XFL Seattle Dragons – Defensive Front Seven (Phase 3) Recap

Phase 3 Seattle Dragons Recap

RD 1: Stansly Maponga DE

The 28-year-old edge rusher from TCU was drafted in the fifth round by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2013 NFL Draft. Maponga went on to play for 3 other NFL teams before getting drafted by the Dragons. A scouting report by Wes Tueve (Bleacher Report)  said this about Maponga “Despite being somewhat undersized, Maponga plays with power. He can be seen driving offensive linemen backward, and he is rarely overpowered himself. Maponga’s pass-rush repertoire includes a variety of moves to get to the quarterback. Though only 6’2″, Maponga has long arms (34.125″) and strong, active hands that show up in both the run and pass games.” Being their first selection the Dragons probably intend to make Maponga one of their primary pass rushers.

RD 2: Nick Temple LB

The Bearcat LB is another former Commander player as the Dragons keep loading up with familiar faces for Mike Riley. Temple is a shorter (5’10) LB but he was extremely productive at Cincinnati. He bounced around between the NFL and the CFL before playing with the San Antonio Commanders in the AAF.  While he may be smaller, Dragon’s fans will love Temple as he will fly from sideline to sideline and be the captain of this Dragon’s defense.

RD 3: Will Sutton DT

Sutton was 3 star DT coming out of high school and committed to Arizona State. Sutton flourished at ASU, he was an All-American and earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. He was drafted in the 3rd round by the Chicago Bears and played there for 3 years. Sutton followed that up with brief stints in Minnesota and San Francisco. Last spring, Sutton played 8 games for the AAF’s Arizona Hotshots where he posted 15 tackles, one sack, and two pass knockdowns. Sutton was the first defensive tackle drafted by the Dragons and will be a key cog in this front seven.

RD 4: Tenny Palepoi DT

The second-team All-Pac 12 selection recorded 74 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks at the University of Utah before going undrafted in the 2014 NFL draft. Palepoi signed with the Chargers but lost his full 2015 season to injuries. In 2018, Palepoi joined the Bills camp in the off-season. Like Sutton, Palepoi played in the AAF and was a key part of the Salt Lake Stallions run defense – which was the best in the league.

RD 5: Jacquies Smith DE

The former 2nd team All-Big 12 Selection bounced around between the NFL and CFL before settling into Tampa Bay in 2014. Smith recorded 17 combined tackles, 13 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble for the 2014 season in only 8 starts. Smith struggled with injuries the next few years and bounced around to a few more NFL squads. Now Smith is looking for an opportunity with the Dragons and will hope to be an impactful EDGE rusher this Spring.

RD 6: Steven Johnson LB

Johnson is one of the oldest players on the team and in the league but is just as hungry. Johnson had no college offers coming out of high school so he enrolled at Wyoming Seminary. Johnson started to catch some college scouts attention with his 62 tackles, two interceptions, and four rushing TDs in 5 games. Unfortunately, Johnson tore his ACL and LCL in what was a career-threatening injury. Johnson rehabbed and rebounded by walking onto the University of Kansas football team. In his career with Kansas, Johnson recorded 225 total tackles, 3 sacks, and an interception. Johnson went undrafted in 2012 and made the 53 man roster on the Denver Broncos, starting 7 games over 3 seasons. After a 6 year,Johnson signed with the AAF’s Arizona Hotshots and had a pick-six in their season opener. Johnson should provide some great leadership on this team given his experience but make no mistake, he is here to compete as well.

RD 7: Taniela Tupou DT

Another local product gets a shot with the Dragons as they drafted Tupou in the 7th round of the front seven draft. Tupou attended Archbishop Murphy high school, played for UW football and the Seattle Seahawks. Tupou started a game at FB for the Seahawks but was drafted as a DT for the Dragons. Tupou also played for the AAF’s Arizona Hotshots and recorded 5 tackles and a sack in a game for them. Tupou will look for a big run-stuffing role this Spring.

RD 8: Danny Ezechukwu DE

Ezechukwu was an honorable mention All-Big 10 linebacker and defensive end for Purdue and signed to the Eagles as an undrafted free agent. Ezechukwu saw action in the preseason for the Eagles but could not stick there long term. Ezechukwu did not receive a combine invitation but still posted impressive numbers at his pro day. He ran a 4.68 40 yard dash, posted 26 reps on the bench press, and had 31.5 inches on his vertical and 117 inches on his broad jump. Ezechukwu has a real chance to be a solid pass-rusher for this team.

RD 9: Pasoni Tasini DT

The 6’3 307 lb. DT from Utah was selected with the 9th pick in the front seven draft by the Seattle Dragons. Tasini recorded 35 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 6 pass breakups in college. Tasini spent time between the Cardinals practice squad and active roster for 2 years and now looks to make an impact on opposing teams run games come February.

