When it comes to professional athletes, NFL scouts, coaches, and owners already have an idea of what makes up the perfect athlete, at every position. For example, the prototypical NFL quarterback size is 6’2″, 215 lbs, with a 31″ arm length and 9″ hand span. They also know that a wide receiver should be 5’11”, 185 lbs and a running back should be around 5’10”, 215 lbs. Those are by no means the only thing that is measured, a long list of other variables combined with those sizes helps NFL front office personnel make decisions on the futures of incoming rookies.
The only thing they will never be able to measure is how these players will be able to handle the pressure of playing in the NFL. Can they lead an Offense to the Super Bowl? Will they be able to run the defense and turn them into one of the league’s best? Do they have the X-factor?
The X-factor is the one measurable that every NFL scout, coach, and owner would love to have but is impossible to calculate. It is that special quality that is essential for success. It is a combination of things like a player’s passion, drive, talent, and that special quality that is tough to explain but easy to notice once you see the player in action. It’s the “It” factor of sports.
As the 2016 NFL season winds down, we decided to put together a list of the X-Factor from every NFL team for this season.
32. San Francisco 49ers: Joe Staley, OT
The San Francisco 49ers defense is the worst in the NFL this season. They give up, on average, 415.3 total yards per game which is almost 20 yards more than the 31st place team, the Browns. On top of the yardage, they give up 30.2 points per game, also dead last in the NFL. Their defense is just plain terrible this year.
But if you had to say something positive about the 49ers, it is their running game and it is lead by one of the league’s best offensive lineman, Joe Staley. Joe has been the starting Left Tackle since 2007, missing only 14 games in the process while dealing with an injury between 2009 and 2010. He has been to the last five Pro Bowls and has been selected as a 2nd team All-Pro three times.
31. Minnesota Vikings: Sam Bradford, QB
After spending the last few years battling injuries from all over his arms and legs, Sam Bradford was quickly becoming a bust in the NFL, technically speaking. But then he went to Philadelphia in 2015 and showed glimpses of greatness until being traded to Minnesota before the start of the 2016 season. It was a desparate move by the Vikings after they lost their starting QB, Teddy Bridgewater, to a torn ACL on August 30th.
In 12 games, Sam Bradford has completed 71.2% of his passes, the best of his career, and thrown for 2,954 yards with 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions. This has led to a 98.2 QB rating, another best for his career. His career seems to be back on track even though the Vikings are 7-6 after starting 5-0 this season.
30. Carolina Panthers: Andy Lee, P
Less than one year removed from a 15-1 season, a Super Bowl appearance, and having the NFL’s MVP, Cam Newton, it is sad to watch the Carolina Panthers struggle as mightily as they have so far and are now standing on the outside looking in for the postseason with a 5-8 record.
With that said, and a lot of people might argue this pick, we have chosen Andy Lee has the 2016 X-Factor for the Carolina Panthers. The veteran punter is having one of his best seasons of his 13-year career averaging 49.1 yards per punt, second best in the NFL. He has done his best to help the Panthers gain any advantage possible by changing field position with his big leg.
29. Baltimore Ravens: Justin Tucker, K
Speaking of punters, what about the kickers in the NFL?
If there is any kicker in the league that deserves to be considered an X-Factor, it is easily Justin Tucker. He has helped the Baltimore Ravens lackluster offense several times and has even helped them win a few games too. He leads the NFL with 31 field goals made out of 32 field goals attempted for a 96.2%, another NFL best. His most impressive statistic, however, is that he has made all nine of his attempts from beyond 50 yards.
His ability to be trusted is one of the biggest game-changers the Ravens have had this year. Look at all of the wins this season that you can attribute to his leg. The Ravens beat Buffalo by six, Cleveland by five, Jacksonville by two, and Cincinnati by five. Justin had more points in each of those games. In other words, without his made field goals, they lose all of those games.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars: Telvin Smith, LB
After such a promising 2015 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars have decided not to capitalize at all and have fallen right back into the mix for the worst team in the NFL. After starting off 0-3, they put together a couple of wins and started to turn things around before being completely dismantled by the Oakland Raiders in Week 7. Since that game, they have lost eight straight games.
The losses can be attributed to their lack of offensive production, not because of their defense, which has been one of the best in the NFL. They are fifth in the NFL in yards allowed thanks to third year starter, Telvin Smith. He has the makings of a future All-Pro LB with all of the raw talent he has that needs to be molded into a star, he just needs a little seasoning.
27. Chicago Bears: Jordan Howard, RB
In Chicago, there is very little reason to believe things are going to get better anytime soon. As long as they have Jay Cutler, the league’s highest paid player, on their payroll, and Alshon Jeffrey battling injuries while heading to free agency next summer, the Bears are going to struggle.
