89 ERA while surrendering an alarming 20 hits. However, Saturday was a totally different story. In perhaps his last start as a member of the Phillies, Hamels had maybe the performance of his career against the Chicago Cubs. He went into Wrigley Field and hurled his first no-hitter (he previously pitched in a combined no-hitter but this was the first one he completed). He struck out at least 13 batters in a start for the first time since September 14, 2010. Hamels’ performance was so impressive, it caused some Cubs fans to send a public non-discreet message to the team’s front office.

The image is courtesy of @ryanlawrence21 on Instagram. If this was indeed Hamels’ last start as a member of the Phillies, it was a start that he and the Philadelphia fan base won’t soon forget.

2. Zach Johnson (PGA Golf – United States)

It had been eight years since his last win at a major event, but Zach Johnson emerged from under the radar to capture the 2015 Open Championship. Johnson shot a 66 in the 4th round, which tied for the best final round. He needed it too as Marc Leishman (Australia) matched him stroke for stroke. The strong rounds from both men qualified them for a decisive four-hole playoff with Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa) who shot a solid 69 on the final day. In the playoff, Johnson was the only one of the trio who was able to birdie each of the first two holes, and that ultimately proved to be the difference as he beat out Oosthuizen by a stroke to pick up the win. With this victory, Johnson is now one of nine golfers on tour with two multiple major championships since 2007. It was his 12th overall win on tour, and second consecutive win with an aggregate score of 273.

3. Ian Desmond (SS – Washington Nationals)

The weight of pending free agency seems to have adversely affected Ian Desmond. He entered last week with a highly disappointing .206 batting average, far below his career-worst batting average .253. Desmond was desperately in need of a hot streak at the plate, and maybe this past week was the spark he had been waiting for all season at the plate. From Monday to Saturday, Desmond put together a 6-game hitting streak and had multiple hits in four of the six games. He scored at least 1 run in five of those six games, and ended the week on an impressive three-game home run streak. Desmond’s overall stat line for the week was a .455 batting average (10-22) with 4 home runs, 7 runs batted in, and 8 runs scored. His big week at the plate raised his season average by 16 points up to .222. The overall numbers are still quite underwhelming, but if Desmond can build off of last week’s momentum for the rest of the season he still has time to revive his free agent stock.

X’s Three Stars of the Week (7/12/15 – 7/18/15)

Here is a look at this week’s “three stars” – according to X Marks the Sport.

1. Novak Djokovic (Tennis – Serbia)

Novak Djokovic wrapped up a good weekend for the top singles seeds at Wimbledon by successfully defending his title from a year ago. To pull off the feat this year, Djokovic had to get past Roger Federer (Switzerland) who had been in vintage form throughout the tournament. Heading into last Sunday’s final, Federer had won 18 of 19 sets. Djokovic and Federer split two extremely tight sets to kick off the final, before the reigning champ ultimately pulled away to capture his third career title at Wimbledon. It was the second Grand Slam title of the year for Djokovic, and the ninth of his career. Of course, he celebrated his victory by enjoying a taste of the apparently well-treated Centre Court grass. That tradition of his is questionable at best, but with appearances in all three Grand Slam events this season there is no questioning where his level of play is currently.

2. Mike Trout (CF – Los Angeles Angels)

The term “face of the league” was tossed around a lot last week in reference to Mike Trout, and he spent the week validating that notion. Trout made an immediate statement in Tuesday’s All-Star Game by hitting a lead-off home run off of the recently untouchable Zack Greinke. He scored another run later in the game, leading the American League to a 6-3 triumph in the mid-summer classic. Trout was named the Most Valuable Player of the game, and at age 23 became the first player in league history to win the award in consecutive All-Star Games. Once regular season games resumed, Trout reminded fans once again why he is considered by many to be the best player in the game. I Friday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, he broke a 0-0 tie in the 9th inning by launching a game-ending solo home run off of closer Koji Uehara. Trout has been incredibly productive over the last few years, but it is the signature moments such as the ones he authored this week which make him Major League Baseball’s brightest star.

3. Clayton Kershaw (SP – Los Angeles Dodgers)

For the first time in almost a month, Clayton Kershaw has his win-loss record for the season above .500. The reigning Cy Young winner accomplished this in impressive fashion, shutting out the Washington Nationals on Saturday night over 8 strong innings. With his signature curveball in full effect, Kershaw held the Nationals’ lineup to just 3 singles. He struck out a season high 14 batters and did not allow any bases on balls. His ERA for the season now sits at 2.68, the lowest point it has been at all year. Kershaw seems to have regained his Cy Young form in the month of July. In three starts this month, he has given up just one run over 24 innings (0.38 ERA) while recording a sparkling 34 to 2 strikeout to walk ratio. With this last start, Kershaw became the first pitcher to have consecutive starts with at least 13 strikeouts and no walks since Dwight Gooden in 1984. With Kershaw finding his groove, he and teammate Zack Greinke form the most daunting one-two punch of any rotation in the majors.

X’s Three Stars of the Week (7/5/15 – 7/11/15)

Here is a look at this week’s “three stars” – according to X Marks the Sport.