RD 10: Praise Martin-Oguike DE

Martin-Oguike was born in Abia State, Nigeria and moved to New Jersey at the age of 10. Martin-Oguike went on to play college football at Temple and recorded 124 tackles, 20 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 6 blocked field goals, and an interception. Martin-Oguike spent the 2018 summer with the Miami Dolphins and the 2017 summer with the Arizona Cardinals. Martin-Oguike will hopefully be apart of a solid Dragon’s pass-rush rotation.

Seattle Dragons Phase 2 – XFL Draft Recap

RD 1 : Isaiah Battle OT

With the first pick of the offensive linemen phase, the Seattle Dragons selected Isaiah Battle from Clemson. In 2015, Battle was drafted in the 5th round of the supplemental draft by the St. Louis Rams. He went on to play for 3 more teams before being waived by the Panthers back in May. Battle should start the season as the Dragon’s LT and will have a big duty to keep Silver’s blindside clean.

RD 2: Venzell Boulware OG

Seattle went for the 6’3 306 lb guard Venzell Boulware with their 2nd pick in this phase. Boulware originally played for Tennessee but then transferred to Miami for the 2018 season. Boulware has the capability to play both guard and tackle but is listed as a guard and should start the season there.

RD 3: Dillon Day C

Seattle chose the Mississippi State product as their first center in round 3. Day went undrafted in the 2015 NFL draft but he did play for 5 NFL teams and won a super bowl with the Broncos. Milehighreport.com had this to say about Day: “Intelligent with strong competitive streak. Rarely busts on tape and is assignment-oriented. Good vision and anticipation of twists and games up front. Can come off of block quickly to pick up twist or blitzer. Thick through middle with good bubble. Plays with desired toughness at the point of attack and is a fighter in tight quarters. Not always pretty, but gets guys blocked.” Day is the favorite to start at center for the Dragons in February.

RD 4: Cyril Richardson OG

Richardson has the most NFL experience out of all these linemen so far. He was an all-american for Baylor in college and got drafted in the 5th round by the Buffalo Bills in 2014. Richardson started 4 games for them and signed with the Bears in 2016. Richardson is also the fifth San Antonio Commander on the roster as he played under Mike Riley there and should be used to the scheme. Richardson is a powerful blocker and should move piles for the Dragons in the run-game.

Rd 5: Quinterrius Eatmon OT

A heralded recruit, Eatmon played his college ball at Southern Florida and was a key cog in an offensive line that helped Marlon Mack (starting RB for the Indianapolis Colts) run for 1000 yards in 2014. Eatmon signed as an undrafted free agent with the Raiders where he saw limited action. Eatmon also participated in the Spring League in 2018. Eatmon will battle to be a starting tackle for the Dragons this upcoming Winter.

Rd 6: Michael Dunn OT

The Maryland product was a versatile linemen for the AAF’s Birmingham Iron this past spring and got signed to the Miami Dolphins shortly after the AAF folded. Dunn played both guard and tackle for the Iron and was a top 10 run blocker in the AAF. He will battle for starting jobs across the line and should end up contributing to this Dragons team.

Rd 7: Kirk Barron C

Barron was a UDFA out of Purdue and has been on both the Dolphins and the Bengals. Barron is explosive, he ran a 5.19 and can dunk a basketball but has not been able to be given a true shot yet. The athletic center will get his shot to prove himself with the Dragons and will hope to lock down an interior line spot.

Rd 8: Jordan Rose OT

The Spokane native played at the University of Idaho and was Sun Belt honorable mention his senior year. At 6’6 315 Rose will battle for a position on the Oline with some of the other later round picks

Rd 9: Robert Myers OG

Myers was a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft by the Ravens. He played for 3 more teams over the next 2 years and played with the AAF’s Memphis Express last Spring. A scouting report on Bleacher Report said this about Robert Myers “A solid technician, Myers wins with footwork and toughness in the trenches and in space. He has the movement skills to pull and trap and has shown he can get out of his spot and make impact blocks. He’s tough and plays with the instincts and football IQ coaches love.” Myers was the 3rd Guard taken in the draft for Seattle and will compete for playing time.

Rd 10: Craig McCorkle OG

The 6’5 290 linemen played 30 career games at Cal U of Penn. McCorkle was extremely productive in college as he anchored a really good Oline and earned 1st team all-conference honors his last two years. McCorkle will have to battle for a roster spot but has versatility which should help him.

Seattle Dragons Phase 1 Draft Recap

As most of you know, the XFL draft took place this past week in a total of five phases. I will be reviewing all 71 players that the Seattle Dragons drafted phase by phase over the next few weeks starting off with QB assignment and phase one.

