XFL: Tampa Bay Vipers Fantasy Football Preview
Wasn’t that the car you really wanted to jack in Grand Theft Auto?
Wait, no. It was D.J.’s idiot boyfriend in the later years of Full House. Right?
Actually, it was both. But now we can get all the Vipers together and make them the final preview in our 8-team series before opening kickoff this weekend.
And these Vipers might just feature 1 of the league’s most exciting offensive players …
I kept Marc Trestman out of the intro, because he’s worth waiting for. Trestman just might be the top offensive force in this new league.
Six times, Trestman has taken over an NFL offense as OC or HC. In 4 of those cases, the offense improved in both yardage and scoring in Trestman’s 1st year. His 1995 Niners couldn’t get much better, because they had ranked 2nd in yardage and 1st in scoring the previous season. So Trestman merely repeated those finishes.
The only offense he didn’t improve or keep in line was the 2015 Ravens, whom Trestman took over from OC Gary Kubiak. Of course, that team lost starting QB Joe Flacco 10 games in, lead WR Steve Smith after only 7 weeks and even RB Justin Forsett for the game’s final 6 contests.
Trestman, of course, has worked beyond the NFL. He has also won 3 Grey Cups in the CFL and been named coach of the year there twice. Trestman claimed 2 titles in 5 years with the Montreal Alouettes during his 1st run, before the unsuccessful tenure as Bears HC. Trestman returned to the CFL in 2017 and won a 3rd title with a Toronto Argonauts squad that had finished last in the league the year prior.
As for play-calling, Trestman has always enjoyed throwing the ball -- since before it was cool. His 1995 Niners attempted 40.3 throws per game. His 2002 Raiders attempted the league’s 2nd-most passes, en route to their Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers. Even in the pass-happy CFL, Trestman has finished 6 of his 7 seasons either 1st or 2nd in the league in pass attempts. His teams also finished 6 of those 7 seasons 5th or lower in the 9-team league in rushing attempts.
Trestman presided over big passing volume for the likes of Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler, as well as Rich Gannon’s career years in Oakland. He also helped generate 225 targets for Matt Forte across 2 seasons in Chicago and produced seasons of 90+ targets for RBs Derek Loville, Michael Pittman and Charlie Garner. And TE Randy McMichael delivered career highs in targets (118), receptions (73) and yards (791) in his lone season under Trestman (Dolphins assistant HC in 2004).
There’s upside to working with Trestman. It’s just a matter of who he decides to lift up.
1. TE Nick Truesdell
2. WR Seantavius Jones
3. RB De’Veon Smith
4. WR Jalen Tolliver
5. RB Quinton Flowers
6. TE Cole Wick (not on roster)
7. WR Rannell Hall (not on roster)
8. WR Reece Horn
9. QB Taylor Cornelius
10. WR Alonzo Moore
Players of Note
TE Nick Truesdell
Truesdell was the 5th overall pick of the skill-position draft, despite never having appeared in a regular-season NFL game and barely playing any college ball.
A 215-pound WR out of high school, Truesdell got a scholarship to University of Cincinnati but lost that ride during his debut season after being caught stealing from the campus bookstore. Truesdell then transferred to Grand Rapids Community College and tore an ACL in his 1st game. He decided not to return to college ball, instead hiring an agent and trying the pros.
Truesdell landed trials with the Bengals, Titans, Packers, Colts, Vikings and Jets but didn’t make it into a regular-season game. He did, however, play multiple seasons in the Indoor Football league and Arena Football League. Truesdell racked up an 80-977-23 receiving line in 2015, his lone full AFL campaign.
Truesdell attended the NFL’s Pro Player Combine in 2017 and ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.47 to 4.60 range at 6’6 and 252 pounds. Truesdell’s only on-field action since then, though, came in the AAF last spring. He caught 24 balls for 269 yards and 3 TDs (among just 28 targets), earning Pro Football Focus’ 2nd-highest receiving grade among any of the 120 targeted players. (Only 3-target TE Tanner Balderree topped him.) No AAF player drew more targets without dropping 1.
Now the 29-year-old (until March 14) looks like the centerpiece of the latest Marc Trestman pass offense.
QB Aaron Murray
Murray didn’t do much in the AAF last spring, throwing for just 6.6 yards per attempt and a 1.9% TD rate while sharing time with Matt Simms. Was the problem his own limitations or a coaching staff that included a 1st-time HC (Kevin Coyle) and an OC, Ken Zampese, with limited coordinator experience (just 2016-17 in Cincinnati)?
Tough to say. But Murray spent most of the previous 4 years bouncing around NFL rosters after a strong college career that made him a 5th-round pick in 2014. Murray racked up 8.9 yards per pass attempt as a 4-year starter at Georgia, delivering 121 TD passes vs. just 41 INTs. He added another 16 TDs on the ground, despite not being much of a runner.
Murray now gets to pilot the aforementioned pass-friendly Trestman offense with Truesdell plus lots more size among his pass-catchers. Of the 12 combined WRs and TEs on the 52-man roster, 8 stand 6’3 or taller.
RB De’Veon Smith
The Vipers have been nice to us by releasing their Week 1 depth chart. Smith leads the way despite 4.80-second speed, an 84th-percentile speed score and a meh 4.5 yards per carry career in college. Smith did, however, fall behind only Jhurell Pressley among XFL backs in Pro Football Focus’ AAF rushing grades. Smith averaged a solid 4.6 yards per carry there, delivering 345 yards and 6 TDs over 75 attempts.
Jacques Patrick -- a 235-pounder, whose 47 college receptions and 7.6 yards per catch each beat Smith’s numbers -- sits next on the depth chart. Quinton Flowers adds versatile competition. He’s officially listed at QB and delivered big passing numbers across 3 starting seasons at South Florida. But Flowers also tallied 3,672 rushing yards at USF, eclipsing 190 carries and 10 ground scores in each of his final 3 seasons.
Flowers sits just 3rd on the QB depth chart.
WRs Jalen Tolliver, Reece Horn and Dan Williams
This trio tops the initial Tampa Bay depth chart, over more familiar names such as Seantavius Jones, Tanner McEvoy, Stacy Coley and Donteea Dye. Tolliver played at Division II Arkansas-Monticello, Horn at D-II Indianapolis and Williams at FCS Jackson State. All 3 enjoyed productive college careers, with Tolliver posting the biggest numbers.
He averaged 16.5 yards per catch over 192 receptions and racked up 39 TDs. Are you a fan of market shares? Well, Tolliver finished his 2016 junior campaign with 27.6% of the team’s receptions, 34.1% of the receiving yards and 53.8% of the TD catches. Senior year proved even more dominant: 35.4% of receptions, 40.1% of yards and 53.3% of the TD catches.
At 6’3, 209 pounds, Tolliver will be interesting to watch.
Horn earned PFF’s 3rd-highest receiving grade among all AAF wideouts last spring, trailing only Rashad Ross and Charles Johnson. He stands near-identical to Tolliver in size but timed a tenth-of-a-second slower in the 40 and averaged 13.5 yards per catch in college. Horn also dominated market share at Indianapolis over his 3 seasons:
Williams stands just as tall as the other 2 and timed fastest in the 40 among them (4.56). His stat totals dipped over his final 2 seasons, but mostly due to missed time. Williams graded poorly in AAF play, though, according to PFF. He hauled in just 17 of 30 targets there for 164 yards (9.6 per catch) and 1 TD.