Analyzing Tampa Bay Vipers trades during 2019-2020

A newly acquired wide receiver S.J. Green practicing for the Vipers before heading into a Week 4 matchup against the DC Defenders. (Credit: XFL.com)

The Tampa Bay Vipers were one of the more active XFL teams when it came to wheeling and dealing before and during the season. In all, the team made seven trades in 2 ½ months. Here are the seven trades, and how they ended up working out for both sides. I’ll borrow from Pro Football Focus’s scale terminology in grading the deals: Elite, Very Good, Above Average, Average, Below Average, Poor.

December 11, 2019: Traded DT Trevon Sanders to LA for DT Leon Orr

Sanders was selected in the third open phase by the Vipers in the XFL Draft, meaning he was likely buried on the depth chart at defensive tackle as camp opened. Orr was a sixth-round pick by LA in the defensive front-seven phase. Orr, from the University of Florida, may have wanted to play closer to home. He didn’t last long in Tampa and was cut during mini-camp.

Sanders made the Wildcats and accrued five tackles prior to being placed on injured reserve on March 3rd. He played a reserve role in LA’s 3-4 defense. Given the draft pedigree of both men in terms of where they were selected, Sanders outplaying Orr could be considered a surprise. Tampa Bay could’ve used a backup DT as the year progressed with injuries to Ricky Walker that led to a late-season trade for DT Kellen Soulek.

VIPERS VALUE: BELOW AVERAGE

WILDCATS VALUE: AVERAGE

December 17, 2019: Traded CB Arrion Springs to LA for CB Jalen Collins

After acquiring what turned out to be valuable depth just six days earlier, LA went to the Viper well once again, fleecing Tampa Bay even more in their follow-up trade. Springs, selected in the first round by Tampa in the defensive backs phase, emerged from camp a starter for the Wildcats, registering 16 tackles, an interception, and a pass defensed. As far as the “why?”: Like the earlier trade, you must wonder if Springs, who played college ball at Oregon, preferred a return to the West Coast. If not, this seems awful early to give up on your first-round selection if you’re the Vipers.

Tampa’s corners had an up-and-down year. They took a chance on the troubled Collins and his NFL 2nd round draft background, but he turned out to be a bust. Selected by LA in November’s supplemental draft, Collins was buried on the depth chart in Tampa, notching just one assisted tackle and a pass defensed before being waived outright on March 3rd.

VIPERS VALUE: POOR

WILDCATS VALUE: VERY GOOD

January 12, 2020: Traded WR Freddie Martino to Dallas for WR Stacy Coley

Another high-round draft pick was exchanged in this deal. Coley, picked in the fourth round by Dallas, was sent to Tampa for Martino, whom the Vipers plucked in the second phase of the open draft. While Coley made the Vipers after camp broke, he was waived three days before the season opened to make room for a backup tight end to fill in for the injured DeAndre Goolsby. Tampa’s receiving corps was relatively deep, so Coley wasn’t horribly missed. It should be noted that no other team picked Coley up during the season.

Martino was behind a number of talented receivers in Dallas before he was put on injured reserve on March 9th. In his time with the Renegades, Martino snagged four balls for 58 yards with a long of 32. He was not the first option in Hal Mumme’s pass-heavy offense, but there were clearly enough balls to go around. Had he not been traded, it’s unlikely Martino would’ve cracked Tampa’s starting lineup. Still, a minor contributor is more than what the Vipers received.

VIPERS VALUE: BELOW AVERAGE

RENEGADES VALUE: AVERAGE

January 19, 2020: Traded G William Campbell & WR Alonzo Moore to Seattle for DT Shane Bowman & QB Chase Litton

This trade was consummated just prior to cut-down day for all eight XFL teams, and was the final trade made by Tampa before the season began. Campbell and Moore were both 10th round draft picks by Tampa in their respective positional phases. The Dragons’ starting left guard for four games, Campbell was waived by the Dragons on March 11th in one of the last transactions made before the league suspended operations for the season. Up to that point, he had been the lowest-graded Seattle offensive lineman, per Pro Football Focus. Moore was a third-string receiver at one of the three starting spots, bumped up to second-string with the season-long injury to Kasen Williams. Moore ended third on the team in receiving yards with 110 on eight catches.

Bowman was the fourth defensive tackle in the rotation for the Vipers, and his playing time may have eventually been challenged by Kellen Soulek, whom the Vipers traded for at the end of February. Bowman had two tackles and one for loss on the year. The trade for Litton was intriguing at the time, thought to be perhaps a signal the Vipers weren’t happy with their backup QB spot. But when Aaron Murray got hurt, Taylor Cornelius stepped right in and despite an uneven performance in the games he started, the Vipers never looked to Litton. In fact, Quinton Flowers would’ve been next up. Litton ended up getting waived on March 4th when Tampa needed the roster spot for another running back. Once again, Tampa’s trading partner came away with the bulk of the production in a starter and a key reserve.

VIPERS VALUE: BELOW AVERAGE

DRAGONS VALUE: ABOVE AVERAGE

February 18, 2020: Traded LB Korey Toomer to Seattle for WR S.J. Green

Toomer was a Vipers acquisition during camp, but he did not report. This trade sent him back to the west coast, where he played in college (Idaho) and where he made his biggest NFL impact (Seattle Seahawks). It didn’t seem as if he would report to Tampa, so the fact the team got anything for him is a plus. Toomer was listed as Seattle’s backup outside linebacker and may not have had enough time to get up to speed in the Dragons’ defense to make a contribution.

Green was a CFL legend who entered the XFL and was claimed by Seattle. He played for Tampa head coach Marc Trestman in Canada and played his college ball in South Florida. It’s possible that, like Toomer, he engineered a trade to be closer to familiar territory. It was thought that the 34-year old Green could step in and be a factor, but he didn’t catch a single pass. This was a trade that was significantly affected by the early shutdown of the league, as these two may have had more of an opportunity in the second half of the season once they were more comfortable with their surroundings.