Brandon Silvers

QB Assignment: Brandon Silvers

I was not really expecting to get Silvers here but boy was I excited when we got him. Silvers threw for over ten thousand yards and had a 71:29 TD to Int ratio from 2014-2017 at Troy. I was not really too familiar with him at Troy but I watched every single one of his AAF games and the guy is a baller. While his AAF stats were solid (64% completion, 799 yards, 4TDs, 2ints), it was how he gave life to a previously lifeless team that impressed me. The Memphis Express were a 1-win team and Silvers made this team go toe-to-toe with two of the best teams in the AAF. Zachary Gartin (@The_Sideline10 on twitter) charted Brandon Silvers’ accuracy in the AAF and it was fairly impressive. He charted Silvers as 70% accurate (77% short, 67% medium, 47% deep). Silvers threw short 43% of the time which sets up great for Seattle’s weapons (Trey Williams, Jace Amaro, Keenan Reynolds, John Santiago). Overall, I think Silvers will get the job done as the Dragon’s QB and should be able to go toe-to-toe with anyone.

RD 1: RB Trey Williams

What are the chances! Anyone that followed my work in the AAF knows that I was a HUGE Trey Williams fan and even I did not expect him to go this high. I am not complaining though, as Williams will be electric for the Dragons and was definitely handpicked by Mike Riley. Mike Riley was the head coach for the San Antonio Commanders in the AAF, which is where is connection to Williams is. William averaged 5.0 YPC in the AAF and I would expect him to be used in an Alvin Kamara type role for the Dragons. He should get plenty of work, both on the ground and in the air and will be a centerpiece of this offense

RD 2: RB Kenneth Farrow

In round 2, Zorn and the Dragons go right back to a Commander RB. Farrow was Williams running-mate in the AAF and actually handled a bigger workload than Williams (106 carries for 372 yards). I would expect Farrow to take the Mark Ingram role and be a good 1-2 punch with Williams. Farrow could handle some more short-yardage work as he had 4 TDs in the AAF. It will be interesting to see how this RB split shakes out but based on draft capital, these two have the upper-hand early.

RD 3: WR Fred Ross

For their first WR, the Dragons nabbed the Mississippi State product, Fred Ross. Ross balled out at Mississippi State posting 199 catches for 2528 yards and 22 TDs in a little over 3 seasons worth of game. Ross is a good athlete, as he runs a 4.51 40 at 6’1 213 lbs. After watching some highlights, Ross possesses sneaky big-play potential and has an inside track to be the Dragon’s #1 WR based on draft capital.

RD 4: TE Jace Amaro

Amaro probably has the highest NFL draft capital spent on him as he was picked in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL draft. Amaro went on to have 41 catches for 404 yards and 2 TDs in 17 games for the Jets. It was obviously not what the Jets were hoping for but maybe Amaro can find some success in the XFL. He should get the first crack at being the TE1/chainmover for the Dragons but will have to perform in training camp as they drafted 6 TEs.

RD 5: WR Keenan Reynolds

Reynolds was another player that was drafted previously in the NFL draft, albeit this time in the 6th round. Reynolds played briefly for 3 NFL teams with the hometown Seahawks being the most recent. Reynolds, who is a converted QB, projects to be the starting slot receiver for the Dragons at 5’9 190 and could be another target for Silvers over the middle of the field. Reynolds is a very slippery runner, he could get an opportunity to be a return man and if he’s not a starting receiver he will be a guy that they manufacture screens or end-arounds for.

RD 6: TE Evan Rodriguez

The Dragons took their second TE of the phase here in the sixth round and it was their third San Antonio Commander. Rodriguez was a guy who really came around in the last 3 weeks of the AAF catching all 8 of his targets for 139 yards and a TD. OC Mike Riley is obviously selecting players he is familiar with and that does not bother me. Rodriguez turned into a pretty solid option once he settled in and he already knows Riley’s offense so he has the potential to be a big contributor from the start. He should see plenty of action in 21/31 personnel and will battle with Amaro in training camp for the #1 job.

RD 7: WR Kasen Williams

When they weren’t picking Commanders, they were picking former Seahawk guys. Williams has bounced around to a few NFL training camps but he had his most success in Seattle where he flashed during the preseason. Williams has really good hands and showed his ability to make spectacular catches with the Hawks but was surprisingly cut and could not stick anywhere. Kasen will compete with Fred Ross and Malachi Jones to play on the outside and it will be interesting to see what kind of circus catches he can make in the XFL.

RD 8: WR John Santiago

In round 8, the Dragons picked the electric North Dakota RB (designated as WR in the XFL). Santiago was a 3-time All-American and had 6592 all-purpose yards in college and was just a straight baller. NFL Draft Scout Ric Serritella said his best value was as a return specialist but he could also play slot receiver at the next level due to his open-field elusiveness and catching ability. Like Reynolds, Santiago could play slot for the Dragons but if not he will definitely be a manufactured touch player and return man. Santiago is a player I am really interested in seeing this winter.

