Getting to know The New York Guardians coaches

The XFL is a first-year pro football league with eight first-year teams. Building an entire franchise from scratch is a great challenge that every team in the XFL shares. Essentially what you have is eight expansion pro football teams emerging at the same time. A big key to building a new team in short order will be the coaching.

The New York Guardians have two members of their staff in Head Coach Kevin Gilbride and Running Backs Coach Jerald Ingram, who both know what it’s like to be a part of a first-year football franchise. It must seem like a lifetime ago to them, but back in 1995 Kevin Gilbride was the offensive coordinator of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars and Jerald Ingram was the teams running backs coach. Unlike expansion teams from the past, the Jaguars and the Panthers were entering into the early days of wide-open free agency in the NFL. Even still, a large part of Jacksonville and Carolina’s rosters were made up of players that couldn’t make the rest of the league’s rosters or players that were no longer valued by the existing NFL franchises. Jacksonville and Carolina had to sift through players that were basically discarded. Within two years, both expansion teams made the playoffs. The Jaguars actually got to the AFC Championship game in 1996 with a group of players that were career backups like Quarterback Mark Brunell or castoffs like Wide Receiver Jimmy Smith. Both Brunell and Smith were fringe NFL players that may have never have gotten an opportunity to shine without the NFL adding two more teams. Gilbride and Ingram’s experience back in 1995, of finding and coaching up players that were cast aside by the NFL, should prove useful in their quest to build a winning team in the New York Guardians.

With Guardians minicamp in full swing, let’s take an in-depth look at the entire New York Guardians coaching staff.

NEW YORK GUARDIANS HEAD COACH/GENERAL MANAGER KEVIN GILBRIDE

On Monday night, Eli Manning returns back into the saddle to lead the New York Giants offense one last time. It’s been a huge fall from grace for a once-proud Giants franchise. The Giants have the NFL’s worst record since 2017. It wasn’t too long ago that the Giants were shocking the world and winning two Superbowl Championships in a five-year span in 2007 and 2011. Both times defeating arguably the greatest football franchise of this generation, led by Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots. Kevin Gilbride was coordinating those Giants championship offenses with Eli Manning leading the way. There’s a reason why they call it a New York minute. By the end of his run with the Giants. Kevin Gilbride’s positive contributions were quickly dismissed and forgotten. The town known for its marketing labeled Gilbride as “Killdrive”. It wasn’t a perfect run for Gilbride, but it’s been a while since the Giants have had as good of an offense as they had during Kevin’s coaching stay there.

It’s been a unique journey for Kevin Gilbride from the very beginning. He started out as a quarterback and tight end at Southern Connecticut State, following in his father’s footsteps. Gilbride then made his way into the coaching ranks as a defensive coach. He coached on the defensive side of the ball for six straight years on the college level before becoming a head coach at his alma mater. At Southern Connecticut State, Gilbride compiled a 35-14-2 overall record.

During this period. Kevin Gilbride transitioned to coaching on the offensive side of the ball and would remain there for the rest of his coaching career. Coaching in the NFL from 1989 to 2014 as a quarterbacks coach, and mostly as an offensive coordinator, his coaching star first started to shine with the Houston Oilers back in the 90’s, coordinating the explosive run and shoot offense. His success with Houston and then Jacksonville landed him a head coaching job with the San Diego Chargers. His run there, however, was short-lived. Barely six games into his second year as Chargers coach, Gilbride was let go and replaced by current Houston Roughnecks coach June Jones. It was back to coordinating offenses for Gilbride as he moved on to the Steelers, Bills and then eventually spent ten years with the Giants.

Despite the way things ended for Kevin Gilbride with the Giants, he’s the perfect choice to lead a New York franchise in the XFL. It’s fitting that he is making his return to MetLife stadium. Gilbride knows the tri-state area really well and his diverse coaching experience will be an asset to the Guardians. Gilbride figures to call the offensive plays but he will have some accomplished coaches on his staff to help aid him in the process.

OFFENSIVE STAFF

QUARTERBACKS COACH- GEORGE ALFORD (G.A.) MANGUS

Helping diversify Kevin Gilbride’s offense will be G.A. Mangus. A long-time offensive coach in the college ranks, Mangus has served as an offensive coordinator, quarterbacks, and tight ends coach and holds a wealth of successful experience at Division I, II and III levels. Mangus is a former player and coach under Steve Spurrier. The former Gators Quarterback has received accolades as a top assistant and top recruiter on the college level. Mangus was named one of the nation’s top 25 recruiters by ESPN, Rivals.com and by 247Sports. Mangus is a high energy coach who resembles his old coach Steve Spurrier in many ways. It’s not just the same type of visor they sport. Expect some Fun N Gun elements in the Guardians offense.

RUNNING BACKS COACH- JERALD INGRAM

Jerald Ingram reunites with Gilbride in New York again. Ingram has been an unsung hero in the coaching ranks for quite some time. A former fullback at Michigan. Ingram’s coached the RB position on the college and NFL level since the mid-’80s. Coaching some of the games best-running backs like Fred Taylor, Tiki Barber among others. Ingram was one of Tom Coughlin’s top lieutenants at Boston College, in Jacksonville and then with the Giants. Ingram won two Superbowls as the Giants RB coach. In 2008, using a committee backfield of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants led the NFL with 2,518 rushing yards. Ingram’s best work, however, came with Giants Running Back Tiki Barber. Ingram was tasked by Tom Coughlin with fixing Tiki’s chronic fumbling issues and that’s exactly what he did. The Guardians running backs got themselves a hell of a teacher in Ingram.

WIDE RECEIVERS COACH- MIKE MILLER

Miller has coached in the NFL, CFL, college football and all points in between. Miller has 13 years of NFL coaching experience in total. His best work came with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 when he coached Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Steve Breaston. All three receivers had 1,000-yard seasons in that year, a feat only accomplished just five times in NFL history. Miller figures to play a pivotal role in contributing to the Guardians passing attack.

OFFENSIVE LINE COACH- RONNIE VINKLAREK

Coach Vinklarek has coached offensive lines in the college ranks, in the NFL and in the CFL. He was most recently the offensive line coach at Rice University for 9 straight seasons. Vinklarek is a lifer, coaching offensive lines for over 3 decades. Some of Vinklarek’s best work came with the Buffalo Bills. Where he coached under then offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

TIGHT ENDS/QUALITY CONTROL/SPECIAL TEAMS- RAY RYCHLESKI

Unlike NFL staffs, XFL coaching staffs aren’t occupied by nearly 20 different assistants per team. A smaller staff in a startup league requires the type of coaches that can wear multiple hats and fill multiple roles. Veteran coach Ray Rychleski is ideally suited for that task. Throughout his coaching career, in college and in the pros, Rychleski has coached tight ends, h-backs, special teams, defensive lineman, defensive backs, linebackers, and offensive lineman. Rychleski’s coached in college, the CFL, was the special teams coordinator for the Colts, and earlier this year coached special teams for the Birmingham Iron in the AAF. Rychleski’s job title with the Guardians should be Assistant Everything.

DEFENSIVE STAFF

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR- JIM HERRMANN

Herrmann has a national championship at Michigan and a Superbowl championship with the Giants on his coaching resume. Yet another assistant on that same Giants staff as Kevin Gilbride here with the Guardians. Herrmann has made his bones coaching linebackers his whole career after starting out as one under legendary Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler. As defensive coordinator at Michigan, Herrmann won the Frank Broyles Award as the year’s top assistant college football coach. Herrmann coached linebackers in the NFL from 2006 to 2017 with the Jets, Giants, and Colts.

DEFENSIVE LINE COACH- CHARLES (C.J.) AH YOU

A former NFL draft pick who played defensive line for six seasons in the NFL, C.J. Ah You is fairly new to the coaching ranks. The former All-Big 12 Oklahoma Sooner started his coaching career on Bob Stoops staff in 2015. Ah You then coached the defensive line at Vanderbilt for three seasons under Commodores Head Coach Derek Mason. This is CJ’s first foray coaching in the pro ranks and he is surrounded by quality veteran coaches that can help him in his development.

LINEBACKERS COACH- KEVIN KELLY

The no-nonsense grizzled veteran college coach Kevin Kelly brings 37 years of coaching experience to the Guardians defensive staff. He’s been a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in the college ranks for several different universities over the years. Kelly had an eight-year stint as the head coach at Georgetown (2006-13). Kelly’s best year with the Hoyas came in 2011 when the team went 8-3 and he was named the Patriot League Coach of the Year and a finalist for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award.

DEFENSIVE BACKS COACH- CHRIS DISHMAN

The two-time former All-Pro Corner Chris Dishman played 13 years in the National Football League. After retiring, Dishman became a football coach. He started off by taking part in the NFL’s Minority Coaching Fellowship program. Dishman has been paying his dues ever since trying to make his way up the coaching ranks. Dishman spent five seasons with the Chargers as an assistant defensive backs coach and most recently coached with the Baylor Bears. Dishman was an all-pro with the Oilers back when Coach Kevin Gilbride was the teams offensive coordinator.

DEFENSIVE QUALITY CONTROL/SPECIAL TEAMS- JEFF MCINERNEY

McInerney served as head football coach at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) from 2006 to 2013, compiling a record of 48–41. The former college linebacker coached in the college ranks for over three decades before coaching special teams and the defensive line for the San Antonio Commanders earlier this year in the AAF. Like Ray Rychleski on this staff, McInerney will assume several roles and assist the other assistants. His experience as a head coach, coordinator and position coach brings great value to the overall staff in his supporting role.

The new look XFL unveils it’s team uniforms

Nearly two years in the making and on the eve of football activities starting up with over 500 players reporting to minicamps, the XFL unveiled the uniforms and helmets for all eight of their teams. Since January of 2018, the resurrected XFL has changed its appearance from the league it was nearly two decades ago. Internally and externally.  Today’s XFL is a marked departure from the original XFL in its approach, tone and overall presentation, and team identities and uniforms presented reflect that.

Anytime team uniforms, team names, colors or logos are presented for the first time, there can be a polarizing reaction to them from the public. It’s all very subjective. Sports fans have preferences of styles and particular color combinations.  Iconic brands and uniforms from teams like the Steelers, Yankees, Cowboys, and Raiders have a history behind them. It means something extra when a player puts on those uniforms because of the history and legacy attached to them. Hence the term rooting for the laundry. As a startup league,  The XFL doesn’t have the advantage of time served, but its uniforms will still be measured and compared to all the uniforms that have come before them and that exist today. There’s a fine line the XFL has to tiptoe around… be unique and original but not too radical. There will be criticisms levied against the XFL’s uniforms for all those things. The XFL, for better or for worse, based on it’s past almost two decades ago has a negative perception attached to it. So anything they present will be judged by some differently and harshly at the outset.  A  team’s uniforms or helmets are a big part of its overall identity.  Fans take sports uniforms seriously because there is beauty in them. There’s something about a uniform worn by a group of people that symbolizes oneness and togetherness. In sports, it’s the bonding of a team together with its city. As a start-up league. The XFL is trying to form a bond with football fans. Today was the next step in that journey.

The time has finally arrived. Let’s take an in-depth look and review all eight of the XFL team uniforms.

THE DC DEFENDERS

Classy look. Love the simplicity shown in this design. A very good choice. Less is more and it leaves an opening down the road for potential alternate uniforms that potentially incorporate a third color into the mix. Like the team name, which is supposed to embody all the great defenders in DC history, past and present, the logo itself is a hybrid as well and is incorporated nicely here. The team makes good use of a variation of the coat of arms and the DC flag. It’s a really nice touch. The uniform has a retro feel to it and yet still feels new. So many modern-day uniforms are very busy in incorporating several accented colors into play. This is the anti-modern day uniform but in a good way. The temptation here would have been to add a third color. Either blue for patriotic reasons or a black to offset the bright red and white. Interesting that the teams’ actual shield didn’t play a bigger part in the design. This one overall is a winner because of its less is more approach.

THE DALLAS RENEGADES

Good, but not quite what I expected. The red in the uniforms is a very unique combination with the powder blue color. Where the entire look stands out most is in the helmets. The Renegades blood-red eyes are piercing. They stand out from a mile away on what is a really nice looking helmet.  Three of the XFL’s teams have black as a primary base color for their jerseys in LA, NY, and Dallas here. The Renegades red is used as an accent color on the jersey and pants but the jersey falls a bit flat around the shoulder and neck area. The look in this area to me feels unfinished. The striping down the pants is a nice touch and best incorporates the teams’ three colors. The positioning of the stripe will look great when players are in full motion. I like this look and it could probably benefit in appearance from seeing the players wearing it, which we will see in the coming days at camp. Overall, I was just a tad bit underwhelmed. The overall look feels like it needs some tweaking.

THE NEW YORK GUARDIANS

Menacing yet extremely stylish. The helmets are very bold, and almost reminiscent of the USFL’s Michigan Panthers. I am usually not a fan of oversized logos on helmets (see the Bucs), but the size of NY’s logo on this helmet works perfectly. New York perfectly blended their three main colors of grey, red and black. The all grey road uniforms really stand out. The shoulder striping on them is excellent.  The Guardians logo kind of gets lost on the road uniform’s shoulders, because it is like colored but it’s a small nitpick. Another nitpick in relation to that is having the Guardians logo on the helmet and shoulders. New York could have gone with an alternate logo on their shoulder sleeves. Similar to what a team like the Ravens has. In the Guardians defense, the Patriots have their logo also in the same positions.  The Guardians secondary logo is used well on the chest portion of the jerseys. It’s worth noting that not only are the individual team colors represented on the team footballs but the team colors are also used for the league’s main logo on the uniforms as well. It’s a really nice touch and looks great on the Guardians uniform. It’s reminiscent of the original XFL league logo. This was a home run overall. So many teams in pro football have a black-red combination, so the concern for me was that NY would look too much like a knockoff version of the Cardinals or Falcons. I think the league got this one perfectly.  This is one of the better-looking uniforms released by any football team in recent memory.