VIPERS VALUE: AVERAGE

DRAGONS VALUE: BELOW AVERAGE

February 24, 2020: Traded LB Anthony Stubbs to St. Louis for CB Trey Caldwell

A coach’s decision inactive for two of Tampa’s three games up to the point of the trade, Stubbs was dealt to St. Louis for cornerback depth needed when Rannell Hall went on injured reserve. When the BattleHawks activated CB Marquez White from injured reserve, it made Caldwell expendable. Caldwell was active for both games for which he was on Tampa’s roster, playing mostly on special teams in backing up Tarvarus McFadden. Stubbs went from a team that played two linebackers in its base to another team that played predominantly a 4-2-5. Suffice to say, Stubbs’s playing time in St. Louis didn’t increase with his address change. He ended the year as a third-sting linebacker behind Dexter McCoil and Shaq Jones. It was a need-for-need depth trade that didn’t hurt either team but didn’t help them a ton in the short-term, either.

VIPERS VALUE: AVERAGE

BATTLEHAWKS VALUE: AVERAGE

February 28, 2020: Traded CB Trovon Reed to St. Louis for DT Kellen Soulek

Rounding out the third trade in ten days for Tampa Bay was another deal where you are forced to read between the lines to figure out what happened. Reed was placed on I.R. by St. Louis on January 21st. Somehow, he ended up on Tampa to be traded BACK to St. Louis. The best that I can figure is that in order to be activated off injured reserve, you have to clear waivers. It’s similar to the NFL’s process where players have to clear waivers before they are put on I.R. during the preseason. There’s a gentlemen’s agreement among teams to not claim those players, something to which the New England Patriots, in particular, have not always adhered.

Perhaps something similar is in place in the XFL. The unspoken agreement would explain why no team claimed DE Obum Gwacham, for example, when Tampa activated him off IR. But the Vipers may have claimed Reed anyway, knowing that St. Louis wanted him. In order for St. Louis to get him back, they’d have to give something up. In this case, it was backup DT Kellen Soulek. It’s a little surprising Tampa couldn’t get something more, unless Reed wasn’t intent on playing for the Vipers. Soulek didn’t notch any stats for St. Louis and was inactive in week five for Tampa Bay. On their depth chart, he was third-string DT behind Josh Banks and Shane Bowman. Reed had four tackles upon his return to active duty for the BattleHawks, indicating that he was seeing playing time on defense there. It’s another situation where Tampa got something, even if it is a deep reserve, for someone who may not have played for them. Speculation about how this came about makes attaching a grade more difficult.

VIPERS VALUE: BELOW AVERAGE

BATTLEHAWKS VALUE: AVERAGE

SUMMARY

Tampa made a few shrewd moves to get something out of Korey Toomer and Trovon Reed, but if they plan on being this active in the trade market in 2021, they need to get better value and depth from their deals. This season wasn’t a promising start for them on that front.

XFL Players signed to NFL Squads

With COVID-19 paralyzing the majority of the sports world, NFL Free Agency has been the main focus of sports fanatics across the country for the last week. Included in that are twelve XFL players who have agreed to NFL contracts at the time of this article.

After the NFL and XFL finally allowed XFL players to make the jump officially on Monday, the best of the XFL have been leaping at the chance to make their mark on the National Football League.

Here are the players from each team that have signed to NFL contracts:

  1. Houston: QB PJ Walker to the Carolina Panthers
  2. Houston:LB DeMarquis Gates to the Minnesota
  3. Houston: CB Deatrick Nichols to the New Orleans Saints
  4. St. Louis: QB Jordan Ta’amu to the Kansas City Chiefs
  5. NY: S Dravon Askew-Henry to the New York Giants
  6. NY: DE Cavon Walker to the Pittsburgh Steelers
  7. NY: OT Jarron Jones to the Pittsburgh Steelers
  8. Dallas: TE Donald Parham to the LA Chargers
  9. Dallas: LS Christian Kuntz to the Pittsburgh Steelers
  10. DC: TE Khari Lee to the Atlanta Falcons
  11. DC: S Tyree Kinnel to the Pittsburgh Steelers
  12. TB: LS Nick Moore to the Baltimare Ravens

PJ Walker signed the most lucrative contract we know of so far, agreeing to a two year $1,565,000 contract with a $150,000 signing bonus.

Jordan Ta’amu will back up NFL superstar and Super Bowl Champion Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, giving the Chiefs a viable backup option who can slide right into the offense if Mahomes is out. This was an emphasis for the Chiefs in the offseason after Mahomes missed two games during the 2019 regular season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed the most XFL players to NFL contracts, bringing 4 XFL athletes to the Steel City. These players are Cavon Walker, Jarron Jones, Christian Kuntz and Tyree Kinnel. Pittsburgh brings the XFL sack leader, a versatile DB in Kinnel and two players in Kuntz and Jones who have played on both sides of the ball in their pro football careers.

While twelve players have made the jump, stars such as Cam Phillips, Josh Johnson, Cardale Jones, and many more XFL standouts have yet to agree to XFL contracts. Look for these players and others to sign NFL deals after the draft, which was recently confirmed by Roger Goodell to be held April 23-25.

In the meantime, with a move that impressed the sports world, the XFL will pay all players their full contracts, even though the 2020 season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 viral pandemic. Even those twelve players who have agreed to NFL contracts will likely not sign officially until after the NFL draft in order to receive their full financial compensation from the XFL.

So, while you are in quarantine or self-isolation, check out some NFL free agency news or maybe re-watch an old XFL game. In a time where the news is not always good, take solace in the people who after months and years of hard work, will now get a shot at their dream: playing in the National Football League.