RD 9: TE Cam Clear

Mike Riley goes back to the Commander connection has he picks another Commander TE. Clear had 10 catches for 72 yards over the course of the AAF season and was mainly used as a blocker. Clear is a big physical blocker that will probably be used in jumbo sets as a run blocker. Riley did like him enough to take him again though so maybe they have a bigger plan for him here in Seattle.

RD 10: WR Malachi Jones

Talk about a steal. Malachi has shined in both the arena football league and AAF and should contribute for the Dragons in the XFL. Jones has 22 catches for 312 yards and 2 TDs in the AAF and was the top option for the Atlanta offense. Jones should challenge for the “X” receiver role in camp but will most likely get a role either way. He provides a medium between the towering Kasen Williams and Fred Ross and the diminutive Keenan Reynolds and John Santiago.

Overall: 

Overall, this team will have an advantage in the fact that 4 of these players are already familiar with Mike Riley’s offense. The 3 TE approach was a little surprising to me but Riley got guys he was familiar with and this shows to me that they want to run the football. Farrow and Williams should be major contributors to this offense but don’t be surprised if a player from the open phase works in here. The WR rotation is wide open. Ross and Williams are big-bodied outside receivers and Santiago and Reynolds will be gadget type/slot players while Jones is in the middle. The offense should be pretty balanced but it will all come down to Brandon Silvers.

Shawn Oakman: Questions and Answers

In this Oct. 10, 2015, file photo, then-Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman warms up before an NCAA college football game against Kansas. (AP Photo)

Recently, in an XFLBoard.com article, Mike Mitchell wrote that Former Baylor DL Shawn Oakman was a player we would like to see in the XFL. Afterward, XFL fans heard that Oakman had, in fact, accepted an XFL draft invite. This immediately made him one of the biggest names to be been invited to play in the league.

Since XFLBoard.com and its followers are excited about the possibility of Shawn Oakman joining the XFL, Jackson Conner recently had a conversation with Oakman, to get to know him a little better, and ask about his past, present and future football career.

Shawn Oakman Q&A

Q. Who contacted you first for your XFL draft invite and when did they contact you?

A. Oliver Luck sent the invitation and it was around mid-to-late August.

Q. Had you been considering the XFL before anyone contacted you?

A. I was considering it for sure, it was definitely an option that was on the table. Any way I could get my foot back in the game I was going to take it. As you know me playing Arena, I have just been trying to keep my name relevant.

Q. What factors played into your decision to accept the XFL draft invite?

A. There were no factors really, football is football. You know, if you love the game you are going to play no matter when or where. It was not something I had to think about. If you give me an opportunity to play football especially a paying opportunity to play I am going to take it. It’s a career path, it’s a career decision.

Q. What does a normal day look like for you as you train for the XFL?

A. 6 am on the field drills, running cardio, weights at 10, lunch and dinner every day. Same thing every day, kind of like that Kaepernick commercial. Really just repetition, being the same person every day, doing the same thing every day. Just staying ready for my opportunity, whatever opportunity that may be XFL, NFL, CFL, etc.

Q. How have your experiences with other pro leagues (Arena) been and what did you learn from those?

A. Its been a good experience just to get back in the feel of things, being out there with the guys and feeling that locker room comradery. It also gave me a refresher that this is a business, in all aspects of the game, from the smaller leagues to the bigger leagues it is a business and you have to approach it as such.

Q. How has your game improved since college?

A. Honestly, I don’t really know too much, because I haven’t been able to showcase my talents in a 11-on-11 setting. I’d say I’m definitely still healthy, I have not been injured. Once I am able to get on that field I can really judge how much better I got. The last 11-on-11 game I played was that Spring League game and I was the MVP of that. It’s definitely a steady preparation every day to keep my body ready. Once you got some pads on the game is going to come natural, it’s like riding a bike. The same thing I have been playing my whole life and I have been pretty good at it.

Q. What is your favorite Shawn Oakman coin flip meme and how did that one viral meme affect your life.

A. For me, the “tuition” one or the “daddy” one was my favorite. It definitely had a huge effect on my life, I was nationally known for that picture so it gave me a platform to really express myself (shoutout to the Cowboys stadium and their huge jumbotron television). I would say it was also both good and bad, just for the simple fact of going through the trial and people perceiving you a certain type of way.

Q. Who is one person that has motivated you throughout your football career and just life in general?

A. I would definitely say my immediate family. Football has the ability to change generations of lives and coaches always ask what is your “why”, why do you play. My ‘why’ has always been my family, to give them a better life than the ones they have ever had or been able to experience.