THE HOUSTON ROUGHNECKS

I have a feeling that this could be one of the more debated and scrutinized team looks in the XFL. The helmet to me might be the best overall in the league. It scores points because of its tip of the helmet homage to the Oilers old grey/silver helmets. I also realize that one of the strengths of this brand is also perceived by some as its weakness. Are the Roughnecks a modernized and upgraded Oilers tribute team, or are they a blatant rip-off? The colors don’t scream knock-off that’s for sure. On the helmet, the colors of the H shaped rig and star work perfectly. It’s the use of colors in the rest of the entire uniform that is more hit or miss depending on your personal taste. Red and Navy are a time-tested color combination that have been a staple of pro and college sports teams for years. These colors always work well together and they do here as well, particularly with the Roughnecks home jersey. However, the road look is a personal miss for me. While the navy blue stripe works well on the home uniform. The red striping on the road uniform just doesn’t. It just looks very generic.

THE ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS

The team with the most unique name in the entire league and probably all of pro sports, this team’s logo is just as out there as the team name, but it works. Like the Renegades, the uniforms had such high expectations going in for me. The BattleHawks have great colors and a great logo. While the helmet certainly stands out for its glorious sword/wings combo, the uniform is much more understated. Perhaps that’s the balance there needed to be. From the neck down, St. Louis’ uniforms are as simple as it gets. It’s a paint by numbers type design. Dark home jersey, light pants. Light road jersey, dark pants. The overall look is pretty safe and simple. While it works so well for DC, STL could have used a bit more flair to their jerseys and pants. Overall, this has the feel of a uniform that will be enhanced by the bright lights of the Dome in St. Louis.

THE TAMPA BAY VIPERS

No team look in the XFL stands out more than Tampa’s, this coming from a team that appeared to be a complete contrast from the BattleHawks in name and in the logo. The Vipers are going all-in on the color green with two different shades of it playing off of each other. The light green helmets with the team’s fang-shaped V is fairly simple and works for the most part. You could argue that it’s secondary logo could have been on the helmet instead. The color gold works well as a complementary color. It’s the home uniforms that might take some getting used to. The road uniforms are a much cleaner and safer look. The greens act more as accent colors than the main base in the road look.  To the league’s credit, they could have gotten cute with this concept and tried to incorporate some form of scaling in the uniforms to reflect actual Vipers. Thankfully, they didn’t go that route. This is not a home run design, but it’s also not a strike out either. It’s really a matter of personal preference when it comes to the colors used.

THE SEATTLE DRAGONS

You got the feeling that this would be one of the more unique team designs in the league from day one. Seattle lands on white helmets with a terrific elongated Dragon starting from the bottom side of the helmet to the near top. Everything about this logo and the color combination for Seattle is bold. Navy blue is very prominent in the home uniform but nearly disappears in the road uniform. The one steady is the emerald green and orange combination. The home uniform is a very busy look color-wise. There’s a lot to take in. The wide orange stripe on the helmet almost seems unnecessary but works better with the road uniform, which is a more simplified overall design. This is kind of a Jekyll & Hyde design, with the home uniforms seeming like there is too much going on, while the road uniform looks like something is missing. As an overall package, the Dragons presentation is unique and fun. Nothing bland or boring about it. It’s one of those looks that might get more appreciation over time.

THE LOS ANGELES WILDCATS

The last team to unveil their uniforms and helmets. On their first day of camp preparations in Las Vegas, Wildcats Head Coach Winston Moss greeted Shawn Oakman by attempting to tackle him, so it’s rather fitting that the team that has the most fun in the league, would start a live simulcast on social media to present their uniforms, complete with a Vegas-styled announcer doing the coach and player introductions UFC style.  It was also fitting that Shawn Oakman would be the first player dancing onto the stage with a Wildcats uniform on. LA has a nice combination of colors in black, red and light orange. They work well together. The one thing that stands out from the design is the blood-red claw marks on the helmet subbing for traditional stripes. There are also claw marks down the traditional stripe area of the pants. The home all-black uniforms look very good. The all-white road jerseys are fine, but are not as dynamic as the home look. Although the design where the claw marks bleed into the color black is a nice subtle design.

FINAL SUMMARY

Overall there are some hits and misses in this group. New York stands out as my favorite of the bunch. The Guardians were the best in show. Overall, I think the league scored another victory on its way to February. The XFL is in its infancy stages as a pro sports league. They can lay a foundation and then build upon it. That lends itself to the uniforms and helmets that were just unveiled. The league could use feedback from its fan base and players to experiment and improve upon the uniforms they currently have. Either by changing up jersey combinations or by using feedback for future alternate uniforms. It’s what the XFL’s aim could ultimately be. To build a football league with the fans as it’s partners. Developing that oneness with the players and fans.

XFL Western Division Supplemental Draft Recap

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.

 

SEATTLE DRAGONS

*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.

 

DALLAS RENEGADES

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.

 

HOUSTON ROUGHNECKS

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.

 

XFL Eastern Division Supplemental Draft Recap

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 type of 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 Eastern Division.

 

ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS

* QUARTERBACK ASSIGNMENT: TAYLOR HEINICKE- OLD DOMINION*

Despite signing Ole Miss Rookie Jordan Ta’amu and drafting Brogan Roback last month, the feeling was that St. Louis would be adding competition at this position at some point between now and training camp. That’s exactly what St. Louis did by signing former Old Dominion star and NFL Quarterback Taylor Heinicke. The 26-year-old former ODU graduate had a prolific college career, throwing for nearly 15,000 yards, completing 67 percent of his passes, and throwing for 132 touchdowns to only 39 interceptions in 4 years. The former FCS All-American and CAA Offensive Player of The Year was Mr. Everything in college. Heinicke was just as much of a threat running the ball, rushing for over 1,300 yards with 22 touchdowns accumulated on the ground.  Taylor Heinicke also punted for ODU during his time there. His strengths have always been his accuracy, mobility and his ability to throw with anticipation. Despite his stellar collegiate career, Heinicke went undrafted. A big reason for this is his lack of prototypical size. It’s not just his height at 6’1, it’s his smallish frame of being only 205 pounds. The concern, and it’s been founded thus far in his pro career, is his ability to hold up physically.  Since going undrafted, Heinicke has spent time with the Minnesota Vikings (2015-2017), New England Patriots (2017), Houston Texans (2017) and Carolina Panthers (2018-2019). Taylor Heinicke spent time on injured reserve at three of those stops in the NFL. His lone NFL start came last winter for the Carolina Panthers. In his start against the Atlanta Falcons, Heinicke went 33 for 53 for 274 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions. During the game, he suffered an elbow injury and was replaced at quarterback by Kyle Allen. A week later, Heinicke ended the season on IR. He would resign with Carolina this past March, only to be released at final cuts in late August. Heinicke has the skill set to run Doug Meacham’s Air Raid offense in St.Louis. Like Jordan Ta’amu, Heinicke is mobile and can bring a strong RPO element to the offense. His experience as a pro, despite being a limited one, gives Taylor an edge heading into camp. If he can stay healthy, Heinicke can finally get a chance to play and be the star he was in college.

SUPPLEMENTAL DRAFTEES

The BattleHawks were in the position of drafting 9 players because several of their initial draft picks are currently on NFL rosters.

Offensive Tackle Kevin Bowen is a former Division II star out of East Central. At 6’9 and 335 pounds, Bowen has been a career project in the NFL, spending three years in the NFL with the Redskins and Browns on off-season rosters. The physical tools have always been there but he has never received an extended opportunity to crack an NFL roster.

Defensive Tackle Will Clarke is a former 3rd round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. Clarke is reuniting with Jon Hayes, after spending time together with him in Cincy from 2014-2016. BattleHawks Defensive Coordinator Jay Hayes coached Clarke back in Tampa as the Bucs defensive line coach. The stars are aligned perfectly. One of the BattleHawks strongest positions is at defensive tackle, and it just got stronger with this draft pick. Clarke has always been a solid rotational defensive lineman, who can play inside at tackle and at defensive end if need be.

The 26-year-old defensive back, Darius Hillary has been on five different NFL teams and two different AAF teams in his career. Hillary can play both corner and safety and is a good tackler. St. Louis drafted defensive backs with this same type of skill set last month, physical press corners who can tackle in the open field. Hillary goes along with the St. Louis defensive script.

Harold Jones-Quartey joins a talented and crowded safety position with the BattleHawks. Quartey is a former Division 2 college wide receiver who made the transition to defensive back and has been on five different NFL teams. He was most recently with the Chiefs and was released back in late August.

One of the most celebrated supplemental picks of this entire process is actually a punter in Marquette King. The most entertaining punter in football is future XFL field analyst Pat McAfee. King is pretty close in terms of personality. The 31-year-old former Fort Valley State punter has had a long and successful career starting 6 seasons in the NFL and is a former All-Pro. Despite his great physical traits for the former college receiver turned punter, King is best known for his on and off-field antics. He can rub some people the wrong way, but STL has a great pair of specialists in him and Elliott Fry.

With draft pick Center Jimmy Murray on the Jets practice squad. A potential opening was created for C/G Chandler Miller from Tulsa. Miller was an all ACC player and started a school-record 50 consecutive games. At Tulsa, Miller was named to the Rimington Trophy Watch list for the nation’s best center. A bit undersized at 6’2 297 pounds, Miller went undrafted and has spent time with the Atlanta Falcons on their practice squad. His size and mobility could be an attribute in the XFL’s up-tempo game.

The 6’1 331 lb Nose Tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu reunites with his former position coach Jay Hayes. Stevie is a former 7th round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The talent has always been there to be dominant for the former All Pac 12 monster, but injuries have held Tu’ikolovatu back in his first two years in the NFL, and he was recently cut by Tampa at cutdown day.

One of the more decorated veteran NFL players in the XFL’s supplemental draft process is Terrance Williams. The former Baylor standout led the nation in receiving yards, before being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Williams spent six years with the Cowboys from 2013-2018. Catching 232 balls and 20 touchdowns during that time frame. On February 18, 2019, the Cowboys declined the option on the final year of his contract, making Williams a free agent at the start of the new league year. Williams brings great experience and credibility to a talented BattleHawks receiving group.

Ethan Wolf is a 6’6 target out of Tennessee, who has spent time with the Titans, Packers, and Panthers. He’s bounced around NFL team rosters since going undrafted in 2018. At Tennessee, Wolf passed Jason Witten and finished third all-time in school history for receiving yards and second in catches by a tight end. If you are a young tight end, looking to develop, being on a team where longtime NFL tight end and position coach Jonathan Hayes presides is a good place to be.

 

TAMPA BAY VIPERS

Jawill Davis was a first-team All MEAC receiver/return specialist at Bethune Cookman. A big-play receiver with dynamic return skills, who has always been complimented for his savvy route running. Unfortunately for Davis, he hasn’t been able to stick in the pros and his dynamic skill set hasn’t surfaced in his time with the Giants, Packers and most recently in the CFL.

Offensive Lineman  Jerald Foster was a two-year team captain at Nebraska. Very strong, high character player with excellent technique, his issue is his lack of athleticism. Foster a UDFA, was recently released by the Redskins. Viper Offensive Line Coach Jonathan Himebauch has a strong history of getting the most out of his offensive lines. Himebauch was an excellent offensive lineman himself, and has the distinction of winning a World Bowl in NFL Europe, three Grey Cups as one of the greatest offensive lineman in the history of the CFL, and an XFL Championship with the LA Xtreme. During the offseason, Himebauch works with Nike at The Opening camps as lead Offensive Line Coach for elite high school football players across the country. So young players like Foster are in good hands with Himebauch.

Undrafted Texas Defensive Back PJ Locke III is an extremely high character player and very versatile. Locke can play nickel corner or safety and has the physicality to play in the box. He just missed the cut with the Steelers. Locke is the kind of player you want on your team.

One of the traits on the Vipers entire roster is their overall team size. WR Tanner McEvoy fits the bill perfectly at 6’6 and 230 pounds. Tanner played multiple positions in college including Quarterback. That could come into play for some of Trestman’s gadget plays in this offense, and with the XFL’s conversion and double pass rules. McEvoy has spent time with several NFL teams, but most notably with the Seattle Seahawks. A fan favorite who spent two years there as a rotational player at the bottom of the roster, McEvoy can also play Tight End if need be and could become a very useful role player in this offense.

Another quality pick and useful weapon for Tampa is Marcus Murphy. The diminutive former All-SEC player and 7th round pick of the Saints, has always shined in spot duty but has never received an expanded role in the NFL. With the Bills in 2018, once Murphy finally started seeing an expanded role on offense. His season ended abruptly due to injury. Murphy has elite return skills and can be a factor running and catching the ball out of the backfield.

 

NEW YORK GUARDIANS

The first area, New York needed to shore up after last month’s draft was their special teams. In Kicker Matthew McCrane and Punter Justin Vogel. The Guardians have two capable kicking specialists with NFL experience under their belt.

The other area of special teams that needed to be addressed was kick returner, with Quadree Henderson currently on the Steelers practice squad. The Guardians move in this department created a lot of headlines and provides the league with one of it’s best stories. New York selected WR/Returner Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi. Damon has one of the most unique journeys dating back to his days at tiny Phoenix College.  He’s known as the player “who lied his way” into the NFL. Sheehy was a 1st team All Junior College player.  After being out of football for two years,  Sheehy-Guiseppi received a tip from a former flag football teammate regarding the location of the Cleveland Browns spring practice, he decided to take his chances to try out for the team, despite not receiving an invitation. Sheehy-Guiseppi was only allowed at the workout by claiming to know Cleveland Browns Vice President of Player Personnel, Alonzo Highsmith, and he impressed Highsmith enough to be invited to another tryout for the Browns a week later.  Sheehy ended up signing with the Browns and then ended up starring with them in the preseason this past summer. It led to an amazing scene this past August when the entire Cleveland Browns team celebrated with Sheehy after he returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown. Sheehy’s story is a great one and he is the type of player that defies logic. It would be a hell of a story if he becomes a star player in the XFL.

