How XFL teams have used offseason drafts, claims to patch roster holes from players moving to NFL

Which key XFL 2023 players have gone to the NFL and who will replace them? (Pictured Seattle Sea Dragons Quarterback Ben DiNucci)
Which key XFL 2023 players have gone to the NFL and who will replace them? (Pictured Seattle Sea Dragons Quarterback Ben DiNucci)

Throughout the offseason, XFL teams have drafted and claimed the rights to hundreds of players. Some were drafted in the June Rookie Draft; others were acquired post-draft as undrafted free agents. Several were assigned following the XFL Combine. Still others were part of daily transactions during the summer.

Recently, the XFL began to release the names of those who have signed letters of intent with the league and their claiming teams. We’re up to over 120 players who have done so, per XFL Communications. These letters of intent indicate players are amenable to joining their teams for training camp; as of yet, contracts are not being offered to players, likely due to the anticipated XFL/USFL merger. The LOI is somewhat of a substitute, an agreement reached to lock in a player until a contract is ready to be signed.

But the door swings both ways, and XFL teams have lost players as well, either to the NFL, the CFL or in trades. Many teams have also released players outright. So while teams will not be building from scratch as they did in forming their rosters for 2023, there are holes that need to be filled. Directors of Player Personnel across the league have had those holes in mind when securing players for 2024.

Teams are not done adding players; in fact, those that are most likely to contribute in 2024 were expected to be selected in a November draft. That November draft is now in jeopardy thanks to the merger, which could lead to additional avenues in which players will be placed on rosters.

I’ve compiled the biggest holes (via departures to the NFL) XFL teams have needed to fill this offseason, and how they’ve gone about filling them. I included only players who have signed letters of intent to this point, since they would be the ones most likely to join their respective teams in camp.

Arlington Renegades

Loss: LB Willie Taylor 

Potential replacement: LB Merlin Robertson

Analysis: A true rookie for the Renegades, Taylor was brought along slowly by Bob Stoops and his staff. He played just 13 snaps on defense in the first game of the season and didn’t start until game four. However, he started the final five games, including the playoffs, and played 39 snaps or more on D in every one of them. He got better as the season wore on and tied for the most sacks on the team with four, leading the way in tackles for loss with eight. His performance gave him an opportunity with the Jacksonville Jaguars in training camp. Robertson can step in and play right away given his experience (50+ games played at Arizona State), but he doesn’t offer the sack production at the level Taylor did. If Robertson has NFL aspirations, the XFL is the right place to go to hone those skills. Arlington’s championship-caliber defense was plucked clean, as they lost four defensive linemen and two starting linebackers to the NFL or, in the case of Darnell Sankey, the CFL. Their front-seven is going to need to be reloaded before camp.

DC Defenders

Loss: P Daniel Whelan

Potential replacement: P Paxton Brooks

Analysis: RB Abram Smith has already signed his LOI to return; I’d expect QB Jordan Ta’amu to do the same after a short stint in training camp with the Minnesota Vikings. Whelan was third in the XFL in punting average in 2023 and Brooks, acquired by the Defenders in the Rookie Draft, is a strong candidate to replace him. Brooks attended the NFL Combine this past year. He found himself in rookie minicamp with the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts as a tryout player, and worked out for the Kansas City Chiefs as recently as last month. As a bonus, Brooks also kicked off in college. DC may choose to bring in competition to push the rookie during training camp, but they could just as likely hand him the job uncontested.

Houston Roughnecks

Loss: DT Jack Heflin

Potential replacement: DT Roderick Perry III

Analysis: Heflin played the nose in Wade Phillips’s famed 3-4 defense, racking up 25 tackles and three tackles for loss along the way. He’s now with the New Orleans Saints. Perry was claimed during the late July spree of claims throughout the league that included well-known players like QB Anthony Gordon and WR Tavon Austin. Perry is one of the few from that batch who has thus far signed an LOI with his team. Perry was on the practice squad of the Cleveland Browns as a rookie in 2022 before camping with the Seattle Seahawks this past season. He has experience at the nose position and both share the same size and build (within an inch of each other in height, and some sources credit them as the same weight).