Q. As a projected 1st round pick, why did you stay another year in college and how do you think your life would’ve changed if you came out a year earlier?

A. Well you know they say God never makes mistakes so I stayed for a bigger purpose. I did not stay for myself, I did not stay for anyone else but the people that needed me to stay and that was teammates and my family. I’m the first boy out of my immediate family to earn a college degree and so for me having my college degree that changes my perspective of the next generation that is coming under me and my siblings. It is no longer an impossible task, now it is a requirement and a goal that we need to focus on. It’s not something we just want to do or can’t do, it is a must. In terms of how my life would have changed, I’m not really sure. I think I would have been in the NFL right now but that is the only thing I think would be different.

Q. Is the NFL the final goal?

A. Yes, the NFL is the primary goal. Just to have that stamp to say that I did make it after all my trials and tribulations would be great.

 

XFLBoard.com would like to wish Shawn Oakman a good future in the XFL and thank him for joining Jackson Conner and answering these questions. 

XFL Draft Invitee Andrew Erbes and his journey to the XFL

Credit. Andrew Erbes (Facebook)

From not even playing football until halfway through high school, to being one of the first players invited to the XFL draft, Andrew Erbes has had a very unique football career. Attending Saguaro High School in Arizona, Erbes did not even play football until his junior year. Instead, Erbes spent his time playing baseball and basketball.

“We knew who he was. We were just wondering what he was doing playing baseball,” said Saguaro High O-line coach Chris Chick. “He had great potential in football because he was 6’1 240 lbs. and light on his feet before he even started lifting.”

Erbes would go on to play football his junior year and start to hit the gym a lot more. He turned into a gym rat, and buffed up to 275-280 lbs. instantly after he started lifting. “He was non-stop in the weight room,” said Chick. “I had to tell him to stop. To go home.”

However, it was not all sunshine and roses for Erbes early in his high school career. Erbes did not start until his senior year in high school, and most of that was due to his lack of football knowledge and experience. Most of the kids at Saguaro had been playing Pop Warner since 3rd/4th grade and some had even been running the same offense as the high school . Erbes, on the other hand, did not even understand zone running concepts, and would often ask very basic questions. “He asked questions like a third-grade kid in Pop Warner,” said Coach Chick. “The whole room would laugh at his questions.”

Erbes did not let this stop him, as he ended up starting his senior year and turned into a pretty good Offensive Lineman per Coach Chick. “You have to have great feet, great technique and have to be nasty,” said Chick. “He had all three.”

Erbes went on to walk-on at Arizona State University followed by a stint at Mesa Community College where he earned all-conference honors instantly. After that, Erbes went to UNLV and graduated with a degree in higher education.

Coming out of college, Erbes did not have a lot of tape, but ended up getting inadvertently scouted by Zen Bliss. Bliss was watching tape of another player at the University of Nevada when Andrew stood out to him. “His aggressiveness and quickness really stood out to me,” said Bliss. “He plays to the whistle and will hit you.” Bliss got Erbes hooked up with coach, former NFL first-rounder Marv Jones, on the IFL team ‘Cedar Rapids Titans’ where he played 3 games against NFL competition and got some better film to give to some teams.

Erbes handed out his film from the IFL at his Pro Day to 15 NFL teams, and a few CFL teams as well. Erbes received interest from the Jets, but ended up going to a Calgary Stampeders mini-camp in Florida. After that did not work out, Erbes played in the Arena Football League, but his ‘big break’ came when the Montreal Alouettes called and signed him to their practice squad. At the end of the season, Erbes got a 2-year contract with the Alouettes and trained hard over the off-season. He came into camp the next year but was cut due to unfortunate injuries that forced the Alouettes to reallocate their American players. This is a rule in the CFL that caps the number of American players on the roster, and Erbes said, “It is rules like this in the CFL that makes guys like me (interior OL) look at the XFL as a much more realistic option.”

However, when one door closes another one opens. Erbes’ agent Brian Brundage urged him to go to the XFL Summer Showcase in Seattle shortly after he was cut, and he took his advice and attended. Erbes was glad he did, as he thought he performed very well at the combine. He was happy with the numbers he got in the combine drills, but he thought the one-on-one portion was where he separated himself. Erbes won all 12 of his reps, getting a few at Left Tackle, Center and both Guard positions. This effort got the attention of Seattle O-Line coach Steve Smith who pulled Erbes aside. Erbes said Smith told him, and a few other O-Linemen, that he was going to advise Seattle to take them in the inaugural XFL player draft in October.

Erbes had a lot of good things to say about Smith as well. “He was awesome,” Erbes said. “I can tell he is a coach that I would love to play for.”