But there is some good news for Chicago Bear fans, they have one of the best young running backs in football right now in Jordan Howard. The rookie has shown highlights of his abilities and it gives them hope for another star RB, much like they had with Matt Forte.
The X-Factor is not always their best veteran player, it is the guy that can keep the wheels turning in Chicago and Jordan Howard is their future offense. That should be good enough for now for Bears fans.
26. Houston Texans: Benardrick McKinney, LB
When J.J. Watt went down for the season, the Houston Texans defense started to scramble. They were not going to dominate anymore because they lost their star defensive lineman, their MVP, for the entire 2016 season. But while the defense panicked and fans worried about the future of the Texans season, one man stepped into that role. Benardrick McKinney, in just his second season, has turned into a true leader of the defense.
He was needed and he has done excellent work, racking up 114 total tackles, four sacks, two passes defended, and a forced fumble. He has started all 13 games so far and has led the Houston defense to the sixth best defense in yards allowed. As the offense struggled this year, the defense has not, helping them remain tied for first in the AFC South division with a 7-6 record.
25. Atlanta Falcons: Vic Beasley, LB
What about Julio Jones? Matt Ryan? Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman? The Atlanta Falcons offense has many stars this season and any one of them could be their X-Factor but the reason the Falcons are leading the NFC South this year is not because of their offense, that has been good for a few years now. It is because of their defense, especially their stud linebacker Vic Beasley.
After a solid rookie campaign in 2015, Vic has taken his game to the next level this year and has 13.5 sacks to show for it. Deion Jones is the other stud on their defense but Vic Beasley is a ballhawk that figures out ways to cause chaos on the field. He has 34 tackles, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a touchdown. He can cover the entire field, sideline-to-sideline, creating confusion for opposing QB’s who just do not know when he will blitz or when he will drop into coverage.
24. Washington Redskins: Jordan Reed, TE
The Washington Redskins offense has been a nice complement to their defense this year which has given them a chance to make the playoffs. Kirk Cousins has come into his own this year as their full-time starter but he is nothing without his star tight end, Jordan Reed. When he is healthy, Jordan Reed is the league’s best TE (Sorry Rob Gronkowski).
When he is in the lineup, he turns a good offense into a great one. The projections go up, across the board, when he is healthy and starting because he can be very difficult to cover, especially in the redzone. He is also one of the better catching TE’s in football, earning plenty of targets and a 73.2% catch success rate. He is only in his fourth year and is already a huge problem for opposing defenses.
23. New York Jets: Leonard Williams, DT
The New York Jets are in desperate need of some help if they ever want to get back to the Super Bowl. One of the only good things that they have done in the last two years was draft Leonard Williams during the FIRST round of the 2015 draft, sixth overall.
Last season, Williams started 15 games and got progressively better each and every game. His improvement was part of the maturing process that rookies go through during their first season. For him, it was good enough for him to build upon heading into this season.
With only a few weeks left this season, Leonard Williams has more than doubled his sack total from last year, from three to seven. He is only 22 years old but is setting himself up to become the anchor of that defense while the Jets front office builds the defense up, around him.
22. San Diego Chargers: Casey Hayward, CB
As a defensive back for the Green Bay Packers, Casey Hayward was the slot cornerback, which is basically the third CB on the depth chart, because they had Tramon Williams and Sam Shields covering the outside. He was good, not great because he was not on the field the entire game. He did have an incredible rookie season where he picked off six passes.
When he got to San Diego this year, he was able to move into the role of the team’s No.1 starting CB after Jason Verrett got hurt, and not only shined, he has sparkled brightly. He has seven interceptions, 49 tackles, and a touchdown while forcing QB’s to a very low passer rating when throwing his way. At 27 years old, he has turned into one of the five best CB’s in the NFL.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Tyler Eifert, TE
The Cincinnati Bengals have struggled mightily this year and have had to deal with several key offensive player injuries including season ending injuries to one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, A.J. Green, and their workhorse running back, Giovani Bernard. Earlier in the season, they were without their star tight end, Tyler Eifert. He missed the first six weeks of the year before finally getting in a game during Week 7.
It did not take long before he made his presence known and by Week 8, his second game back, he caught nine passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. He has not been near those numbers since and that is not so much on him as much as it is a fault of Andy Dalton and the Bengals offensive gameplan. But when he is used correctly, they rarely lose. His value depends on his participation in the offense.
