Names you may know, names you should know from the XFL Summer Showcases (pt. 2)

Former former Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook. (Credit: Spartan Playbook)

Part two of my two-part series looking at some familiar names and not-so-familiar names from the eight XFL Summer Showcase events:

Los Angeles

Names you may know:

S Rahim Moore: A highly decorated defensive back from UCLA, Moore led the country in interceptions as a sophomore. He declared for the NFL Draft following his junior season and was selected by the Denver Broncos in the second round. Moore intercepted eight passes in four seasons in Denver before playing what ended up being his final NFL games in Houston in 2015. He made a comeback with the AAF this spring.

DT Will Sutton: Sutton made a major jump his senior season at Arizona, from 5.5 tackles for loss as a junior to 23.5. His sacks also skyrocketed from 2.5 to 13. The Chicago Bears took a shot on that promise by drafting Sutton in the third round in 2014. He couldn’t live up to his senior numbers, however. Sutton too found refuge in the AAF in 2019.

TE Fred Davis: At USC, Davis won the John Mackey Award in 2007 as the top tight end in the nation. He was a second-round pick of Washington the next spring. A six-year contributor in the nation’s capital, Davis caught 162 passes for 13 touchdowns over that time. In 2014, Davis was suspended for about a year from the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He never regained his footing thereafter.

P Jeff Locke: Only about two or three punters are drafted each year. In 2013, Locke was one of them. Minnesota spent a fifth-round pick on the kid from UCLA. He punted for the Vikings for four years, struggling the last two after his first two years were solid. He was the third punter Detroit used in 2017, filling in for five games while the other two were injured. After being cut by the San Francisco 49ers after training camp last year, he latched on with Arizona of the AAF.

K Nick Novak: In terms of NFL games played, Novak has the second-most experience amongst those invited to the Showcases. He has played for five teams over an 11-year career in the league, in between stints in NFL Europe and with the United Football League (both now defunct). His career field goal percentage stands at a respectable 82%. Returning from a back injury, he kicked for Birmingham of the AAF in 2019.

Names you should know:

S Stavros Katsantonis: Turns out, they play football in Canadian colleges, too. Katsantonis is one of the few players from the Great White North to try out for the XFL at these Showcases. He isn’t eligible for the CFL draft until 2020 due to a drug violation attributed to an over-the-counter supplement. Katsantonis, who also punted in college, was a three-time All-Canadian player (equivalent to an All-American in the states). The CFL’s loss could be the XFL’s gain.

LB Jerimiah Spicer: XFL’s Twitter account helped to tell Spicer’s story better than I could: https://twitter.com/xfl2020/status/1151234057000443905

WR John Santiago: The XFL’s Summer Showcases were a place for coaches and personnel to uncover hidden gems from smaller colleges. Santiago may be just that. He attended the University of North Dakota, where he was listed as a running back. But he was more than that, catching passes, returning punts and kicks during his four years as a Fighting Hawk. He left the school with 6,562 all-purpose yards and 32 touchdowns. Santiago attended the NFLPA Bowl this year prior to the NFL Draft.

RB Ja’Quan Gardner: To get noticed at the small school level, you must be dominant. At Humboldt State, Gardner dominated Division II. He led that division in rushing as a sophomore with 2,266 yards and 26 touchdowns. As a sophomore and senior, he was the GNAC Offensive Player of the Year. As a pro, Gardner proceeded to rush for 100+ yards in two of the first three weeks of the AAF season.

TE Johnny Stanton: For most players, the position they are listed at tells all. For Stanton, that may not be the case. While at UNLV, Stanton played both quarterback and linebacker, also blocking a kick on special teams. He arrived at UNLV after stints at Nebraska and Saddleback College in California. When he signed with the Minnesota Vikings after the 2018 NFL Draft, his position was simply listed as “athlete.”

Seattle

Names you may know:

LB Hau’oli Kikaha: Hau’oli means “happiness, joy” in Hawaii. As a linebacker, Kikaha more likely prefers to bring fear and pain. Kikaha was a bit of a defensive end/linebacker ‘tweener coming out of Washington, landing in New Orleans in round two of the 2015 NFL Draft. A torn ACL and ankle injury were among the maladies Kikaha had to fight through in his three seasons on the Saints. He’ll look to restart his career in the XFL after being waived by New Orleans at final cuts last September.

RB Bishop Sankey: Sankey scored 20 rushing touchdowns as a senior at Washington, garnering second-team All-American honors. He blazed a 4.49 40 at the NFL Combine, which led the Tennessee Titans to take him in the second round of the draft. He ended up playing in just 29 games over two seasons, though he showed the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He averaged almost 4.0 yards per carry in the AAF.

RB Terron Ward: The quintessential backup running back for three seasons in Atlanta, Ward held on to third-string duties behind Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman from 2015-2017. He had to prove his value on special teams to keep that roster spot. Ward played for the AAF in 2019. A jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none, Ward entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State.

LB Korey Toomer: Special teams was Toomer’s ticket to a roster spot during his five-year NFL career. Voted Team MVP his senior season at Idaho, Toomer’s entry to the NFL was via the draft as a fifth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. He has made 124 defensive tackles in his career and has returned an interception for a touchdown. Toomer was signed by the B.C. Lions of the CFL last month.

DT Alameda Ta’amu: Another Washington alum, Ta’amu is a mountain of a man at 6’3” and 348 lbs. It’s no wonder the Pittsburgh Steelers saw him as a NT fit in their vaunted 3-4 defense, selecting him in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Ta’amu was waived during his rookie season, a rarity for a fourth rounder. He played 14 of his 21 career games in Arizona in 2013, as they ran a defensive system similar to the Steelers. He is one of many Spring League alums invited to the Showcases.

