With training camp underway, I’ll take a look a potential Tampa Bay Vipers depth chart. This is a more difficult task than normal given the expansion nature of this and all XFL teams. There’s no previous season to look back on for a guide as to who may be a part of the starting lineup.
Given the unknowns, I’ve emphasized professional experience and draft status in order to craft a potential depth chart almost a week into camp. I’ll tackle the offense today, with defense and special teams in the coming days.
First Team: Aaron Murray (Georgia; Assigned)
Second Team: Taylor Cornelius (Oklahoma St; R9/69), Quinton Flowers (South Florida; R5/37)
Murray was assigned to the Vipers prior to the draft as a Tier 1 quarterback, giving him a leg-up on the competition. It has to be concerning that he wasn’t a starter out of camp in the Alliance of American Football, but Murray does have talent. Marc Trestman is the kind of coach who can squeeze it out of him.
At 6’6”, Taylor Cornelius has intriguing size but it’s unlikely he’s ready to challenge Murray for the starting job. The Vipers seemed to want to make sure they had a competent backup behind Murray by not waiting until the open phase to select Cornelius. He played at a high level at a big-time college program in Oklahoma State. Cornelius is technically in his first professional season, so he should use this to soak up as much knowledge from Trestman and the veteran Murray as he can.
Initially drafted as a running back, Flowers has received snaps at the quarterback position during minicamp and training camp. If nothing else, the hometown player will add a wildcat-like wrinkle to the Vipers offense. When it comes to being active on gamedays, the more you can do the better. He may also be a special teams option.
First Team: De’Veon Smith (Michigan; R3/21)
Second Team: Jacques Patrick (FSU; OP2)
Third Team: Tarean Folston (Notre Dame; Minicamp signee), DJ May (Wyoming; OP3), Mack Brown (Florida; Training camp signee)
Despite being the only RB on Tampa’s roster selected in the skills phase of the draft, I don’t think De’Veon Smith is guaranteed a starting spot. This position really feels up-for-grabs without a defined pecking order. Smith did not have a dominant college career at Michigan and went undrafted in 2017.
Smith and Patrick are similar backs, in that they’re big and not particularly fast. That could open an opportunity for Folston or May to see playing time as a change-of-pace back. A player to keep an eye on is Mack Brown, who was just added to the roster within the last few days. He has played in 13 NFL games during his career and despite being a late entry into the race, has a real chance to crack the rotation. The Vipers could scour the waiver wire for a chance-of-pace back.
First Team: Nick Truesdell (Grand Rapids JC; D1/5)
Second Team: Colin Thompson (Temple; OP2)
Third Team: DeAndre Goolsby (Florida; OP3), Pharoah McKeever (FIU; MC); Kano Dillon (IR – South Florida; MC)
You’d have to think Truesdell is the unquestioned starter here, as he was the first-ever Tampa Bay draft choice. Truesdell lit up the AAF and parlayed that into a spot on the New York Jets training camp roster this past summer. He’ll look to further cement himself in the eyes of NFL decision makers this spring.
Thompson has been with the Chicago Bears and New York Giants in the NFL, though he has yet to see regular season action. A two-year starter at Temple, Thompson is a big target, going 6’4” and 255 pounds. He could be an inline tight end while Truesdell is the more vertical threat in the passing game.
The third tight end battle (unless Tampa keeps four) appears to be between DeAndre Goolsby and Pharaoh McKeever. McKeever was claimed during minicamp and has played WR and DE during his career in addition to TE. His athleticism could be intriguing enough for this staff to want to keep and develop.
First Team: Seantavius Jones (Valdosta St; R2/12), Freddie Martino (North Greenville; OP2), Alonzo Moore (Nebraska; R10/76)
Second Team: Reece Horn (Indianapolis; R8/60), Jalen Tolliver (Ark-Monticello; R4/28), Jawill Davis (Bethune-Cookman; SD)
Third Team: Daniel Williams (Jackson St; OP1), Ryan Davis (Auburn; OP1), Tanner McEvoy (Wisconsin; SD), Donteea Dye (Heidelbrerg; W/LA), KJ Maye (Minnesota; OP3)
The numbers seem to indicate Tampa Bay will start three receivers rather than a fullback (no true FB on roster) or two tight ends (thin at the TE spot). Jones and Martino are the veterans in the room. Tampa took a flyer on a couple of young receivers early in the draft in Horn and Tolliver. This could be a fluid lineup as the season progresses.
If the younger players gain more experience and confidence as the year pushes forward, I have no doubt their playing time will increase along with it. Some of the players in the third team above will need to stand out and contribute on special teams to make it out of camp and onto the opening day roster. McEvoy played QB in addition to safety at Wisconsin, so like Flowers, he could have multiple roles on the team.
First Team: OT Martez Ivey (Florida; R2/13), OT Christian Morris (Mississippi; R6/45), C Jordan McCray (UCF; R1/4), G Tre Jackson (FSU; R5/36), G Andrew Tiller (Syracuse; R4/29)
Second Team: OT Jerald Foster (Nebraska; SD), OT Rod Taylor (Mississippi; TC), G Tony Adams (R7/52), G Daronte Bouldin (Mississippi; R8/61), C/G John Yarbrough (Richmond; OP1)
Third Team: G William Campbell (Michigan; R10/77), Marquis Lucas (West Virginia; R9/68), Isaiah Williams (Akron; MC)
Tampa Bay is deep at guard, but thin at tackle and center. They must plan on cross-training their guards at other positions, as they spent a significant amount of draft capital at that position. Ivey and Morris seem good bets to start at the tackle spots. Rod Taylor is an interesting pickup: He tore his ACL in 2018 after being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals and has already been suspended numerous times by the NFL. We’ll see how long of a leash he has here.
Jackson and Tiller will face competition from Adams, Bouldin, Campbell, and Lucas, all who were drafted in the offensive line phase. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Adams emerge as a starter at one of the guard spots. Jordan McCray should anchor the pivot. Yarbrough is listed as a guard but has experience at center and will likely back up McCray.
Greg Parks is a columnist for Pro Wrestling Torch (pwtorch.com). He covers the XFL and the Tampa Bay Vipers for XFLBoard.com. He has written extensively about the XFL. He resides in Naples, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @gregmparks.