He is a true star that can change the course of any game with one big play. Jeremy Hill could be considered the other X-Factor but Eifert has a history of helping the Bengals win games when he performs well.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz, QB
The Philadelphia Eagles were supposed to struggle this year but instead, they have turned out some big wins and are 5-8 heading into Week 15 because of the play from rookie quarterback, and the 2second overall pick in this past year’s draft, Carson Wentz. The big boy from North Dakota State was not even supposed to be the second stringer this year, let alone their starter in Week 1. But the opportunity arose and he capitalized on it.
Some of the greatest QB’s in NFL history had terrible rookie seasons like when Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions, Troy Aikman lost all 11 games he started, John Elway had a TD-INT ratio of 7-14, Brett Favre threw four passes and two of them were interceptions, and Tom Brady completed one of three passes for six yards.
It is rare that one would come into the league like Carson Wentz, or Dak Prescott, and show up ready to perform at such a high level. Carson is looking at a season of around 3,500 passing yards, 15 to 18 TDs, and 12 to 14 INTs. The Eagles have their future QB that should help them turn things around fairly quickly in Philly.
19. Buffalo Bills: LeSean McCoy, RB
The Philadelphia Eagles shocked the NFL world when they traded LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso. It was not shocking because of the trade, it was shocking because of who he was traded for. LeSean McCoy is reminding us of just how amazingly talented he truly is this season in Buffalo and is easily one of the five best running backs in football. So why was he traded for a linebacker coming off of an ACL injury that had him miss the entire season the year before?
Regardless, he now is a part of the NFL’s top rated rushing offense. He has dealt with his share of injury problems, just like any other running back, but he has also battled through a lot of them too and has become the same guy he was back in Philly. He has turned the Bills into a playoff contender. The only thing missing for them now is a QB.
18. Los Angeles Rams: Aaron Donald, DT
There are only a couple of defensive tackles in NFL history that have done what Aaron Donald has done in his first three seasons in the league. Only Reggie White and Bill Pickel had more sacks than Aaron Donald in their first three seasons. Through 41 starts, Donald has 27.0 sacks and 156 tackles.
His ability to disrupt and entire offensive line is what makes him the X-Factor for the Rams. Teams are now starting to gameplan for him. They are trying to double team him and run away from him. When they pass, he is one of the last players the QB looks at before snapping the ball, just to make sure he knows where he is and can avoid him at all costs.
He is strong, powerful, and a beast that has a never-ending motor when the game starts. He is more athletic than he is given credit for being and can move much quicker than players like Ndamukong Suh or Geno Atkins. He has the ability to be the best DT in the NFL in the next few years.
17. Kansas City Chiefs: Tyreek Hill, WR
Of all the players we have talked about today, Tyreek Hill is probably the last one anyone would name as the Kansas City Chiefs X-Factor because of his slow start to the year. Before Week 8, Tyreek was nothing more than a kick or punt returner with a lot of speed and quickness that got a few looks during the games. He was able to catch a touchdown in his first game. And he has ignited the Kansas City Chiefs offense in the process. He is a triple-threat because he can run, catch, and return kicks. He is a rookie that is learning the NFL and making big plays at the right time in the year.
But with a roster that features stud defenders like Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Dontari Poe, Eric Berry, and Marcus Peters, it is a real accomplishment that Tyreek Hill is the one player all of the fans are buzzing about. He got his chance to show off his talents last Thursday night and he tore up the Raiders, with ease.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kwon Alexander, LB
The former fourth round draft pick surprised a lot of people last season when he became the starting middle linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His success could be measured in his ability to cover a wide range of space, deflecting passes, sacking quarterbacks, and making big plays. Although he ended up getting a four game suspension last year, in his 12 games, he put up averages that would have meant a 100 tackle season if he had played all 16 games.
After such a big rookie season, Kwon set himself up for an even stronger 2016 season and, with only three games remaining, he is on pace to reach career highs in all categories.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, QB
Now that he is 34 years old, Ben Roethlisberger is more prone to injuries and has missed a few games over the past few years which is how the Pittsburgh Steelers know he is their X-Factor.
When he does not play, the Steelers offense suffers greatly, especially Antonio Brown. Since 2010, Big Ben has missed 13 games and the Steelers have gone a pedestrian 6-7 during those games. Of those six wins, however, three of them happened in 2010 when Ben began the season on a four-game suspension. When he played, in the other 95 games, the Steelers went 61-34.
But with players like Drew Brees and Tom Brady nearing that 40-year old mark, Ben Roethlisberger has a few more years left in his tank and the Steelers, and Mike Tomlin, need him to play if they ever want to get back to the big game.
