St. Louis BattleHawks XFL Draft Recap
St. Louis BattleHawks XFL Draft Recap
St. Louis has had a long and intriguing history in Pro Football. Four pro teams in total. Two of them, the All-Stars and Gunners, played briefly in the NFL in the 20’s and 30’s and folded. The other two teams were relocated franchises in the Cardinals (1960-1987), and the Rams (1995-2015). In between it all, as a failed expansion bid in the early 90’s for a team to be called ‘The Stallions’, and in the biggest what if scenario. The purchase of the New England Patriots in 1992 by St. Louis native James Orthwein, who planned to move the Patriots after the 1993 season to St. Louis, only to have the teams stadium owner, Robert Kraft pull a power play to wrestle away ownership and keep the Pats in New England. The rest as they say is history, and the history of pro football in St. Louis can be best described as bittersweet.
The BattleHawks are looking to become the first pro football team in St. Louis, to be born in the market and stand the test of time. The truth is, if the XFL suffers the same fate as other pro football leagues have before it. Seven of the league’s eight team markets will be disappointed but ultimately and eventually, they will move on. St. Louis is a different story altogether. There’s a lot at stake here for the city. There may come a time again, where the River City finds another gateway into the NFL, but it may hinge on how well STL does with the XFL. The success of San Antonio in the AAF opened eyes for the NFL, and that city will certainly be on the radar if the 100 year league ever expands again. Jacksonville’s great success in the USFL, where they would routinely sell out the Gator Bowl, led to multiple NFL teams looking to relocate there, before the city ended up outbidding St. Louis for an NFL team of their own. How well the BattleHawks are embraced by the city, will go along way in changing the perception that Saint Louis is not really suited or meant for Pro Football. The XFL and St. Louis share the same goal and mindset, they are both out to prove that they belong on the pro football landscape.
The St. Louis BattleHawks are cleared for take off after last week’s 70 player five-phase draft. Before we take an in depth look at the Quarterback, who was assigned to St. Louis, and the players they drafted. It’s important to note the person who is running St. Louis’s player personnel department. Trey Brown, only 34 years old, the former player turned executive, has risen quickly up the pro football ranks in such a short period of time. Brown started out as a scout for the New England Patriots, he then moved on to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he rode up the ranks to become the team’s Director of College Scouting. Trey Brown barely in his 30’s, interviewed for the GM jobs of the Buffalo Bills in 2017, and the Oakland Raiders in 2018. Earlier this year in the AAF, Brown was the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Birmingham Iron. There’s been plenty of debate among XFL followers about the BattleHawks draft.
One thing that can’t be overlooked is the fact, that three of the players drafted by St. Louis, have already been signed by NFL teams. Corbin Kaufusi signed on to The New York Jets practice squad. Wes Saxton signed onto the Washington practice squad, and Tyler Gauthier signed onto the New England Patriots practice squad as well. Another draft pick, Center James Murray has also worked out for NFL teams recently. This is a clear indicator that the BattleHawks front office values players, that the NFL and it’s teams also covet. Keep that in mind when dissecting the BattleHawks roster. Specifically when it comes to the Quarterback they earmarked and signed to be their projected starter.
QUARTERBACK ASSIGNMENT: JORDAN TA’AMU- OLE MISS
This is the equivalent of a team drafting a Quarterback for the future, except in this case, the future might be right now. The 21 year old Jordan Ta’amu is an undrafted rookie quarterback, who spent the summer backing up Deshaun Watson in Houston. The ‘Throwin Samoan’ doesn’t have the track record that the other seven XFL Quarterbacks have, but it can be argued that no other quarterback has more talent or upside than Ta’amu. He is as raw as it gets.
A true developmental quarterback, who only has two years of big time college football experience under his belt, the 6’3 gunslinger with impressive mobility, started out at the New Mexico Military Institute for two seasons before transferring to Ole Miss in 2017. Jordan started out as a backup behind Shea Patterson, but took over as the teams starter for the final five games, when Patterson went down to Injury. Ta’amu threw for over 1,600 yards in that brief stretch, completed 66 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. He also proved to be quite the mobile threat with 4 touchdowns on the ground. Patterson transferred to Michigan, while Jordan took over as the full time starter in 2018.