Names you should know:

LB Peyton Pelluer: An ultra-productive sixth-year senior in 2018, Pelluer set a Washington State record for most games played and left the school fifth on its all-time list in tackles. He fills run gaps well and plays downhill. He made the Pac-12 All-Academic team five times. Thought to be too small (6’0”) and too slow (a 4.83 40 time) for the NFL, he did receive a minicamp tryout with the Cleveland Browns after the draft.

RB Dominck Bragalone: Bragalone’s ascent began in high-school where he holds Pennsylvania’s single-season high-school rushing record and comes in second nationally in that category. He attended Lehigh University and continued his rushing tear, finishing his career as the school’s all-time leading rusher. He had a down year as a senior, which hurt his stock, and his size (5’10’, 233 lbs) has led to whispers about him becoming a fullback.

RB Taku Lee: Just as the original XFL had a player from Japan, LB Shin Yamada, so too could the rebooted version. While in college, Lee was the leading rusher in Japan two years in a row. Lee was a part of the Obic Seagulls of the X-League of professional football in Japan before coming to America to participate in The Spring League this year.

LS Tanner Carew: Thought by many to be the top long-snapper in the 2018 NFL Draft (with some mocks predicting him to be selected, a rarity for the position), Carew instead was signed by the Seattle Seahawks as a free-agent. He showed the ability to cover as well as snap while at Oregon, making six special-teams tackles. Carew was invited to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl before the draft, where top seniors show their wares for NFL scouts.

DE Chase DeMoor: Central Washington’s DeMoor shined at the Division II level, earning an invite to the FCS National Bowl game, an all-star game for smaller colleges. He did so well there he was “promoted” to the subsequent FBS All America game. Perhaps DeMoor’s greatest claim to fame is his ability to block field goals; he led all levels of college football with six blocked kicks as a senior in 2018.

Tampa Bay

Names you may know:

QB Ryan Mallett: There was talk of Ryan Mallett being a first-round draft choice in 2011. Instead, he fell to the New England Patriots in round three. He had terrific TD:INT ratios his junior and senior years at Arkansas, and his completion percentage jumped almost ten points as a senior. Mallett was second-string to Tom Brady for three years in New England, until a trade to the Houston Texans in 2014. He had a strong showing against Cleveland before tearing his pec muscle, then losing the starting QB battle to Brian Hoyer in 2015. He managed to carve out a seven-year career as a top backup.

TE Kellen Davis: No one at the XFL Summer Showcases had more NFL experience than Davis, who played in 125 games across nine seasons. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Chicago Bears in 2008. Davis was the starting tight end in Chicago for two years, 2011 and 2012, but never caught more than 19 passes in a season. That may have been more attributable to Chicago’s offensive design at the time than Davis’s skills. He brings a huge body to the position, at 6’7” and 265 lbs.

S Matt Elam: After a college career in which he garnered first-team All-American accolades in 2012, Elam was selected by the Baltimore Ravens with the final pick of the first round in 2013. Elam struggled with ineffectiveness and injury in his three years in Baltimore. Heading into free agency in 2017, Elam was arrested for possession of marijuana, likely scaring away any potential suitors. His career continued with the CFL in 2018.

WR Stephen Hill: Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense makes it difficult to project offensive players from that school to the NFL. But it’s not difficult to project 6’5”, 209 lbs, and a 4.36 40 time to the NFL. Those numbers belonged to Hill, a second-round pick of the New York Jets in 2012. Hill didn’t have eye-catching college stats because of the Yellowjackets’ offensive system. Unfortunately for Hill, that lack of productivity continued into the NFL. He only lasted two seasons with the Jets, catching a combined 45 passes. He was recently cut by the Atlanta Legends prior to the AAF season.

FB Tony Fiammetta: Fiammetta is attempting a football comeback after last having played in the NFL in 2014. Best known for his time in Carolina, Fiammetta played for four teams in six seasons, seeing action in 51 games. He only touched the ball 23 total times, so he was a block-first guy. With the expectation of wide-open offenses permeating the XFL, one wonders how many teams will even carry a fullback.

Names you should know:

S Jonathan Crawford: While Crawford left Indiana eighth in program history in interceptions, perhaps the most telling statistic is that he started every game he played in beginning when he was a true freshman. A team captain as a senior, Crawford will miss some tackles and get his feet stuck in the ground in coverage, but the accolades speak for themselves: The three-time All-Big Ten Honorable Mention selection signed with the Tennessee Titans after this year’s draft.

DT Nikita Whitlock: It’s one thing to play multiple positions in college; it’s another to do that in the NFL. But that’s just what kept Whitlock around for three years. A defensive tackle in college, he was immediately switched to fullback upon signing as an undrafted free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014. As a member of the New York Giants practice squad later that year, he practiced at both fullback and linebacker. The next season, he won the fullback job from a veteran based in part on his special teams play. The XFL may favor smaller, quicker athletes on the D-Line given the expected pace of play, which should favor Whitlock’s chances.

G Terronne Prescod: The online draftniks couldn’t come to a consensus on Prescod: Some had him as a future NFL starter, others as a fringe player at best. He was a favorite of Pro Football Focus, garnering their highest grade among all offensive lineman during his senior season of 2018. They named him a first-team All-American. Prescod’s athletic limitations led to him going undrafted.

T Bruno Reagan: More and more, scouts are looking for offensive linemen with a wrestling background. Reagan fits that bill. As a high-school junior, he was Tennessee state heavyweight champion with a record of 57-0. He also has a judo background. At Vanderbilt, Reagan manned both right guard and center positions and closed his career starting 40 straight games and helping the Commodores to their best offensive season since the 1970s.