Another notable player taken by the Guardians is former 4th round pick and Colts linebacker Antonio Morrison. The two-down thumper has always compensated for his lack of premiere athletic ability with his nose for the football, solid tackling, and instincts. Morrison is in the right place in New York with Jim Herrmann coordinating the defense.

New York drafted two tight ends in Keenen Brown and Garrett Hudson. Two similar players, both small school players who play like wide receivers in a tight end’s body. Hudson was All CAA first team at Richmond. Brown led all tight ends in the Sun Belt in receiving at Texas State.

The Guardians added some reinforcements to their secondary. Drafting Cornerback Bryce Jones and Safety AJ Hendy. Jones is a former high school quarterback, who transitioned to defensive back. He ended up transferring from BC to Akron. Jones is a physical 6-foot press corner who went undrafted and has spent time with the Houston Texans. AJ Hendy is a rangy safety out of Maryland, who has been on the Dolphins, Chargers, and Texans practice squads since turning pro.

Offensive Tackle Brian Wallace has some upside.  The 6’5, 320-lb offensive tackle was excellent in pass protection for the University of Arkansas, allowing only three sacks in 411 passing snaps throughout his senior year. The former Razorback also totaled a career-high of 807 snaps during that same year.

 

dc-defenders-supplemental-draft

DC DEFENDERS

DC drafted 13 players in total, tops in the league. The Defenders needed this supplemental draft. As a result of them drafting so well last month. Three of their first-round picks last month ended up on NFL rosters. Pass Rusher James Vaughters, who was taken 1st in the defensive front seven phase, has signed on and off the Chicago Bears active and practice squad roster. Receiver Rashard Davis, who was taken first overall in the skill position draft has signed on with the Tennessee Titans, and the Defenders first pick in the offensive lineman phase, Kyle Murphy has since signed with the Houston Texans. Three players who figured to be front line starters for the team. Vaughters, Davis, and Murphy could make their way back to the Defenders roster in the future, but for now, DC has to operate as if they are not.

The first step in potentially replacing Vaughters is the drafting of Edge Defender Jesse Aniebonam. The undersized pass rusher out of Maryland was a 4-star recruit, who had interest from universities from Alabama. Jesse had a solid college career but never lived up to his hype, partially due to injuries and a broken ankle he suffered while at Maryland. Aniebonam went undrafted and signed as a UDFA this past summer with Houston. As a pro, he doesn’t seem to have a set position. Scouts were unsure of his ability to play end in the 4-3, or to stand up and cover ground as an outside linebacker. However, the talent is there as Aniebonam led the Terps with 14 TFLs and nine sacks in 2016, adding 46 tackles. If he can stay healthy, he can provide a boost to the Defenders pass rush.

At Wide Receiver and Kick Returner, FCS superstar Rashard Davis brought an electrifying skillset to DC and could have been one of Cardale Jones favorite weapons in Pep Hamilton’s offense. Cardale may have found his #1 target in former Steelers WR Eli Rogers. One of the better draft picks in this process, Rogers brings 4 years of NFL experience and is still young at only 26 years old. Undrafted out of Louisville, Eli made his way into the NFL by showcasing his superb hands and route-running ability. He can play in the slot and is instantly the most reliable weapon in the DC offensive.

On the offensive line, DC selected three different players. Offensive Tackles Malcolm Bunche, and A.T. Hall, and at Guard Dorian Johnson. Bunche is a young journeyman offensive lineman who has been on several different NFL rosters, including stints in the CFL and the AAF. He was most recently on the Redskins practice squad in October, before being released. He has the skill set to be a blindside protector in this offense. It wouldn’t be a Pep Hamilton team without a Stanford player on it. A.T. Hall is a 3-year starter who was All Pac 12 mention during his time there. He can play RT and LT, so he has swingman capabilities on the line. Dorian Johnson is an excellent athlete for his size. His physical profile got him drafted in the 4th round in 2017 by the Arizona Cardinals. Dorian Johnson was a 4-star recruit, rated behind only Laremy Tunsil as the top offensive tackle coming out of high school. Several colleges went after him, but he chose to stay at his hometown of Pittsburgh. Despite being a first-team All American in college, it hasn’t gone as planned for Dorian in the NFL. He’s had injury issues and has been with 3 different NFL teams since 2017. Bouncing on and off the rosters of the Cards, Texans and most recently the Panthers in August. Johnson could end up being one of the XFL’s best offensive lineman if he can stay healthy.

WR Malachi Dupre was a five-star recruit coming out of Louisiana. He landed at LSU and made an impact and was developing going into his senior season. Dupre decided to declare early and his talents got him drafted in the 7th round by the Green Bay Packers in 2017. Many felt that Dupre came out too soon and wasn’t a finished product yet. Since that time, the 6’2 Dupre has been on six different NFL teams in three years: Packers, Bills, Texans, Seahawks, Cardinals and most recently with the Chargers. Only 24, Dupre still has an upside. He just hasn’t been able to break through and be a starter on the pro level.

WR Tyler Palka is a small school quarterback turned receiver from Gannon University. He’s had the proverbial cup of coffee in the NFL with the Steelers, and has spent time in the Arena League and CFL. Palka is not going to blow you away with his physical ability but he has strong hands and is a good route runner. He’s always been the ultimate longshot.

TE Donnie Ernsberger is a versatile player who can play fullback as well. Known for his blocking prowess, Donnie has spent time on the Bucs and Jaguars roster since 2018. DC’s dynamic two-headed backfield of Donnel Pumphrey and Jhurell Pressley could benefit from Ernsberger leading the path.

On the interior of the defensive line, the Defenders selected former Giants 3rd round pick Jay Bromley and West Virginia’s Kenny Bigelow. Bromley spent 4 years with the New York Giants as a reserve lineman. The 314-pound run-stuffer has seen plenty of game time, but has not been despite a front line starter in the NFL. He was most recently cut by the Niners in late August. Undrafted rookie Kenny Bigelow has had a lot of adversity. He was originally at USC and he blew out his knee twice. He almost retired, received a 6th year of eligibility, and then transferred to WVU. He played nose tackle for WVU, but despite being all Big 12 second team, Bigelow did not receive an invite to the combine or senior bowl. He showed well at his pro day benching 31 reps and running a 5.09 in the 40. Bigelow went undrafted but was signed by the Saints this summer, only to be released with an injury settlement after tearing his biceps. Just another block in the road on his journey. The Defenders might have found a gem if Bigelow can have some lady luck on his side.

Defensive Back Kamrin Moore is a former 6th round pick in 2018 by the New Orleans Saints. He was a 3-year starter at cornerback for Boston College. Moore is a talented player who can play safety and corner but he has had injury issues, and more importantly off the field issues. He was suspended by the Giants in July for an alleged domestic violence incident. Moore was placed on the NFL commissioner’s exempt list until his charges were cleared. The Giants ended up releasing him at cut down day. On October 29th, Moore was cleared of all charges by a grand jury.

North Dakota’s 6’3 corner Deion Harris has had plenty of adversity of his own. Following a breakout year in 2016, Harris recorded five interceptions, returned three for TDs, with 36 tackles, nine pass breakups, and led UND to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs for the first time in program history. Harris was named to ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s list of top senior corners entering 2017, but a devastating injury forced him to miss the entire campaign. Upon Harris’ return in 2018, the redshirt senior finished with 27 tackles, four TFLs, seven pass breakups, a blocked field goal, and an interception to help the Fighting Hawks finish just outside the playoffs. Over his career at UND, Harris was named second-team All-America by the American Football Coaches Association and Associated Press, and third team by Hero Sports Network, first-team All-Big Sky, and the ROOT SPORTS Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week on a pair of occasions. The small school stud went undrafted and signed with the Washington Redskins before being released at cut down day.

Rounding out this group of draftees is Linebacker Kerron Johnson. He’s an undersized speed backer/safety hybrid from Coastal Carolina, who could provide value in coverage and on special teams. He went undrafted last year and spent some time in the AAF.

DC Defenders XFL 2020 Schedule Analysis

DC Defenders Schedule

When is a game more than just a game? When an entire league’s reputation and perception are potentially at stake. Superbowl III was more than just a game. The truth is that while talks were on-going and probably inevitable, of a merger between the NFL and AFL back in the late sixties, the two league experiment wasn’t going very well. The NFL was the superior football league and the first two non-NFL championship game “Superbowls” were noncompetitive and just glorified exhibitions. They didn’t draw very well and lacked credibility in the football world. The AFL didn’t appear as if it really belonged.  As heavy underdogs, the Jets carried the burden of an entire league on their shoulders when they upset the Baltimore Colts. A year later, the Chiefs would go to win the Superbowl and solidify the now AFC forever.

On Saturday, February 8th, 2020.   The XFL is actually going to get a second chance to make a first impression. The original XFL’s first chance to make an impression failed in spectacular fashion. The league debuted in front of a sold-out crowd in Las Vegas on primetime network television.  For a first-year league playing its first-ever game, the expectations and ratings were through the roof. Unfortunately, the game and the entire league crashed through the basement floor. The league wasn’t ready for primetime and it never really recovered from the premiere game in the public’s eyes. The play and product did get better as the season progressed but it was too little, too late. This time around, the league is debuting on ABC and Fox, in a back to back network doubleheader in the afternoon but the same stakes are in place. The question leading into the XFL 2020 schedule reveal was, “How would the current XFL go about scheduling their first and arguably most important game of the season?”  In terms of the mainstream public, none of the games have more importance than the first impression that the XFL makes. How the premiere game plays out will have an effect on football fans who are on the fence about watching the XFL, and whether they will decide to continue watching the league.

The choice for the premiere game could have been in Dallas. After all, Texas is football country. Globe Life Park is being retrofitted and reimagined for pro football. Bob Stoops is making his return to the sidelines, with the Innovator of the Air Raid Offense, Hal Mumme calling plays for Stoops former Quarterback Landry Jones. While Dallas Cowboys legend Daryl “Moose” Johnston watches the Renegades team he constructed along with Stoops.

The kickoff game for the XFL could have been St. Louis in The Dome. The return of pro football to the River City.  It could also have been in Los Angeles, with the Wildcats kicking off the season from the city where LA’s last pro football champions played. The premiere game could have been on the biggest stage possible with New York at Metlife Stadium. What’s old is new again could have been the theme with June Jones and his legendary run and shoot offense making a spring pro football comeback to the city of Houston. Decades after lighting up scoreboards with the Houston Gamblers in the USFL. The XFL season could have started in Tampa, six days after the Superbowl is played in the very same venue. One of the best and most passionate sports cities in the world in Seattle could have also played host to the XFL’s return.

The DC Defenders are getting the honor and distinction of being the team that kicks off the XFL season at home. Arguably the most important game of the entire XFL season and league is the first one.  At the start of any season, there is always pressure to win and get off on the right foot. This opening game goes beyond just the normal pressures of winning and losing. The DC Defenders and Seattle Dragons share in the same pressure of being the game that sets the tone and creates a new first impression for the league.

WEEK 1- HOME VS THE SEATTLE DRAGONS- SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 8th, 2PM  ET/11AM PT, AUDI FIELD, ABC

A lot of firsts in this game. This will be Pep Hamilton’s first-ever game as a pro football head coach. It could be Cardale Jones first-ever start as a pro football quarterback. Both the Head Coach and Quarterback are finally getting their chance to shine in roles they have waited quite some time for.  Legendary Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Jim Zorn brings his Seattle Dragons, to the scene of his previous crimes in DC. At least that’s the way, DC football fans feel about Jim Zorn and his time coaching there. This is a very early game for Seattle, so it’s possible that the Dragons come out to DC a day or two earlier just to get adjusted. The setting is a unique one. While XFL teams like Seattle, play in tradition football stadiums, the Defenders will be playing their home games at the home of Major League Soccer’s DC United. A beautiful smaller-sized stadium that is designed to make the fans feel like they are on the field with the players.  Early returns on ticket sales have been positive and this game has the potential to be at or near capacity come February. If you are a fan of football weather in the winter, this game has a chance to fill that need. Two of the teams playing in the coldest weather environments will be playing at home in week one in NY and DC, and it would make for an interesting style of play if this game ends up with snowy conditions.

WEEK 2- HOME VS THE NEW YORK GUARDIANS- SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 15TH, 2PM/ET, AUDI FIELD, ABC

DC has 4 games currently scheduled on ABC, with a potential 5th in the final week of the season. This is the Defenders’ first divisional game on their schedule. The two markets have pro football history going back between one another for many years now. They are natural rivals. DC has 4 of their first 6 games at home. So these home divisional games are going to be very important for the Defenders.

WEEK 3- AT THE LOS ANGELES WILDCATS- SUNDAY FEBRUARY 23rd, 6 PM ET/9 PM PT, DIGNITY HEALTH SPORTS PARK, FS1

Much like the Defenders, the Wildcats play in a soccer stadium that the Chargers and MLS’s LA Galaxy share. This is DC’s longest road trip of the season after starting off the first two weeks at home. To their benefit, it is a later game and they do have an extra day to prep for it. The weather can be a complete contrast from what DC has seen up until this point. Cardale Jones returns to LA, the place he has been in the NFL since 2017.

WEEK 4- AT THE TAMPA BAY VIPERS- SUNDAY MARCH 1ST, 7PM ET, RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM, ESPN 2

The second straight road and night game for the Defenders. This can technically be considered the league’s first prime time game. This is also the first game where the Defenders will be playing in a traditional pro football stadium.

WEEK 5- HOME VS THE ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS- SUNDAY MARCH 8TH, 3PM ET/2 PM CT, AUDI FIELD, FS1

The Defenders return home after a 2 game road trip. This will be their second straight divisional matchup. The game features a  battle of two first time head coaches in Hamilton and Jonathan Hayes. Hamilton, Hayes and Winston Moss are the three coaches in the league who all share the same distinction. FS1 is a frequent home for Defender games during the season. This is also the third of five straight Sunday games for the Defenders.