Ta’amu had a fantastic senior season, finishing second in the SEC in passing yards, behind only Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. Ta’amu completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,918 yards with 19 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He also rushed for 342 yards and 6 touchdowns.
The knock on Ta’amu, and the reason he went undrafted is two-fold. He’s not a polished product. Ta’amu has a big arm and great mobility, but his lack of experience and overall consistency with his mechanics show up on film. He’s still a maturing Quarterback, that needs more seasoning to work on his accuracy and timing. The other knock against Ta’amu, was the passing targets that he worked with at Ole Miss, and the lack of variety in his throws. Three of Ta’amu’s top passing targets with the Rebels, are all in the NFL in DK Metcalf, AJ Brown and Dawson Knox. BattleHawks Offensive Coordinator Doug Meacham has quite the task at hand to develop and work with Jordan’s skillset. Part of Meacham’s mode of attack is to do just that, attack down the field frequently. That is one of Jordan’s strengths.
The team may end up addressing this position again somewhere before or after minicamp in December. Perhaps with a veteran. However, there’s no denying that the sky is the limit for Ta’amu. The question is, will he be ready for take off come February.
PHASE 1- SKILL PLAYER DRAFT
It’s time to speculate. It’s what football fans do. There’s a reason to believe that the BattleHawks were targeting Connor Cook in the skill position draft. The Brogan Roback selection in this round strongly suggests that Quarterback was high on the teams list of priorities. As is customary, in sports league drafts. A team will take a player that you coveted off of your board, which may lead you into a different direction. For example, the Dallas Renegades recently stated that one of the players they targeted in Phase 2 of the draft, was taken ahead of them by The New York Guardians. In true team-speak fashion, Dallas says that their first 17 selections were all the #1 players on their board when their pick came up. Another piece of evidence that Connor Cook may have been on the BattleHawks radar before Houston picked him second, is the fact that Connor Cook worked out at the St. Louis Summer Showcase in front of Jonathan Hayes and his entire staff. Exhibit B, Connor Cook was on the Bengals roster, when Jonathan Hayes was coaching on that offensive staff. Am I reaching perhaps? Maybe, but the fact that STL took a QB with their second pick suggests to me that this was a position they were targeting, to hedge their bets on their talented assigned rookie Quarterback.
If RB was Plan B, The BattleHawks knocked this position out of the park. There was a time where Christine Michael and Matt Jones were projected to be feature backs in the National Football League. Both players are relatively young, and do not have the usual thread on their tires, that running backs, their age usually have. Michael is supremely gifted. A former track star and five star recruit. Coming out of Texas, he won the Walter Payton award for being the best high school player in the entire nation. A former 2nd round pick, who never really broke through to become a feature back in the pros. A career 4.3 yards per carry, on only 254 career carries, he didn’t start in the pros until his 3rd year in the league, and has only 9 career starts under his belt. His career stat line reads like a single season, 1,080 rushing yards with 7 touchdowns. Jones is a former 5th round pick. A bruising 6’2 231 pound back with good movement skills. Jones was thrust into a starting role in the NFL, but was never able to stay healthy. He’s still only 26 years old, and is the perfect compliment to Michael.
BattleHawks receivers coach, Az Hakim will have a lot of talent to work with. Six receivers were taken by the BattleHawks in this phase. Standing out from this group is De’Mornay Pierson El and local Missouri product L’Damian Washington. Pierson El had an impressive stint in the AAF, and with the Raiders this past summer. He has great open field ability and can be a lethal punt returner. Washington is 6’4 with long speed. Trey Brown has familiarity with him from his time in Birmingham. What a journey it has been for L’Damian as a pro. He’s 28 years old, but has been on count ’em, 7 NFL teams, 2 CFL teams and an AAF team. He’s never been able to stick anywhere or break through despite his immense talent. Doug Meacham’s Air Raid offense is ideally suited for these two potential starters.
Marcus Lucas is another Missouri player. A jumbo sized WR at 6’4 250 lbs, who can also play TE if need be. Lucas like Washington has been on several NFL teams since going undrafted in 2014. Nine different NFL teams, Lucas has bounced back and forth from practice squads and futures contracts.
Alonzo Russell spent time with Jonathan Hayes in Cincinnati.