On August 8th, Erbes tweeted that he had received his XFL draft invitation.

Off the Field

On the field we have seen what Andrew Erbes can do, but off the field, Erbes shines as well. Ron Sowers, a friend of Erbes, said, “On the field, he is a mean son of a gun, but off the field he is the nicest guy ever.” He described Erbes as a character, and a real funny dude.

Erbes believes his relentlessness stands out the most, and he certainly has a case. Playing in three different colleges and multiple pro leagues, and not always getting the results you want can be difficult, but Andrew has been patient and is not giving up. That “relentlessness” has led him to the XFL where everything is (of course) uncertain, but he is looking to have a decent shot to stick with a team.

When it comes to the XFL, Erbes is hoping to get a “full season of film, played against great competition.” A west coast team would be easier for him and his family, but he would be thrilled to play for any of the eight franchises.

Erbes says the final goal is indeed the NFL. “That would be the final validation of all the hard work,” said Erbes. “It is like receiving a PhD in football.”

Right now, Erbes is currently a long term substitute teacher, and is helping former coach Chris Chick coach at Chandler High School in Arizona while he waits for the XFL. Coach Chick raves about Erbes’ coaching. “Ever since I have had him coaching the JV the kids are coming up to me (on varsity) a lot more prepared,” said Chick. “After football, he could really be a good coach.”

Erbes has tons of great opportunities ahead of him, both inside and outside of football. But, that final goal of the NFL is what he is focused on right now, and you better believe he will tear up the XFL to get there.

Fantasy football and how the XFL can profit off of it + a brief Q&A with some AAF Fantasy Experts

Whether it is your home season-long league, game spreads or high stakes DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) contests, fantasy football and football gambling are very popular.

Some players do not necessarily care about or like fantasy football (Marcellus Bennett, Todd Gurley) while some embrace it (Melvin Gordon, Juju, Leveon Bell). However, regardless of your convictions about fantasy football, you have to agree that it generates a lot of viewership.

The latest study in 2017 told us that there were 59.3 million people that played fantasy sports that year with the average person spending upwards of 500 dollars on it. While a lot of these people are probably football fans outside of just fantasy, a lot of people watch football mostly because they have fantasy players playing. “According to the 2017 ESPN Sports Poll, fans who play fantasy sports are more likely to attend games, read sports news, watch sports highlights and spend money on sports compared to fans who aren’t fantasy players.” (espnpressroom.com) I don’t know about you but I am a lot more motivated to watch a random Monday Night Football game when I have stakes in it. In addition to that, programs like NFL Redzone and Direct TV’s Fantasy Zone were designed to give fantasy football fans easier ways to watch.

What the AAF could have done.

If you are interested in the XFL, there is a fairly solid chance that you kept up with the AAF at least a little bit. The AAF was a great product but really dropped the ball when it came to appealing to the fantasy football community.

While there were a decent amount of sites and twitter accounts that provided AAF fantasy content, official information was very difficult to find. Injury reports were often very inconsistent, inactive lists could be difficult to find and official box scores were non-existent early on. This lack of information led to a lot of frustration in the AAF fantasy community and really reduced its growth.

Secondly, there were very little places to play AAF fantasy. The AAF had no official places to play season-long fantasy (only altfantasysports.com offered it) and the only DFS site that housed it was Fanball. There were plenty of possibilities to create their own fantasy platform on their app or partner with the likes of ESPN, Yahoo, Draft Kings or FanDuel to really promote their product to a larger audience but nothing was done.

How can the XFL learn?

The XFL now has the benefit to learn from these mistakes and make sure they don’t happen again. They can start off with more accessible practice reports. Injury is a huge part of fantasy sports and if the public does not know a player’s status in practice than how can they play him in the coming week? Inactives should be announced by the team’s twitter or another big source an hour or two before game time and box scores, as well as live stat updates, should be easy to find.

Focusing more on official platforms, the XFL should really look into either pioneering their own fantasy platforms or partnering with a large fantasy sports company to provide season-long and DFS leagues. They don’t have to look far either, ESPN has the most popular fantasy football mobile app and the XFL already has a TV deal in place with them. A great time to start advertising this potential partnership would be late December/early January as Fantasy NFL comes to a close. That would give fantasy starved players plenty of time to gather friends and create an XFL league.

Looking at things from a DFS perspective, deals could be had with big brand names like Draft Kings and FanDuel or even Fanball. The NFLPA has a sponsorship deal with Draft Kings and almost every NFL team has a deal with either Draft Kings or FanDuel. An interesting deal that the XFL could emulate is the one between FanDuel and the Jacksonville Jaguars. There is now “FanDuelVille” at Everbank Stadium (home of the Jags) which encourages people to play DFS while at the live game.