End-of-season Tampa Bay Vipers positional grades

Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Taylor Cornelius (Credit: XFL.com)

Quarterbacks: C: Aaron Murray struggled mightily in his lone start in week one, then lost his job to Taylor Cornelius once he finally did get healthy. Cornelius had his own struggles, which makes it all the more curious Tampa Bay never did go back to Murray. I could understand if Cornelius was playing lights-out, but that wasn’t the case. Cornelius made strides over the course of his four starts, but never showed the consistency that would make him the unquestioned starter going into the 2021 season. Tampa seemed content to use Quinton Flowers as a gadget player, though Flowers himself wasn’t content with that usage. Will he get his trade wish this offseason? That won’t make the already-tenuous fanbase happy. If Murray and Cornelius both return, it should be an open competition for the job in camp.

Running Backs: A: De’Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick made for a formidable 1-2 punch at the running back position. With the QB spot in flux, the backs were able to chew up yardage on the ground and take some pressure off the signal-callers. They complimented each other well and kept each other fresh – that is, until Patrick got hurt in week five. Smith struggled with a heavier workload, and it’s part of what cost the Vipers their 17-point lead, and the win, against Los Angeles. Mack Brown and Tarean Folston, the two #3 backs on the season, were mostly relegated to special teams work. A pass-catching third back could open up a new dimension in the offense so that Smith and Patrick don’t have to carry the water in the pass game as well. With no fullback on the roster, TE Colin Thompson occasionally lined up in the backfield as lead blocker.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B: The team’s top three receivers, Reece Horn, Jalen Tolliver and Daniel Williams, combined for 66% of the team’s total targets in the passing game. They were the clear top three threats and played well despite the inconsistency at the quarterback spot. Williams and Tolliver succeeded in the vertical game, while Horn worked underneath to the tune of less than nine yards per catch. Injuries hampered Nick Truesdell’s production and he caught just nine passes. A healthy Truesdell will be key to the offense next season. DeAndre Goolsby made a few plays but he and Colin Thompson were mostly used as blockers. Only four receptions were made by wide receivers other than the top three. If Antonio Callaway returns from injury next season, he will help beef up the depth at this spot.

Offensive Line: B-: The Vipers finally seemed to settle on a starting five when the season was cancelled. The right side of the line in particular was ineffective early in the year; right tackle Isaiah Williams was eventually replaced by Marquis Lucas, and right guard Daronte Bouldin was sent to the bench in favor of Andrew Tiller, who returned from injured reserve in week four. Jordan McCray played well at center, as did Martez Ivey at left tackle. Jerald Foster was serviceable as the left guard. Having Bouldin and Williams in relief provided game-tested depth. While the run game numbers look good on paper, much of that yardage was gained by the backs on their own. Like the passing game, the pass blocking had its moments, but was not consistent enough. They tied for the most sacks allowed in the league.

Defensive Line: C: A healthy Obum Gwacham would’ve helped this unit, and he was rounding into form just as the league closed up shop for the year. His pass rush prowess was much needed as the Vipers didn’t generate enough from the edge. Gwacham registered the only sack from the line in five games, which just isn’t good enough from a four-man front. Veteran Nikita Whitlock led the team in quarterback hits and tackles for loss, and paced the line in tackles. Ricky Walker was more effective than Josh Banks at the other tackle position; they seemed to receive about equal playing time. As time went on, Bobby Richardson accumulated more playing time than Deiontrez Mount at the end position opposite Gwacham. Mount, the team’s second-round draft pick, disappointed with just six tackles.

Linebackers: C+: Jerry Glanville’s 4-2-5 defense doesn’t put a premium on the linebacker position, making that spot difficult to grade on a weekly basis. Terrance Plummer and Reggie Northrup each had a sack, but their in-game contributions came more on special teams than defense. Middle linebacker Lucas Wacha led this group with 14 tackles. Curiously, despite the de-emphasizing of the linebacker spot, the Vipers still spent four of their 10 draft picks in the defensive front seven phase on this spot. Thurston Armbrister, who has 31 games of NFL experience, was added from Team Nine just prior to the shut-down. It would’ve been interesting to see if he could’ve elbowed his way onto the defense.

Defensive Backs: B-: The defensive backfield allowed a completion percentage of just 52.8%, but also gave up nine touchdowns while picking off just three passes. Anthoula Kelly played well with eight passes defensed and 23 tackles. Marcelis Branch paced the team with 33 tackles, 10 more than the second-place tackler. Tarvarus McFadden also deserves a shout-out with two interceptions and three passes defensed. Micah Hannemann was challenged often as the nickel back but defensed three passes. The safeties offered ample support in the run game. The Vipers found a gem in the open phase of the draft, picking up starting safety Robert Priester out of Wyoming. Priester had a sack, an interception, and a pass defensed. Of the ten picks in the defensive backfield phase, only Hannemann and Branch saw significant playing time. A trade for former NFL 2nd round pick Jalen Collins prior to the season didn’t amount to anything of value.

Special Teams: C: The altered kickoff rules were supposed to encourage longer returns. The Vipers apparently didn’t get the message, as they averaged less than 20 yards per return. Punt return numbers weren’t much better, as they averaged just 5.5 per run back. This could be another area a healthy Antonio Callaway could improve. Jake Schum’s punting was fine, about average when it comes to the rest of the league in both gross and net yardage. Andrew Franks missed his only two kicks of 50+ yards but was otherwise relatively accurate. Reggie Northrup led the team with seven special teams tackles, while Gwacham had five in just two games. If Tampa Bay decides Callaway isn’t the answer, the return game could use some juice heading into next season.

Tampa Bay Vipers positional grades vs. L.A. Wildcats (Week Five)

Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Taylor Cornelius (Credit: XFL.com)

QB: D+: For the first half of the game, we continued to see the coming of age of Taylor Cornelius as the Vipers starting QB. For the second half, and especially the fourth quarter, he devolved into the guy who struggled in his first start in place of the injured Aaron Murray. Cornelius had another rushing touchdown, in the second quarter from the three yard-line, on a brilliant keeper call by offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo. His touchdown pass later in the quarter to Jalen Tolliver was a good one: On the run, finding Tolliver in the back of the end zone. He came off as extremely confident playing with a lead. A 3rd-and-8 incompletion that should’ve been a pick-six in the third was the beginning of the downhill slide. Three turnovers in the fourth doomed Tampa’s comeback attempts, including a Cornelius sack/fumble that was returned for a TD and an interception in the end zone that ended the game. Quinton Flowers, after returning to the team, was a non-factor in the few snaps he played.