The final pick in this phase, Jordan Lasley is a former 5th round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2018. As a Junior, he led the Pac-12 in receiving yards. Lasley’s issues have been off the field. He was suspended in his junior season for 3 games, for undisclosed reasons. Then as a pro, this past summer. He was waived by Baltimore after getting into a fight with multiple teammates. The Raiders claimed him off waivers but he was subsequently cut weeks later. There was a stretch there at UCLA, where he was a dominant player, that led to him being drafted despite his off field issues. It’s possible that Lasley never sees the field in the XFL, but that’s up to him.
PHASE 2- OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
Solid group all around. Matt McCants stands out as the senior offensive lineman in this phase. The 30-year old former NFL draft pick, has spent most of his career as a swing lineman in the NFL. He really shined last season with the Birmingham Iron in the AAF. Another Trey Brown tie in. Coincidentally, the Iron’s head coach Tim Lewis, is STL’s DB’s coach. So there is direct knowledge of this player in the front office and on this staff.
When talking about tie-ins to St. Louis, there’s former St. Louis Ram, Brian Folkerts. He is another veteran offensive lineman, who can play guard and center. He has 28 NFL games under his belt, but like McCants, he’s been mostly a swing lineman in the pros.
Dallas Thomas may end up being one of the league’s better guards. He’s a former 3rd round pick of the Miami Dolphins, has 26 career starts under his belt.
In secondary football leagues, the hardest area to find quality players is on the offensive line. Sometimes coaches lean on connections, and that is spelled out throughout this entire draft. Trent Perkins from Texas, spent two years with The Cincinnati Bengals. He was coached by BattleHawks line coach Brian Braswell, who came over with Jonathan Hayes to STL. Perkins has been shifted back and forth off the Bengals practice squad since 2017. In August of this year, he decided to retire and was subsequently waived by Cincy. Two months later, he came out of retirement to finally get a chance to start, and rejoins his former Bengals coaches, who certainly had a hand in him restarting his career.
Jake Campos spent an entire season on the Cowboys practice squad in 2018. A very good player at Iowa State, Campos, a college OT projects inside to guard. A transition he has been making since turning pro.
This is a strong group from 1 to 10. Murray is being worked out by NFL teams. Gauthier is on the Patriots. Dejon Allen was an all conference player at Hawaii, and Juwann Bushell-Beatty is a monster tackle with tons of upside. A late bloomer at Michigan, who needs to control his weight.
PHASE 3- DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN
Another strong group from top to bottom. While many of these players are not household names. Once you start digging deep, it’s hard not to see the upside in the majority of these players.
The most notable players selected here are Marcus Hardison, Khyri Thornton and Casey Sayles. All three have good college pedigrees and NFL backgrounds. Defensive Coordinator Jay Hayes, who has made a living coaching up defensive lineman in the NFL for years, has some experienced D-Lineman to work with.
Channing Ward is a player that Hayes coached up in Tampa with The Buccaneers. Ward is an undersized 279 pound DT with pass rushing skills, who hasn’t been able to stay healthy as a pro.
Andrew Ankrah was a big time defensive star in the FCS for James Madison. He also flashed in the AAF with Orlando.
Another Apollo, Terrance Garvin was arguably the best all around linebacker in the AAF. Where Garvin stands out is his ability to play sideline to sideline.
Nicholas Grigsby is a similar type player. Grigbsy has been on and off 6 separate NFL team practice squads. A 6’2 230 pound linebacker with 4.50 speed. Grigsby is also a hard hitter, who could end up being a tone setter on this defense.
The biggest sleeper in this entire phase is Jamell Garcia-Williams. He might not make it to the roster come February. The 6’7 255-pound edge rusher from UAB, had 9.5 sacks last season and 15 tackles for loss in his senior season. He went undrafted and was signed by the Niners, before being waived at final cuts. NFL teams including the Raiders have worked him out, and JGW is on NFL teams radars. No shame in not making the Niners roster, who currently boast the NFL’s best pass rush and pass defense.
Another player that was part of NFL roster cutdown day is Gimel President. The versatile edge rusher can play at DE and has stood up as well at outside linebacker.
