The XFL is less than two weeks away from the start of team mini-camps. It’s been quite a journey for the league from January of 2018 to this point. Almost two years in the making with actual on-field football activities right around the corner. On Friday, the XFL took yet another step forward with the next phase of roster building for all eight teams. The XFL’s first Supplemental Draft is working as a complement to the 560 player draft that took place in October. Since then, Over 20 XFL players have signed on to NFL rosters, a clear sign of the quality players that were drafted into the league. A combination of the positioning of the calendar year during football season, and the ever-changing rosters in the NFL, has put the XFL in the unique position where a series of signings and drafts are needed to stabilize and strengthen the rosters heading into February. The first-year league is not done drafting or signing players, as evidenced by three new Quarterback signings that took place on Friday. The league figures to add more players heading into January’s league-wide training camp in Houston.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the players selected by the teams in the XFL’s Western Division.
LOS ANGELES WILDCATS
*QUARTERBACK ASSIGNMENT: JOSH JOHNSON- SAN DIEGO*
One of the ways to improve the quality of play for a team is by creating competition. That’s exactly what Los Angeles did for their quarterback position by signing Josh Johnson. The Wildcats first assigned Quarterback, Luis Perez, has been doing all the right things, working with his receivers and offensive coordinator Norm Chow, and even leaning on Hall of Famer Kurt Warner recently for guidance and on-field help. It’s a good thing that the former Harlon Hill Trophy winner and Division II National Champ has been doing these things, because if he is to be the team’s starter on opening day, Perez is going to have to fend off the challenge of Josh Johnson.
Very few quarterbacks have the type of resume that Josh Johnson has. Outside of maybe Josh McCown, it’s hard to think of another veteran pro quarterback, that is as well-traveled as Johnson. Josh Johnson was a major star on the FCS level over a decade ago at USD under Jim Harbaugh. Johnson then entered the NFL back in 2008 as a 5th round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since then, Johnson has been on a total of 13 different NFL teams. He has also spent time in the United Football League for Sacramento back in 2012 and was the first overall pick by the San Diego Fleet in the AAF’s QB Draft a year ago. Johnson has always been a dependable and reliable backup with great mobility and a very good arm. It’s one of the reasons why he’s been on so many pro teams. Despite all this, Johnson has only started eight total games in his NFL career. Last NFL season, when the Washington Redskins lost Alex Smith and Colt McCoy to injuries, the Skins were scrambling for any quarterbacks they could find to come off the street and play. One of the Quarterbacks who answered the casting call and made the team was Johnson. Josh came in off the street cold with little knowledge of his team’s playbook and did an excellent job under the circumstances. After all these years in the NFL, Johnson finally won his first NFL start last December. By seasons end, Johnson injured his ankle and it took time for him to recover and latch on to another NFL team.
During this past summer when the Baltimore Ravens lost RG3 to injury, they called Johnson. In a surprising move. Johnson turned the position down. With Lamar Jackson firmly in tow as the starter and RG3 returning shortly. At this stage of his career, Johnson wanted a better opportunity to make an NFL roster and to not just be a camp body. Johnson ended up making the Detroit Lions roster instead, and was backing up Matthew Stafford until Jeff Driskel was brought in to be Matthew’s backup. Johnson was released in mid-September by the Lions. Now, Josh Johnson is in a great spot with the Wildcats. He is back home in California, working with Norm Chow and the Wildcats have one of the better-receiving trios in KD Cannon, Rashad Ross, and Nelson Spruce. Luis Perez got some good experience finally starting earlier this year with the Birmingham Iron, but the pressure will be on him to hold off Josh Johnson for the starting job. LA could be Johnson’s first chance to become a full-time starter in his career.
WILDCATS SUPPLEMENTAL DRAFT PLAYER SELECTION
The Los Angeles Wildcats selected 10 different players in this process. There are several names who stand out from this group and have a great chance to make the team’s active roster come February 8th when the Wildcats travel to play the Houston Roughnecks on Fox.
One of those players is WR Saeed Blacknall from Penn State. Nicknamed ‘Megatron Jr.”, Blacknall is 6’3 with 4.3 speed. The physical tools are elite for the former 4-star recruit. The production, however, hasn’t matched his massive upside. Current Wildcats Director of Player Personnel Joey Clinkscales was with the Oakland Raiders when Blacknall was signed as an undrafted free agent. Saeed would spend time on and off the Raiders active roster and practice squad in 2018. This past summer, Blacknall was released by the Miami Dolphins. Blacknall is joining a talented group of receivers in LA.