WEEK 6- HOME VS THE THE DALLAS RENEGADES- SUNDAY MARCH 15TH, 4 PM ET, AUDI FIELD, FS1

This could be a preview of the XFL Championship game. Two of the more accomplished Quarterbacks in the entire league face off in Cardale Jones and Landry Jones. This is a crucial stretch for the Defenders before they close the regular season playing 3 of their last 4 games on the road. The Renegades are projected and rightfully so to be one of the league’s best teams. This is another market in Dallas, that DC has a long-standing natural rivalry with.

WEEK 7- AT THE HOUSTON ROUGHNECKS- SUNDAY MARCH 22ND, 6PM ET, TDECU STADIUM, FS1

In a wide-open fast-paced league that the XFL figures to be, this matchup is one of the reasons that DC went so corner heavy in their DB draft, taking 7 corners in total. You need them all against June Jones and the Run and Shoot offense.

WEEK 8- HOME VS THE TAMPA BAY VIPERS- SATURDAY MARCH 28TH, 2P ET,  AUDI FIELD, ABC

The final home game of the season at Audi Field for the DC Defenders. If the Defenders win the Eastern Division, they will not be able to host a playoff game at Audi Field, as the venue will not be available. It’s unfortunate but the drawback to not being a primary tenant. DC hopes to be in that position by the end of the season. The league would have to set up potential alternate sites. RFK is not in the cards and FedEx may not be either. So it’s possible that in the DMV, Navy or Maryland’s football stadiums could be alternate sites. Since the league’s championship game figures to be at a neutral site. This would only be a 1-week issue. The Defenders are going to have to win this game to keep any home game playoff scenarios a reality. They are finally back playing on ABC and on Saturday afternoon.

WEEK 9- AT THE NEW YORK GUARDIANS- SATURDAY APRIL 4TH, 2 PM ET, METLIFE STADIUM, ABC

Huge divisional matchup. The Defenders close out their season with two straight divisional games on the road. If DC makes the playoffs, they will have earned it.

WEEK 10- AT THE ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS- SUNDAY APRIL 12TH, GAME TIME TBD, THE DOME AT AMERICA’S CENTER, ABC/FS1

The time and channel that this game will air are yet to be determined. Disney and Fox are supposed to make that decision in March. The western division playoff teams could  be decided on Saturday. It’s all about the East on Sunday. Depending on where the Defenders and BattleHawks stand by seasons end. This could end be the toughest road game for any team in the XFL. If the playoffs are on the line in this game. St. Louis is going to be electric. New York and Tampa play on this final day of the regular season as well. So all 4 division teams play each other in the final weekend. Only two of them are going to the playoffs. There’s a chance that DC could be headed right back here in the following week or that St. Louis could be headed to play DC. Rather fitting that DC could be in the position of starting and finishing the XFL regular season.

DC Defenders XFL Draft Recap

NFL teams have an entire year to prep for an upcoming draft class. Countless resources and hours are spent scouting and dissecting potential draft eligible prospects. All of this is done to draft 7 players. Some teams stockpile picks and end up drafting 10, 12 or maybe even 14 players. Now imagine if you will, having to draft 70 players. That’s quite the task for any pro football franchise, let alone eight of them. The coaching staffs and front offices in the XFL had their work cut out for them.

The process of scouting players was a collaborative effort between the league’s football operations department and it’s in house scouting department in ‘Optimum’, led by Eric Galko. The league conducted eight separate combine style showcases this past summer, where nearly 900 players worked out in front of coaches and team executives. Very late in the draft preparation process, the XFL added 295 players into their 1,000 plus player draft pool. 209 of those players that just missed the cut in the NFL in late August, ended up being drafted by XFL teams.

One of the areas that XFL teams leaned on with their player personnel departments, is having members of those offices, who were just recently in the AAF earlier this year. There’s Daryl Johnston (San Antonio to Dallas), Tony Softli (AAF Director of Scouting to Seattle), Josh Hinch (Orlando to Tampa), Randy Mueller (Salt Lake to Houston), Trip MacCracken (Arizona to NY), Dave Boller (San Diego to Dallas), Chris Thompson (Atlanta to NY), Robert Morris (San Antonio to Dallas), Will Lewis (Memphis to Houston), John Peterson (San Antonio to NY) and Trey Brown (Birmingham to St. Louis). This also extended to the individual coaching staffs. The experience of building a team in a spring pro football league, and the insider knowledge of the AAF’s 400 plus players was helpful.

The DC Defenders like the LA Wildcats, went a different route with their Director of Player Personnel positions. The Wildcats hired highly respected NFL personnel evaluator Joey Clinkscales, who was just recently with the Oakland Raiders. The Defenders GM/Head Coach Pep Hamilton leaned on one of his past connections in Greg Gabriel, from Hamilton’s time  coaching with The Chicago Bears. Greg Gabriel brings to the Defenders, three decades of NFL scouting experience, including a decade as the Chicago Bears Director of College Scouting and most recently with the Philadelphia Eagles. Prior to working in Chicago, Gabriel spent two seasons scouting for his hometown Buffalo Bills and then 16 seasons in the New York Giants personnel department. Like most of the team personnel people in the XFL. Gabriel hit the trail, going to NFL camps this summer to scout players. One of the players that was heavily scouted by all XFL teams, in the NFL preseason this summer, ended up being the DC Defenders assigned quarterback.

 

Cardell Jones Drafted to the DC Defenders

QUARTERBACK ASSIGNMENT: CARDALE JONES- OHIO STATE

Can you win the day before the draft has even started? It sure felt that way when just hours before the XFL began their five phase player draft, Cardale Jones was officially announced as being the Defenders assigned quarterback. From day one, Cardale always seemed like the type of Quarterback that the league would be interested in. Jones recently revealed in an interview , that the XFL had  been in contact with him for quite some time.  Last year,  XFL Executive VP Doug Whaley reached out to Cardale, a player he drafted in Buffalo, to let him know that the XFL has a spot waiting for him,  if he were to become available. Cardale was scouted heavily by several XFL teams this summer. Tampa’s Marc Trestman and LA’s Norm Chow were in Chargers camp watching Cardale Jones. Why the heavy interest in a player that only started 11 games in college, and has just 11 career pass attempts in his NFL career?

At 6’5 250 pounds, with a strong arm and good mobility in the pocket, it’s never been a question of physical talent with Cardale Jones. He’s always had elite physical traits. What has really stood out the last two years is how well he has developed and matured as a Quarterback.  You’d have to be looking very closely to notice that, since Cardale’s best work has been during the summer in the NFL the last two years. Cardale finally started to mature as a quarterback and make real strides in his development. Jones completed 68 percent of his passes this past summer, and earned the praise of his coaches in Los Angeles. Ultimately, Jones lost out to the numbers game in LA. His time had run out. With Phillip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor and draft pick Easton Stick in the mix at QB for the Chargers. There was no more room for Cardale. A month ago, Jones was signed to the Seahawks practice squad. A familiar place for him, a spot he held for the entire season last year with The Chargers.

Not ready and too much too soon would be the best way to describe Cardale’s career thus far. He started out as a backup for the Buckeyes, was thrust into a starting role, and became an instant superstar at Ohio State. He sprung onto the scene, lit the college football world on fire and won a National Championship. He was so great, right out the gate, that many people were discussing the possibility of him being a surefire top 5 pick in the NFL draft. Cardale decided to go back to school. The following year, Cardale ended up being a co-starter with the player he replaced due to injury the prior campaign, JT Barrett. The expectation level was through the roof for Jones but he didn’t live up to it. A year after potentially being earmarked as a first round pick, Cardale surprised many by declaring for the draft. His stock had taken a hit but Jones decision ultimately came down to supporting his family. Jones ended up being drafted in the 4th round of the 2106 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills. Cardale’s immense talent and upside, got him drafted,  and he was put into the role of being a third string developmental quarterback. Cardale only saw the field for Buffalo in relief duty. The Chargers ended up trading for Jones and his upside. Cardale spent 2017 as a backup, never seeing the field. 2018 is where Cardale started to show signs of his potential. It earned him another full season with LA. Jones credits being on the same team as Phillip Rivers, as one of the reasons for his growth as a Quarterback.  Cardale’s improvement during this past summer, made it appear, as if he wouldn’t be a realistic target for any of the XFL teams…..  However, Cardale ran out of room in LA, and the Seahawks signed him briefly as insurance for Russell Wilson and Geno Smith. Cardale looked as if he’d always be arrested in development. That’s ultimately the reason, he chose the XFL, despite having teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars  show interest in signing him to their practice squads.

Cardale’s dream is to one day be a starting Quarterback in the NFL, but he is at a cross roads in his career, only 27 years old, but stuck in neutral.  With the XFL, Cardale finally gets a shot to play, start and lead his own team in DC. This has the potential to be the type of story that Kurt Warner, Jon Kitna, Jake Delhomme, Brad Johnson and Tommy Maddox were, when being given an opportunity to shine in another pro football league.

 

PHASE 1- SKILL POSITION PLAYERS

WR Rashard Davis has the distinction of being the first pick overall in the XFL Draft.  Would he have been the first pick overall if the draft format had every position involved?  Did the Defenders reach for him? They could have gone with someone who has more of an established pro resume with their first pick. Taking Davis sends a clear message. The Defenders not only project Davis to be their #1 target in their passing game, but potentially the best receiver/weapon in the entire league.  Davis was a superstar on the FCS level, but what got him that distinction was his electrifying open field skills as a returner. As a former dual threat quarterback in high school, The 5’9 Rashard Davis started out his college career as a gadget player. It wasn’t until his final year at JMU, that Davis broke out and was a game changer. As a senior he played in all 15 games, making 12 starts. He set a JMU and CAA single-season record with an FCS-best four punt returns for  touchdowns. Davis had 15 punt returns for a JMU single-season record 426 yards and four scores. He also tallied 42 receptions for 530 yards and three touchdowns. Davis was named the CAA Special Teams Player of the year. Rashard went undrafted but was signed by The Philadelphia Eagles.  He spent the entire 2017 season, on and off the Eagles practice squad. Davis earned himself a Superbowl ring as a member of the Eagles in his rookie season, to go along with his FCS championship, that he won in 2016. Davis would end up making the Eagles practice squad in his second season, only to be cut and then signed by Oakland. Davis would finish the year on the Raiders practice squad. This past April, he was cut by the Raiders, then claimed by the Chiefs, only to be released on cutdown day in late August. The fact that an FCS player was taken first overall sends a strong statement. Cardale Jones was there in the DC draft room and announced Davis as the first  pick. Hopefully it’s a sign of many more connections to come between the two.

Tre McBride was the Defenders second selection in this phase. McBride is yet another player on the Defenders who was released at cutdown day by an NFL team (Jaguars). McBride is a small school product out of William & Mary, a track star, who ran a 4.3 at 6’0 and 210 pounds. It got him drafted in the 7th round by The Titans in 2015.  Despite his skillset as a potentially dynamic receiver and returner. McBride at just 26 years old,  has been on 5 NFL teams, but has never been able to break through.  The Defenders also drafted former Penn State speedster DeAndre Thompkins at the receiver position in this phase. Thompkins is an undrafted rookie signed by the Eagles, who ran a 4.33 40 at PSU’s Pro Day.  The Eagles obviously saw something they liked in him,  because they reportedly paid him $85,000 guaranteed to sign, which was the third-most paid out  among the NFL’s undrafted free agents. He  was cut by the Eagles this summer, after battling a shoulder injury.  In his Penn State career, Thompkins caught 83 passes for 1,245 yards and six touchdowns. He was also a factor in the return game, where he averaged 10.2 yards on 66 punt returns and scored two touchdowns. This is another projection pick by the Defenders, as Thompkins wasn’t a big receiving  star in college but he is loaded with upside. Rounding out the receiver group in this phase is the son of former NFL great, WR Ed McCaffrey, and the brother of currently off the charts great running back, Christian McCaffrey. Max McCaffrey, only 26, has been on 5 different teams in the NFL, and has only 1 career catch. A heady player with good size and football smarts, McCaffrey could be headed to a potential slot role in the Defenders offense.

It can be argued that DC has the best running back duo in the entire league. Jhurell Pressley is another example of a talented runner, who hasn’t been able to rise up the depth chart in the NFL. Despite being a star in college at New Mexico, and running a 4.40 in the 40 yard dash coming out. Pressley went undrafted,  and has been on 5 different NFL teams, but has never carried the rock  in the regular season. It wasn’t until Jhurell Pressley joined the AAF and was allocated  to the Arizona Hotshots, that he would finally get his chance to shine. The Defenders Offensive Line Coach & Run Game Coordinator Chris Scelfo, had one of the AAF’s best three headed backfield attacks with Pressley, Tim Cook and Justin Stockton. All three were drafted into the XFL. No surprise that Jhurell would be high on DC’s board. Teaming up with Jhurell will be the NCAA’s Division I all-time leading rusher in Donnel Pumphrey. The 5’8 176 Pumphrey, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft. It was considered a disappointment that he “only” ran a 4.48 coming out of college. Pumphrey ended up tearing his hamstring as a rookie, and missing the entire season. He did earn a superbowl ring with fellow teammate Rashard Davis. The following season, Pumphrey was released on cutdown day, claimed by the Lions on their practice squad, only to be cut again and return to Philly on their practice squad. Pumphrey didn’t make the Eagles roster at cutdown day over a month ago. If Pumphrey can stay healthy at his size, he can finally have the opportunity to display his talents on the field.

The Defenders drafted three tight ends in this phase. Khari Lee, Orson Charles and Adrien Robinson. Lee is a small school receiving star out of Bowie State in Maryland. Lee has spent  time with 4 different NFL teams. Lee’s upside is such that he was actually traded for by the Bears, which is very rare for an undrafted free agent. While Lee at 6’4 and 235, is strictly a receiving talent. Orson Charles is an excellent in-line blocker, who has played fullback in the NFL. A former 4th round pick and John Mackey award finalist out of Georgia. Charles has been on six NFL teams as a role player. He spent the entire season last year with The Browns, lead blocking for Nick Chubb. This past summer, he was released by Denver at final cuts.  Adrien Robinson is also a former 4th round pick. He has been with the Giants, Jets and Memphis in the AAF. Robinson’s end in the AAF made headlines, when he was charged $2,500 dollars  for his own lodging on his credit card.