The big thing is for the XFL to (a) make their product fantasy-friendly by releasing information and statistics to the public and (b) provide or promote a platform for players to play fantasy football on.

Q&A with former AAF Fantasy Experts

In order to provide other opinions, I asked four former AAF fantasy experts three questions that relate to the topics I covered in this article. Here is a little about the four experts and then the brief Q&As:

Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz): Appeared on podcasts and wrote AAF articles weekly for The Action Network.

Sean Koerner (@The_Oddsmaker): Joined Ian Hartitz in creating AAF rankings for The Action Network. Known for being one of the most accurate NFL ranker.

Matt Gajewski (@Matt_Gajewski): Did 1-2 live streams every week about the AAF on Twitch as well as writing articles for NoExtraPoints.com

John Ferguson (@FantasyFerguson): Helped organize ECR (Expert Consensus Ranking) and wrote weekly season-long articles at FantasyPros.com

Question 1: Do you believe appealing to fantasy football fans will be beneficial to the XFL and why do you think that?

IH: Most definitely. There is a subset of football fans that are obsessed enough with the game to invest their time in a brand-new league – but there might be an even larger group of fantasy football fans that would be interested in passing the time during the dry days of the offseason. Setting up season-long fantasy leagues might be a challenge considering the expected lack of lineup information entering the year. The potentially more-appealing move could be to feature daily fantasy contests to give fans and degenerates alike a chance to get some skin in the game. Ultimately, it’d be silly for the XFL to not do everything in their power to appeal to the ever-growing fantasy football community.

SK: Absolutely. It’s a proven way to get fans more engaged with the league as a whole.

MG: Yes, absolutely. The NFL has seen a spike in viewership since fantasy football’s ascendance. Fantasy football has become an integral part of the viewing experience for the casual fan.

JF: It’s not only beneficial, but it’s basically required at this point. Especially for a developmental league like this where you’re not really going to get the big-name draw that the professional leagues get. Fantasy adds that extra dimension to the game, it brings stats to life and gives players with no name value ground to stand on. It also gets the fans excited and interacting not just with the league but with each other. It gives us a platform as content writers and podcasters to discuss, analyze, and project amongst ourselves.

Question 2: What was one thing that the AAF did well and one thing they did poorly in regards to appealing to fantasy sports/gambling fans?

IH: The AAF had the right idea with appealing to fantasy football fans, but they failed to properly create a technically-sound app in their effort to beat the XFL to the market. The lack of a consistent live box score held back their ability to appeal to fantasy sports and gambling fans alike. It’s simply not as much fun to play fantasy sports or gamble if you’re unable to experience the live sweat. Asking fans to regularly take multiple hours out of a weekend during February, March or April might be a tough sell for the not-so-committed football faithful. At the very least, the XFL needs to provide an avenue for fans to stay updated with the games in a near-live manner. Consistent streaming might not be an option, but a game cast type setup is essential.

SK: I actually liked how the AAF gave the telecast access to the official review. Being able to hear the person deciding the call based on the replay and being fully transparent about it was a very good thing imo. I don’t recall exactly how practice reports and injury designations were handled for AAF but I recall times where we had no idea if a certain guy was playing. Making sure to have rules in place for teams to announce injuries and inactive lists like the NFL would be crucial.

MG: The AAF certainly brought an exciting product to the fan. No extra points, no kickoffs, etc. The rules presented an exciting change that sped up the game for fans at home. However, the AAF clearly used innovative technology. One of the biggest blunders was keeping that from the fans. Football fans increasingly want access to state of the art data.

JF: The AAF understood the importance of fantasy/gambling and how it would help contribute to the success of the league. The concepts they had in place to follow the games in real time and predict plays etc. was a terrific idea. Unfortunately it was also where they failed by not delivering a competent product to their fans. Not only that, but it added insult to injury that they continually promoted these “groundbreaking” stats and concepts even though they were not actually available and hinted at “Easter eggs” within the site which was an awful idea considering the obvious growing frustration stats analysts already had with the league that simple things such as boxscores and proper injury reports were not readily available. The boxscores luckily they finally figured out, but not until after grassroots guys like NoExtraPoints.com already had us well covered.

Question 3: What are some ways the XFL can attract more fantasy/gambling audiences?

IH: In addition to creating a more fan-friendly avenue for live updates, ways in which the XFL could attract more fantasy/gambling audiences include… -creating a partnership with DraftKings, FanDuel or at least FanBall. -provide official active/inactive reports at least 60 minutes before kickoff. Practice and injury reports throughout the week would also be ideal. -a website that denotes official stats, official rosters and unofficial depth charts. -as much access as possible to live/post-live video of the games so fans can either watch them happen or at least catch them later.

SK: I think just embracing fantasy/gambling is always a good place to start. Having an official fantasy game and especially weekly contests would be a great way to draw fans in and become familiar with the specific players.

