Week one of the NFL regular season is here. Each of the 32 teams in the league have curated their 53-man rosters and 16-player practice squads. Hundreds of players released at the end of training camp are looking for work and the XFL hopes many of them will look in their direction.
The XFL will hold another draft, a little less than a month from now if reports are accurate, and that draft is expected to focus on players cut from NFL teams at the conclusion of camp in August. While XFL teams have added players over the last few months to their off-season 90-man rosters, the players drafted in October are the ones most likely to make an impact come February.
As I did last year, I wanted to take a look at one player from each position who didn’t make their respective NFL teams this summer and hasn’t yet signed with a practice squad. These players are at the top of my list at their position in terms of players I think would have the best chance of success in the XFL. There were many veteran players who were trimmed from rosters at cut-down day; they’re also the least likely to be interested in going the XFL route, so I tried to focus my energy on finding younger, less established players to profile here.
It’s also worth noting that NFL rosters and practice squads are fluid. Some of these players may end up with NFL teams by the time the XFL Draft rolls around, making them ineligible to be drafted. And some drafted in October may yet sign with NFL teams before XFL training camps open.
Those featured in my column last September that ended up playing in the XFL were RB Max Borghi (Roughnecks), WR Josh Hammond (Defenders), C Dohnovan West (Vipers), DT Kevin Atkins (Battlehawks), CB Jordan Miller (Renegades) and K Jose Borregales (Guardians). I wanted to avoid including players who played in the XFL in 2023 and who were released by NFL teams, as well as those who played in the USFL this spring. All of that said, here are my names to keep an eye (and ear) on for the XFL Draft next month.
QB: Kellen Mond: Given the limited number of quality quarterbacks currently on the open market, and how important the position is to spring football, there could be a real battle between the USFL and XFL for Mond’s services. He has an intriguing skillset that could be exactly what XFL teams are seeking. Mond was a third-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2021. He played a scant few snaps that season and when Vikings ownership cleaned house in 2022, Mond and several 2021 draft picks were swept out along with the general manager and head coach. Mond had been with the Cleveland Browns since last season and spent a couple of days on the practice squad this year before the Browns opted for PJ Walker as their third QB. In a recent interview with XFL Executive Vice President Marc Ross, NFL Executive Vice President Troy Vincent mentioned the best way to improve at football is to play football. Mond fits that bill; he just needs to play. I very nearly nominated Anthony Brown for this spot, but I believe Brown is more likely to re-sign with the Baltimore Ravens (or sign with another team), and thus be unavailable to XFL teams next month, than is Mond to sign in that time.
RB: Jaret Patterson: The diminutive (5’6″) Patterson made the Washington Football Team as an undrafted rookie in 2021. He has played 20 NFL games in two years after being one of the most decorated offensive players to come out of the Mid-American Conference. While at Buffalo, Patterson was First-Team All-MAC twice, garnered Freshman of the Year honors as well as being named Offensive Player of the Year and league MVP. He also shares an NCAA record for most touchdowns in a game with eight. This summer, Washington chose to keep just three running backs on its active roster, and Patterson was beaten out for a practice squad spot by Derrick Gore. Patterson averaged 4.4 yards per carry this preseason and has already been hosted by multiple NFL teams for workouts since then. Unlike in the NFL, his size would not preclude him from finding success with XFL teams that may covet smaller backs.
TE: Anthony Firkser: There were a few positions in which it was tough to find viable candidates to list in this positional roll call. Tight end was one of them. There were times throughout Firkser’s NFL career that he was seen as a potential breakout candidate. Though he was never a full-time starter, he combined for 73 catches over the course of two seasons in 2020 and 2021 with the Tennessee Titans. Despite those numbers, he failed to make the Atlanta Falcons in 2022, eventually clawing his way onto the 53-man roster via the practice squad. His career encountered another speed-bump this year when he was released by the New England Patriots at the end of August. The dearth of competent offensive linemen can make a pass-catching tight end an attractive offensive piece for many XFL teams. Firkser could fill that role.
WR: Kendric Pryor: After putting up middling stats at run-first Wisconsin, Pryor’s signing with the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2022 was a mere blip on the radar. All he did during preseason games was make plays, however, and when he didn’t make the team, he was claimed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags kept Pryor on their roster all season, but he was a healthy scratch in every game. The additions of Calvin Ridley (trade) and Parker Washington (draft), along with the development of other young receivers made it more difficult for Pryor to stand out this off-season. He was not retained on Jacksonville’s practice squad after being released.
OT: Jean Delance: Unfortunately for the XFL, another position I found difficult to mine for prospects was across the offensive line and specifically at tackle. Delance has the pedigree, having been a highly-recruited high-school prospect who attended the University of Florida where he started for three years. He’s a second-year pro who was cut by the Green Bay Packers this year. Coming out of college, he was given a round five draft grade by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, and Zierlein knows a thing or two about offensive linemen: His father, Larry, coached the position in the NFL for a decade.