One of the best picks in the skill player draft was undrafted rookie Quarterback out of Buffalo, Tyree Jackson. The Defenders took him in the 9th round of this phase. Jackson was the MVP and Most Outstanding Offensive Player in the MAC.  The 21 year old, 6’7 248 pound Jackson, declared early for the NFL draft. He was voted team MVP at the Senior Bowl, but went undrafted and then signed with The Buffalo Bills. Jackson spent the entire preseason with Buffalo,  but did not make the final cut. Surprisingly despite his size and mobility, Tyree is not on an NFL roster. That might still change, but there’s no questioning the upside or quality of this pick.

 

PHASE TWO- OFFENSIVE LINEMAN

There are now 7 XFL Draft picks and counting, that have been signed by NFL teams since the draft. The Defenders top draft pick, Kyle Murphy was signed to the Texans practice squad a day after being drafted. A clear example that the DC front office valued a player that is NFL worthy.  DC retains Murphy’s rights, should he become available again. Logan Tulley-Tillman has never been lacking for talent. The 6’7 former 4 star recruit that landed at the University of Michigan, had off field issues as Wolverine, and  ending up transferring in college. His pro aspirations have been sidetracked as a result. Tillman is still fairly young and coming off of a season of development in the AAF. De’Ondre Wesley is a career NFL practice squader. The mammoth 6’7 330 pound tackle, has had some injury issues since coming out of BYU. Jon Toth is a former All SEC Center, who has also had stints in the NFL as a backup. Former UAB/Colts undrafted rookie Rishard Cook follows along a theme of summer NFL cuts on the Defenders. The 340 pound rookie helped the lead the way for one of the nation’s best rushing attacks. Chris Brown is a former 4 star recruit from USC, and another UDFA, that played with The Chargers this summer. Undrafted out of LSU, Toby Weathersby has spent time in the NFL with the Eagles and Pats, and was most recently with the Express in the AAF. According to Pro Football Focus, Center James O’Hagan earned the No. 1 pass blocking grade among all draft-eligible centers during the 2016 and 2017 seasons before returning to finish his career at Buffalo during the 2018 season.  In 2018, O’Hagan took a slight step back in as a pass blocker (No. 4) but finished as the No. 1 overall center in college football thanks to his No. 1 run blocking grade. The New York Giants signed O’Hagan as an undrafted rookie free agent following the conclusion of the 2019 NFL Draft,  as most teams passed over him solely due to his size. O’Hagan is a former teammate of Defenders Quarterback Tyree Jackson. Cardale Jones former Ohio State teammate Chase Farris, can play guard or tackle, after originally starting his college career as a defensive lineman. Casey Tucker also provides the same type of versatility. He played both tackle spots and guard at Arizona State.

 

PHASE 3- DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN

James Vaughters was a surprise 1st round pick, much in the same way that Rashard Davis was in the skill position draft. Vaughters has been a journeyman edge rusher since coming out of school at Stanford. Vaughters was at Stanford, when his now Head Coach  Pep Hamilton was there, as was his former teammate, current XFL Director of Football Operations, Sam Schwartzstein. Vaughters has been with 4 NFL teams but his best  gameday production has come in the CFL, where he won a Grey Cup Championship with the Calgary Stampeders. It led to Vaughters signing a contract with The Chicago Bears. Vaughters impressed during  the  2019 NFL preseason with three sacks and two forced fumbles. Not only did his performances get the attention of Bears coach Matt Nagy, but they drew some pretty lofty comparisons too. Matt Nagy compared Vaughters pass rush ability and propensity for causing fumbles to Khalil Mack.  Vaughters initially made the Bears practice squad to only be released in mid September. A month later, Vaughters is drafted onto an XFL team.

Charles Harris is another tweener edge rushing type who was also in Bears camp this summer. Elijah Qualls, a former 6th round pick of The Eagles in 2017, has prototypical Nose Tackle size at 320 plus pounds, but enough natural agility to be more than just a two down run stuffer. Leading the linebacking corps in the center of the Defenders defense should be Scooby Wright. A former 7th round pick and star linebacker in college, Scooby Wright was just recently released off of the Patriots practice squad on October 1st. Tracy Sprinkle, who had a five-year career at Ohio State, ran into many, many obstacles in his path to the NFL. Dealing with injuries throughout his career, Sprinkle went undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has since spent time in the AAF and with The Browns.  Sam Montgomery is one of the better veterans, that is slated to play in the XFL. The former 3rd round pick out of LSU, has had a unique journey to say the least. He has played in multiple leagues, including 3 different NFL teams. Montgomery has always been stout against the run and dependable.  Undersized Linebacker Jonathan Celestin has been a fringe player in the NFL for a few teams and has spent time on practice squads. His measurables and athletic ability have held him back, despite playing well and showing good instincts on the field. The XFL could be the perfect place for him to finally get a chance to prove himself. Keshun Freeman has had a similar path as Celestin. He’s an extremely high character player with leadership traits, who just hasn’t been able to stick in the NFL. He played in the Alliance with the Atlanta Legends. Daryle Banfield is an all Ivy league player, who also has the same character traits as Freeman. Banfield can play inside or outside, depending on the scheme used.

 

PHASE 4- DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD

The Defenders went Cornerback with their first 6 picks in this phase. Starting with former Browns DB Elijah Campbell, who  ran one of the fastest 40 times (4.34),  of the nearly 900 players who worked out for XFL teams at their eight Summer Showcases.  From Campbell’s playing days  at UNI, he has always had a nose for the football and is a good open field tackler. CB Des Lawrence has the prototypical size and length at 6’1, to project to be a good press and zone corner. A late bloomer in college,  Lawrence has spent time with the Lions and in the Alliance. The Defender DB picks all leaned on physical traits and that’s no more evident that the selection of Cornerback Jalen Myrick. One of the fastest players in the XFL, the former 7th round pick of the Jaguars in 2017, ran a 4.28 40 at the combine. DC won’t be lacking for speed at corner. That’s for sure. Myrick was most recently with the Falcons, where he was cut on 8/31.  Doran Grant is a young veteran corner, who can play the slot. Grant is a former 4th round pick of the Steelers. Former Alabama DB Bradley Sylve is a 6 foot corner with 4.3 speed with  a highly decorated track background. He has spent time with the Bills, Saints and earlier this year with the Birmingham iron. Sylve came into football late in college,  and is still developing. Reggie Cole has only two years experience playing Corner, after initially playing receiver. He was a standout player at UMHB, but is very raw.

Some football players are notoriously known for one play during their careers. Despite being a quality veteran safety his entire career, and a quality pick by DC. Rahim Moore is known for one moment in time.  In the 2012-2013 NFL playoffs. Denver was leading Baltimore 35-28 with less than a minute left in the game. Baltimore lined up for what was essentially a Hail Mary towards the end zone. Joe Flacco unloaded a bomb to Jacoby Jones. Moore was well-positioned to make a play on the ball but misjudged the trajectory and the pass was completed to Jones for the game-tying touchdown. Baltimore would go on to win the game 38-35 in double overtime and eventually win Super Bowl XLVII. Here’s hoping that one day, Rahim plays the hero in his next playoff setting.

Safety Tyree Kinnel was a 4 star recruit and 3 year starter/team captain for Pep Hamilton’s former team  at Michigan. Despite that, he went undrafted. Kinnel had a good preseason with The Bengals but did not make the roster in September. Carlos Merritt is a ballhawking cover safety from small school Campbell University. Ladarius Gunter has 18 NFL starts in his career, all with the Green Bay Packers. Despite being undrafted and  having less than ideal 4.6 speed. . He’s still only 27 years old and has always gotten by being a physical corner. Gunter last played for the Orlando Apollos.

 

PHASE 5- OPEN DRAFT

There are some notable names in this group of 30 players, and some real sleepers. Since the Defenders went with 7 corners in their DB phase. It stood to reason that the safety position would be addressed again, and the most notable name in the group is former NFL 1st round pick, Matt Elam. He was an electrifying player in college. Elam never lived up to his billing in the NFL. A combination of injures, immaturity and off field legal troubles ended his NFL run after 4 seasons in the league. At 28 years old, Elam  hasn’t played pro football since 2016. That’s why despite his talent and pedigree. Elam wasn’t drafted in the DB phase of the league. If he’s got his head on straight. He can rewrite his legacy.

The Defenders drafted a lot of players from NFL roster cuts, and from specific teams. The Bears and Eagles were heavily scouted. Two former stomping grounds for Greg Gabriel. One of the universities that is highly represented in this class is the University of Buffalo. Greg Gabriel’s home town. One of the best open draft picks who was also from Buffalo, is Defensive Lineman Kristjan Sokoli. A former 6th round pick of the Seattle Seahawks. Sokoli has had a strange journey in the NFL. He was a very good player in college playing next to Khalil Mack. Seattle drafted him, and tried to convert to be a center, a position that he never played before. Based on his great agility at 300 pounds, and his absurd strength. Sokoli was mis-cast and ended up being released a year after he was drafted. From the Colts to the Saints and to The Giants roster. Sokoli went back and forth playing on both sides of the football. In the summer of 2018, he appeared to be making real progress with The Giants. Sokoli unfortunately tore his ACL and has been out of pro football for over a year. It’s nice to see a player like him come back from that and  get another shot.

Measurables were a big factor in the Defenders Draft and that extended to the pick of former Arizona Hotshots WR Deion Holliman, who has an absurd 65 inch vertical leap. LB AJ Tarpley from Stanford has good cover skills and can run and hit. He could be a starter on this team. At 6’4 335 pounds, 22 year old Former Oklahoma NT Du’Vonta Lampkin has untapped potential but he had characters issues in college. Lampkin prematurely came out for the NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore, and went undrafted.  Every NFL draft season, there are countless numbers of players who declare early and don’t make into the league. The numbers game is difficult to begin with, but some “unfinished” players have no place to go if the NFL door closes on them.

Conclusion

DC’s draft stood out from the rest of the league’s other seven teams. That’s not to state that it was the best or worst. Much like Dallas and Houston, the Defenders draft had it’s own individual style and personality. The majority of the XFL teams had a specific formula for  the types of players they drafted. The Defenders leaned more towards player upside and measurables, more so than any other team in the league. The offense under Pep Hamilton, Tanner Engstrand and Chris Scelfo, should be very good. Look for the Defenders to play power football and throw the ball down the field. The team has two big strong armed mobile quarterbacks who are built for outdoor football. On defense, it appears to me that DC may be leaning towards playing a 3-4 defense. Defensive Coordinator Jeffrey Fitzgerald has history coaching in both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive systems. One of the coaches he worked under is Chuck Pagano. No shock to see defensive players who spent time with the Chicago Bears this summer on the DC defense. Pagano is running his 3-4 base with the Bears, and there’s no doubt that Fitzgerald leaned on his mentor for some intel on players. Two of the more important players on the entire roster are Rashard Davis and James Vaughters. They were drafted in positions that suggest that they will be elite players in the league. Vaughters as a pass rusher and Davis as a game changer. If DC hits on these two, like they did with their Quarterback, the team will be a serious contender.

Analyzing the St. Louis BattleHawks 2020 XFL Season Schedule

St. Louis BattleHawks Schedule

It was the fall of 2018, nearly an entire calendar year had passed since Vince McMahon made public, his intention of relaunching the XFL in February of 2020.  Another spring pro football league in the AAF,  jumped out in front of the field for a February 2019 launch. The Alliance had secured it’s eight locations for the start of their season. The XFL had yet to announce where their proposed eight teams would end up playing. Then finally after months of speculation, the league announced that it would reveal it’s eight team cities and stadiums on December 5th, but prior to the big reveal, word leaked out that St. Louis would be one of the league’s team cities, and that their games would be played at The Dome at America’s Center. The XFL’s first big score was the hiring of Oliver Luck as it’s CEO and Commissioner, but it felt like it’s first big victory came, the day St. Louis was revealed to be one of the league’s cities.

Here we are, nearly a year later and St. Louis has become the BattleHawks. The front office and coaching staff has been put in place and the team just conducted a 70 player draft. The league and its teams have been built from scratch, brick by brick, building momentum towards the moment when the league finally gets on the field in February. With team uniforms, the league rules and training camps on the horizon, the league has unveiled it’s 2020 Season Schedule. The BattleHawks are now open for business.

WEEK 1-  AT THE DALLAS RENEGADES- SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 9TH/ 4PM CT/5PM ET/ GLOBE LIFE PARK/ESPN

This week, the XFL is saving their best game for last. This always seemed like potentially the marquee game for week one of the season. The who and what is a perfect fit. The when and where is certainly not what was expected. The feeling was that St. Louis would be kicking off the season for the league at home. Dallas with Bob Stoops at the helm, certainly seemed like a strong contender to be playing in the league’s premiere game. The XFL’s two most interesting teams are playing each other in week one, but they are not kicking off the season, and they are not playing in Saint Louis. Instead, the game is being played in a stadium that is currently being renovated and retrofitted for football. Dallas playing at home in week one is a surprise, beyond the location of the game itself. There are so many built in storylines for this game. From Bob Stoops returning to the sidelines and coaching pro football for the first time, to St. Louis making it’s return to Pro Football. Then there’s the  Stoops-Jonathan Hayes connection dating back to their days together at Iowa and Oklahoma. You also have, Daryl ‘Moose’ Johnston leading another Texas spring pro football team, except this time back in Dallas. There’s the battle of two Air-Raid offensive coordinators in the legendary Hal Mumme and Doug Meacham. Another key storyline is, All Big 12 West Virginia Safety Kenny Robinson turning pro, before he is draft eligible for the NFL. The oddsmakers haven’t set a line for this game yet, but you have to figure that Dallas is the heavy favorite. St. Louis is potentially starting a rookie quarterback in Jordan Ta’amu, on the road. While Dallas trots an NFL veteran quarterback in Landry Jones, who reunites with Stoops, and gets to run Hal Mumme’s lethal passing attack. This is a big spot for St. Louis. A statement game if you will. Winning this game could set the team on course for big things the rest of the way.

