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.
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 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.
Mike Mitchell is a freelance sports writer, analyst, and a general lover of all football. Mike was one of the original XFLBoard.com Team Reporters in 2001, reporting on the New York/New Jersey Hitmen. We have welcomed him back to the XFLBoard and love his ongoing insightful contributions.