RB: C: The turning point of the game for the Vipers seemed to be when Jacques Patrick went down with a back injury. Without their two-headed rushing attack, De’Veon Smith had to carry 24 times and was not nearly as effective: He averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. It was prescient that Tampa re-signed Tarean Folston in the days before the game, but they didn’t seem to trust him to step fully into Patrick’s role, as he saw just two carries. Before getting hurt, Patrick scored from two yards out, set up by his own 24-yard run. He also converted the follow-up one-point conversion. The ineffective run game likely didn’t help Cornelius, forcing him into more obvious passing situations.

WR/TE: B-: Upon his return to the lineup after missing two games due to injury, Nick Truesdell caught a pass on the second play of the game. Unfortunately for the Vipers, he caught just one more the rest of the game. They had him lined up in an H-Back position in the backfield a few times, a look we haven’t seen much of this season. Reece Horn, Jalen Tolliver, and Dan Williams all had big games and the three starting receivers combined for 25 of the 33 targets in the pass game. Horn converted a 4th-and-3 in the first quarter and had a touchdown. Tolliver’s TD came on a great sliding catch in the back of the end zone. He averaged 23.8 yards on four receptions. Williams snagged a one-point conversion on a WR screen. It was a miscommunication on a route between DeAndre Goolsby and Cornelius that led to an interception in the end zone with under a minute remaining, sealing the Vipers’ fate.

OL: C+: Against the worst run defense in the XFL statistically speaking, the Vipers struggled to run the ball. The broadcast caught head coach Marc Trestman asking offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo to run the ball less on first downs because of the lack of success there. In the pass game, the line allowed just one sack. According to Pro Football Focus, Jordan McCray didn’t give up a pressure in 42 pass blocking snaps from the center position. Martez Ivey had two penalties at left tackle. The line was short on depth this week with only Na’Ty Rodgers and John Yarbrough available as backups; Daronte Bouldin and Isaiah Williams, two former starters, were healthy scratches.

DL: C: With Ricky Walker inactive due to injury, Shane Bowman was up for the first time since signing and he made a few splash plays. He got good penetration (too good once; he was called for offsides) and recovered an errant shotgun snap in L.A territory. Nikita Whitlock was also flagged for offsides, but he had two tackles for loss and two hurries in addition to leading the defensive line in tackles. Production-wise, he may be playing the best of anyone on the line. Obum Gwacham played more than last week but had just one tackle. Jason Neill was called for roughing the passer in the third quarter. It appears as if Deiontrez Mount’s playing time has decreased in favor of Bobby Richardson at one end spot.

LB: C-: Running backs carried the ball just 14 times, so the linebackers didn’t have much action in the run game. They, along with the line, bottled it up whenever the Wildcats did run it. The defense did a good job swarming to the ball, which is good because there was some over-pursuit by the backers and line. Reggie Northrup had three tackles and an offsides. Terrance Plummer was hurt on a collision with L.A. fullback Winston Dimel but reentered the game later. He was beaten on a touchdown pass by the much larger De’Quan Hampton. Lucas Wacha, who relays the plays to the defense on the field, had just one tackle. Plummer and Northrup were both in on three each. L.A. had success with the tight ends in the pass game.

DB: D: While the offense stubbed their toe in the second half and couldn’t keep up with the Wildcats in terms of scoring, the defensive backs couldn’t get stops when they needed to, either. Josh Johnson threw for 288 yards and four touchdowns to lead the top passing offense in the XFL. The Vipers started off hot with Robert Priester intercepting Johnson on the first play of the game. He came off his man and read Johnson’s eyes. Priester later broke up a pass on a scramble drill, sticking with his responsibility throughout the play. It was a game to forget for Micah Hannemann, who missed an open-field tackle on Jordan Smallwood’s 54-yard gain to the one yard-line, then later was beaten deep along with Tarvarus McFadden just before halftime. The DBs defended a flea flicker well. The size advantage the Wildcats receivers had over the Vipers defensive backs seemed to play a part in their success.

ST: C+: In an effort to get Quinton Flowers into the game, he was put in as kick returner after practicing there during the week. He didn’t even reach the 20 yard-line on his lone return. Andrew Franks was good from 26 and 25 but missed short from 57 yards just prior to the half. Ryan Davis averaged less than 14 yards per kick return, often leaving the Vipers offense with a long field. Jake Schum dropped two of four punts inside the 20. The team was penalized for a block in the back on a punt return. Special teams created a turnover, with Emmanuel Beal recovering a fumble forced by Micah Hanneman deep in L.A. territory, leading to a touchdown for Tampa. Obum Gwacham made his mark on coverage teams again, leading the way with three tackles.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, three fourth quarter turnovers drop Vipers to 1-4

Tampa Bay Vipers running back De’Veon Smith (Credit: XFL.com)

The Tampa Bay Vipers had a long, cross-country flight back to the east coast to think about how and why they left the City of Angels with a 1-4 record instead of 2-3 with a chance to reach .500 at home this Saturday.

Not only are the Vipers now in sole possession of last place in the XFL East division after their 41-34 loss to the Los Angeles Wildcats on Sunday night at Dignity Health Sports Park, but they’re two games behind the other three teams with just five games remaining in the regular season.

“We worked our tails off, but the fact of the matter is we’re a 1-4 football team,” said Vipers head coach Marc Trestman after the game. Both the Wildcats and Vipers came into the game at 1-3, and both were sorely in need of a victory to keep their playoff hopes alive. Trestman referred to this game as a “gotta-have-it-win” for the two squads.