OG: John Molchon: Molchon went undrafted in 2020 despite attending the NFL Combine. After signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Molchon spent the early part of his first two seasons on injured reserve. Following his activation, he bounced between the practice squad and the active roster. In 2022, Molchon stayed healthy and spent about half the season on the practice squad, the other half on the 53-man roster. This season, Tampa Bay decided to keep three rookie offensive linemen on their practice squad, passing over Molchon for a potential fourth season there. Molchon is one of many who have been chewed up and spit out by the NFL grind and who would benefit from playing significant snaps to show he can hold up over the course of an entire game or season.
C: Alec Lindstrom: Another NFL Combine invitee snubbed during the NFL Draft, Lindstrom spent his rookie season of 2022 mainly on the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys. The Boston College Eagle was the ninth-ranked center by The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, who pegged Lindstrom with a fifth-to-sixth round grade. Most draft analysts had him in that seven-to-10 range at the position, right on the fringe of being draftable. The center spot had a few more interesting XFL prospects than did guard and tackle.
DE: Ben Banogu: Perhaps the biggest name on this list – or at least most accomplished at the NFL level – Banogu put together impressive back-to-back seasons as a junior and senior at TCU. That, as well as his mouth-watering pass-rush potential, got him drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round in 2019. Banogu played in all 16 games as a rookie, compiling a modest 2.5 sacks. Expected to gradually improve, Banogu instead not only didn’t sack another quarterback over the next three years, he didn’t even manage to start a game during those years. His rookie contract having expired, he signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys in 2023, but did not make the team. Some XFL team may hope Banogu is a late bloomer and can wake the sleeping pass rush giant inside of him.
DT: Raymond Vohasek: Vohasek could be one of, if not the only, 2023 NFL draft pick to be a part of October’s XFL Draft. Selected in the seventh round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Vohasek was the only one of 13 Jaguar draft picks not to either make the 53-man roster or the practice squad. He started his collegiate career at the College of DuPage, becoming a hot name in the JUCO ranks before transferring to North Carolina. Vohasek wasn’t on the radar of many NFL draftniks. A lot of XFL teams desire beef in the middle of their defensive line, something the 6’2″, 311 pound Vohasek can offer.
LB: Bumper Pool: The XFL has a potential embarrassment of riches at the linebacker position, probably the deepest of any that I looked at for this piece. Pool’s name, in part, allowed him to leap over all the other contenders here. Pool was signed as a rookie free agent by the Carolina Panthers out of Arkansas, where he was the school’s all-time leading tackler. Pool is in the mold of the new-age linebacker: A bit undersized (232 pounds) but athletic and instinctive. From my scouting notes on Pool from 2021 and 2022: “experience in the back-peddle and in zone coverage…uses hands well to shed blocks…will go for the ball when he’s the second tackler…disruptor…spent time vs. LSU as spy on Jayden Daniels…frequently in the right position in the run game.”
CB: Lamar Jackson: This Lamar Jackson was undrafted out of Nebraska in 2020, signing with the New York Jets in May. Since that time, Jackson has played in 22 regular season games and been a part of four teams. At an NFL Combine-verified 6’2″, Jackson has the size and length to be a contributor on the outside of the defensive formation. His 4.58 speed limits him somewhat and is part of the reason he’s available for XFL teams at this point.
S: Brad Hawkins: At the time, Hawkins finished his Michigan career as the program leader in games played (56), amassing 31 starts over that period. He was a part of some strong Wolverine defenses for Head Coach Jim Harbaugh during that span and parlayed that experience into a contract with the Atlanta Falcons following the 2022 NFL Draft. Hawkins has since been with both Atlanta and New England. He totaled seven tackles across two exhibition games this summer and has special teams value, having played on kick coverage teams even as a senior in college.
K: James McCourt: It’s rare these days for an NFL team to keep a kicker on their practice squad, let alone for the entire season, but the Jaguars did just that with McCourt last season. The Irish-born kicker set an Illinois record for most field goals of longer than 50 yards. He signed with the LA Chargers after the 2022 NFL Draft. Though he failed to beat out Dustin Hopkins in the City of Angels, McCourt was picked up in short order by Jacksonville, where he hit a 54-yard field goal near the end of the preseason. McCourt initially made the final roster of the Jags in 2022, until they put in a waiver claim for Riley Patterson. They stuck with Patterson all year, with McCourt on the practice squad as insurance. This year, Jacksonville opted for veteran Brandon McManus, making McCourt expendable once again.
P: Drue Chrisman: Yet another player from the Big 10, the former Ohio State Buckeye Chrisman won the job in a rare late-season change at the position over longtime Bengal Kevin Huber in Cincinnati. Chrisman punted in seven regular season games as well as the playoffs, averaging nearly 48 yards per punt. Even then, Cincinnati drafted a potential upgrade in sixth-round pick Brad Robbins this past spring. A heated training camp battle was won by Robbins. Chrisman may be on the short list to take over if any punters get injured or are ineffective early in the season.
LS: Evan Deckers: The pickings were slim at the specialist positions, where teams so rarely take multiple players at those spots into camp, and even more rarely do those players survive until final cuts. Deckers is a rookie out of Duke who also played at Massachusetts during his college career. He was brought in to Tampa Bay to compete with 32-year old Zach Triner for long snapper duties. Triner retained his job, leaving Deckers on the outside looking in. No XFL long snappers are on NFL rosters so it remains to be seen what kind of priority it will be for teams to look at that position in the draft, or to bring competition at the position to camp in January.