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NFL RB Injuries: Which XFL player may get the call?

It seems like a matter of time before a former XFL player gets the call.

NFL running backs are dropping like flies in this weird, precarious campaign. Just on Sunday, the Browns’ Nick Chubb (knee), the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler (hamstring) and the Cardinals’ Kenyan Drake (unknown) were felled in the line of duty, and the Seahawks’ Chris Carson appeared to re-injure his dinged-up knee.

In Chubb’s case, he was replaced by D’Earnest Johnson, an Alliance of American Football refugee who literally spent 2019 out of football, working on a fishing boat with a buddy all Forrest Gump-Lieutenant Dan style.

At least 17 running backs were listed on injury reports for Week 4. It seems like just a matter of time before an XFL’er gets the call to, at the very least, fill a complimentary role in the NFL. Let’s talk about who it might be.

 

Matt Jones BattleHawks

XFL St. Louis BattleHawks running back Matt Jones takes it 25 yards for the touchdown. (Credit: XFL.com)

Matt Jones

The former St. Louis BattleHawks bruiser was rumored to be in serious talks with The Indianapolis Colts, The Philadelphia Eagles and The Washington Football Team over the summer, but nothing materialized.

Jones finished second in rushing yards over the shortened 2020 XFL season, banking 314 on 80 carries. He also had a touchdown through the air, with 25 total reception yards.

The power runner has already proven himself to be able to carry himself just fine in the NFL. Fantasy managers will recall him being a hot waiver wire pickup some weeks in 2015 and 2016 when he was with the Washington Redskins. In those two seasons, Jones piled up 1,062 all-purpose yards and 9 touchdowns.

At 27 years old, the University of Florida product still has plenty left in the gas tank, and he’s read to burn, recently saying on his Twitter that he’s in the best shape of his life and ready to go.

 

XFL Dallas Renegades running back Cameron Artis-Payne.

XFL Dallas Renegades running back Cameron Artis-Payne. (Credit: XFL.com)

Cameron Artis-Payne

According to analysis by analytics hub Pro Football Focus, Artis-Payne ranked as the best running back in the XFL’s abbreviated 2020 season for the Dallas Renegades, and it’s difficult to disagree.

The former Carolina Panther amassed 241 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 47 carries.

But where he really excelled was in the passing game, snagging 23 catches for 101 yards, finding paydirt twice. That was in Coach Hal Mummes’ Air Raid offense, which would make Artis-Payne an exciting fit for, say, Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray’s Arizona Cardinals.

Kenyan Drake, who’s been a big disappointment for the Cardinals this season (219 yards on 54 carries) left Week 4’s contest late in the game with an apparent injury.

Let’s not forget In 32 games with the Panthers, Artis-Payne collected an admirable 491 yards on 118 carries with five touchdowns and 10 catches for 86 yards.

 

XFL Houston Roughnecks running back James Butler

XFL Houston Roughnecks running back James Butler. (Credit: XFL.com)

James Butler

Butler could be the most NFL-ready player in this year’s XFL with no Big Show experience. He’s touted as brilliantly dynamic, a difference-maker with both his legs, his hands and his blocking skills.

His blocking was crucial to the Houston Roughnecks’ and quarterback P.J. Walker’s sterling 5-0 season in 2020. According to Pro Football Focus, Walker wasn’t sacked a single time in the 78 plays that Butler served as protection.

The pass-heavy nature of the Roughnecks surely stunted Butler’s on-paper stats, evidenced by his 4.8 yards per carry. He finished the season with 226 yards on just 46 carries with four touchdowns. In the passing game, Butler caught 11 passes all 11 times he was targeted for 42 yards and a touchdown.

As NFL offenses continue to rely more on pass-catching running backs, there is little doubt that Butler is getting some good, hard looks as injuries begin to mount.

 

XFL Tampa Bay Vipers running back De’veon Smith

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

De’veon Smith

At the beginning of the XFL season, nobody was predicting Smith would lead the league in rushing. A bruising, downhill runner whose slower speed left him off NFL draft boards coming out of Michigan, he could’ve been mistaken for a short-yardage, third-down role with the Tampa Bay Vipers.

Nope. The former Miami Dolphins practice squad signee was a workhorse, punishing opposing defensive lines in 2020 for 365 yards on just 90 carries. Somehow, however, Smith didn’t find the endzone in the XFL seasons five-game season.

Smith’s Week 4, 24-carry, 122-yard effort against the DC Defenders proved his durability, which might be just what’s in order for an NFL roster at some point this season.

 

XFL Tampa Bay Vipers running back Jacques Patrick.

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

The next generation: Jacques Patrick

Getting his first shot at professional football in 2020 with the Tampa Bay Vipers, the skies the limit for the 23-year-old Patrick, who currently resides on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad.

In his freshman and sophomore years at Florida State, he served as the backup for now-Vikings superstar back Dalvin Cook. A knee injury in 2017 dampened his NFL dreams out of college, but an opportunity in the XFL proved him to be plenty healthy and productive.

The 6-foot-3, 226-pound youngster rushed 60 times for 254 yards and two touchdowns in his time with the Vipers.

Patrick sits behind Joe Mixon, Giovanni Bernard, Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams in the depth chart, but youth is certainly on his side.

Nathan Woodside is based in the Metro East suburbs of St. Louis. He has 15-plus years of experience reporting, editing, photographing and designing sports and news, on all platforms for outlets that include Hearst Newspapers and GateHouse Media. He was a sideline reporter and photographer for the St. Louis BattleHawks in 2020. He has collected multiple awards from the Illinois and Missouri Press Associations, as well as the Associated Press Media Editors of Illinois. Reach him on Twitter @nathanwoodside or at nathan_woodside@yahoo.com.

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