LB Quincy Redmon: As if rising from the ranks of Division II football to earn a contract with the Miami Dolphins wasn’t overcoming a big enough obstacle, for Quincy Redmon, that was the easy part. The hard part? Redmon’s family was homeless at times when he was growing up, staying wherever they could find a roof. Then, at nine years old, he was partially paralyzed from delivering a hit on the football field. Redmon was never expected to play sports again and was in a wheelchair for six months. Football isn’t all that intimidating when you’ve lived a life like that.

St. Louis

Names you may know:

RB Akeem Hunt: Hunt never cracked the 1,000-yard rushing barrier in a season with Purdue, but that didn’t stop the New York Giants from wanting to get a look at him as an undrafted free-agent. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve and after a stop with the Baltimore Ravens, found a home with the Houston Texans. He was on-and-off their practice squad for two years, eventually moving on to Kansas City in 2017. There, he played in 15 games and averaged 24.4 yards per kick return. In the AAF, he was part of a running back by committee with the Orlando Apollos.

TE Clay Harbor: Athleticism was Harbor’s ticket to the NFL, where he was drafted in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010. After being waived in 2012, he was claimed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2014, he caught a career-high 24 passes. In 98 career NFL games, he has 114 catches and eight touchdowns. He was last in camp with the New Orleans Saints in 2017, eventually being placed on injured reserve.

RB Trent Richardson: Although he may go down as one of the biggest NFL Draft busts in history, that wasn’t the scuttlebutt after Richardson’s rookie season. The Cleveland Browns took him number three overall in the 2012 draft, and he amassed 950 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns his first year. He was part of a surprising trade to the Indianapolis Colts during his second season and never got untracked there as his yards per carry average continued to dip. Richardson just wants to play football, which has led him to the CFL and AAF in his post-NFL career.

QB Connor Cook: Cook holds the distinction of being the first quarterback to make his first career start in a playoff game during the Super Bowl era. It did not go well for Cook, who went 18-of-45 passing with a touchdown and three interceptions for the Oakland Raiders against the Houston Texans after being selected in the fourth round in the NFL Draft prior to that 2016 season. A two-time Big Ten Championship Game MVP while at Michigan State, Cook kicked around with a few more teams before being cut by the Detroit Lions in June.

QB Zach Mettenberger: Former LSU Tiger Mettenberger entered the NFL as a sixth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2014. With the Titans a mess at quarterback that year, Mettenberger ended up starting six games, completing nearly 60% of his passes with eight TDs and seven interceptions. The Titans drafted Marcus Mariota in the first round in 2015, but once again Mettenberger was pressed into duty that year, starting another four games. He saw time in The Spring League and with the Memphis Express of the AAF after a year with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017.

Names you should know:

DT Francis Kallon: In 2017, SteelersDepot.com called Kallon the “Steelers’ most intriguing 2017 UDFA.” While he did indeed go undrafted, Kallon’s athleticism at Georgia Tech’s pro day got him noticed. He ran a 4.97 40 at 6’5” and 295 lbs. Longtime NFL scout Gil Brandt suggested Kallon could have a home at offensive tackle. So why did he go undrafted? After moving to the United States from England, Kallon didn’t even take up football until late in high-school and didn’t crack the Georgia Tech starting lineup until late in his senior year.

WR Kavontae Turpin: A controversial figure at TCU, Turpin was kicked off the Horned Frogs’ team in October of last year due to an arrest for assault. This was the second such charge against him. In a workout for scouts off-campus, Turpin measured in at just 5’7”, but ran a 4.31 40. At TCU, he made hay as a returner, bring back two kickoffs and four punts for touchdowns. His legal situation bears monitoring, as does the XFL’s policy on these types of charges.

TE Carter Kirk: Kirk departed Southwest Minnesota State holding the team’s career record for field-goal percentage (59.2) and rebounds (887). Yes, those are basketball stats because Kirk was a four-year member of the Mustangs basketball team. He only played one year of football there, at tight end, after playing quarterback in high school. He was good enough to start 10 of 11 games in college, nabbing 27 passes for 339 yards. He parlayed that year of work into a minicamp tryout with the Seattle Seahawks.

LB Jordan Harold: The former University of Missouri defensive lineman made headlines in May when he camped outside Carolina’s Bank of America stadium, holding a sign that read “will pass rush for hot wings.” Harold, whose football excursion has taken him as far away as Mexico to play the sport, was just repeating a strategy that had worked once for him already: He got a spot on the Missouri squad by approaching the team’s defensive line coach outside their complex. Coming in from Northwest Missouri State, Harold was eventually put on scholarship and earned a job in the starting lineup.

LB Shaan Washington: Washington gave the AAF its first viral moment, making a monster hit on QB Mike Bercovici in the league’s inaugural game. It wasn’t all-bark, no-bite either, as Washington came up with three sacks in the first two weeks of the season. Washington started for three years on the Texas A&M Aggies and as a senior, was fourth in the SEC in tackles. Aggressive but slow, he fits best in a 3-4 defensive alignment.

XFL bolsters its ranks with new staff hires including former AAF Director of Player Personnel

The XFL bolstered its ranks with new staff hires, including a league-wide director of player administration, heads of communications in their Los Angeles, Tampa Bay and Houston franchises, and a head of partnerships in LA.

Russ Giglio has joined as Director of Player Administration. Russ spent over eleven years at the NFL working in the Player Personnel and Football Operations departments, and most recently was the Director of Player Personnel at the former AAF. In his role at the XFL, he will be charged with overseeing Player Personnel policies and procedures, including the draft and waiver wire, and report to Doug Whaley, Senior Vice-President of Football Operations.

Lisa Milner Goldberg joins the league as head of communications for XFL Los Angeles, after eleven years working at Swanson Communications, a PR agency with a focus on boxing, individual athletes and live events. Allen Barrett will head up communications for XFL Tampa Bay after 11 years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he most recently served as Senior Communications Manager.  Charles Hampton comes to Houston as head of communications for XFL Houston, where he spent eight years with the Houston Texans before heading up the athletic communications team at Grand Canyon University for the past four years.