14. Miami Dolphins: Ndamukong Suh, DT
The NFL does not have too many interior lineman that can push through an offensive line like the big, bad Ndamukong Suh. The defensive tackle from University of Nebraska was considered one of the best NFL prospects ever, at that time, in 2010. He did not disappoint either and during his rookie year he had 10 sacks.
As he continues to quietly dominate the defensive line in Miami, Suh leads all Defensive Tackles in the NFL this season with 57 tackles. He has five sacks which are fourth best in the league. So although he does not talk trash or showboat during the games, Ndamukong Suh quietly leads the Miami defense as he continues to be one of the top five Defensive Tackles in the NFL.
13. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB
Is it obvious that without Andrew Luck, the entire Indianapolis Colts offense falls apart?
In 2015, the Colts finished with a 8-8 record while Andrew Luck battled a near career ending injury. He played through the pain until he finally had to shut it down for the rest of the year. He returned in 2016 and has now thrown for 3,381 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. His ability to improve his football IQ has helped him grow as a football player.
He has helped the Colts return to a contender while they also continue to build an offense around him. Frank Gore is a solid and consistent guy but when it comes to X-Factor, there is simply no other choice besides Luck.
12. New York Giants: Landon Collins, S
After winning a BCS National Championship as a Freshmen season with the University of Alabama, Landon Collins continued to excel in college and by his junior season was one of the best safeties heading into the NFL in 2015. At first, he was being projected as a late 1st round draft pick but ended up not being taken until the second round, 33rd overall (Just one slot away from being taken in the first round) by the New York Giants.
Following an impressive training camp and preseason, Landon Collins earned himself the job as the Giants starting Free Safety. He would go on to get 108 tackles, an interception, and nine passes defended for a very impressive rookie year in the NFL. So how does he follow that performance?
So far in 2016, Landon has five interceptions, three sacks, 100 tackles, a fumble recovery, 13 passes defended, and a touchdown. He has sparked the new look Giants defense which has helped carry them into one of the last two remaining NFC Wild Card spots left.
11. New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees, QB
Sadly, the New Orleans Saints have built the NFL’s best offense that relies heavily on their leader, Drew Brees. If he struggles, so does the entire team, not just the offense. He is the heart and soul of the entire city, let alone the team itself.
Take a look at their last two losses, for example. He has not thrown a touchdown since Week 12 and instead has given the ball away with six interceptions. In fact, he had quite possibly his worst game as a Saint last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and they lost 16-11 in a must win game.
10. Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson, QB
Russell Wilson got lucky when the Seattle Seahawks drafted him in 2012. He was lucky enough to be a part of a defense that has been one of the best in the league for several years now. That’s not to say he is not as good as he appears because he is proving every year, as he matures, that he is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the league.
As such, he has been the X-Factor in Seattle. They live and die behind his hands and it has been this way since he arrived in 2012. His production can be correlated directly to their record each season. When he struggles, they lose. It is just that simple. In fact, take a look at their losses in 2016. He has thrown only one touchdown and eight interceptions in their four losses.
9. Cleveland Browns: Joe Thomas, OT
Since 2008, the Cleveland Browns have the most losses in the NFL with 104. That includes multiple 10 or more loss seasons, eight to be exact. The only time they did not lose at least ten games was in 2014 when they finished 7-9. They have also changed Head Coaches six times in that span and have watched QB after QB come and go.
But the one thing that remains consistent for the Browns, besides losing, is that Joe Thomas is one of the league’s best offensive tackles, and has been since 2007, his first year in the league. He has stayed in Cleveland throughout his entire career which is puzzling to see since he could play anywhere he wanted to. It is very rare to see that an offensive lineman would crack the top-10 of this list but given the lack of talent in Cleveland and the small number of Pro Bowlers, Joe Thomas deserves more respect.
8. Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford, QB
With only a few weekends left of the 2016 season, the Detroit Lions have turned around a 1-3 start this season and have gone 8-1 in their last nine games with their only loss coming against the Houston Texans 20-13.
Throughout the entire run, Matthew Stafford has been on a serious tear. In the last nine games, he has a passer rating of 99.7 and a 66.7 completion percentage with 2,249 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, and only three interceptions. With Calvin Johnson no longer around, and Marvin Jones brought in as his replacement, the only true leader on this team remains Matthew Stafford. He has always been a great passer in the NFL but he has finally started to turn offensive stats into team wins.
7. Denver Broncos: Von Miller, LB
The one thing that the Denver Broncos can do better than anyone else in the NFL is play defense. They have done so for a few seasons now and thanks to Von Miller, they have won a Super Bowl ring. Von has done more for the Broncos then any other player since the John Elway days. He is consistently in the backfield and has 73.5 sacks, which is an average of 12 per season. He can drop into coverage, force fumbles, and make smart decisions to aid the defense against any opponent.