WEEK 2-  AT THE HOUSTON ROUGHNECKS- SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 16TH/ 5PM CT/6PM ET/ TDECU STADIUM/FS1

You have to wonder if BattleHawks Head Coach and General Manager Jonathan Hayes will consider staying in Texas during these first two  weeks. The league-wide training camp will take place in Houston in January. So the BattleHawks will be spending a lot of time in the state during the early part of 2020. This is a tough two game stretch. The BattleHawks defense will be tested in these opening two weeks. First with Hal Mumme in week one, and then followed up by June Jones and the Roughnecks offense. Despite these first two weeks being non-divisional opponents. The BattleHawks would love to come out of Texas 2-0, heading into their home opener. No team in the league has a tougher task than St. Louis to start the season.

WEEK 3-  HOME VS THE NEW YORK GUARDIANS- SUNDAY,  FEBRUARY 23RD/ 2PM CT/3PM ET/ THE DOME/ ESPN

The most intriguing home opening game of the entire league comes in week 3. This is a historic game for the city and it should be a very emotional setting. In a 10 game season, every game is important, specifically divisional games. If the BattleHawks come in flying high at 2 and 0. They will be unstoppable in this setting. If they come into this game at 0 and 2. This might be just what the doctor ordered to save their season.

WEEK 4-  HOME VS THE SEATTLE DRAGONS- SATURDAY,  FEBRUARY29TH/ 4PM CT/5PM ET/ THE DOME/ FOX

After 3 straight Sunday games, St. Louis finally plays on Saturday, and finally on broadcast network television for the first time this season. This will be their third non divisional game in the first quarter of their season. It’s usually at this point of the season where the teams begin to hit their stride and have their on field identities established. In a new league with eight newly formed teams. There is going to be a growing process early on. The game has two former longtime NFL players, coaching against one another in Jonathan Hayes and Jim Zorn. St. Louis and Seattle have had plenty of history against each other in a previous pro football life.

WEEK 5-  AT THE DC DEFENDERS- SUNDAY, MARCH 9TH/ 2PM CT/3PM ET/ AUDI FIELD/ FS1

The BattleHawks begin another two game road stretch, both of the games are against division opponents. In any football league, stealing road games against division foes can pay huge dividends for later in the season. St. Louis will have eight days to get ready for Cardale Jones and Pep Hamilton’s DC offense.

WEEK 6-  AT THE TAMPA BAY VIPERS- SATURDAY, MARCH 15TH/ 4PM CT/ 5PM ET/RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM/  FS2

The 3rd straight Fox Sports airing of the BattleHawks. First game on FS2. St. Louis plays 4 of their first 6 games on the road. These games are very important, if the team can come out of this stretch at 3 and 3 or better. They will be in good shape. With 3 of their last 4 games at home.

WEEK 7-  HOME VS THE LOS ANGELES WILDCATS- SATURDAY, MARCH 21ST/ 4PM CT/ 5PM ET/THE DOME/ FOX

Another Fox Sports airing, but this time on network television. Many XFL supporters were hoping for this game to take place in week one. Being that both these teams are in separate divisions. This game could have been at LA, but the league’s schedule makers did the fans a great service, by putting this game in St. Louis. The history between LA and STL in pro football is well known. There’s bad blood between both of these markets, and this is a natural rivalry because of it.  The bad blood spills onto the sidelines, as former on field rivals Winston Moss and Jonathan Hayes, also have history with one another, dating back to their on field clashes. Winston Moss made a point to playfully call out Hayes during his introductory press conference in LA earlier this year. The buildup to this game should be a lot of fun.

WEEK 8- AT THE NEW YORK GUARDIANS- SATURDAY, MARCH 28TH/ 4PM CT/5PM ET/METLIFE STADIUM/  FOX

You would think that St. Louis was back in the NFC West, with all these Fox games on the schedule. This is a make or break stretch for the BattleHawks. They play three straight divisional games. This is their final road game of the regular season. They close out the year at home in the last two weeks. Because of the league’s brilliant scheduling of all divisional games in the final three weeks. The majority of the league’s teams will still be in contention for a playoff spot, regardless of record. How teams fare in this stretch will determine, who competes for a chance to get to the league championship. Depending on what transpired in week 3, this could be St. Louis looking to exact revenge on New York for spoiling their homecoming, or St. Louis looking to complete a season sweep on New York.

WEEK 9- HOME VS THE TAMPA BAY VIPERS- SUNDAY, APRIL 5TH/ 11AM CT/ 12PM ET/ THE DOME/ ESPN

The earliest game of the season for St. Louis. With  New York and DC playing on Saturday, The BattleHawks will have a good idea where they stand, if they are in the division or playoff chase. You have reached the point of must win territory. This is the Vipers and BattleHawks second meeting in 4 weeks. One of the scheduling quirks that happens in smaller leagues. The AAF experienced this last year when San Antonio played San Diego in weeks one and three, and when Arizona also played Salt Lake in weeks one and three as well.

WEEK 10- HOME VS THE DC DEFENDERS- SUNDAY, APRIL 12TH/ 2PM CT/3PM ET/ THE DOME/ ABC*

The BattleHawks finally make their debut on ABC…. maybe. The start time and network that this game airs on is still tentative. Both Disney and Fox have reserved the option to switch this game with the New York-DC game, which is currently slated to be on FS1 at 6pm eastern. Naturally, the assumption is that this weekend’s games are being flexed depending on which divisional matchup has better playoff implications. However, the network press releases for the league schedule, has a decision date for the potential switch of this game set for a month earlier in March. So the game may be switched due to network programming changes. St. Louis could be in a prime position on the final Sunday of the season to clinch a playoff berth or division at home. This would be a great way to cap off St. Louis’s return to Pro Football.

St. Louis BattleHawks XFL Draft Recap

St. Louis has had a long and intriguing history in Pro Football.  Four pro teams in total. Two of them, the All-Stars and Gunners, played briefly in the NFL in the 20’s and 30’s and folded. The other two teams were relocated franchises in the Cardinals (1960-1987), and the Rams (1995-2015). In between it all,  as a failed expansion bid in the early 90’s for a team to be called ‘The Stallions’, and in the biggest what if scenario. The purchase of the New England Patriots in 1992 by St. Louis native James Orthwein, who planned to move the Patriots after the 1993 season to St. Louis, only to have the teams stadium owner, Robert Kraft pull a power play to wrestle away ownership and keep the Pats in New England. The rest as they say is history, and the history of pro football in St. Louis can be best described as bittersweet.

The BattleHawks are looking to become the first pro football team in St. Louis, to be born in the market and stand the test of time. The truth is, if the XFL suffers the same fate as other pro football leagues have before it.  Seven of the league’s eight team markets will be disappointed but ultimately and eventually, they will move on. St. Louis is a different story altogether. There’s a lot at stake here for the city. There may come a time again, where the River City finds another gateway into the NFL, but it may hinge on how well STL does with the XFL.  The success of San Antonio in the AAF opened eyes for the NFL, and that city will certainly be on the radar if the 100 year league ever expands again. Jacksonville’s great success in the USFL, where they would routinely sell out the Gator Bowl, led to multiple NFL teams looking to relocate there, before the city ended up outbidding St. Louis for an NFL team of their own. How well the BattleHawks are embraced by the city, will go along way in changing the perception that Saint Louis is not really suited or meant for Pro Football. The XFL and St. Louis share the same goal and mindset, they are both out to prove that they belong on the pro football landscape.

The St. Louis BattleHawks are cleared for take off after last week’s 70 player five-phase draft. Before we take an in depth look at the Quarterback, who was assigned to St. Louis,  and the players they drafted.  It’s important to note the person who is running St. Louis’s player personnel department. Trey Brown, only 34 years old, the former player turned executive, has risen quickly up the pro football ranks in such a short period of  time.   Brown started out as a scout for the New England Patriots, he then moved on to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he rode up the ranks to become the team’s Director of College Scouting. Trey Brown barely in his 30’s, interviewed for the GM jobs of the Buffalo Bills in 2017, and the Oakland Raiders in 2018. Earlier this year in the AAF, Brown was the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Birmingham Iron. There’s been plenty of debate among XFL followers about the BattleHawks draft.

One thing that can’t be overlooked is the fact, that three of the players drafted by St. Louis, have already  been signed by NFL teams. Corbin Kaufusi signed on to The New York Jets practice squad. Wes Saxton signed onto the Washington practice squad, and Tyler Gauthier signed onto the New England Patriots practice squad as well. Another draft pick, Center James Murray has also worked out for NFL teams recently. This is a clear indicator that the BattleHawks front office values players, that the NFL and it’s teams also covet. Keep that in mind when dissecting the BattleHawks roster. Specifically when it comes to the Quarterback they earmarked and signed to be their projected starter.

 

QUARTERBACK ASSIGNMENT: JORDAN TA’AMU- OLE MISS

This is the equivalent of a team drafting a Quarterback for the future, except in this case, the future might be right now.  The 21 year old Jordan Ta’amu is an undrafted rookie quarterback, who spent the summer backing up Deshaun Watson in Houston. The ‘Throwin Samoan’ doesn’t have the track record that the other seven XFL Quarterbacks have, but it can be argued that no other quarterback has more talent or upside than Ta’amu. He is as raw as it gets.

A true developmental quarterback, who only has two years of big time college football experience under his belt, the 6’3 gunslinger with impressive mobility, started out at the New Mexico Military Institute for two seasons before transferring to Ole Miss in 2017. Jordan started out as a backup behind Shea Patterson, but took over as the teams starter for the final five games, when Patterson went down to Injury.  Ta’amu threw for over 1,600 yards in that brief stretch, completed 66 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. He also proved to be quite the mobile threat with 4 touchdowns on the ground. Patterson transferred to Michigan, while Jordan took over as the full time starter in 2018.

Ta’amu had a fantastic senior season, finishing second in the SEC in passing yards, behind only Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.  Ta’amu completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,918 yards with 19 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He also rushed for 342 yards and 6 touchdowns.

The knock on Ta’amu, and the reason he went undrafted is two-fold. He’s not a polished product. Ta’amu has a big arm and great mobility, but his lack of experience and overall consistency with his mechanics show up on film. He’s still a maturing Quarterback, that needs more seasoning to work on his accuracy and timing. The other knock against Ta’amu, was the passing targets that he worked with at Ole Miss, and the lack of variety in his throws. Three of Ta’amu’s top passing targets with the Rebels, are all in the NFL in DK Metcalf, AJ Brown and Dawson Knox. BattleHawks Offensive Coordinator Doug Meacham has quite the task at hand to develop and work with Jordan’s skillset. Part of Meacham’s mode of attack is to do just that, attack down the field frequently. That is one of Jordan’s strengths.

The team may end up addressing this position again somewhere before or after minicamp in December. Perhaps with a veteran. However, there’s no denying that the sky is the limit for Ta’amu. The question is, will he be ready for take off come February.

 

PHASE 1- SKILL PLAYER DRAFT

It’s time to speculate. It’s what football fans do. There’s a reason to believe that the BattleHawks were targeting Connor Cook in the skill position draft. The Brogan Roback selection in this round strongly suggests that Quarterback was high on the teams list of priorities. As is customary, in sports league drafts. A team will take a player that you coveted off of your board, which may lead you into a different direction. For example, the Dallas Renegades recently stated that one of the players they targeted in Phase 2 of the draft, was taken ahead of them by The New York Guardians. In true team-speak fashion, Dallas says that their  first 17 selections were all the #1 players on their board when their pick came up. Another piece of evidence that Connor Cook may have been on the BattleHawks radar before Houston picked him second, is the fact that Connor Cook worked out at the St. Louis Summer Showcase in front of Jonathan Hayes and his entire staff. Exhibit B, Connor Cook was on the Bengals roster, when Jonathan Hayes was coaching on that offensive staff. Am I reaching perhaps? Maybe, but the fact that STL took a QB with their second pick suggests to me that this was a position they were targeting, to hedge their bets on their talented assigned rookie Quarterback.

If RB was Plan B, The BattleHawks knocked this position out of the park. There was a time where Christine Michael and Matt Jones were projected to be feature backs in the National Football League. Both players are relatively young, and do not have the usual thread on their tires, that running backs, their age usually have. Michael is supremely gifted. A former track star and five star recruit. Coming out of Texas, he won the Walter Payton award for being the best high school player in the entire nation. A former 2nd round pick, who never really broke through to become a feature back in the pros. A career 4.3 yards per carry, on only 254 career carries, he didn’t start in the pros until his 3rd year in the league, and has only 9 career starts under his belt. His career stat line reads like a single season, 1,080 rushing yards with 7 touchdowns. Jones is a former 5th round pick. A bruising 6’2 231 pound back with good movement skills. Jones was thrust into a starting role in the NFL, but was never able to stay healthy. He’s still only 26 years old, and is the perfect compliment to Michael.

BattleHawks receivers coach, Az Hakim will have a lot of talent to work with.  Six receivers were taken by the BattleHawks in this phase. Standing out from this group is De’Mornay Pierson El and local Missouri product L’Damian Washington. Pierson El had an impressive stint in the AAF, and with the Raiders this past summer. He has great open field ability and can be a lethal punt returner. Washington is 6’4 with long speed. Trey Brown has familiarity with him from his time in Birmingham. What a journey it has been for L’Damian as a pro. He’s 28 years old, but has been on count ’em, 7 NFL teams, 2 CFL teams and an AAF team. He’s never been able to stick anywhere or break through despite his immense talent. Doug Meacham’s Air Raid offense is ideally suited for these two potential starters.

Marcus Lucas is another Missouri player. A jumbo sized WR at 6’4 250 lbs, who can also play TE if need be. Lucas like Washington has been on several NFL teams since going undrafted in 2014. Nine different NFL teams, Lucas has bounced back and forth from practice squads and futures contracts.

Alonzo Russell spent time with Jonathan Hayes in Cincinnati.

