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.

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.