MG: Find a way to partner with DraftKings, FanDuel, and other major fantasy sports websites. Right now, DraftKings and Fanduel capture a large portion of the gambling market.

JF: XFL needs to pair with some of the major fantasy platforms and get their support whether it be ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, whatever. This was something the AAF never was able to do, although Fanball did pick them up and delivered a stellar platform for DFS. With sports betting becoming more legal across all states as well, it would be truly beneficial for them to set up with the online sports book industry. They also need to make sure there truly are no gimmicks as it sounds like they have decided. People want raw, professional quality football to watch in the Spring. Pair with proper NFL caliber analysts instead of bringing in WWE names as commentators and make sure there is a clear and open line of communication between the league and the public. I think there is potential for a spring league to have continued success and I look forward to covering the XFL come Spring.

Energetic former WSU player takes on the XFL

Former Washington State University cornerback Marcellus Pippins.

With the XFL starting up again, hundreds of former collegiate athletes from across the country are coming together. The Seattle XFL team, coached by former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn, recently held a summer showcase at the Seattle Memorial Stadium. This was one of eight showcases held around the country.

As music played and drills raged on former Washington State University (WSU) and Canadian Football League (CFL) cornerback Marcellus Pippins stood on the sidelines dancing. According to Pippins’ Twitter, “Having fun is the best part.”

Pippins’ personality has not gone unnoticed by former teammates. “As long as we’ve been teammates, I’ve never seen him get tired,” former WSU and CFL teammate Paris Taylor said. “Every TV time out you can catch him dancing on the field.” “[Pippins] needs his own TV show or YouTube channel.”  Both Taylor and another former teammate, Robert Lewis, used “energetic” as a way to describe Pippins. Lewis’ favorite memory of Pippins is when he came out of a store and saw the spirited football player dancing in front of it.

Early years Pippins attended El Cerrito Highschool just outside of Richmond, California. While Pippins said he is proud to be from Richmond, it was not always to the best area to live in. In his early years, Pippins said he stayed away from parties to focus on school and sports. “Richmond, California is the city of pride and prejudice,” Pippins said. “That’s exactly how I carry myself in life and my decisions.”

Pippins scored ten touchdowns and seven interceptions as a junior in high school. During his senior year, Pippins was a three-star recruit and ranked 75th in the country in his position. In both his junior and senior year, he received All-East Bay first-team honors.

While Derik Calhoun, Pippins’ high school coach said physical talents came second to none, he was more impressed with the other facets of his game. “The best part about coaching him was simple: he was a coachable kid that understood the game from a mental perspective,” Calhoun said.

Understanding the game from a mental perspective was something that Pippins said he learned from coach Calhoun. Calhoun instilled in Pippins the popular saying, “The game is 80% mental, 20% physical.”

For awhile, Pippins said he didn’t know what that saying meant. “But playing at the highest level and living life,” Pippins said. “It all goes hand in hand.”

Collegiate and professional career

After his high school career, Pippins played football at WSU. According to wsucougars.com, Pippins was a four-year letter winner playing in 42 games over his four years and starting in 31 of them. Pippins recorded 104 tackles (6.5 for loss), one sack, five picks, 14 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and three recoveries. Pippins said his most memorable collegiate play came on his brother’s birthday when he picked off NFL pro-bowler Jared Goff.

In the spring of 2018, Pippins graduated from WSU with a humanities degree and immediately moved into the CFL. Pippins was on the practice squad for the Montreal Alouettes in 2018 and record two interceptions and a touchdown in the 2019 preseason before getting cut in week two.

Off the field

Off the field, just about everyone in his family described Pippins as absurdly competitive. His brothers, grandma and mother all talk about how Pippins is always competitive at family game nights, especially when “Uno” is involved.

“Don’t play any board games with [Pippins], you will no longer like him,” Trache Darwin, Pippins’ sister said.

XFL future

Pippins said he’s currently working on sharpening his technique and staying in shape for the XFL draft in October. Players for XFL teams will be selected from a pool of players who are signed by the league. Even though Pippins attended the Seattle XFL showcase, this has no relevance on where he could end up.

“The main thing that excited me about the XFL is I can have my folks watch me in the states,” said Pippins. “Not everyone can get a passport and travel to Canada.” There is an XFL franchise located in Los Angeles which is less than ten hours from his home town in California. “I want to be noticed and be given a fair chance to excel and show people that I am as good as I seem on film,” Pippins said.

Pippins does have some goals while in the XFL. Pippins said he wants to become a “no brainer shutdown nickel/corner” for a team and be an all-star as well.

“I want to shoutout my family, Coug Nation and my dog Saint,” Pippins said. “I could not have gotten here without them.”