Another supremely gifted player in this group is former 2nd round pick Cornerback Jalen Collins. The issue with Collins has never been his physical gifts. The former Falcons and Colts DB is a tall rangy corner at 6’1 with 4.4 speed. Since his days at LSU, and into the NFL, Collins has carried with him off-field issues that have outweighed his immense talent. Since 2015, Collins has been suspended on four different occasions for performance-enhancing and substance abuse violations. Only 26, Collins has been given multiple opportunities because of his elite skills. He has been trying to revive his pro career in Indianapolis. Jalen was most recently on the Colts practice squad before being released on September 30th. The Wildcats DB Coach Otis Smith can be a great mentor for Collins if he’s willing to make the effort to get on the right path.
Temuchin “Bucky” Hodges is another elite athlete with tremendous physical tools. At 6’6, 257 pound, and possessing 4.5 40 speed, Hodges elite skill set saw him get drafted in the sixth round by the Vikings in 2017. Hodges was a 4-star recruit at Virginia Tech. Originally a dual-threat Quarterback who transformed himself into a pass-catching tight end. Since becoming a pro, things haven’t worked out for Hodges. He’s been on 3 different NFL teams and hasn’t been able to find a role or fit.
Veteran Nose Tackle Montori Hughes fits the bill as the type of inside presence that is sorely needed in what projects to be a 3-4 defense in LA. The massive Hughes is a former 5th round pick of the Indianapolis Colts. His weight has fluctuated throughout his career from 320 to 350 plus. Hughes has familiarity with Wildcats Defensive Coordinator Pepper Johnson, as Montori played for Pepper in Memphis for the Express earlier this year.
Another NFL veteran in this group is Linebacker Will Smith. He’s had a strange journey dating back to his college days. From Division II to Community College to becoming an All-Big 12 player at Texas Tech, and then being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. His path as a pro has been similar, since Smith has gone back and forth between the NFL and CFL. Smith is a better player than his career resume would indicate. Perhaps two former star linebackers in Winston Moss and Pepper Johnson can get the best out of him and finally create a permanent home.
Former Mississippi State and New York Jets defensive back Brandon Bryant has no shortage of physical talent. He is a 6’0 210 pound safety with blazing speed in the 4.2 to 4.3 range. Bryant left school early and then attempted to be drafted in the 2018 NFL Supplemental Draft. After failing to be drafted, Bryant signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2018. Bryant ended up on the Jets practice squad as a rookie, and was promoted to the active roster late in the 2018 NFL season. Bryant was waived/injured at cutdown day this summer, and was then placed on the team’s injured reserve list the next day. He was waived from injured reserve by the Jets with an injury settlement on September 10. This is a raw talent who really hasn’t scratched the surface yet as a player.
The Wildcats drafted two offensive linemen in Toa Lobendahn and Dwayne Wallace. USC offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn was an All-Pac 12 selection. He started 45 games in his career with the Trojans, at four different positions. The mammoth 330 pound Dwayne Wallace was one of the best lineman at the 2019 NFLPA game, a game that current XFL VP of Football, Doug Whaley has been the director of for the last two years. Wallace’s strength is his run blocking prowess. He signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent before being released this summer.
Sometimes teams dig deep to find diamonds in the rough, and LA did that with two longshots to make this roster in DE Austin Flynn (Long Beach) and RB/KR Terrell Alex (Southern). Flynn is a raw small school talent, who played at what appears to be the potential Wildcats practice facilities during the 2020 season at Long Beach. Alex is a 6’0 215 pound back with good speed. Terrell Alex has had a unique path to get to this point, from Southern to Canada, to the Arena League, and all points in between. Making this roster will be a challenge for both but just having this opportunity is a blessing.