Jim Baral also joins XFL Los Angeles as the Senior Director of Partnerships, after consulting for the Los Angeles Chargers for the past year and a half. A native of Los Angeles, Jim led media sales and marketing for Univision Networks and Cox Communications on the west coast for over 20 years.

Names you may know, names you should know from the XFL Summer Showcases (pt. 1)

With all eight Summer Showcases now complete, the next step for the XFL from a player personnel standpoint is to begin signing players to league contracts. Commissioner Oliver Luck has stated plans to sign 200-300 players from the Showcases to be made available in the XFL Draft, scheduled for some time in October.Over the course of the eight Showcases, around 900 players worked out for XFL coaches and league staff. In scouring the rosters, there are some players who may be familiar to even the most casual football fan. There are some players who are known to the diehards. And there are some players who fall into the “obscure” category.

That, however, doesn’t mean they don’t have a story to tell or aren’t of value. Over the next two columns, I’ll break down some of the bigger names attending the Showcases, as well as point you in the direction of some of the lesser-known players who may have a shot at a contract.

Some have slipped through the professional football cracks for one reason or another, and some just have intriguing backgrounds worth mentioning. Below, I’ll spotlight players from the first four Showcases. Later, I’ll write about players from the last four.

And if you’re interested in learning more about those who worked out seeking an XFL contract, check out my Google Doc on the players known to have attended the Showcases, as well as details about their professional careers. You won’t find this breakdown anywhere else, and I update it as new information comes in. If you’d like to contribute by adding a name who attended or other information, DM me on Twitter @gregmparks or e-mail me at g_man9784@yahoo.com.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1R8DSec0yBdhuqrCH1u3JU2JzoeHD9Te8a9YCBgsNw-8/edit#gid=249102793

Dallas

Names you may know:

RB Lance Dunbar: A six-year NFL vet, Dunbar spent five years with the Dallas Cowboys as a backup running back and special teamer. Among those he spelled in the Dallas backfield? DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott. Not a bad duo to study under.

RB Christine Michael: Michael won a Super Bowl ring with the Seattle Seahawks at the conclusion of the 2013 NFL season. A second-round draft pick of Seattle in 2013, Michael led the team in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2016, but was released in the offseason when he was caught up in a numbers game at the position.

FB Aaron Ripkowski: A fan favorite in his three seasons in Green Bay, Ripkowski played in 47 out of a possible 48 regular season games and proved a devastating lead blocker. He showed an ability to run the ball when pressed into action as well, averaging 4.2 yards per carry during his tenure with the Pack.

QB Landry Jones: Jones was a four-star recruit coming out of high-school and landed at the prestigious University of Oklahoma. He guided the team to a Fiesta Bowl win as a sophomore. A fourth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jones sat behind the durable Ben Roethlisberger for five seasons. Despite his college pedigree, he has thrown just 169 NFL passes.

DE Kony Ealy: Carolina selected Ealy out of Missouri in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Durable for four seasons, he was never able to consistently crack the starting lineup for the Panthers, and his statistics failed to grow. In the final year of his rookie deal, he was traded to New England before bouncing around with a few other teams before finishing last season in Oakland.

Names you should know:

CB Brian Peavy: The Iowa State product was a favorite of Pro Football Focus, where he came in at 104 overall in their 2019 NFL Draft Big Board. The site credited him with the fourth-ranked overall grade in the class among cornerbacks, and the 12th ranked coverage grade. A criminal mischief arrest in 2017 and a height of just 5’9” in an era of big corners worked against him. He was signed, then released, by Arizona.

WR Jalen Rowell: In 2017, Rowell (nee Robinette) put up eye-catching numbers at 6’3” and 220 pounds for Air Force and was set to be a day three pick in the NFL Draft. Then, the service academies changed their policy on athletes turning pro, leading to Rowell having to serve two more years. Which brings us to 2019 and the XFL.

DE Moubarak Djeri: Djeri made his way to America after playing in the German Football League. He was signed by the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 after playing for the Cologne Crocodiles. He was released before the season began. Still just 23, Djeri is raw but has the measurables to be a force.

K Tyler Rausa: Size is a factor at every position in the NFL, even kicker. Rausa connected on 79% of his field goals in two years as a starting placekicker at Boise State, but his 5’9” stature works against him. He participated in the National Arena League in 2018, where he led the league in field goal percentage.

DE Marcell Frazier: Playing college at Missouri, Frazier notched 15.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a senior, following up a junior campaign that saw him register 7.0 sacks. Most impressive about his senior numbers? He did that playing most of the year with a torn quad. Not the most gifted athletically and having taken a circuitous route to get to Missouri, Frazier can obviously be an impact player.

Houston

Names you may know:

WR Robert Meachem: For six seasons, Meachem was a part of the New Orleans Saints’ prolific offense. Over that time, he amassed 164 receptions and averaged over 16 yards per catch. In 2012, he left for big money in San Diego, but never panned out there as a free agent acquisition. He returned to the Saints before heading north to the CFL for 2018.

S Will Hill: Despite a talented career at the University of Florida, Hill’s brand was so toxic that not only wasn’t he drafted in 2011, he wasn’t even signed after the draft. It wasn’t until a year later that the New York Giants took a flier on him. Hill played for the Giants and Ravens over four seasons, but personal issues continued to plague him at the pro level – among them, an arrest and NFL suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

TE Larry Donnell: Donnell flew under the radar for two years as a pro until he broke out on a nationally televised Thursday Night Football game, grabbing three touchdowns en route to a Giants victory over Washington. At 6’5” and 269 pounds, Donnell is not a game-breaker, but he can move the chains. Across four seasons in New York, he caught 110 passes.