PHASE 4- DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD
The BattleHawks took a very unique approach in this phase of the draft. While every other team seemed to go CB heavy with their first few picks. The BattleHawks decided to attack the safety position, and boy, did they ever, using four of their first five picks at Safety. There is a caveat to that. Herb Miller, who is listed at safety, can also play corner. Miller is a long player with great open field tackling skills, who has experience playing in the nickel and at safety. He’s not a traditional outside corner because of his lack of speed, but he can be a very effective cover safety who can exclusively play in the slot and jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. Miller tried out for the Chiefs this summer, and impressed enough to earn himself a contract. He didn’t make it at final cuts, but I doubt that his playing days in the NFL are over.
The biggest story coming out of this phase for St. Louis is Kenny Robinson. The All Big-12 safety who is projected to be a day two NFL draft pick, has decided to turn pro now, as a way of getting prepared for the NFL draft when he is draft eligible. Robinson was highly rated by Pro Football Focus for his coverage skills at West Virginia. He’s coming into the perfect situation. Playing alongside two quality veteran safeties in Will Hill and Dexter McCoil.
Cornerback D’Montre Wade is very similar to Herb Miller, a strong press corner who plays very physical. You get the sense that Tim Lewis, who will be coaching up the defensive backs, is going to be playing a lot of zone and press coverage.
Marquez White is a real sleeper in this group at corner. Former 6th round pick of the Dallas Cowboys from Florida State. He played opposite Jalen Ramsey in college and played shutdown corner opposite him, only allowing two touchdowns in two seasons as a starter. If you are the other corner opposite Ramsey, teams are going to throw your way. White held up his end of the bargain. Puzzling that he hasn’t stuck in the NFL after being with Dallas for two seasons as a deep reserve. White started at corner for the Orlando Apollos earlier this year and received high grades.
Trey Caldwell is a former 5th round pick by The Browns, out of ULM. He has 4.34 speed but stands at only 5’9. Another player at the bottom end of NFL rosters that never broke through.
Ryan White is yet another player who can play safety and corner on this roster.
The theme continues from picks 1 through 10.
PHASE 5- OPEN DRAFT
With the first pick in the open phase of the draft, St. Louis went kicker with Elliott Fry. Just days prior, the New England Patriots worked him out. Fry was perfect in the AAF for Orlando, going 14 for 14 in his 8 weeks of play. That landed him with the Bears in a kicking competition with Eddy Pinero, who ultimately won out. Fry then finished up with Baltimore before being let go. No way, he was replacing Justin Tucker. Despite Fry’s quality as a kicker, many have questioned STL’s decision to draft a kicker so early in a 30 round phase.
The one area that was surprisingly not addressed was the Quarterback position. The feeling was with two very young signal callers on the roster in Ta’amu and Roback, that Saint Louis would consider taking one of the veteran Quarterbacks remaining in the draft pool. Players like Joe Callahan and BJ Daniels were drafted in this phase, and a veteran like a Zach Mettenberger was also available.
The BattleHawks continued to address their offensive line depth by taking capable lineman who could have easily gone in Phase 2, in Andrew McDonald, Avery Young and Korren Kirven. The majority of the XFL teams are carrying up to as many as 15 offensive lineman going into mini-camp in December.
One of the biggest sleeper picks in the entire draft is TE Connor Davis, out of Stony Brook. I watched him first hand impress at the New York Summer Showcase at Montclair State. He sticks out like a sore thumb at 6’8 270 plus pounds. A great athlete at that size as well with a 10-foot broad jump. He has untapped potential, and with Phase 1 TE Wes Saxton, currently in the NFL, and with Jonathan Hayes, a former NFL tight end, and former tight ends coach. This is the team you want to be on if you are a tight end looking to develop.
The team is well built upfront on the offensive line and on the back end of their defense. OL, DT, S and RB are the teams strongest position groups. What will make or break the BattleHawks this season is their Quarterback play. Despite Ta’amu’s upside, he’s a question mark as a rookie pro quarterback. On the plus side, It really pays to have a Director of Player Personnel like Trey Brown, that has just gone through the experience of being in a spring pro football league earlier this year. There’s a strong AAF imprint on the entire roster. Trey Brown also has NFL experience of scouting players for two great organizations in Philly and New England. It also helps to have a head coach like Jonathan Hayes and Jay Hayes, who both were in the NFL last season, and have been quality assistants in the NFL for a long time. Their knowledge and experience helped them land quality players that were on the back end of NFL rosters in 2018, and this summer… players with upside who haven’t had the chance to be starters. That’s really what the XFL is all about.