The defense has not been as dominate in 2016 but they are still ranked 3rd in yards and sixth in points allowed. Von Miller has put up some of his best performances while injured players work to get healthy and make a return. He is sitting at 13.5 sacks on the year already with a chance at breaking his best in a season of 18.5 back in 2012.
6. Arizona Cardinals: David Johnson, RB
In his first 18 career starts, David Johnson has put together a scary statistical output for a running back. With just 18 career starts in his first two seasons, David Johnson has rushed for 1,666 yards with 19 touchdowns and 105 receptions with 1,202 yards and eight touchdowns. His average number of total yards per start is 159.3 yards per game, the second best average. We can continue to breakdown his numbers and they will forever prove the same point, that David Johnson is a star in the making.
His 2016 campaign is showing his entire portfolio of skills and he has single handily helped the Cardinals remain relevant during a disappointing season. He is beyond exciting to watch and if the Cardinals want to get into the playoffs, they will need his very best over the next three weeks.
5. Tennessee Titans: DeMarco Murray, RB
After being in Philadelphia for one year, DeMarco Murray was starting to gain some heat as an overrated running back that was more of a product of his environment as opposed to being a legit star in the backfield. That reputation came on the heels of his time in Dallas, who has the highest rated offensive line in the NFL for several years now. Once he left, and then under-performed, it was looking like he was not what it seems.
After going 3-13 in 2015, the Tennessee Titans had hope for the future thanks to Marcus Mariota, who had gradually improved throughout the season. But they lacked a running game last year and had the 25th ranked rushing offense. In just one year, they transformed into the 3rd best rushing attack in the NFL and it is all thanks to the league’s second best running back, DeMarco Murray. He has helped the Titans contend for a division title.
4. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers, QB
As poorly as the Green Bay Packers have played this season, they still remain one of the better teams in the NFC even without having the best record in the process and it is all because of Aaron Rodgers. It is definitely not because of their running game. Over the past few weeks, the Packers have watched their depleted backfield continue to shrink from injuries leaving Aaron Rodgers to basically fend for himself out there but that is when he turns on the gas.
If you read about Aaron Rodgers this season, before the last few weeks when he exploded on offense, you would think he was having a terrible year. But that just is not true. In fact, he has not thrown more than eight interceptions in a single season since 2010. That gives him a career TD-INT ratio of 289-72 and a 103.8 QB rating, both NFL records.
3. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE
In a league full of defensive studs, the one player that stands out above the rest is third year starting linebacker, Khalil Mack. He is the newest style of defender in the NFL. Julius Peppers was the fastest defensive end, Ndamukong Suh was the strongest defensive tackle, and Luke Kuechley is the smartest interior linebacker, but between the three of them, not a single one can measure up to Khalil Mack in overall measurements.
Khalil Mack can play almost any position on defense but his specialty is defensive end and linebacker. In fact, he made NFL history when he was named an AP All-Pro at two different positions last season. No one has ever been named an All-Pro at two different positions in the same year and yet, Khalil Mack was named an AP All-Pro Defensive End and Linebacker.
2. New England Patriots: Tom Brady, QB
At 39 years old, Tom Brady continues to impress us with his leadership skills and partnership with Head Coach Bill Belichick. Even after missing the first four games of the year, Tom Brady has become a front-runner for the NFL MVP award because of his 8-1 record since returning (Patriots are 11-2 overall).
It is not like Tom Brady can rely on his teammates on offense either. Besides Julian Edelman, the Patriots have a rotating door of wide receivers and this year is no different. Without burying anyone, his next best wide receivers are Chris Hogan, James White, and Malcolm Mitchell. Rob Gronkowski has only played in six games this year so his numbers are not too great.
1. Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott, QB and Ezekiel Elliott, RB
It should come at no surprise that the Dallas Cowboy fans are already calling for a QB change after their second loss of the season bringing them to a 11-2 record. Dak Prescott is a rookie that was not even supposed to be the backup this season and yet, he managed to get a few breaks and turned into the Cowboys starter. No one expected him to rejuvenate the Cowboys offense and turn them into the best team in the NFL, but he has and he has done it with the help of another rookie, Ezekiel Elliott.
Ezekiel Elliott leads the NFL in rushing with 1,392 yards and is the front-runner for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. His 12 rushing touchdowns is second best in the NFL too.
The scary one-two punch from the Dallas Cowboys rookies has created a buzz about the team that the city has not experienced since the early ’90s. So maybe they should back off and allow Dak Prescott a chance to finish this year out, he has certainly earned it.
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