LB Taiwan Jones: This is a name you may know, it’s just not the PERSON you may know. Yes, there are TWO Taiwan Jones who have recently appeared in the NFL. Jones the running back is still active and on the roster of the Houston Texans. Jones the linebacker has only played a handful of games in the league with the New York Jets.

QB Brandon Silvers: Not known for his work in the NFL but rather in the Alliance of American Football (AAF), Silvers had a tryout with the Saints out of Troy in 2018 but didn’t land on their camp roster. He worked his way up from third string with the Memphis Express of the AAF to help the team win a key overtime game against Birmingham. He was briefly on the New York Jets’ roster this past offseason.

Names you should know:

FB J.D. Moore: Fullbacks need love too. Although a position that has become an endangered species in football, Moore has positional flexibility having played some tight end in college. He blocked for first-round NFL Draft Pick Leonard Fournette at LSU. His NFL career was cut short by injury last year in Kansas City.

DT Chris Nelson: A rookie out of Texas, Nelson was a team captain and played at the post-season East-West Shrine Game this January. A bit undersized at defensive tackle, Nelson showed an ability to push the pocket. He started all 14 games as a senior and had 39 tackles with 5.5 for a loss. He was signed then released by the Pittsburgh Steelers after this year’s draft.

QB Devante Kincade: The two-time SWAC Offensive Player of the Year at Grambling State, Kincade has signed contracts in the NAL and CFL since going undrafted in 2018. He is just as adept on the run as he is throwing the ball. Kincade has XFL connections: Then-SMU and current Houston XFL head coach June Jones offered the four-star recruit out of high school; Kincade signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL, coached at the time by Jones.

CB Bradley Sylve: Although he wasn’t a starter on Alabama’s star-studded defense, Sylve was hoping to land a free-agent contract after the 2016 draft when he began his Pro Day workout. That all changed when Sylve tore his Achilles tendon while working in front of scouts. A year later, he signed with the Bills after running a 4.43 40 yard-dash.

TE Zeke Pike: Pike’s story is best told in this Sports Illustrated write-up from 2016: https://www.si.com/college-football/2016/12/26/zeke-pike-auburn-tigers-louisville-cardinals

New York

Names you may know:

WR Hakeem Nicks: A first-round pick of the Giants out of North Carolina, Nicks hasn’t played a regular-season pro football game since 2015. He was a six-year starter with the Giants, twice going over the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a season. He was a part of the Super Bowl-winning squad of 2011. Nicks is a true comeback story.

DT Jerel Worthy: Worthy has bounced around the NFL after being selected in the second-round of the 2012 draft by the Packers. Many draft analysts saw him as a borderline first-round talent. He was never able to put it all together though, compiling just 34 tackles and 2.5 sacks across 40 NFL games.

RB Branden Oliver: Undrafted out of the University of Buffalo, Oliver surprisingly led the Chargers in rushing during his rookie season of 2014. Oliver became the caddy for Melvin Gordon when the Wisconsin product was selected in the first round by San Diego in 2015. Oliver sustained a torn Achilles that kept him on the sidelines in 2016 and wasn’t as productive when he returned.

TE Evan Rodriguez: Another TE/FB hybrid, Rodriguez entered the NFL as a fourth-round pick out of Temple by the Chicago Bears. He was arrested twice while in college, and two more times while in the NFL. Though he was last on an NFL team in 2014, Rodriguez was a part of the San Antonio Commanders of the AAF this past spring.

RB Andre Williams: At Boston College, Williams was Doak Walker Award Winner (nation’s best running back) and a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, both in 2013. He was eventually drafted in the fourth round by the New York Giants in 2014. He was the team’s leading rusher that year, but only with 3.3 yards per carry. His carries dipped the next three years between the Giants and Chargers.

Names you should know:

LB Cardell Rawlings: Coming from Division II Wingate University, Rawlings was under-the-radar for much of the draft community in 2019. At a prototypical linebacker size of 6’2” and 240 pounds, Rawlings’ best asset is his ability to be a pass rush nuisance. As a senior, he had 18 sacks and 23 tackles for loss, and was a DII All-American. Oh by the way? He runs a 4.5 40.

QB Alek Torgersen: The Ivy League doesn’t produce a lot of pro talent, but Penn’s Torgersen would love to follow the path of former Ivy Leaguer Ryan Fitzpatrick. Torgersen set school records for passing touchdowns and total offense. He obviously has the intelligence you’d like at the position and is more mobile than his 6’3”, 230 lb size would bely.

RB Tarean Folston: Folston comes from a football family: His dad, James, was a second-round pick of the Raiders in 1994 and his brother has spent time in the league as well. Tarean was a four-star recruit out of high school, landing at Notre Dame. A torn ACL cut his junior season short and when he returned as a senior, he was behind Josh Adams on the depth chart. Folston tried out for Washington before playing in the AAF.

G Brian Dolce: Dolce went from walk-on at the University of Albany to earning a camp tryout with the Bills after the 2019 draft. Even more impressive is he did that while frequently changing positions. He came to Albany as a defensive lineman, moved to tight end, then back to defensive line. That’s after playing linebacker in high school. His position listed at the XFL Showcase? Offensive guard.

S Delvon Randall: A leader on the Temple defense, Randall is in the record books as having the third-most interceptions all-time in the American Athletic Conference. Randall signed with the Eagles following the 2019 draft after starting for three years on the Owls. Most impressively, Randall earned a single-digit uniform number while in college, given yearly to the nine toughest players on the Owl team.

Washington

Names you may know:

LB Terence Garvin: “Rugged” Terence Garvin carved out a nice career as a special teamer in the NFL, playing a combined 75 games for Pittsburgh, Washington, Seattle, and San Francisco. His most famous play may have been a hit that broke the jaw of Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber. Garvin wreaked havoc in the AAF this year, intercepting two passes and returning one for a touchdown in the first Orlando Apollos game of the season.

