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Bateman, Aiyuk among top-five X-factors going into the 2023 NFL season
National Football League

Bateman, Aiyuk among top-five X-factors going into the 2023 NFL season

Published Jul. 22, 2023 7:24 p.m. ET

With the 2023-24 NFL fast approaching, it's never too early to look ahead at which players are primed to standout for their respective teams this fall. 

On Friday's edition of "Speak," former Super Bowl champion wide receiver James Jones did just that, as he provided his top five X-factors for the upcoming season — and some of his picks might surprise you.

Here are the four players and one head coach whose success is absolutely vital for their teams this season.

Let's get to it!


5. Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers

2022-23 stats: 78 receptions for 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns

Jones' thoughts: "If he steps up and becomes the No. 1 receiver on this team, which I truly believe he is, [then] he is the best receiver [in San Francisco]. I know Deebo Samuel's over there, and y'all looking like, 'Hey, JJ's crazy. Pump your brakes.' [But] when you talk about running routes [and] being able to play any and every receiver position, Brandon Aiyuk is the best over there."

4. D.J. Moore, WR, Chicago Bears

2022-23 stats: 63 receptions for 888 yards and seven touchdowns

What Jones said: "This dude is going to be a problem. … This is why I love D.J. Moore — because sometimes you just got to let him go make a play."

[NFC North X-factors: Players who will shape Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings seasons]

3. Za'Darius Smith, DE, Cleveland Browns

2022-23 stats: 10.0 sacks, 44.0 combined tackles, five passes defensed and one forced fumble

What Jones said: "If y'all watched Za'Darius Smith and y'all watched the Minnesota Vikings last year — the Minnesota Vikings had a pretty good team. Za'Darius Smith was a big reason for that. You get him on the other side of Myles Garrett — and this is not a guy that's just coming off the edge — you're putting him at the 3-technique, you can put him on the same side as Myles Garrett. If he comes along, and he stays healthy, and he racks up and plays the way he played in Minnesota and Green Bay, this Cleveland Browns defense is going to be a problem."

2. Rashod Bateman, WR, Baltimore Ravens

2022-23 stats: 15 receptions for 285 yards and two touchdowns across six games

What Jones said: "If they get Rashod Bateman to stay healthy, everybody tie your shoes, buckle your belts up and get ready because Lamar "Action" Jackson and this Ravens offense is going to be unstoppable. The kid can do everything. Put the ball in his hands on a 5-yard route, he'll take it to the crib. [He] has the speed to catch the go-balls. You add him in there with those two [Odell Beckham Jr.] and [Zay Flowers] and Mark Andrews; it's a problem."

1. Mike McCarthy, HC, Dallas Cowboys

2022-23 stats: 12-5 record, lost in NFC divisional round

What Jones said: "Dak Prescott came out, and he said, ‘I ain’t gonna throw 10 interceptions this year,' and he said that because of the confidence that coach Mike McCarthy is giving him right now. The freedom, how fast he's going to play. I'm not thinking a lot. The ball is gonna come out. Short passes, quick fade passes. The ball's coming out. You don't have to think a lot, and we are going to run this ball. Confidence from the head coach. Coach Mike is the X-factor [with] the way he's gonna call these football games."

[AFC South X-factors: Who are the keys to success in the division?]

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