How XFL players fared in the NFL in 2020 (part three)
Part 3 of a multi-part series analyzing the performance of XFL players in the NFL.
This is the third in a multi-part series analyzing the performances of former XFL players that played in the NFL in 2020.
- Part 1, featuring players on AFC non-playoff teams can be found here.
- Part 2. featuring players on NFC non-playoff teams can be found here .
G Michael Dunn, Cleveland Browns (Seattle Dragons)
In the XFL: Dunn had been a football nomad since turning pro in 2017, including stints in NFL camps as well as the AAF. He was picked by the Dragons in the 6th round of the offensive line phase. Dunn was a starter at right guard for Seattle.
In the NFL: Signed by Cleveland in early August, Dunn battled for a spot on the Browns’ o-line but was ultimately cut at the end of training camp. He subsequently signed to the team’s practice squad. He was a practice squad elevation for four games late in the season before being signed to the active roster on December 23rd, replacing the injured Chris Hubbard. Dunn was listed as the backup left guard on the depth chart on Cleveland’s website. He ended up playing a total of six games. Forced to start at left guard in Cleveland’s playoff win over Pittsburgh, Dunn received a lot of positive attention from NBC announcer Cris Collinsworth during the game. He left the game late with an injury and was placed on I.R. for the remainder of the playoffs.
What PFF tells us: Dunn played just one offensive snap in the regular season, in week 16, as an extra offensive lineman in a jumbo package. His 23 special teams snaps came on FG/XP kicks.
2021 outlook: Dunn’s position versatility (he can also play tackle) will help him find a job, either with Cleveland or elsewhere. There are conflicting reports as to what his contract status is, with SportTrac listing him as an ERFA for 2021, while OverTheCap.com listing him as a free agent in 2022. Either way, Cleveland will retain his rights
OT Anthony Coyle, Pittsburgh Steelers (New York Guardians)
In the XFL: Coyle was selected in the 4th round of the offensive line phase by New York after working through NFL camps in Houston and Green Bay the prior two seasons. As a starting left guard, Coyle protected three different QBs in New York over the course of the five-week season.
In the NFL: Pittsburgh signed Coyle in April, cut him at the end of camp, then signed him to the practice squad two days later. He was elevated three times during the season as either a practice squad elevation or COVID-19 replacement. Despite being active in weeks 12, 13, and 17, he didn’t play in any of those games.
2021 outlook: Like Dunn, Coyle’s position versatility is a plus. He’ll be brought to camp in 2021 and will try to win a backup linemen job.
OT Jarron Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers (New York Guardians)
In the XFL: Jones played alongside his future Steelers teammate Coyle on the left side of the Guardians line as the starting tackle. He was a 1st round pick by New York after bouncing around NFL practice squads and training camps with the Giants, Seattle, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Washington, Detroit, and Buffalo, all since 2017.
In the NFL: Jones joined Pittsburgh alongside several former XFL players the Steelers signed and brought to training camp. He was able to earn a spot on the practice squad, where he stayed for the entirety of the season. Late in the year, he was placed on the practice squad-injured list. His former Guardian teammate Coyle appeared ahead of him on the practice squad depth chart given Coyle’s active roster elevations during the year, while Jones was not afforded those opportunities. In October, Jones was arrested and charged with felony domestic violence. He could face discipline from the NFL depending on the outcome of the case.
2021 outlook: Jones may end up battling Coyle for a backup offensive line job in 2021. Three offensive tackles on Pittsburgh’s roster are slated to become unrestricted free agents in March, so there could be opportunity here depending on what the Steelers do in free agency and the draft. Pittsburgh’s cap is not considered very healthy for the upcoming season, meaning they may not be as active in free agency and/or could be in the market for cheaper backup options. That’s an advantage for Jones.
LS Nick Moore, Baltimore Ravens (Tampa Bay Vipers)
In the XFL: Moore was selected by Tampa Bay in the first open phase of the XFL draft. He didn’t face any camp competition and snapped on all punts and kicks through five games for Tampa Bay. He also contributed a special teams tackle. Moore was a coveted snapper coming out of college and camped with the New Orleans Saints in 2019.
In the NFL: When analyzing the prospects of XFL players making NFL teams in training camp, I spied potential for Moore to knock off veteran Morgan Cox in Baltimore. He didn’t, but the Ravens thought enough of Moore to make him the rare snapper kept on the practice squad. He was also frequently one of four protected players during the week, which doesn’t allow other teams to poach those particular practice squadders for that week.
Moore played in one game, when Cox was placed on the COVID-19 list, on December 2nd against Pittsburgh. He handled nine total snaps before reverting back to the practice squad when Cox was activated.
2021 outlook: Cox is an unrestricted free agent in 2021. He’s also 35 years old, meaning Moore will be younger and cheaper. Considering Baltimore kept Moore on the practice squad all year – and the fact that their head coach, John Harbaugh, is a former special teams coach who knows firsthand the importance of that phase – it’s hard to see Baltimore re-signing Cox. It could be Moore’s job to lose in camp next season.
K Matt McCrane, Cleveland Browns (New York Guardians)
In the XFL: McCrane was a supplemental draft selection by the Guardians, who did not pick a kicker in the regular October draft. McCrane had kicked his way around various NFL camps before shining with New York, hitting all eight field-goals, two of which came from beyond 50 yards.
In the NFL: The closest McCrane got to playing in an NFL game in 2020 was when Browns kicker Cody Parkey ended up on the COVID-19 list in late November. It appeared McCrane was in line to kick in that weekend’s game, but Parkey’s stay on the reserve list was just three days. He was activated in time to play the next game against Philadelphia. McCrane spent most of the season on the practice squad, signing there on September 22nd.