WR Jacoby Ford: Blazing a 4.28 40 yard-dash time at the NFL Combine led to the speed-happy Raiders drafting Ford in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. He immediately made an impact as a kickoff returner, taking three to the house as a rookie. He was also effective on jet sweeps and reverses. Ford couldn’t parlay his work into a second contract in Oakland and found himself in the CFL for two years.

RB Bernard Pierce: Pierce averaged an eye-popping 4.9 yards per carry in his rookie season in Baltimore, working behind starter Ray Rice. His performance dropped in 2013, averaging two full yards per carry less than his first year. Nevertheless, he had an opportunity to start in 2014 but was released after the season following a DUI arrest. He bounced around a bit before playing in the American Flag Football League in 2018.

CB Dexter McDougle: McDougle entered the NFL as a third-round draft choice of the New York Jets in 2014. He tore his ACL in training camp, sidelining him for the season as a rookie. He was relegated mostly to special teams in 2015. A trade to the Eagles in 2017 saw his career follow the same path. After being cut mid-season by the Eagles in 2018, McDougle latched on with the AAF.

TE Khari Lee: You probably didn’t select Khari Lee for your fantasy football team: In 34 career NFL games, he has just two receptions. A block-first tight end, he was signed out of Bowie State by the Houston Texans following the 2015 NFL Draft. He showed in college that he can catch the ball, coming down with 34 receptions during his senior season.

Names you should know:

DE Adham Talaat: Talaat played his college ball at Gallaudet, a school for the deaf in Washington, D.C. He was a dominating player in college, a captain and finalist for the award for Most Outstanding Player in Division III in 2013. He earned many “firsts” when it came to accolades bestowed upon a Gallaudet player. Talaat had tryouts with the Chiefs and Seahawks in 2014 before getting into coaching at the collegiate level.

WR Vinny Papale: You may not have heard of Vinny Papale, but you may have heard of his father, Vince. It was Vince’s story that inspired the movie “Invincible” starring Mark Wahlberg. At Delaware, Vinny played receiver and returned punts. Injuries mounted, as his freshman and sophomore campaigns were cut short due to a broken leg, and ACL & MCL tears respectively. He tried out for the Eagles, his father’s old team, following the 2019 NFL Draft.

G Toree Boyd: An ironman on the offensive line for Howard University, Boyd started 46 straight games in his career, a team record. Born in Nassau in the Bahamas, Boyd was a three-year team captain for the Bison. Post-draft in 2017, Boyd signed on with the Atlanta Falcons.

G Kyle Chung: Virginia Tech’s Chung, son of former NFL offensive lineman Eugene Chung, signed a free-agent deal with the Chicago Bears after going undrafted this year. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA due to medical hardships, specifically injuries relating to his shoulder. Chung played mostly left guard, center, and right tackle during his career, showing valuable versatility.

TE Cam Serigne: To some a surprising draft snub in 2018, Serigne latched on with the Carolina Panthers following the draft. All he did in college was set the ACC record for career receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns for a tight end. Even as a redshirt freshman, he led Wake Forest in receiving. Not big enough or fast enough for the NFL, Serigne’s story is all too familiar for many trying out for the XFL.

Imagining a reimagined game of football

The XFL’s goal is to make a great game even greater.  An ambitious mindset for sure, but everything about the league’s mission thus far has been just that.

The average amount of actual action in an entire NFL game has been calculated to be anywhere from eleven to fifteen minutes. This is what the viewer at home, and in the stadium, experiences over a three-hour span of watching an NFL game. Fifteen minutes or less of actual football.  A sixty-minute game that only produces a quarter of actual gameplay. More than three quarters of an actual NFL game clock is spent on camera shots, commentary and players huddling and regrouping before the next play from scrimmage. The average three-hours plus of an NFL game is dedicated to advertisements, replays, multiple breaks in the action, and then more advertisements. Fifteen minutes, at best, of actual football plays, and nearly three-hours of everything else. In defense of the NFL, after all these studies came out, in recent years they have to attempted reduce all the dead spots in their telecasts.

People will often point to advertisements eating up the three-hours plus of a football game. The NFL has taken steps, in recent years, to increase their in-game advertising through picture-in-picture technology, with quicker commercial breaks and on-field advertising.  The real issue is that it’s not just about how long a game or broadcast takes. It’s about what happens during the actual game. It’s about the amount of in-game action, and the lack of it, or the delays between plays.  It’s not just about the fans at home watching. It’s about the people watching live at the games. Oftentimes, the home viewer has a better experience than the fan seated in a stadium. TV Ratings have been up for the NFL, but attendance is down; simply because people would rather watch the games at home. Part of that is a financial decision, but a large part of it has to do with being able to better enjoy the game at home. The breaks in action and momentum throughout the course of a football game are way more noticeable when experiencing a game live in person, than they are from the comfort of your own home. The breaks in momentum also effect the players and the play on the field.

The XFL’s mantra of “less stall and more ball” is less about fitting a football game into a three-hour window, and more about increasing the importance of the action on the field.  It’s about minimizing the dead play time and meaningless plays, and maximizing the meaningful plays.  So, the number of plays and the overall time of the telecast is important, but not the main focus. It’s only part of the overall picture.  Actions speak louder than words, and for these words to matter they need to be put into action.  How exactly does the XFL plan on doing that?  The experimenting of this is still on-going, and will continue later this month with the league’s broadcast partners, ABC, Fox and ESPN, when the league partners again with the Spring League to continue their research, development, and testing of game rules and in-game technologies.