*QUARTERBACK ASSIGNMENT: CHASE LITTON- MARSHALL*
Perhaps the most interesting of the XFL’s quarterback assignments is in Seattle signing Chase Litton. The Dragons already have a crowded quarterback room with assigned Quarterback Brandon Silvers, and drafted QB’s Joe Callahan and BJ Daniels. From a pocket passer standpoint, it’s easy to be enamored with Chase Litton. The 6’5 plus 230-pound standout signal-caller from Marshall possesses a rocket sized arm and a beautiful throwing delivery. Litton made 34 starts for the Thundering Herd, completing 60.8% of his career passes with 7.0 yards per attempt and a 72:31 TD-to-INT ratio. Chase declared early for the NFL draft and ended up going undrafted in 2018. Many experts felt that he should have finished out his college career. Not doing so, put him in the developmental category in the NFL despite his great physical tools and college success. Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs took a two-year flyer on Litton. With Maholmes, Henne and Matt Moore in KC, Litton ran out of real estate with the Chiefs. The Jaguars signed Litton to their practice squad in September. When Nick Foles went down to injury, the Jags traded for Joshua Dobbs and saw the emergence of Gardner Minshew. Coupled with the recent return of Nick Foles, Chase’s time with the Jags ended on October 21st, just days after the initial XFL draft was concluded. In the lead up to the XFL draft, each team gave the league office a list of priority Quarterbacks that they wanted to sign if they were to become available. Litton was not available to be signed when the first XFL Draft occurred. Seattle’s assignment leads me to believe that Chase was high on their priority list while he was still in Jacksonville. The competition for the Dragons starting quarterback position may go right down to the wire on opening day when the Dragons play at the DC Defenders on ABC. Litton has a shot to impress Jim Zorn and Mike Riley during mini-camp and training camp in the new year.
DRAGONS SUPPLEMENTAL DRAFT PLAYER SELECTION
The Dragons had the smallest group of supplemental draftees in the league. It’s an indicator of a couple of things. The first being that the Dragons didn’t lose any draft picks to the NFL since October. The second is that the team is extremely content with their initial 71 player group.
Joining Seattle’s latest assigned quarterback is Chase Litton’s teammate at Marshall University, WR Tyre Brady. Like Chase Litton, Brady was also recently with the Jaguars. Tyre brings good size at 6’3 210 pounds. A go-to target for the Herd, Brady racked up 133 catches for nearly 2000 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2 seasons, after transferring from Miami.
Former All Big 10 Safety Godwin Igwebuike has spent time with 4 different NFL teams in two years. Most recently being released by the Jets in August. When Godwin came out for the NFL Draft in 2018, he finished in the top 5 among safeties in 5 different combine drills. Despite this, he still went undrafted. Like many of the XFL’s players. Godwin has elite physical traits but hasn’t had the opportunity to shine as an active football player on game day.
Former Canes Defensive Tackle Anthony Moten is also a player who went undrafted last year. The 315-pound Moten, a former 4-star recruit never lived up to his promise at the U. He has spent time with the Miami Dolphins.
The Renegades were busy selecting 10 players in the supplemental draft. 5 of their draft picks in October have signed on with NFL teams, so there was a need to stock up. Dallas went heavy on the defensive side with 7 of their picks concentrated on that side of the ball.
On the defensive Line, the Renegades drafted tackles Deon Simon (Northwestern State) and Curtis Cothran (Penn State). Simon is a former 7th round pick, who spent his first three years in the NFL with the New York Jets. A 335-pound nose tackle who figures to back up Sealver Siliga. Curtis Cothran is an undrafted free agent who has spent time with the Vikings. He’s undergone a transformation since leaving Penn State. Initially, an undersized 260-pound interior defender, Cothran is up to 280 pounds. In the Renegades scheme, he could be playing inside or outside. Having former Cowboys great Jim Jeffcoat as a teacher could help in Cothran’s development.
At linebacker, Tobenna Okeke was a late bloomer at Fresno State. The Nigerian edge rusher had 11 sacks in his senior season. He has spent time with the Titans and has played in the CFL since going undrafted. Dallas may have found a diamond in the rough with Okeke, and he could help compliment Hau’oli Kikaha on the edge as a pass-rushing option.
The Renegades added 4 players to their defensive backfield during the supplemental draft. At corner, they picked Josh Thornton and Jamal Peters. Thornton is a very fast corner. It’s his speed that has landed him with 5 different NFL team practice squads since going undrafted in 2017. Josh Thornton was most recently released by Carolina in September. Jamal Peters is a former college safety turned corner, a physical 6’2 DB who was signed by the Colts after going undrafted. The question is whether Dallas will move Peters back to safety or if they will start him at corner. It’s Peters 4.6 speed that led to him being undrafted.
Marwin Evans is a physical in the box safety who has played for both the Seahawks and Packers. Ryan Moeller is a high football IQ safety out of Colorado. Former San Diego Fleet GM and current Renegades Manager of Football Operations, Dave Boller has familiarity with Moeller. Ryan really emerged in the AAF with 4 interceptions and was developing into one of the league’s better safeties. Moeller finished his AAF run on a tear before the league folded. In his final AAF game, Moeller picked off two passes, recovered a fumble and recorded six tackles in an 8-3 loss to the Salt Lake Stallions.
