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.

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