One way of speeding up and increasing the action is to shorten the play clock. Rather than the current 40-second play clock used in the NFL, the XFL is working towards having a 25-second play clock.  With a 40-second clock, two offensive plays can potentially take up to a minute and twenty seconds of game clock. The 25-second play clock will, in theory, add an extra play for every minute played on the field.  However, it doesn’t stop there. The XFL’s goal is to quickly run another play once a play has ended. The league is planning to speed up the process by having a designated official, whose sole job will be to line up the football immediately after a play has ended. The quicker the ball is spotted, the quicker the next play happens. In theory, a shorter play clock with a system in place to set and reset for the next play will help speed things up, but there is a reliance on human execution.  This is where modern technology comes into play to help boost the operation further.

The XFL is planning on using an “all-11” audio communication system, for both offense and defense. In modern day football, a play call is relayed from a coach to his quarterback, who then relays the play to his teammates before the next play can be run. Some NFL and college teams that implement a faster style of offense will often use signals and even drawings to speed up the process.  With an all-11 audio system,  every offensive player will immediately know the next play call. Once again, time is being saved before the next play happens. This will extend to the defense as well. What’s unknown at this point is if there will be a cut off time in the audio transmission to players.  In the NFL, the audio is cut off before the team is at the line of scrimmage. Will the XFL decide to keep the audio transmission going right up until the snap? It would be the equivalent of Tom Brady hearing Josh McDaniels instruct him at the line of scrimmage, while Brady is scanning the defense. Imagine if that audio exchange was also available to the audience. During NFL telecasts, Tony Romo has expertly surmised where the play should, and could go, right before the snap. Imagine a scenario where he was actually telling Jared Goff, where to throw the ball based on the defensive look.  An “all-11” audio system not only helps players know the play and line up quicker, but it can also help them execute their designed plays better. Using this type of technology will almost make the need for a huddle unnecessary.

Technology can also be a useful tool in other areas. Some of the dead spots in football telecasts are unavoidable, like injuries for example.  The one area where games do get dragged down, and the action gets slowed down to a halt, is with officiating delays and replays. The XFL plans on implementing a modified officiating protocol. They are looking to speed up the process in which penalties are called, and in how quickly replays and challenges are resolved. One of the nine game officials is going to be in the booth, with access to all angles and replays. This official’s job will not only to be to correct a call, but to communicate it quickly to the head referee on the field.

Simplifying the rules will also help cut down on penalties and game stoppages. The XFL’s proposed “multiple forward passes behind the line of scrimmage” rule, not only adds an extra layer to the offensive strategy, but it makes the referee’s job easier when it comes to determining where the ball is. The XFL’s proposed one foot in bounds catch rule also helps officials as well. So much time is spent on stoppages and replays determining what is, and what isn’t a catch. One foot in-bounds as a catch eliminates the referee conferences after a catch and the potential challenges that usually follow these types of plays.

Meaningful versus meaningless plays. Since taking multiple safety measures, the NFL has seen a big increase in touch-backs and fair catches over the last few seasons. Kickoff and punt returns, to a lesser extent have been reduced significantly. One of the bigger dead spots and lulls in action in the NFL, comes after a team scores. A break in the action is then followed by the next play, being yet another break in the action. No time is taken off the clock during this operation, but usually nothing happens. This really hurts the live in-game experience and the momentum and flow of the game, not to mention eliminating the excitement that was attached to kickoffs in the past. The now defunct AAF eliminated the kickoff altogether, and an offensive play followed a score. However, what that effectively did was to guarantee that no offensive team would have the ability to start a drive in good field position. Every team started their drives at the 25-yard line. Eliminating the kickoff also eliminated the excitement and shift in momentum that comes from big plays on kick returns.

The XFL is bringing the kickoff and kick return back, keeping safety in mind with a new alignment that reduces collisions but brings back the exciting aspect of a big return. This is one of the original “reimagine” concepts that the XFL has been tinkering with and testing for quite some time. This concept was heavily aided by the league’s health advisory committee members. One of the most recent proposals was for touch-backs to result in teams starting on offense at their own 35-yard line. An incentive to not kick the ball deep into the end zone and to ensure that a return happens. The punt return will also be different, but familiar to football fans. A 5-yard halo will be in place that allows the returner to set up and return the football. This is borrowed from the Canadian game. One of the more exciting plays in the CFL is the punt return, and CFL special teams coaches have a field day designing plays with reverses and all kinds of gadget plays stemming from the point of the return. Another reimagining that has safety and the big play in mind at the same time.

There is no play that goes against the competitive nature of pro sports, and is more meaningless, than the kneel-down in football.  The NHL has its own form of clock killing during penalties, and it comes when a team is trying to run out the clock when they are facing the disadvantage of having one less player on the ice. However, this form of action requires skill and risk. It’s the boxing equivalent of being up against the ropes and trying to avoid being knocked out until the round ends. The kneel-down in football has no such skill involved. It’s always been a way of retreating and copping out. An extremely boring end to first halves and the end of games. Although things are still being ironed out, the XFL plans on reducing or eliminating the kneel down altogether by enforcing that teams have to attempt to gain yardage by moving forward. To further this rule, the clock automatically stops within two minutes. This forces teams to have to try and get first downs rather than attempt a series of quarterback sneaks and then punt. You are essentially waving the white flag and giving the ball back to your opponent inside of 15-20 seconds if you don’t try to maintain possession. To keep the ball, you have to keep moving it forward. The competitive action continues, and it doesn’t come to a screeching halt.  One of the sequences that almost always gets booed by a home team crowd is when a team decides to take a knee before a half, simply because they don’t have enough time or timeouts and don’t want to risk trying to advance the football.  Increasing the amount of meaningful plays and action actually extends to a few other different aspects as well. The first ties into the kneel-down and the final two minutes of each half, and what is being loosely referred to as the “comeback period”. The game clock is supposed to stop after every play within two minutes. This has been, and is still being tested by the XFL. If implemented, it will no doubt increase the amount of plays run in the game’s most crucial moments, but this type of “reimagining” may dramatically change the whole time honored aspect of game and clock management as we know it.

