X-Men, X marks the spot, X-ray vision. The letter X is an important one. For the Green Bay Packers to find success this season, they'll need their X-factors to play Xtremely Xgood.
Here are my top three X-factors this year:
X-Factor #1: Jace "Are you sure your name's not Jason?" Sternberger
A white guy wearing number 87 catching passes from Aaron Rodgers? And his first name starts with J? It's almost sacrilegious to give that number out while Jordy is still alive and somehow not signed (fuck you Brian Gutekunst) but whatever. It's Jace's time. Although what's up with that grip of the football? Gonna need to see both points covered this season Jace (I hate your name).
The second-year tight end missed his entire rookie season (essentially) due to an ankle injury so he's sort of a Ben Simmons type of rookie in 2020. I'm still mad that Ben Simmons won NBA Rookie of the Year in his second season over Donovan Mitchell but I digress. The Packers added no help to the WR corps this offseason and Jimmy Graham is finally dead so Jace should have an opportunity to emerge as a premier receiver in the offense this year, which the Packers will desperately need.
The Packers drafted Sternberger-Meister-Meister-Berger with the 75th overall pick (3rd round) of the 2018 draft. The highest pick GB has used on a tight end since they drafted Bubba Franks in 2004. Franks for everything, Bubba, but as I said before, it is Jace's time.
Sternberger transferred to Texas A&M for his final season of college football where he set single-season school records for tight ends with 832 yards and 10 TDs. He was first-team All-SEC and a consensus All-American, but more importantly to me, he was given the Offensive MVP award and the Strength and Conditioning Offensive Aggie award at the team banquet. This guy is used to being the best player on an offense and drawing tough coverage assignments, and his teammates respect his work ethic in the weight room. Be an X-Factor this year, Jace. But change your name or I'll change it for you. Your middle name is Evan. I hear that's a good name. Go by that.
X-Factor #2: A.J. "No one cared who I was until I put on the shorts that showed off my humungous leg muscles" Dillon
If quads could kill, AJ Dillon would be serving 25 to life with no parole.
The Packers' second-round draft choice in 2020 was welcomed with resounding boos from the green and gold faithful as many fans wondered, "why the fuck did we just take a running back when Aaron Jones and Jamal Williams have been outstanding and the team needs so much help at wideout?" Well, many fans, let me tell you something. I was right there with you. I wanted a middle linebacker like Malik Harrison or Willie Gay. I wanted a talented wide receiver like Van Jefferson. I wanted a toilet seat made of solid gold, but it's just not in the cards now is it, baby. AJ Dillon is who we got and I have zero qualms, that's right zero qualms with it.
Here are a few tidbits about AJ Dillon to get excited about:
-Holds school records at Boston College with 4,238 career rushing yards, 38 rushing touchdowns, and 4,618 all-purpose yards in only three seasons.
-Was named first-team All-ACC in all three of his seasons.
-Registered 14 career games with150+ rushing yards, the most of any ACC player over the last 20 years. Guess who is second in ACC history (last 20 years) with 13 career games of 150+ rushing yards? Lamar Jackson. And in third is Dalvin Cook with 12. Pretty fantastic company.
-Ran for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns in a game his senior year of high school before sustaining a season-ending injury. Booyah. High school football stats.
And one more tidbit about AJ Dillon to get excited about. His legs are fucking massive.
And he has 4.5 speed.
Dillon is going to be a machine in short-yardage situations and he'll likely be first-team all-hated by fantasy football owners when he poaches a dozen touchdowns from Aaron Jones.
X-Factor #3: Christian "Mama ain't raise no fool" Kirksey
"When a player leaves the Browns, he becomes a man" -unknown.
The Packers got absolutely embarrassed in the NFC Championship game by the 49ers run game. It was probably the hardest game to watch since... the 49ers ran the ball down the Packers' throats in the 2013 divisional-round game courtesy of that guy Colin Kaepernick and the useless confused outside linebacker Erik Walden. Damnit Walden, stay home on the zone read one time! But what that 2019 NFC Championship game showed was what all Packer fans already knew. Our middle linebackers suck. The Giants scooped up Blake Martinez and Kyle Fackrell in free agency (best of luck to ya on this upcoming play). So Gutekunst went out and signed Christian Kirksey to lead the defense at MLB.
Kirksey has been mostly injured recently, playing in only 9 games over the last two seasons. However, before his injury streak, he had the most solo tackles (171) and second-most total tackles (281) in the NFL spanning 2016-2017. The only guy with more total tackles in that span is Bobby Wagner with 300. So barring more injuries, Kirksey seems to have the talent to be a strong addition up the middle. The Packers have desperately needed someone to play tough, downhill football at MLB since Nick Barnett left in 2010.
The thing about recent Packers linebackers, like Blake Martinez, is that they have not lacked in tackling production. Blake damn near led the league in tackles every season he was here. It's that his tackles came 4+ yards beyond the line of scrimmage. It does no good to make a tackle 7 yards downfield on a HB dive. Mike Pettine needs Christian Kirksey to make an impact at the line of scrimmage and standing behind block-eater Kenny Clark should give Kirksey plenty of space to make some big plays up the middle.
End of 3 X-factors blog.
Beyond these three X-factor players that can make or break the Packers' chances of hoisting the Lombardi, there is one X-factor I left out that really is the most important X-factor of all.
I mean Matt LaFleur.
Matt LaFleur went 13-3, won the NFC North, went 6-0 against division opponents, beat the eventual Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs in the regular season, won his first playoff game at Lambeau against the Seahawks, and was a win away from playing in the Super Bowl.
He has a lot to live up to in year 2.
In the locker room, he has underappreciated guys on defense (Z Smith, P Smith, J Alexander, A Amos). He has a superstar at wideout that the front office ignored by not signing someone who can take away some of the double teams he'll be seeing week in and week out. He has some big names playing in contract years with no extensions signed (D Bahktiari, A Jones, J Williams, K King). And he has a first-round rookie QB stepping into an unwinnable situation as he sits behind future hall of famer Aaron Rodgers, who has no plans to retire in the next 5 years.
The writing is on the wall that Green Bay's offensive scheme is about to change. Rodgers will spend a lot more time under center, turning around to hand it off to Jones/Williams/Dillon. I expect the 2020 Packers to look a lot like the 2019 49ers that were 10 minutes away from winning the Super Bowl. 15-20 pass attempts per game and running it down defense's throats until they puke. I'll miss watching Rodgers pull rabbits out of his hat 30 times a game but I'm pumped to watch the Mean Green Bay Whatdyasay Pack Attack ground game destroy linebackers and safeties in the snow at Lambeau.
One last X-factor: Me. I'm ready to go in, coach. Just give me a chance!