Projected XFL Tampa Bay Vipers Defensive and Special Teams Depth Chart

Continuing with my look at the Tampa Bay Vipers potential defensive and special teams depth charts about halfway into training camp. In creating these charts, I’ve emphasized draft status and pro experience. (Click here for Offensive Depth Chart)

Defensive Line

First Team: DE Obum Gwacham (Oregon State; R1/1), DT Ricky Walker (Virginia Tech; R3/17), DE Deiontrez Mount (Louisville; R2/16)

Second Team: DE Devin Taylor (South Carolina; R10/80), DT Josh Banks (Wake Forest; R5/33), DE Jason Neill (UTSA; R9/65)

Third Team: DE Bobby Richardson (Indiana; OP1), DT Nikita Whitlock (Wake Forest; OP1), DE CeCe Jefferson (Florida; TC), DT Giorgio Newberry (IR – FSU; OP2)

Gwacham has the potential to be an impact defensive player in the XFL. He was the first overall pick in the defensive front seven phase of the XFL Draft. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of defense Jerry Glanville plays – the numbers on the roster indicate a 3-4, but the team doesn’t have a true space-eating nose tackle. There are a few ends, like Gwacham and CeCe Jefferson, who could double as outside linebackers.

Even though Nikita Whitlock is on the third team here, he has familiarity with some on Tampa’s coaching staff, and can also double as the team’s fullback. That position versatility will be key when the coaches assess the final few roster spots. Taylor has the most NFL experience of this position group, having been a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2013; he has played in 63 NFL games.

An interesting battle to keep an eye on is for the starting defensive tackle spot between Banks and Walker. Banks has spent time with the New York Giants in their camp, and Walker was a priority free agent signing by the Dallas Cowboys after the draft in 2019. Jefferson, despite being a recent addition, has the potential to work his way into the rotation as a pass-rusher.

Linebackers

First Team: Emmanuel Beal (Oklahoma; R6/48), Reggie Northrup (FSU; R4/32), Lucas Wacha (Wyoming; R7/49)

Second Team: Terrance Plummer (UCF; OP2), Ike Spearman (Eastern Michigan; OP1), Anthony Stubbs (Prairie View A&M; R8/64)

While a traditional 3-4 alignment features three down linemen and four linebackers, it’s likely the Vipers will spend most of their time in nickel and dime defenses, meaning a linebacker will come off the field. Therefore, I’ve only listed three starters here.

Beal and Northrup feel like solid bets to start, with Wacha and Stubbs battling over the third linebacker position. Given the added importance to the return game in the XFL, I’m surprised the Vipers aren’t carrying more linebackers in camp, as that’s a position where teams often keep a few just for the use in the third phase of the game.

This is not a group long on pro experience; both Plummer and Northrup entered the league as undrafted free agents with the Washington Redskins, in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Several players have appeared in the CFL and the AAF.

Defensive Backs

First Team: CB Demontre Hurst (Oklahoma; R3/24), CB Herb Waters (Miami; R8/57), CB Jalen Collins (LSU; T/LA), S Corey Moore (Georgia; MC), Robenson Therezie (Auburn; R9/72)

Second Team: CB Bryce Canady (FIU; R10/73), CB Tarvarus McFadden (FSU; MC), CB Shelton Lewis (FAU; OP2), S Marcelis Branch (Robert Morris; R5/40), Micah Hannemann (BYU; R6/41)

Third Team: CB Anthoula Kelly (Fresno St; MC), CB Rodney Randle (Lamar; MC), CB Rannell Hall (UCF; R7/53); S Robert Priester (Wyoming; OP2)

This may be the most difficult part of the Vipers’ roster to project. Given Hurst’s combination of high draft status and success in the NFL, he seems like a good bet to be a starter at corner. Collins was acquired in a trade with LA, and while he has talent (as evidenced by his second round NFL Draft pedigree), off-field issues have been his downfall.

Moore was a minicamp acquisition, but he has 46 NFL games under his belt. Therezie could be battling Branch and Hannemann, two players drafted ahead of him, for a starting safety spot opposite Moore. McFadden was another interesting late add to the roster as the Vipers have been active in churning this section of their roster.

Depth has taken a hit with second round XFL Draft pick CB Picasso Nelson Jr. and supplemental draft selection S PJ Locke both now in the NFL. It doesn’t look like their services will be available to the Vipers during the 2020 XFL season.

Hall recently transitioned from wide receiver to cornerback. That puts him behind the eight-ball somewhat, though he’ll be given every opportunity to make an impact in the defensive backfield.

Special Teams

First Team: K Andrew Franks (RPI; OP1), P Jake Schum (Buffalo; OP1), LS Nick Moore (Georgia; OP1)

Second Team: K Matthew Wright (UCF; OP3)

Tampa added long snapper Wes Farnsworth off waivers in December, but he was quickly scooped up by the Denver Broncos. That leaves Moore still as the only snapper in camp. He was a highly rated snapper coming out of college last spring. He spent summer with the New Orleans Saints. We’ll see if the Vipers just wanted to create competition at that position in claiming Farnsworth, or if they’re looking for an upgrade from Moore based on if they grab another snapper for the final days of camp.

Schum is uncontested as punter, while the kicking battle will come down to Franks or Wright. Franks kicked two years for the Miami Dolphins while Wright camped with the Pittsburgh Steelers this past summer. Wright holds UCF records for points scored and field goals made, so it’s not a slam-dunk that Franks will emerge as the winner of that competition.

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