1. Carli Lloyd (FW – United States)

This was the easiest top star of the week to name since X Marks the Sport began doing the “Three Stars” segment. Any concerns from American fans that this year’s Women’s World Cup Final would have the same results as the Final between the United States and Japan in 2011 were immediately quelled by Carli Lloyd. The forward came out of the gates on fire, scoring two goals in the first five minutes of the match seizing control of the match before most fans had time to get seated and comfortable. A little over ten minutes later, Lloyd launched a heat check shot (to borrow a basketball term) from midfield and scored again. Her early offense left little doubt as to who the eventual World Cup winner would be. In the process, Lloyd became the first woman in history to record a hat trick in any World Cup Final – and did so with well over an hour to spare in the match. Lloyd’s historic effort broke the 16-year mini-drought for the United States women in the World Cup and ensured that highly-decorated and accomplished teammate Abby Wambach would not retire without a World Cup championship on her esteemed résumé.

2. Serena Williams (Tennis – United States)

It was another week of brilliant tennis in a Grand Slam event for Serena Williams en route to her sixth career Wimbledon championship. To get to the final, Williams defeated her sister Venus Williams (United States) and followed that up with wins over Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) and Maria Sharapova (Russia), dropping just one set in the process. All three of those opponents have been ranked #1 in the world at some point during there careers, so it was a distinguished list of opponents Serena Williams got through to get to the Final. Williams went on to top a newcomer to the Grand Slam finals picture in Garbiñe Muguruza to win yet another Grand Slam event. The victory on Saturday means that Williams currently holds all four Grand Slam titles for the second time in her career. She is the first women’s player since Steffi Graf (Germany) in 1988 to win the first three Grand Slam events in a calendar year. She is also the first women’s player to complete the calendar “Channel Slam” (French Open and Wimbledon) since…well, since herself back in 2002. She is an all-time great having a special year even by her sky-high standards.

3. Brian Dozier (2B – Minnesota Twins)

The overall stat line of Brain Dozier for this week won’t stand out too much. He went 7-28 (.250 batting average), with 3 home runs, 9 runs batted in, and 5 runs scored. However, it was Dozier’s flair for the dramatic which earned him a spot on this week’s edition of “Three Stars”. On Monday, Dozier delivered a walk-off 2-run home run in the 10th inning off of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Tommy Hunter to propel the Twins to a 4-2 victory. Dozier was even more clutch on Friday. After the Twins had cut a 6-run deficit to the Detroit Tigers down to one run, Dozier blasted his second walk-off home run in five days off of Tigers closer Joakim Soria. This time it was a three-run homer and lifted Minnesota to an 8-6 win. Dozier capped off the exciting week by receiving his first selection to the MLB All-Star Game.

X’s Three Stars of the Week (6/28/15 – 7/4/15)

Here is a look at this week’s “three stars” – according to X Marks the Sport.

1. Justin Bour (1B – Miami Marlins)

When the Miami Marlins lost Giancarlo Stanton to a broken left wrist, they desperately needed someone in the lineup to step their level of productivity up. After all, Stanton was leading the majors in both home runs and runs batted in at the time of his injury. Last week, Justin Bour did his best Stanton impersonation. He put together a four-game home run streak, including big home runs in key spots. On Wednesday, Bour hit a walk-off three-run home run with his team down two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. He followed that up the next day by hitting a go-ahead three-run homer in the 5th inning to help secure a win for José Fernández in his season debut. For the week, Bour hit .389 (7 for 18) with 4 HR and 8 RBI. Most importantly, the Marlins won all four games in which he hit one out of the park.

2. Steven Matz (SP – New York Mets)

Things didn’t start off so promising for Steven Matz when he made his Major League debut against the Cincinnati Reds last Sunday. He surrender a lead-off home run to Brandon Phillips, the first batter he’d ever faced in the big leagues. Matz rebounded quickly however, and ended up going seven and two-thirds innings, limiting the Reds to two runs and striking out six on his way to his first career win. The pitching performance was strong, but he made more noise at the plate than on the mound. Matz came up for three at bats in the game and came away with three hits, including a two-run double in his first at bat. He drove in a total of four runs, becoming the first Major League pitcher ever with 4 RBI in their debut. He also became the first player at any position since 1920 to go 3 for 3 with 4 RBI in his first Major League game. The 24-year-old hometown hero gave Mets fans plenty to be excited about in an historic effort which he will never forget.

3. Rakeem Cato (QB – Montreal Alouttes)

As the third string quarterback on the depth chart, Rakeem Cato was not supposed to be starting the second game of the season for Montreal but injuries forced him into duty. He surely was not supposed to beat the Calgary Stampeders, the defending champions of the league. But Cato did just that, performing almost flawlessly in the process. Cato completed 20 of 25 passes (80% completion percentage) for 241 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Cato’s quarterback rating of 148.9 leads the league (minimum 15 pass attempts) for the the young season. College football fans will remember that Cato was highly productive as Marshall’s quarterback over the last couple of years, but was spurned by the NFL due to his lack of NFL size (5’11”, 171 lbs.). Despite that setback, this debut performance as a pro may suggest that Cato has a bright football future after all, even if that future is north of the border.