Despite the long trip, it was the Vipers who jumped out to quick lead. Robert Priester intercepted Wildcats quarterback Josh Johnson on the first play of the game, leading to an Andrew Franks field goal to open the scoring. Following a Wildcats punt, the Vipers offense put together a 65-yard drive capped off by a Jacques Patrick one-yard touchdown run. He followed that with a successful one-point conversion.

“Was really proud of our guys the way we started; coming out here from the east coast and being able to start fast was big for us,” said Trestman.  Defensive tackle Shane Bowman, active due to an injury that sidelined Ricky Walker for this game, recovered an errant snap in Wildcats territory on the next Los Angeles drive. Eight plays later, quarterback Taylor Cornelius scored on a two-yard touchdown run. De’Veon Smith converted the conversion to put the Vipers on top 17-0 in dominating fashion.

After the Wildcats got on the board to break the shutout, Emmanuel Beal recovered a fumbled punt at the L.A. 27-yard line. Cornelius found Jalen Tolliver for a 16-yard score to stretch the lead to 24-6 with 6:28 to go in the first half. That would be as good as it would get for the Vipers.

The Wildcats would score twice before the half, making it 24-20 at the break. Tampa Bay’s offense stalled for a long period, due in part to the absence of Patrick, who had suffered an injury in the first half and did not return. The normally reliable two-headed monster at running back was not as effective when De’Veon Smith was forced to carry the load himself. “We pounded the run pretty good tonight, but we didn’t get significant yardage or bigger runs after the first or second drive,” said Trestman of the team’s run game.

Los Angeles took its first lead, one it would not relinquish, when Josh Johnson tossed one of his four TD passes on the evening, to Tre McBride with 1:42 remaining in the third quarter. “He’s just such an experienced quarterback and he’s getting better every week,” said Trestman of Johnson.

Three fourth quarter turnovers doomed Tampa Bay’s comeback prospects. On the first play of the final stanza, Cornelius was intercepted by Reggie Howard, and the big man rumbled his way to the Tampa 17-yard line. With a short field in which to operate, Johnson found Saeed Blacknall for a touchdown, extending the L.A. lead to 33-24.

An Andrew Franks field goal closed the gap to 33-27. After the Vipers defense got a stop, Cornelius was sacked deep in his own territory by Cedric Reed, allowing Boogie Roberts to pick up the ball and run 23 yards for a touchdown. Needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie late in the game, and with the ball at the L.A. seven yard-line with 37 seconds left, Cornelius and TE DeAndre Goolsby were not on the same page, resulting in a Jack Tocho interception in the end zone to close it out. “We have a bunch of fighters, and they learned how to fight tonight,” said Wildcats head coach Winston Moss.

The 18-point deficit marked the largest comeback in the XFL this year, and the 41 points makes L.A. the first team to break the 40-point barrier. These numbers were hung on a Tampa defense that came into play this weekend as the number one defense in the league.

The St. Louis BattleHawks, tied for first in the East and coming off a loss to the D.C. Defenders last weekend, will travel to Tampa to face the Vipers. The game will be at 5pm EST on Saturday, broadcast on FS2.

Recap: Tampa Bay Vipers fall to the LA Wildcats

Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Taylor Cornelius (Credit: XFL.com)

The 1-3 Tampa Bay Vipers traveled to Dignity Health Sports Park to take on the 1-3 LA Wildcats. Taylor Cornelius and the Vipers look to continue the momentum after last week’s big win over DC.

It didn’t take long for the Vipers to take charge as DB Robert Priester picked off the Wildcat’s quarterback Josh Johnson on the first play of the game. Tampa Bay would capitalize with an Andrew Frank field goal to take the 3-0 lead.

The Wildcats Patrick Vahe had a bad snap to QB Josh Johnson, the fumble was recovered by Vipers DT Sean Bowman with 2:17 left in the first quarter. Tampa Bay QB Taylor Cornelius would execute a fake handoff and run the ball in for a 2-yard touchdown run to the right side of the endzone. De’Veon Smith would pick up the 1 pt conversion, putting Tampa Bay up 17-0 with 14:00 left to play in the second quarter.

The LA offense would put six on the board with a DuJuan Harris 1-yard touchdown run. During the next drive, the Vipers would punt the ball away to LA’s WR Tre McBride. Viper’s FS Micah Hannemann would knock the ball out of T.McBride hands, causing a fumble that was then recovered by Tampa Bay’s LB Emmanuel Beal on the LA 27. The Vipers would capitalize on a Taylor Cornelius 16-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Tolliver in the back of the endzone. The Vipers would come up clean with a successful 1 pt conversion to put them up 24-6 with 6:28 left in the second quarter.

The Wildcats would turn off the Vipers momentum and would take the lead LA 27, Tampa Bay 24 with two touchdowns just before halftime and a big scoring drive in the third quarter taking the lead.

The Vipers would tack on 10 more points with an Andrew Frank 25-yard field goal, a Taylor Cornelius passing touchdown to WR Reece Horn, and a De’Veon Smith 1 pt successful conversion; but it was too late. LA had found their niche and continued feeding off each other’s energy after taking the lead in the third quarter.

Quarterback for Tampa Bay Taylor Cornelius would throw 22-34 with 300 yards passing, he had 2 passing touchdowns and 1 rushing touchdown. Unfortunately, Cornelius would throw two interceptions and one being picked off in the endzone with 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter that could have helped the Vipers to a win.

The Vipers had 40 rushing attempts for 142 yards. De’Veon Smith would lead the team tonight with 69 yards rushed after Jacques Patrick left the game with an injury. Patrick had 23 yards rushing and 1 touchdown.

The Vipers have now fallen to a record of 1-4 with a final score of Wildcats 41, Vipers 34.

Preview: XFL Tampa Bay Vipers at Los Angeles Wildcats

Game: Tampa Bay Vipers at Los Angeles Wildcats
Date: Sunday
Time: 6 p.m.  (Pacific)
Location: Dignity Health Sports Park (Carson, Calif.)
TV: ESPN
Spread: LA -2.5

The XFL’s midway point is this weekend, and although there are still five weeks left in the season, it’s fair to call Sunday’s clash between the Los Angeles Wildcats and the Tampa Bay Vipers as a must-win game for each team.  Both teams come into the game sitting at 1-3 and needing to start a second half push if they’re going to make the playoffs.