Dallas bolstered it’s receiving corps with the additions of Jazz Ferguson and Floyd Allen. Ferguson is a beast. The undrafted Northwestern State product brings plenty of size (6’5″/227) and athleticism (4.45 forty) to the table. Jazz caught 7-of-12 targets for 119 yards and a touchdown for the Seahawks in the preseason. He was recently on the Seahawks practice squad. Jazz can give the Renegades a big target in the red zone. Floyd Allen is a talented slot receiver type who simply got lost in the shuffle at Ole Miss behind DK Metcalf, AJ Brown, and company.
Austin Walter played college football at Rice, where he rushed for 1,744 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards per carry; he also had 79 receptions for 803 yards, and in his senior season, averaged 27.3 yards on 18 kickoff returns. The 5’8 speedster earned a contract with the 49ers after trying out for them as a rookie. The New York Giants signed Walter a month ago, only to release him when Saquan Barkley returned to the lineup from injury.
7 selections in total for Houston and only one of them was a wide receiver. Of course, no tight ends taken for June Jones “tight end free” run and shoot offense. The receiver that is joining the Roughnecks is Utah State’s Hunter Sharp. The 5’11 Sharp finished his college career in style with 137 catches and 16 touchdowns in his final two years. Sharp has been on five different NFL teams since going undrafted in 2016. If June Jones handpicks you to be on his team. It’s for a good reason. No one has had a better history of unearthing hidden gems at receiver than June Jones, dating back to his days with the Houston Gamblers in the USFL.
The Roughnecks offensive line was bolstered with the selections of Sebastian Tretola and Tejan Koroma. Tretola is a former 6th round pick of the Tennessee Titans. Once seen as a potential long term starter, Sebastian was an All-SEC player who was dominant in the run game. A nasty and physical player. Unfortunately, his NFL career was cut short in 2017, as Tretola was involved in an off-field incident shooting which ended with him being shot in the leg. This coupled with an earlier incident where he and teammate Tajae Sharpe were allegedly involved in a physical altercation with a fan, led to The Titans parting ways with Tretola. He has been out of the league ever since. Koroma is an undersized center from BYU, at only 6’0 and 290 pounds. He goes against the grain of the prototypical pro center, but Tejan had a stellar career at BYU. Koroma started in all 51 games played as a four-year starter. He was named to the Pro Football Focus All-America Second Team in 2017.
Veteran Defensive Tackle Gabe Wright brings good experience and leadership to Ted Cottrell’s defensive front in Houston. Wright is strong enough to play inside or outside in a 3-4 front. He’s very nimble for a man of his size. The former 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions could be one of the Roughnecks leaders on defense.
Latroy Lewis projects as an outside edge rusher in the Roughnecks defensive scheme. Since 2017, Lewis has been on 3 different NFL teams, spending time in that fringe area between the practice squad and being elevated to the active roster, something he has done the last two years with Houston and Tennessee in the NFL. Kind of a career no man’s land.
Alabama Junior Cornerback Saivion Smith made what many thought was a mistake declaring early for the 2019 NFL Draft. Smith (6’1/199) spent just one season at Alabama after spending one season as a five-star recruit at LSU, then transferring to JUCO, then starting 12-of-15 games and logging three interceptions with a pick-six for last year’s Crimson Tide. Plus-sized with long arms (33 ¼”), Smith struggled in pre-draft athletic testing with a forty time in the 4.7s at Alabama’s Pro Day, and only a 33-inch vertical. The Jaguars signed Smith after he went undrafted, but he was released at final cut down day. Will the Roughnecks keep him at corner or move Smith to safety.
Finally, the Roughnecks added Kicker Sergio Castillo. The Texas-born kicker has made his bones kicking in Canada for the majority of his career. Like Roughnecks Kicker/Punter Austin Rekhow, Castillo also has experience punting. In the CFL, Castillo averaged 44.4 yards per punt. As a kicker for several CFL teams, one of which was June Jones former Tiger-Cats team. Castillo has an 87 percent career kicking percentage with a long of 57 yards. In 2019 with BC, Castillo had his best season. Connecting on 91 percent of his kicks. He was 41 of 45. The Roughnecks have two quality specialists on their roster in their kicking and punting game.