The final pick in this phase, Jordan Lasley is a former 5th round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2018. As a Junior, he led the Pac-12 in receiving yards. Lasley’s issues have been off the field. He was suspended in his junior season for 3 games, for undisclosed reasons. Then as a pro, this past summer. He was waived by Baltimore after getting into a fight with multiple teammates. The Raiders claimed him off waivers but he was subsequently cut weeks later. There was a stretch there at UCLA, where he was a dominant player, that led to him being drafted despite his off field issues. It’s possible that Lasley never sees the field in the XFL, but that’s up to him.

 

PHASE 2- OFFENSIVE LINEMAN

Solid group all around. Matt McCants stands out as the senior offensive lineman in this phase. The 30-year old former NFL draft pick, has spent most of his career as a swing lineman in the NFL. He really shined last season with the Birmingham Iron in the AAF. Another Trey Brown tie in. Coincidentally, the Iron’s head coach Tim Lewis, is STL’s DB’s coach. So there is direct knowledge of this player in the front office and on this staff.

When talking about tie-ins to St. Louis, there’s former St. Louis Ram, Brian Folkerts. He is another veteran offensive lineman, who can play guard and center. He has 28 NFL games under his belt, but like McCants, he’s been mostly a swing lineman in the pros.

Dallas Thomas may end up being one of the league’s better guards. He’s a former 3rd round pick of the Miami Dolphins, has 26 career starts under his belt.

In secondary football leagues, the hardest area to find quality players is on the offensive line. Sometimes coaches lean on connections, and that is spelled out throughout this entire draft. Trent Perkins from Texas, spent two years with The Cincinnati Bengals. He was coached by BattleHawks line coach Brian Braswell, who came over with Jonathan Hayes to STL. Perkins has been shifted back and forth off the Bengals practice squad since 2017. In August of this year, he decided to retire and was subsequently waived by Cincy. Two months later, he came out of retirement to finally get a chance to start,  and rejoins his former Bengals coaches, who certainly had a hand in him restarting his career.

Jake Campos spent an entire season on the Cowboys practice squad in 2018. A very good player at Iowa State, Campos, a college OT projects inside to guard. A transition he has been making since turning pro.

This is a strong group from 1 to 10. Murray is being worked out by NFL teams. Gauthier is on the Patriots. Dejon Allen was an all conference player at Hawaii, and Juwann Bushell-Beatty is a monster tackle with tons of upside. A late bloomer at Michigan, who needs to control his weight.

 

PHASE 3- DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN

Another strong group from top to bottom. While many of these players are not household names. Once you start digging deep, it’s hard not to see the upside in the majority of these players.

The most notable players selected here are Marcus Hardison, Khyri Thornton and Casey Sayles. All three have good college pedigrees and NFL backgrounds. Defensive Coordinator Jay Hayes, who has made a living coaching up defensive lineman in the NFL for years, has some experienced  D-Lineman to work with.

Channing Ward is a player that Hayes coached up in Tampa with The Buccaneers. Ward is an undersized 279 pound DT with pass rushing skills, who hasn’t been able to stay healthy as a pro.

Andrew Ankrah was a big time defensive star in the FCS for James Madison. He also flashed in the AAF with Orlando.

Another Apollo, Terrance Garvin was arguably the best all around linebacker in the AAF. Where Garvin stands out is his ability to play sideline to sideline.

Nicholas Grigsby is a similar type player. Grigbsy has been on and off 6 separate NFL team practice squads. A 6’2 230 pound linebacker with 4.50 speed. Grigsby is also a hard hitter, who could end up being a tone setter on this defense.

The biggest sleeper in this entire phase is Jamell Garcia-Williams. He might not make it to the roster come February. The 6’7 255-pound edge rusher from UAB, had 9.5 sacks last season and 15 tackles for loss in his senior season.  He went undrafted and was signed by the Niners, before being waived at final cuts. NFL teams including the Raiders have worked him out, and JGW is on NFL teams radars. No shame in not making the Niners roster, who currently boast the NFL’s best pass rush and pass defense.

Another player that was part of NFL roster cutdown day is Gimel President. The versatile edge rusher can play at DE and has stood up as well at outside linebacker.

 

PHASE 4- DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD

The BattleHawks took a very unique approach in this phase of the draft. While every other team seemed to go CB heavy with their first few picks. The BattleHawks decided to attack the safety position, and boy, did they ever, using four of their first five picks at Safety. There is a caveat to that. Herb Miller, who is listed at safety, can also play corner. Miller is a long player with great open field tackling skills, who has experience playing in the nickel and at safety. He’s not a traditional outside corner because of his lack of speed, but he can be a very effective cover safety who can exclusively play in the slot and jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. Miller tried out for the Chiefs this summer, and impressed enough to earn himself a contract. He didn’t make it at final cuts, but I doubt that his playing days in the NFL are over.

The biggest story coming out of this phase for St. Louis is Kenny Robinson. The All Big-12 safety who is projected to be a day two NFL draft pick, has decided to turn pro now, as a way of getting prepared for the NFL draft when he is draft eligible. Robinson was highly rated by Pro Football Focus for his coverage skills at West Virginia. He’s coming into the perfect situation. Playing alongside two quality veteran safeties in Will Hill and Dexter McCoil.

Cornerback D’Montre Wade is very similar to Herb Miller, a strong press corner who plays very physical. You get the sense that Tim Lewis, who will be coaching up the defensive backs, is going to be playing a lot of zone and press coverage.

Marquez White is a real sleeper in this group at corner. Former 6th round pick of the Dallas Cowboys from Florida State. He played opposite Jalen Ramsey in college and played shutdown corner opposite him, only allowing two touchdowns in two seasons as a starter. If you are the other corner opposite Ramsey, teams are going to throw your way. White held up his end of the bargain.  Puzzling that he hasn’t stuck in the NFL after being with Dallas for two seasons as a deep reserve. White started at corner for the Orlando Apollos earlier this year and received high grades.

Trey Caldwell is a former 5th round pick by The Browns, out of ULM. He has 4.34 speed but stands at only 5’9. Another player at the bottom end of NFL rosters that never broke through.

Ryan White is yet another player who can play safety and corner on this roster.

The theme continues from picks 1 through 10.

 

PHASE 5- OPEN DRAFT

With the first pick in the open phase of the draft, St. Louis went kicker with Elliott Fry. Just days prior, the New England Patriots worked him out. Fry was perfect in the AAF for Orlando, going 14 for 14 in his 8 weeks of play. That landed him with the Bears in a kicking competition with Eddy Pinero, who ultimately won out. Fry then finished up with Baltimore before being let go. No way, he was replacing Justin Tucker. Despite Fry’s quality as a kicker, many have questioned STL’s decision to draft a kicker so early in a 30 round phase.

The one area that was surprisingly not addressed was the Quarterback position. The feeling was with two very young signal callers on the roster in Ta’amu and Roback, that Saint Louis would consider taking one of the veteran Quarterbacks remaining in the draft pool. Players like Joe Callahan and BJ Daniels were drafted in this phase, and a  veteran like a Zach Mettenberger was also available.

The BattleHawks continued to address their offensive line depth by taking capable lineman who could have easily gone in Phase 2, in Andrew McDonald, Avery Young and Korren Kirven. The majority of the XFL teams are carrying up to as many as 15 offensive lineman going into mini-camp in December.

One of the biggest sleeper picks in the entire draft is TE Connor Davis, out of Stony Brook. I watched him first hand impress at the New York Summer Showcase at Montclair State. He sticks out like a sore thumb at 6’8 270 plus pounds. A great athlete at that size as well with a 10-foot broad jump. He has untapped potential, and with Phase 1 TE Wes Saxton, currently in the NFL, and with Jonathan Hayes, a former NFL tight end, and former tight ends coach. This is the team you want to be on if you are a tight end looking to develop.

 

Conclusion

The team is well built upfront on the offensive line and on the back end of their defense. OL, DT, S and RB are the teams strongest position groups.  What will make or break the BattleHawks this season is their Quarterback play. Despite Ta’amu’s upside, he’s a question mark as a rookie pro quarterback. On the plus side, It really pays to have a Director of Player Personnel like Trey Brown,  that has just gone through the experience of being in a spring pro football league earlier this year. There’s a strong AAF imprint on the entire roster.  Trey Brown also has NFL experience of scouting players for two great organizations in Philly and New England.  It also helps to have a head coach like Jonathan Hayes and Jay Hayes, who both were in the NFL last season, and have been quality assistants in the NFL for a long time.  Their knowledge and experience helped them land quality players that were on the back end of NFL rosters in 2018, and this summer… players with upside who haven’t had the chance to be starters. That’s really what the XFL is all about.

Analyzing the New York Guardians 2020 XFL Schedule

NY Guardians Schedule

When it comes to secondary football leagues, the prevailing thought process by some is that big markets and big venues should be avoided at all costs. The idea is that a pro football league should go into places that do not have any pro football teams. Despite the fact that there is no Pro or College Football taking place in the spring whatsoever, people tend to hang on to this narrative. As if a team playing football during March in Dallas is somehow competing with the Cowboys.

There is another thought process that says that northeast teams should be avoided as well, in the months of February and March, because of weather concerns. The New York Guardians check off all these boxes. Biggest market, large venue and winter weather.  The original XFL’s top two drawing teams in attendance and ratings were New York and San Francisco… two NFL cities. The current XFL has 8 of the top 21 TV markets in their league. Two of the top five drawing teams in the NFL are the Jets and Giants. While a lot of that has to do with the resale market for tickets, it might shock some that a team like the Jets,  that has been out of the playoff mix for almost a decade, is ranked second in attendance behind only Dallas. The Jets were second last year in attendance as well. The Tri-State area loves football, but earning it’s respect and admiration is no simple task. The NY/NJ market is the kind of place where people will give you a bouquet of flowers, with a note attached that says “You better be worth it.”

Being in a big market is not just about attendance and ratings. It’s about partnerships, sponsorships and business opportunities. Why does someone rob a bank?…. because that’s where all the money is. Is it any surprise that the New York Guardians are scheduled to have 8 of their 10 regular season games on network television. Eight games split up on ABC and Fox with ESPN and FS1 tentatively scheduled to air a game a piece. When it’s all said and done. 9 of their ten games may end up airing on broadcast television.

Let’s take an in-depth weekly look at the New York Guardians regular season schedule.

Week 1- The Guardians open their season at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon February 9th on Fox, 2pm eastern against the Tampa Bay Vipers. New York starts and finishes their season with three straight division opponents. New York and Tampa start and end their regular seasons against one another. On paper, this matchup features two of the league’s most experienced signal callers in Matt McGloin and Aaron Murray. That could change by opening day, but it’s an advantage both teams have, in terms of quality of play right out the gate. The weather for this one could be tricky. A 2pm start time helps, but all bets are off this time of the year. The Guardians experienced and accomplished coaching staff led by Kevin Gilbride, knows this venue and the elements attached to it like the back of their hands. Marc Trestman, despite leading a Florida team this go around, is no stranger to coaching in winter weather, having won multiple championships up north in Canada.

Week 2- The Guardians travel to the Nation’s capital to play the Defenders, in what could be the league’s best overall venue and atmosphere in Audi Field. This game will take place six days after the opener, and is another 2pm game, this time on ABC. The Defenders boast one of the league’s best rosters, led by Cardale Jones at quarterback. Weather could also play a factor in this game as well.

Week 3- Pro Football returns to St. Louis, as the Guardians face off with the BattleHawks on Sunday February 23rd, 3pm on ESPN. New York should have a good idea of where they stand after this game. This can be a very difficult place to play, especially if the BattleHawks come in flying high with a 2 and 0 start. It should be an emotional scene regardless, and it wouldn’t shock me if some old STL greats end up being a part of the ceremonies for the BattleHawks opener.  New York will be playing the spoiler role and attempt to ruin the homecoming  party.

Week 4- This starts a stretch of four straight non-divisional games. New York is back home, playing LA at 2pm eastern on ABC. This is the lone game on their schedule, where the Wildcats play at 11am pacific time on the road. LA Defensive Coordinator Pepper Johnson returns home, where he starred for the Giants and Jets many moons ago. This game features the countries two biggest markets in LA and New York.

Week 5- New York travels to Dallas, to take on what will be argued as the prohibitive favorite in the entire league, with Bob Stoops, Hal Mumme and the Renegades. The game will air on Fox at 5pm. By week five, the teams in the league should be hitting their stride, a scary thought if you are facing Dallas. Yes this is Bob Stoops first rodeo as a pro football coach, but his track record speaks for itself, and once he gets his feet wet, there could be some serious hell raising going on in Big D. Tough spot for the Guardians.

Week 6- New York is back home, playing their third straight Saturday game, this time against The Houston Roughnecks on ABC. Kevin Gilbride and June Jones have an interesting history between one another. Crossing paths on more than one  occasion. Both coaches spent time in Houston coordinating the Run and Shoot offense for The Oilers. Gilbride has always run a variation of that offense. Oddly enough, Gilbride replaced a departing June in Houston, and then years later, Gilbride was fired mid season as the Chargers Head Coach, only to be replaced by Jones. This will make for an interesting reunion when both coaches cross paths once again.

Week 7- The Guardians travel to CenturyLink Field to face the Dragons, in what will be their final non divisional regular season game. The game will air on Sunday 3pm on ABC. If Seattle is in strong contention by this point. This could be one of the toughest places to play in the entire league.

Week 8- Here’s where the playoff push starts for every team in the league. For three straight weeks, every team in the XFL will finish their seasons with three straight divisional games.  With two teams making the playoffs in each division. The final three weeks will decide who gets in and who doesn’t. Barring an 0 and 7 or 1 and 6 start. Teams with 3 and 4 or even 2 and 5 records will still be alive in the playoff hunt. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a 5 and 5 team could make the playoffs. Two teams in the original XFL did exactly just that, in the Demons and Enforcers, who both finished their seasons at 5 and 5. New York kicks off this crucial stretch at home against St. Louis. This game will air on Fox.

Week 9- The regular season home finale for The Guardians. This time with DC traveling to MetLife Stadium, for a Saturday 2pm game on ABC. This will be either both teams fighting for their playoff lives or potentially a game that could ultimately decide the division in the end.