The Wildcats return home following a 17-14 loss to the New York Guardians. Los Angeles has the third best scoring offense in the XFL (22 PPG) thanks to the league’s best passing offense. Behind the stellar arm of quarterback Josh Johnson, the Wildcats are averaging 244.5 passing yards.

Tampa Bay heads across the country after winning its first game of the season last week. The Vipers dominated the DC Defenders, 25-0. The Vipers lead the XFL in rushing yards per game, averaging 171.5 yards on the ground. It showed against DC as Tampa Bay’s tandem of De’Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick each eclipsed the 100-yard mark last week. Smith finished with 122 yards while Patrick had 108 yards and one rushing touchdown.

The Vipers also have the XFL’s top-ranked defense. Tampa Bay has allowed just 237.3 YPG, while picking up five sacks and two interceptions in four games.

As LA returns home, it must overcome several key injuries. The Wildcats leading receiver, Nelson Spruce, did not practice all week as he battles a knee injury, and LA’s leading rusher, Martez Carter, was limited in practice with a hip injury. Meanwhile, LA kicker Nick Novak was put on injured reserve and replaced by former Oakland Raider and Atlanta Falcon kicker Giorgio Tavecchio.

Tampa Bay’s one notable injury is Smith, who was limited in practice this week with an injured foot.

Off the field, the Vipers were in the headlines this week because of a budding quarterback controversy. Quinton Flowers briefly left the team and was replaced at starting quarterback by Taylor Cornelius. Flowers has since returned to the team but has requested a trade, which has not been granted. The current Vipers depth chart lists Cornelius as the starter, with Flowers as the third-string quarterback behind Aaron Murray.

Los Angeles will host the Vipers on Sunday night at 6 p.m. For fans that can’t attend in person, the game will be broadcast on ESPN.

XFL Week 5 Power Rankings

Four weeks are in the books, and just when you thought you had it all figured out, we have another week where the league shakes up again. The XFL has parity and that is a wonderful thing. At this point, I can honestly say, no team is truly out of it, and while we may have a pretty good idea at who the #1 seed for each conference will be, that race for the #2 seed is going to be interesting and exciting as the season progresses. But for now, let’s look at where we stand heading into Week 5.

8. DC Defenders (2-2) Last Week (4)

Yes, they are 2-2. Yes, I still believe in this team. Yes, I would still pick them over New York and Tampa Bay to grab that #2 seed. But, nobody has looked worse these past two weeks than the DC Defenders. I mean they have looked BAD. At least when Tampa Bay was looking rough those first two weeks, they were at least moving the ball downfield. Their issue was they just couldn’t get into the endzone. DC however, they can’t even move the ball downfield. Every time their offense took the field Sunday night, I had absolutely no confidence in them whatsoever. The real problem though is, neither did they. Their body language was one of defeat, and Pep Hamilton has got a huge test in front of him. We shall see if he can rally his troops, because if he can’t, DC has a shot to end up last in the East. They head back home this weekend, so that should help things, but they face a major test in the St. Louis Battlehawks. And if they play like they have the past two weeks, it is going to get ugly fast. They sit at no. 8.

7. Seattle Dragons (1-3) Last Week (6)

Welcome to the league BJ Daniels. Unfortunately, it took Jim Zorn all the way up until halftime of Week 4 to realize that BJ Daniels was his best option at quarterback. I was tempted to put Seattle a little higher, because they almost upset a really good team in the Battlehawks, but ultimately, I have to see more. And they face a big test this weekend in the undefeated Roughnecks, so we will see what this Dragons team with Daniels at the helm really looks like. From what I saw from the 2nd half on Saturday night though, I am really intrigued to see what this team can do. Now that Daniels will be getting starting reps, and they can form a game plan around his strengths, we will see how serious this team can be in making a run. Their defense is still as solid as ever, and they kept Seattle in that game against St. Louis. But it’s going to come down to the Dragons offense scoring points and not turning the football over. If they can start to do that, they will have a shot. For now, they sit at no. 7.

6. Los Angeles Wildcats (1-3) Last Week (5)

Consistency. Consistency! C’mon guys! This team has the talent. This team has the star power. This team has the weapons. But they can’t seem to string together consecutive strong performances. Even within the same game. They look good one drive. They look lost the next. Their defense makes a huge stop. Their defense allows a big play. What is this team? I know what they can be. They can be the team that absolutely destroyed the Defenders last week. But for some reason, some weeks, they would rather be the team that played Saturday afternoon. I get that it was cold. I also understand that Nelson Spruce, their leading receiver, was out. But they had their chances, and they just couldn’t capitalize. They play a much improved Vipers team at home this weekend, so we will see if they can get back on track. For now, they sit at no. 6.

5. New York Guardians (2-2) Last Week (8)

Turns out, they didn’t need to “change the entire game plan”, they just needed to change the quarterback. Now, Matt McGloin was out with a injury, but they would be crazy not to go back to Luis Perez. Perez had that offense moving the best it had all season, and the most important thing is, they didn’t turn the football over. Perez isn’t going to light it up on the stat sheet, but honestly, with this team, their offense just needs to be serviceable and turnover free. Their defense is good enough to get the job done, and if their offense can now play clean football and score enough, this team could make a serious run at that #2 seed. Their defense can create takeaways, as they did Saturday, and they will give this offense chances to capitalize. They play Dallas this weekend, who won’t have Landry Jones, so we shall see what they can do. They sit at no. 5.