Orlando Guardians

Loss: WR Charleston Rambo

Potential replacement: WR Keytaon Thompson 

Analysis: Orlando’s biggest loss is probably LT Brett Boyko, who moved back to the CFL, but while the team has had 23 players sign letters of intent with the XFL, none have been offensive tackles. Rambo is currently a free agent after getting injured and placed on IR with the Philadelphia Eagles this summer before eventually being released with a injury settlement. He hasn’t worked out for any teams since, so either he’s still injured or there just isn’t a lot of interest in him. These players are not very similar in terms of size, but Rambo provided needed playmaking ability in the pass game for the Guardians, and Thompson can bring that element, too. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Detroit Lions and after being cut, has had workouts with three NFL teams. Depending on what else Orlando adds this offseason at the position, Thompson could have a clear path to early-season playing time.

San Antonio Brahmas

Loss: TE Alize Mack

Potential replacement: TE Cary Angeline/Jahleel Billingsley

Analysis: The Brahmas have had a whopping four tight ends sign letters of intent for next season. Two of them, Angeline and Billingsley, were both ranked highly coming out of college in 2021 and 2023 respectively. Mack was third in receptions for San Antonio in 2023 and provided the safety net the team’s QBs needed as they often found themselves running for their lives behind an offensive line that was inconsistent at best. Mack could return as he is currently an NFL free agent. If he doesn’t, both Angeline and Billingsley are the top contenders to replace his production. Angeline has been a part of two NFL teams as well as the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL. He was a veteran claim at the end of July. Billingsley has some off-field issues he’ll have to get past, but like Angeline, he can contribute in the pass game. If the Brahmas have a “type” at the position, Angeline is closer in size and bulk to Mack than Billingsley is.

Seattle Sea Dragons

Loss: QB Ben DiNucci

Potential replacement: QB N’Kosi Perry

Analysis: It might be a tall order to ask a rookie to come in and replace one of the best quarterbacks in the XFL last year, but he should have the opportunity to at least compete for the job. The Sea Dragons seemed to want to get Steven Montez some playing time early in the year; eventually, those chances dried up and DiNucci took the ball and ran with it (often literally). The team also has Harrison Frost on the roster, so it could be a three-man competition if they don’t add anyone else to the mix. Head Coach Jim Haslett seemed happy with his QB room of Montez and Frost this summer when discussing the topic on’s Combine coverage (despite mistakenly referring to Montez as “Montez Sweat,” the Chicago Bears defensive end). Seattle’s offense will stay basically the same after the retirement of offensive coordinator June Jones and the hiring of Run-and-Shoot disciple Nick Rolovich to succeed him. Perry compiled just a 16-16 record as a starter in college and despite gaudy stats in his final season at Florida Atlantic, he failed to land a spot in an NFL training camp and lasted just about a week in the CFL. While not a perfect candidate for the job by any means, I see him as just as viable an option as either Montez or Frost.

St. Louis Battlehawks

Loss: S Nate Meadors/Lukas Denis

Potential replacement: S Nico Bolden

Analysis: Like in Orlando, the biggest hole has yet to be accounted for, that being the absence of QB AJ McCarron, who is currently on the practice squad of the Cincinnati Bengals. McCarron wasn’t signed until after the Rookie Draft and after most group claims were made, so St. Louis may not have been prepared for him to leave. They could pick someone up in a subsequent draft, or they could decide to roll with Nick Tiano as starter after he led them to a crucial late-season victory over the Vegas Vipers in his only start. St. Louis has experienced more NFL losses than any other team, yet only 10 players they’ve claimed have signed LOIs. Meadors and Denis, who finished tied for third on the team in tackles, were released to pursue NFL opportunities. Denis is still on the practice squad of the Atlanta Falcons. Bolden comes from Kent State with 4.4 speed after spending the summer with the Carolina Panthers. He also worked out for the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers in September.

Vegas Vipers

Loss: LB Pita Taumoepenu

Potential replacement: LB Dwayne Boyles

Selected in the Rookie Draft, Boyles is a heady, athletic linebacker who fits the profile of a player who can rush off the edge, something Taumoepenu specialized in on his way to capturing XFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. The problem is Boyles doesn’t have the sack production to show for it; he took down the quarterback just four times in 50 career games at South Florida. Nevertheless, Boyles produced two seasons of 10+ tackles for loss, had 13 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries across four years with the Bulls. Vegas’s coaching staff is in flux with a new head coach, so it’s unclear what kind of scheme the team will run. Taumoepenu had 7.5 of Vegas’s 20 sacks in 2023 so if he does not return, the team will have to make up for a lot of lost pass rush output. Boyles could help in that department.

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