Week 10- The final week of the regular season lands with The Guardians in Tampa.  It also lands on Easter Sunday. The game is tentatively scheduled for a 6pm Sunday starting time on FS1. However, both Disney and Fox have an asterisk attached to this game, and the other divisional matchup between STL and DC. The latter is scheduled for a 3pm start on ABC but both games may flip positions and channels prior to week ten taking place. The date set for that decision is March 10th.

Final Thoughts/Notes

The biggest surprise on the schedule is that New York is playing at home in Week 1. Some experts expected New York to have a back loaded home schedule for weather purposes. The Guardians won’t be kicking off the league on Saturday, but the concern has always been of not leaving a good first impression. Not so much in terms of the end result, but more so when it pertains to the quality of play. Weather can play a factor in the style of game presented in week one. If the goal for the league is to have a high scoring, wide open and fast paced game, Mother Nature might have a say in that. The Guardians would love to make a good first impression, something that unfortunately the original XFL New York team was unable to do. In that case, nearly 19 years ago, weather wasn’t an issue in the opener, it was the quality of the team and how ill prepared the league was right out the gate. The Guardians are on the big stage all season, but not under the big lights. The latest start time for any of their home games is 5pm in late March against St. Louis. The Guardians didn’t get the primetime network  nods on Fox that Dallas did in back to back weeks late in the season.  The league and the teams will all be under pressure to produce a quality product right out the gate. However, New York may have the most pressure to get off to a good start. While some markets will have some leeway in the early going, the Tri-State area can be pretty rough on a team, if it’s not up to snuff. Especially a new team in a new league.

New York Guardians Draft Recap

The XFL’s one-of-a-kind football league draft has officially ended, with 8 teams drafting 70 players, and one signed quarterback being added to each of their rosters.

The teams themselves all adopted their identities nearly two months ago, with logos, names and colors, but it was actually the last two days of drafting players, where the teams true football identities were formed.

For the New York Guardians Head Coach/GM Kevin Gilbride, his coaching staff and the front office, the two days of drafting on Tuesday and Wednesday brought an infusion of talent they hope can accomplish their vision of the type of team they want on the field.

Let’s take an in-depth look at The New York Guardians football team, and the draft which formed it. Before we recap all five phases of their draft. The first step taken in initially setting the tone for the franchise was the assignment of it’s projected starting signal caller.

Quarterback Assignment – QB Matt McGloin, Penn State/Raiders/Eagles/Texans/Chiefs

Matt McGloin (Wikipedia)

McGloin will be 30 when the XFL season starts in February. He gives the Guardians a steady veteran hand to lead the newly formed team right out the gate. If anyone fits the mold of a player playing in, what amounts to some, as a league for underdogs, it’s Matt McGloin. He knows how to battle and fight from underneath. McGloin knows what it’s like when no one thinks you are worthy enough of being on the field. He was a walk on who started out as a third string QB for the Nittany Lions, but through grit and determination, and some adversity along the way, McGloin ended up winning over his teammates and the university. In 2012, McGloin won the Burlsworth Trophy, an award and honor given annually to the most outstanding FBS college football player who started out their career as a walk on. McGloin ended his playing days at Penn State with 46 touchdowns, which is ranked 2nd in school history.

McGloin’s path into professional football went the same way it started for him in college. McGloin was an undrafted backup quarterback for the Raiders, the pro football equivalent of being a walk on. McGloin started out as a third stringer, only to somehow find his way onto the field in his rookie season. He ended up winning over the Raiders fan base and his teammates with the same grit he showed at Penn State. The team was in turmoil and transition but McGloin led them to victory, throwing three touchdowns in his first ever start. He battled all the way through his rookie season, throwing for the 2nd most yards per game by an undrafted rookie in NFL history. Before year two for him began, McGloin was back to being a third stringer, a role he would mostly hold for the rest of his time in the NFL. It wasn’t always pretty but whenever he was called into action. McGloin held his own. He was never cast as the lead actor but always seemed to play his part well when called upon.

Kevin Gilbride’s offense will be a mix of his own experience and philosophies, and that of his assistants, GA Mangus (QB’s) and Mike Miller (WR’s). Gilbride will be his own offensive coordinator and will initially call the plays. Gilbride has run and shoot roots, but his offenses over the years have been a mix of spreading teams out and playing in power run heavy sets. McGloin has the ability to adapt on the fly and improvise if need be, but he can also stay within a game plan if called upon. It’s why teams trusted him to come out of the bullpen in the NFL. McGloin always seemed to operate his best when things broke down around him, which unfortunately was often. McGloin’s teammates in the draft will help dictate the style of offense that he operates within. Every one of the 70 players drafted have varying levels of experience in the NFL.

PHASE 1 (SKILL PLAYERS)

RD1. DeAngelo Yancey, WR, Purdue (3)
RD2. Mekale McKay, WR, Cincinnati (14)
RD3. Tanner Gentry, WR, Wyoming (19)
RD4. Tim Cook, RB, Oregon State (30)
RD5. Demarcus Ayers, WR, Houston (35)
RD6. EJ Bibbs, TE, Iowa State (46)
RD7. Keith Towbridge, TE, Louisville (51)
RD8. Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech (62)
RD9. Darius Victor, RB, Towson (67)
RD10. Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina (78)

The Guardians strategy for their offensive skill players was a unique one, and fit with Kevin Gilbride’s hybrid offensive style. New York attacked the WR position early, picking 4 WR’s in their first 5 selections, just in case you thought Gilbride was going back to his old run and shoot days. The second half of the draft was focused mostly on the ground game, and a two tight end set with Bibbs and Towbridge. Gilbride even added a big strong armed mobile QB in Marquise Williams, who can be an asset during games if needed, in specific short yardage or conversion situations. Williams is talented enough to lead the entire offense if need be.

This is going to be a versatile offense that shifts personality in game. The three backs, Tim Cook, Justin Stockton and Darius Victor are all different style runners. Cook is a powerful no nonsense inside runner. Stockton has playmaking ability in the run and pass game. Victor is a shifty back who can make people miss. This backfield harkens back to Gilbride’s championship offenses in New York that featured a commitee backfield with the likes of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. That backfield’s position coach was Jerald Ingram, who is now back with Gilbride with the Guardians.

Mekale McKay is a big 6’4 target who can win in the red zone. Very similar to what Plaxico Burress was for Gilbride. It’s hard not to see hints of the Giants offense here with the types of players selected. Gentry is an ideal slot receiver who can also work on the oustide. DeAngelo Yancey can be the centerpiece of this passing game. He has always had the physical tools. He’s going to get a real shot to be the featured receiver in this offense, but I expect a lot of different players to be utilized. It’s going to be a multiple style offense.

PHASE 2 (OFFENSIVE LINEMAN)

RD1. Jarron Jones, T, Notre Dame (6)
RD2. Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama (11)
RD3. Parker Collins, C, Appalachian State (22)
RD4. Anthony Coyle, G, Fordham (27)
RD5. Zac Kerin, G, Toledo (38)
RD6. Brian Fineanganofo, T, Idaho State (43)
RD7. John Kling, T, Buffalo (54)
RD8. Ian Silberman, G, Boston College (59)
RD9. Nate Theaker, T, Wayne State (70)
RD10. Arie Kouandjio, G, Alabama (75)

When your team is named The Guardians. You better have good protectors up front. This is a textbook, by the numbers, drafting of a potential starting offensive line, from one through five. A left tackle in Jarron Jones. right tackle Cyrus Kouandijo, the center Parker Collins, and the two guards Coyle and Kerin on the interior at guard. Jones is a former college defensive lineman who has converted to the offensive line since becoming a pro in 2017. He has freakishly long arms (35 1/2 inches) and is a mauler when he gets his hands on you. It’s not uncommon for players to transition successfully from the defensive line to the offensive line, and former Jets All Pro Brandon Moore comes to mind. Where the Guardians really did well was drafting lineman six through ten. Kling and Silberman really stand out as quality lineman who can be starters. Brian Fineanganofo is an undrated Tackle from Idaho State, who tested off the charts. He was with the Browns this past summer. It’s a great story that Arie Kouandjio is joining his brother on this team. The “Bama” brothers have had rocky careers since turning pro, but they have never been lacking for talent. Being on the same team may be great for the both of them.

PHASE 3 (DEFENSIVE FRONT 7)

RD1. Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas (7)
RD2. Joey Mbu, DT, Houston (10)
RD3. Austin Larkin, DE, Purdue (23)
RD4. TJ Barnes, DT, Georgia Tech (26)
RD5. Nick DeLuca, LB, North Dakota State (39)
RD6. D’Juan Hines, LB, Houston (42)
RD7. Jarrell Owens, DE, Oklahoma State (55)
RD8. Cavon Walker, DT, Maryland (58)
RD9. Garrison Smith, DT, Georgia (71)
RD10. Rykeem Yates, DE, Nevada (74)

No surprise here that a Jim Herrmann coordinated defense would draft a linebacker first. After all, he played inside linebacker for legendary coach Bo Schembechler’s Michigan Wolverines. Herrmann would go on to be the defensive coordinator of his alma-mater, winning a national championship in 1997, and receiving the Frank Broyles award as the top asssistant coach in the nation. He’s coached linebackers his whole career, including stints in New York with the Jets and winning a SuperBowl with the Giants. Ben Heeney fits the bill of getting the nod as the quarterback of the defense. The issue with Heeney has always been his ability to stay healthy. The Guardians went heavy on the defensive line, literally and figuratively, drafting 7 lineman including experienced space eaters in TJ Barnes and Joey Mbu early. D’Juan Hines at linebacker could be the steal of this group. He’s very athletic and extremely intelligent. A four-time Academic All American at Houston, Hines originally started out as a QB and WR before transitioning to safety and then settling in at linebacker. He was a late bloomer in college, was All-AAC. Hines has been on 3 different NFL teams in the last year. He was cut by the Chiefs last month at cutdown day. There is untapped potential here and a lot of talent in this player. Hines could be emerge as one of the better 3-down backers in the league.

PHASE 4 (DEFENSIVE BACKS)

RD1. Jamar Summers, CB, UConn (2)
RD2. Lorenzo Doss, CB, Tulane (15)
RD3. David Rivers, CB, Youngstown State (18)
RD4. Dravon Askew-Henry, S, West Virginia (31)
RD5. Demetrious Cox, S, Michigan State (34)
RD6. Andrew Soroh, S, FAU (47)
RD7. Jeremiah McKinnon, CB, FAU (50)
RD8. Terrence Alexander, CB, LSU (63)
RD9. Nydair Rouse, CB, West Chester (66)
RD10. Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU (79)

New York drafted 7 corners in this phase. You could argue that the best draft pick New York had in their entire draft was Jamar Summers, as he was one of the top cover corners in the AAF earlier this year. He surprisingly missed the cut in the NFL,  despite being ranked so highly by Pro Football Focus. Summers will be an NFL corner in 2020 if he plays as well or better in the XFL’s wide open passing league. New York then followed up the Summers pick nicely with a true ballhawk in Lorenzo Doss. This corner tandem should be one of the league’s better ones. Much like how New York did at WR in the skill draft. The team drafted 3 straight corners each with distinctive roles. David Rivers is a small school player with big talent. He could very well play inside, or outside, and move Doss into the nickel position.

PHASE 5 OPEN DRAFT

QB- Garrett Fugate, Central Missouri State
RB- Matthew Colburn, Wake Forest
FB- Tommy Bohanon, Wake Forest
RB- Lawrence Pittman, Wingate
WR- J-Shun Harris, Indiana
WR- Quadree Henderson, Pittsburgh
WR- Colby Pearson, BYU
WR- Justice Liggins, Stephen F. Austin
WR- Octayvius Miles, Alabama A & M
WR- Keevan Lucas, Tulsa
TE- Jake Powell, Monmouth
TE- Jake Sutherland, Morehead State
C- Garrett Brumfield, Louisiana State
OT- Thomas Doles, Northwestern
OT- Adrian Bellard, Texas State
DT- Toby Johnson, Georgia
DT- Bunmi Rotini, Old Dominion
DE- Victor Ochi, Stony Brook
DE- Malik Harris, Incarnate Word
DE- George Johnson, Rutgers
DE- Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
LB- Darnell Leslie, Monmouth
LB- Frank Ginda, San Jose State
LB- Robert McCray, Indiana
LB- Jawuan Johnson, TCU
CB- Dejuan Neal, Shepherd
S- Max Lyons, SE Louisiana
S- Wes Sutton, Northern Arizona
LS- Scott Daly, Notre Dame

In theory, this group is supposed to fill out the bottom end of a roster, players 41 through 71 in camp. The Guardians drafted 30 players in this phase, 15 on offense, 14 on defense, and a quality long snapper in Notre Dame’s Scott Daly. The issue for this brief moment in time is that Daly has no one to snap the ball to. Even if The Guardians plan on reimagining 4th down and never punting or kicking field goal, they still need to kick the ball off. Looks like New York took advantage of the openness of this phase of the draft. There were no rules in place for specific position drafting in this portion of the draft. So New York decided to load up on as many offensive and defensive players as they wanted. Mini-camp does not begin until December, so technical New York doesn’t have to add a kicker or punter till then. The league is expected to have a supplemental draft before mini-camps begin, so it will all resolve itself.

As for the non-kickers in this group. Two of the better open draft players selected in the entire league were Fullback Tommy Bohanon and WR/KR Quadree Henderson. The position of fullback has been deemphasized somewhat in the pro and college game, but the few teams that do utlize it well, benefit. Bohanon is one of the better fullbacks out there and he was last seen prominently paving the way for Leonard Fournette during his great rookie season. Henderson is a game breaker and a useful gadget player that could be an X-factor in the league’s new proposed kickoff.

Conclusion

A lot can change on this roster between now and the start of The XFL season on February 8th, when the games air every week on ABC, Fox and ESPN.

These types of leagues are supported by fans, scouts and coaches for one single reason… the players. It’s the sole reason to start a pro football league to begin with.

The New York Guardians were a team in name only prior to this draft. The players have finally arrived. They are now officially a real football team.