4. Tampa Bay Vipers (1-3) Last Week (7)

Here come the Vipers! This is the Vipers team we thought we were going to get at the beginning of the season. Well, better late than never I guess. This team has found its identity on offense, and that is pounding the rock. They not only provided the XFL with their first 100 yard rusher, they also provided them with their second. Both Smith and Patrick were phenomenal Sunday night against the Defenders, and the Vipers brought the fight to DC on all levels. Defense, offense, and special teams were all clicking, and the East should be terrified, because this team has all the potential. Cornelius looked good, and as long as he isn’t turning the football over, he should improve week by week. I do wish that they would use Quinton Flowers, but with Flowers requesting for a trade, it seems that that ship has sailed. But nevertheless, this team can hang with the best of them as we have seen the past two weeks. Hopefully they can continue this momentum, because if they can, that #2 seed is ripe for the taking. For now, they sit at no. 4.

3. Dallas Renegades (2-2) Last Week (3)

Thank God Landry Jones’ injury was not as serious as first thought to be. He should be back Week 7 it seems like, so if Phillip Nelson can just hold down the ship until then, the Renegades should be okay. This team is for real. Landry Jones turned the football over three, THREE times…..in the 1st quarter. Yet, they still only lost by one possession, with a real chance to tie or take the lead at the end. Yes, they need to limit the turnovers, but this team is good, and it all starts with their running game. Cameron Artis-Payne and Lance Dunbar have done an excellent job moving the chains and making plays when nothing else seems to be open. Donald Parham continues to be a beast, and this defense doesn’t get enough credit for how good they are. They held that high powered Houston offense to just 21 points, which is excellent when you consider that they went into that game averaging 33 points a game. Hopefully Jones can make a quick recovery, because this team to me is the clear favorite right now to take that #2 seed in the West. They sit at no. 3.

2. St. Louis BattleHawks (3-1) Last Week (2)

Nothing has changed at the top of the East. That still belongs to the BattleHawks, whose only blemish this season comes against the undefeated Roughnecks, on the road, in a game they could have won. This team is so good, and it all starts with their fantastic head coach Jonathan Hayes. He has this team in a great position to succeed, and his belief and confidence in his players has really shown through. Jordan Ta’amu continues to be a star every single week, making plays with his arm and legs, and the most impressive thing about him is his quick decision making. He protects the football, and he trust his receivers to make plays in the open field. Pierson-El has done just that, and he is quickly becoming a breakout star as well. Of course, you still have Matt Jones, Keith Ford, and Christine Michael holding down that running game, and this defense is the best in the league. I don’t see anyone slowing down this team, and they might roll into DC and crush their season this Sunday. This team is awesome, but they are still no. 2.

1. Houston Roughnecks (4-0) Last Week (1)

Because the Houston Roughnecks have still not tasted defeat. This team is impressive on so many levels. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The Houston offense is unstoppable. You can maybe slow them down a bit, but as long as PJ Walker is under center, you are not shutting them down. Four weeks now, and it’s pretty clear, PJ Walker is the BEST quarterback in the XFL. He is phenomenal! Whether it’s throwing passes like the one he finessed to Nick Holley on the sideline, that was just BEAUTIFUL. Or if he’s running over defenders and knocking them down like he did Sunday afternoon. He has been magical, and there is no stopping him. Now, Dallas’ defense was able to shut down Cam Phillips, but other guys stepped up. Like I mentioned before, Nick Holley was one of those guys, but you also had Khalil Lewis, Sam Mobley, Sammie Coates, and James Butler and Andre Williams all made contributions Sunday afternoon. But again, we already know how good their offense is. But their defense has been suspect this season. They give up a lot of yards, they give up a lot of points, but give them credit, because they somehow ALWAYS come up with a big play. And Sunday afternoon, they came up with a bunch of them. Four interceptions total, five total takeaways, and none greater than the one that sealed the game by Gates at the goal line. Dallas was fixing to punch it in to possibly tie or take the lead, and De Marquise Gates made an excellent interception to seal the game, by never letting that ball off of Nagel’s hands touch the ground. It was spectacular. The defense has sealed the past three wins with game saving interceptions. At some point, that might not be the case, but the point has not come. So they are still the best team in the XFL.

Tampa Bay Vipers positional grades vs. D.C. Defenders (Week Four)

Tampa Bay Vipers running back Jacques Patrick #29 (Credit: XFL.com)

QB: A-: With Aaron Murray playing the part of emergency backup, Taylor Cornelius started his third game in a row and continued his steady improvement. This was by far his best performance, as he completed 77% of his passes for 211 yards and a touchdown. There were lots of WR screens built into the game plan, as well as other throws that allowed Cornelius to get the ball out of his hands quickly. He wasn’t perfect: Cornelius made a poor decision on a lob to the end zone that was picked off as Tampa Bay was driving in the third quarter. While it isn’t always pretty, Cornelius once again picked his spots nicely in escaping the pocket, running for a 17-yard touchdown and 36 yards overall. Bottom line: By leading the team to its first victory and improving each week, Cornelius appears to have done enough to take the starting job at least for now, and perhaps permanently.

RB: A+: Not only did the Vipers have the first 100-yard single-game rusher in the XFL this year, but they had TWO in the same game. De’Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick each had over 20 carries, and both averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Patrick ran hard to cap an eight-yard TD run early on. Smith converted two 4th downs on the same drive near the end of the first half, one in which he was the recipient of a desperation shovel pass. Patrick alertly scooped up a ball on the ground, running for about 20 yards inside the Defenders five yard-line. The offense played with tempo, succeeding in wearing out the D.C. defense.

WR/TE: A: The receivers and tight ends did much of their damage with yardage after the catch, given a significant amount of WR screens and plays designed to stretch the defense horizontally were built into the play calling. The best example of this was Dan Williams breaking off a big gain on a broken screen play early in the second half. With his size and tackle-breaking ability a premium in this one, Williams was targeted 11 times. The offense also employed more four-wide looks with the absence again of TE Nick Truesdell. In his stead, DeAndre Goolsby caught a touchdown on 3rd-and-goal. S.J. Green, the much-heralded CFL legend, dropped his only target. Reece Horn drifted back on a lob pass instead of going up to get it, which resulted in a pick.