In the original and in the current XFL, the extra point kick is no more. This is another untimed play that is virtually meaningless. In recent years, it has been moved back to create drama but it’s still one of the more automatic and boring plays in football.  Replacing the extra-point kicks in the XFL are three tiered conversions: a one-point conversion from the 2-yard line, a two-point conversion from the 5-yard line, and a three-point conversion from the 10-yard line. After a team scores a touchdown, they will have one of these three options to choose from. What they choose will be based on strategy, and if they are ahead or trailing in the game. Teams that attempt a three-point conversion will be in desperation mode. Converting one play from the ten-yard line will be very difficult to pull off.  The premise of this concept is to create more scoring related plays that add drama to a game, and create the possibility of a late comeback.

Then there’s the XFL’s proposed overtime concept. This has safety and fairness in mind.  The safety aspect is to avoid having players play multiple series and quarters. Doing so increases the likelihood of injuries.  The fairness aspect is allowing both teams the opportunity to win the game on offense and defense, with no coin flips or kickers determining the outcome. A tie is broken when both teams get the opportunity to score in what has been loosely labeled as a “shootout”.  As presently proposed, both teams’ offenses get five scoring opportunities at the opposing teams five-yard line. Although similar “shootout” concepts exist in hockey and soccer, those shootouts come down to a version of their games that is not played during regulation. The XFL’s shootout is traditional 11-on-11, offense versus defense. No field goal kicks, “Oklahoma drills,” or 40-yard dashes. The concept is trying to resolve a tie quickly and fairly with the players health and safety in mind. Trying to accomplish all of this and still make it an exciting sequence for football fans to watch. The XFL is still working out the kinks and rules on this concept. The truth is that overtime games are very rare, especially in an 8-team league. The original XFL had 43 regular season and playoff games. Only one of those games resulted in overtime. The AAF played 8-weeks of play, resulting in 32 overall games. Only one of those games ended up in overtime. So, the likelihood is that the XFL could only have one or two games that would result in this overtime concept seeing the light of day.

The XFL is trying to walk a fine line of being different enough to get noticed, but still appear to be familiar. The idea is appealing to college and NFL fans, by trying to resemble the game of football that those groups love, while also trying to improve upon aspects of football that can be upgraded for the year 2020 and beyond, all the while using advanced technology to be the driving force behind all of it.  Change always produces resistance.  There was a time when people didn’t want 2-point conversions.  Many rule and presentation changes over the years were first met with skepticism and scrutiny.  While the XFL will be adopting ninety-percent of NFL rules, it’s the other ten-percent that could create hesitation for those who may consider following the league.

A lot of these concepts seem very exciting. When imagining the possibilities of what’s being reimagined, can the league pull it off? The attempt to increase action and plays and to make the game more exciting and evolved than it already is. The XFL’s goal is to make a great game even greater.  An ambitious mindset for sure, but everything about the league’s mission thus far has been just that.

It All Begins…Again

For Greg Parks, it all began in 2001. Now, as a newly minted XFLBoard team reporter, Greg points out, it all begins… again.

It seemed too good to be true.

There they were, the architects of the renegade 2001 football league, Vince McMahon and Dick Ebersol, sitting down together to have dinner at the end of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary on the XFL.

“Do you ever have thoughts about trying again?” Ebersols asks McMahon. Without hesitation, McMahon replies, “Yes, I do.”

For XFL diehards like myself, it felt like a tease. I mean, there was NO WAY McMahon, now a billionaire in charge of what has become the WWE media empire, would entertain restarting a football league that bombed more than a decade prior.

Then a funny thing happened: A lot of people watched the XFL 30 for 30. And a lot of people liked it. All of a sudden, like seemingly everything else from that time period, there was nostalgia for the XFL.

That quickly dissipated. Time passed. Then, nine months after the 30 for 30 first aired, a Tweet from reporter Brad Shepard began to make the rounds:

At the time, Shepard was not well-known in either pro wrestling or sports reporting circles, so there was much skepticism. Soon after, the Alpha Entertainment trademark was discovered. At the time, many suspected what was later confirmed: Alpha would be the parent company of the revived XFL.

The news of the XFL’s rebirth was later confirmed, and I can’t tell you how weird it was watching Vince McMahon’s news conference where he officially brought back his most public failure.

The reason for starting his league back up, reportedly to utilize the trademarks of the XFL rather than sell them to Charlie Ebersol to use, was not exactly a way to start on the right foot. Neither was announcing the relaunch with frustratingly few details, doing so only to get out ahead of the Ebersol-led Alliance of American Football’s christening. Since those initial missteps, though, the XFL has made almost all the right moves.

We are now less than eight months away from kickoff. McMahon has largely stayed in the background, allowing CEO and Commissioner Oliver Luck to be the public face of the rebrand. Some of the only mentions of McMahon would come as thanks from head coaches upon their hiring.

We don’t know what the team nicknames will be. We don’t know who the players will be. And we don’t know what the championship game will be called. We do know that this XFL is being built completely different from the original, which gives it a much greater chance for success.

In 2001, I was a sophomore in high school in rural Western New York. I remember posting on the original XFLBoard.com. Today, I’m a middle school teacher in Southwest Florida. Now, I’m writing for XFLBoard.com. I feel the same excitement for the XFL today as I did all those years ago.

With each step, the XFL feels more and more real. After the Summer Showcases wrap up, players will be signed to league contracts, and team names, logos, and colors will be revealed. Then it’ll be the XFL Draft, training camps, and…oh my. Then it’ll be February.

When it all begins…again.