2021 outlook: Parkey is set to enter unrestricted free agency this offseason, and while it likely wouldn’t cost Cleveland an arm and a leg to re-sign him, they could opt to let him walk and allow McCrane to compete for the job in camp. McCrane’s competition and odds of winning the job in 2021 depends on what happens with Parkey.
P Austin Rehkow, Indianapolis Colts (Houston Roughnecks)
In the XFL: A punter and kicker in college at Idaho, Rehkow was drafted by Houston as a punter in the first open phase of the XFL draft. He averaged 41.3 yards per punt with a net of 37.9. He had prior experience punting in NFL training camps as well as in the AAF.
In the NFL: Rehkow replaced Ryan Allen as the punter on Indianapolis’s practice squad late in the season. Allen punted in two regular season games in place of Rigoberto Sanchez, who missed time after surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Despite being on the practice squad for only two regular season games, Rehkow was rewarded with a reserve/futures contract.
2021 outlook: Sanchez’s health will play a great part in Rehkow’s future with the Colts. If Sanchez suffers no after-effects from his cancer surgery, he’ll be the punter in Indianapolis. At the least, Rehkow can show his leg talent that might interest another team in 2021.
WR Tanner Gentry, Buffalo Bills (NY Guardians)
In the XFL: New York selected three receivers with the first three picks in the Skill Player phase of the draft; Gentry was the last of those three. He went on injured reserve during training camp late in January and was activated on February 26h. Gentry spent the final two games of the season as a gameday inactive, so he didn’t see the field during the XFL season.
In the NFL: Gentry had not been one of the former XFL players to make the workout rounds during the NFL season, nor did he attend an NFL training camp in 2020. So it was a surprise when the Buffalo Bills signed him to their practice squad the day after their regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins. Worth noting: Gentry was a teammate of Bills star QB Josh Allen in college at Wyoming.
2021 outlook: Gentry has an uphill climb to make Buffalo’s roster in 2021. Buffalo figures to add further depth at receiver in free agency or the draft, given that their offense is built around the pass.
QB Jordan Ta’amu, Kansas City Chiefs (St. Louis BattleHawks)
In the XFL: The first quarterback assigned to St. Louis, Ta’amu was impressive during the 2020 XFL season. He completed 72.4% of his passes for the season, throwing for 1,050 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions to go along with a 101.2 passer rating. Ta’amu was also the team’s second-leading rusher, with 217 yards and a 5.3 per carry average. “The Throwin’ Samoan” became an early star for the league.
In the NFL: Many thought Ta’amu landed in a great place upon signing with the Kansas City Chiefs. His style is similar to starter Patrick Mahomes, and the Chiefs other backups were the statuesque Chad Henne and Matt Moore. Ta’amu wasn’t able to make the team out of camp, though he did land on the practice squad. His success mimicking opposing quarterbacks in practice was well documented. He tested positive for COVID-19 in October and landed on the reserve list. About a week after he was activated, he was released.
Ta’amu took a few tryouts before being signed by the Detroit Lions to their practice squad. There, he lasted less than a month. After a few days again on the Chiefs’ practice squad, he was signed by the team to a reserve/futures contract.
2021 outlook: Ahead of Ta’amu on the offseason QB depth chart are Moore (36 years old) and Henne (35). A retirement by either one would move Ta’amu up a rung. But Ta’amu himself has competition, as the Chiefs also signed QB Anthony Gordon, from Mike Leach’s record-setting Washington State offenses, to a futures contract.
LB Tegray Scales, Pittsburgh Steelers (Dallas Renegades)
In the XFL: Scales was a starting inside linebacker for Bob Stoops’s 3-4 defense in Dallas. He was third on the team in tackles with 24, collecting a sack and leading the team with four tackles for loss. Scales was a 9th round pick by Dallas in the Front Seven phase of the XFL draft.
In the NFL: Tampa Bay’s practice squad came calling for Scales in October. After spending two weeks there, he was brought onto Pittsburgh’s practice squad. This was his second stint with the Steelers, as he spent camp with them in 2019. Scales was a practice squad elevation for two games before signing to the active roster on December 26. He was released before Pittsburgh’s playoff game, though he was re-signed to a futures deal after the Steelers’ loss to the Cleveland Browns.
What PFF tells us: Scales played just three defensive snaps in four games, all against the run. His total grade was a 45.5. He showed his versatility by lining up in three different places on those three snaps. His special teams action came on the kick team, with 18 snaps on coverage and 13 on returns.
2021 outlook: Getting his first NFL regular-season action in 2020 after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2018 with the Rams, Scales will look to make his mark on special teams with Pittsburgh in 2021. Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense requires more linebackers to make the final roster than those teams that run a 4-3, increasing Scales’ chances of making the squad.
LB/LS Christian Kuntz, Pittsburgh Steelers (Dallas Renegades)
In the XFL: Despite being listed as a linebacker and long snapper, Kuntz was exclusively used as a snapper in the XFL. He made three tackles on special teams showing his excellent coverage ability. He was a late addition to the Renegades, having been added to their active list on January 5th.
In the NFL: Like Scales, Kuntz’s time with Pittsburgh in 2020 was his second go-round with them: He was briefly a Steeler late in training camp in 2019 after spending time with New England, Denver, and Jacksonville. He bounced on and off Pittsburgh’s practice squad throughout 2020 but was never used on gameday. He was signed to a reserve/futures contract after the season.
2021 outlook: Will Pittsburgh prefer to use Kuntz more as a long snapper or linebacker? Where they view him will go a long way to determining Kuntz’s NFL future. Unlike most, Kuntz’s time as a snapper didn’t begin until he was in the NFL. Pittsburgh is at the bottom of the league when it comes to cap space, so one place they could choose to save money is by releasing LS Kameron Canaday this offseason ($1.29 million cap hit) in favor of Kuntz.