OL: A+: A couple of changes on the line resulted in this unit mauling D.C. in both the pass and run game. Andrew Tiller, fresh off injured reserve, was plugged in as the starting right guard. He brought some nastiness to the run blocking and Tampa ran his way often. Daronte Bouldin, the previous starter at right guard, was a coach’s decision inactive. While Isaiah Williams was listed as the right tackle starter, Marquis Lucas took over and neither he nor left tackle Martez Ivey allowed a pass-blocking pressure. In fact, D.C. only registered two pressures and had zero sacks. The line worked in tandem on double-teams well, a sign they may be gelling together.

DL: A-: It was DE Bobby Richardson who made an impact early, starting in place of Deiontrez Mount and making a tackle for loss on the first play from scrimmage. He was also in on a 3rd-and-2 tackle for loss with Jason Neill and Reggie Northrup. Obum Gwachum did not start despite the first-round pick making his return from I.R. He rotated in throughout and did sack backup QB Tyree Jackson late. With five defensive tackles now on the roster, two were inactive (Shane Bowman, Kellen Soulek). When the game was still in the balance, an offsides by the line gave D.C a first down. They pressed the pocket enough to keep Cardale Jones off-balance all game.

LB: A: Defensive Coordinator Jerry Glanville giddily told the sideline reporter during the game that he had called a blitz on every first half defensive play. Often tasked with carrying out those blitzes were the linebackers. Reggie Northrup continues to see increased playing time, and it paid off with a sack in this one. Lucas Wacha had three tackles and dropped a screen pass for a loss of yardage. Terrance Plummer was hurt on special teams, which limited his time on defense as the game progressed. D.C. couldn’t get the run or the pass game untracked, and credit goes to all three levels of the Tampa defense playing as one.

DB: A+: Watching the defensive backs to this point in the season, there was a sense that if they could put together the performance they’ve shown flashes of for four quarters, the Vipers would be successful. That’s just what this unit did against the Defenders. D.C. quarterbacks completed under 50% of their passes for less than 100 yards. Recent trade acquisition Trey Caldwell was active over Jalen Collins, who was released earlier this week. Coverage was sticky on the receivers all game. Micah Hannemann came over the top to bat away a 3rd-and-15 play in the second. Tarvarus McFadden had a huge takeaway, intercepting a pass three plays after Tampa had given it away with an interception of their own. McFadden did not allow a completion on five targets. Anthoula Kelly led the team with six tackles and a pass defensed.

ST: B+: Despite not starting on defense, Obum Gwacham made his presence felt on the very first play, making the tackle on the opening kickoff. He had one other on special teams and also blocked a field goal to keep momentum on the side of the Vipers halfway through the second quarter. Ryan Davis and Reece Horn again rotated in at punt returner. The first punt by Jake Schum came with just 4:22 left in the game, and he made it count: a 51-yarder that landed inside the 20. The grade was knocked out of the “A” range because of a missed 31-yard field goal by Andrew Franks early in the second half when D.C. still had life, and two penalties on punt returns.

Recap: The Vipers see some light at the end of the tunnel

Tampa Bay running back Jacques Patrick recovers after carrying the ball. (Credit: XFL.com

The Tampa Bay Vipers may have seen some light at the end of the tunnel just as hopes for a successful 2020 season started to come to a close. The Vipers went into week 4 with zero wins on the season against Cardale Jones and the DC Defenders but struck first scoring which then leads to a start to finish momentum that drove the Vipers to their first win with a shutout score of Vipers 25, DC 0.

The Vipers had two rushing touchdowns; one being runningback Jacques Patrick who picked up an 8-yard touchdown on a handoff in the 1st quarter and QB Taylor Cornelius who scrambled to the right side and ran the ball into the endzone as he powered through a defender to put the Vipers up 13-0 in the 3rd quarter.

The Vipers had one passing touchdown as Taylor Cornelius found #80 TE DeAndre Goolsby for a 13-yard touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter. Goolsby had 3 receptions on the day for 41 yards.

Tampa Bay’s kicker Andrew Frank made 2/3 field goals on Sunday night. The missed field goal was a 31-yard field goal that missed wide right.

Defenders quarterback Cardale Jones completed 9 of 22 passes for 72 yards with a completion rate of 41% and threw 1 interception that was picked off by Vipers CB Tarvarus McFadden.

The Vipers defense managed to put a hold not only on Jones passing game but also on the Defenders running game. DC rushed the ball for a total of 46 yards in 13 attempts during Sunday night’s game (before week 4 DC averaged 30.3 rush attempts per game).

DC has now dropped 2 straight road games to winless teams and may have to reconsider how they prepare for road games. DC has a record of 2-2 on the season and things aren’t looking good as head coach Pep Hamilton and the Defenders travels back home to face the talented 3-1 St. Louis Battlehawks in week 5.

The Vipers offense was much different than what we’ve witnessed in the previous weeks. QB Quinton Flowers was listed as inactive (roster exemption) and Aaron Murray was listed as active but is still coming off of a knee injury; giving Taylor Cornelius the start again at quarterback. Cornelius completed 24-31 passes with a total of 211 yards and 1 interception. Cornelius constantly threw the ball short and let his receivers get the yards after the catch. This worked well for the passing game for the Vipers and they cut down heavily on miss throws. Taylor Cornelius also used his feet to move the ball on 4 rushing attempts for 36 yards and 1 touchdown.

The Vipers running back duo; Jacques Patrick and De’Veon Smith showed their talents once again as they raised the bar with a combined 230 yards rushed. Patrick ran for a total of 108 yards and 1 TD on 21 carries. Smith carried the ball 122 yards on 24 attempts.

Tampa Bay defensive standout was DE Obum Gwacham who had 1 sack, 2 tackles, and 1 blocked field goal that was recovered by the Vipers FS Micah Hannemann.

Tampa Bay needs to keep the momentum going on the road as they travel to LA this week to face off against the Wildcats. Both teams are 1-3 on the season and the Vipers look to have found some team chemistry and hope to finish better than how they started this season.