Where former XFL players fit into NFL preseason depth charts

Kenny Robinson, former St. Louis BattleHawks player,
Kenny Robinson, former St. Louis BattleHawks player. (Credit: XFL)

This is the third year I’ve written about former XFL players appearing in NFL training camps. And in those three years, the number of former XFL players on NFL teams has not dwindled significantly. That is a testament to the staying power of these players, their hunger and desire to make an NFL roster, and the quality of players that suited up for the XFL in 2020.

Looking ahead to 2023, the XFL will once again be in search of players who have that same hunger and desire, and who are of the same high quality in terms of on-field production. This year’s list of former XFL players in the NFL will look a little different, as a few players parlayed their experience in the USFL this spring into NFL jobs. Even though that likely caught the attention of scouts more than their XFL play of three seasons ago, because they did play in the XFL in 2020, I’ll still include them on this list.

NFL teams are mandated to put out depth charts prior to their first preseason game. They are usually compiled by the team’s public relations staff, based on what they’ve seen in camp, rather than by the coaches themselves. They are therefore “unofficial.” That’s an important distinction to make before we dive in. I’ve added the players’ NFL uniform numbers in case anyone wants to follow them during preseason games.

Also of note: While teams add and subtract from the back end of their 90-man rosters all throughout training camp, there are three cut-down dates to which teams must adhere: They’ll cut from 90 players to 85 by August 16; from 85 to 80 by August 23; and from 80 to 53 by August 30.

Buffalo: A teammate of Bills superstar QB Josh Allen at Wyoming, WR Tanner Gentry (#87 – Guardians) is back to take another crack at making Buffalo’s roster. Gentry spent all of last season on the team’s practice squad after getting released at final cuts prior to the regular season. With more, younger players coming into the league each year, this may be Gentry’s last opportunity to stick. Or, his relationship with Allen will help him to hang around a little longer, even if on the practice squad again. Regardless, in Buffalo’s starting three-receiver set, Gentry finds himself third on the depth chart at one receiver spot. He’ll likely have to jump Jake Kumerow to make the team.

Miami: After the final cut-down to each team’s 53-man roster, there’s a mad scramble the next day to claim players off waivers. Dozens of players released by teams find new homes during that time, and that’s what happened to CB Elijah Campbell (#22 – Defenders) last season. He was a victim of the numbers game in the defensive backfield for the New York Jets in 2021, but was claimed the following afternoon by the Dolphins. After playing in seven games last year, Campbell was placed on injured reserve in November. He opened training camp this season on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury List but was activated earlier this month. Curiously, he’s listed as a safety on Miami’s initial depth chart – and a fourth-team safety at that. He has some ground to make up thanks in part to his late start.

New York Jets: A late preseason depth signing with little time to make his mark, G Isaiah Williams (#72 – Vipers) nevertheless showed enough to make the Jets’ initial practice squad last season. He bounced on and off the roster, playing in four games. Williams was released in May but re-signed just prior to the beginning of camp. In order to make the practice squad or 53-man roster, Williams will once again have to impress in late-game action during the preseason: He’s currently listed third on the Jets’ depth chart at right guard. 

Baltimore: Flawless in his first year as Baltimore’s long snapper, LS Nick Moore (#46 – Vipers) returns, uncontested for his roster spot. Working on a one-year contract, Moore will be an exclusive rights free agent at the end of the 2022 season.

Listed at positions on offense AND defense on Baltimore’s website, G/DT Kahlil McKenzie (#69 – Wildcats) is in search of a permanent positional home. He played in five games on defense for Baltimore in 2021 after being cut by the Cincinnati Bengals at the conclusion of training camp. We get a peek as to what side of the ball Baltimore envisions him with this first depth chart. McKenzie is listed on offense only, at third-team right guard.

Vipers RB Jacques Patrick._Defenders_Vipers_Mand
XFL Tampa Bay Vipers RB Jacques Patrick. (Credit XFL)

Cincinnati: Signed after training camp began, RB Jacques Patrick (#39 – Vipers) will get another opportunity to make the Bengals. Patrick put up impressive numbers in the preseason in 2020 and 2021 for Cincinnati, but all it amounted to was time on their practice squad. He’ll be a longshot again for a meaningful role in 2022. Patrick is listed behind Chris Evans and Trayveon Williams with the third team running backs, running ahead of only rookie free agent Shermari Jones.

Since the XFL’s five-week 2020 season, LB Tegray Scales (#45 – Renegades) has been a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, a Pittsburgh Steeler twice, a Cleveland Brown, and a Cincinnati Bengal twice, with stops in the CFL and USFL included during that time, too. The well-traveled Scales will likely look to stick on Cincinnati’s special teams units. Only two starting linebacking spots are listed on Cincinnati’s opening depth chart; Scales fights for third-team duties behind Joe Bachie, and ahead of Clarence Hicks. He could make the team by beating out Bachie.

Cleveland: G Michael Dunn (#68 – Dragons) has become an important backup for the Browns on their offensive line. He’s back for his third season in Cleveland and should make the final roster. He’s currently listed as backup left guard behind starter Joel Bitonio, with only Drew Forbes behind him.

Pittsburgh: There is competition at both punter and kicker in training camp in Pittsburgh, but LS Christian Kuntz (#46 – Renegades) does not face a challenger. He’ll look to improve on his first year as snapper last season, where he worked with a rookie punter and holder in Pressley Harvin, as well as a veteran kicker in Chris Boswell. The days of NFL long snappers playing multiple positions are over, so despite Kuntz’s ability to play linebacker, he is not listed on the depth chart at that position.

Jacksonville: Arriving in Jacksonville following the Jags’ Hall of Fame game against the Raiders was RB Matthew Colburn (#37 – Guardians). Colburn played in the USFL and finished fourth in the league in rushing this summer. With the Guardians in 2020, Colburn played behind Tim Cook, Darius Victor, and Justin Stockton. He carried just one time during that five-game stretch. He joins the Jaguars due to an injury suffered by Nathan Cottrell in last Thursday’s contest. Colburn becomes the sixth of six running backs in Jacksonville, adding needed depth with the team’s top two rushers, James Robinson and Travis Etienne, likely to be held out for most of the preseason as both are coming off injuries in 2021.

Denver: Now on his 14th NFL team, QB Josh Johnson (#11 – Wildcats) seeks to back up new franchise quarterback Russell Wilson in Denver. Johnson’s scrambling and improvisational skills at the position mirror Wilson’s style. Johnson gets another look after playing well in short stints with the Jets and Baltimore last season. Heading into the first preseason game, Johnson is Wilson’s direct backup, ahead of Brett Rypien.

Las Vegas: When you’re trying to make the end of a roster, special teams value can make or break your chances. To that end, RB Austin Walter (#36 – Renegades) would stand a better chance than most despite his late start, signing a few days into training camp. Walter scored his first NFL touchdown last season with the Jets, but was waived in May. Walter can both cover and return kicks, which is how he’ll stick if he makes the team. For now, though, he’s got an uphill climb: He’s listed at the tail-end of the team’s RB depth chart, and doesn’t appear on the three-deep at kick returner.

Donald Parham Jr. celebrating a week three touchdown with the Dallas Renegades of the XFL
Donald Parham Jr. celebrating a week three touchdown with the Dallas Renegades of the XFL. (Credit: XFL)

Los Angeles Chargers: Following a scary injury on a nationally televised Thursday night game last season, TE Donald Parham Jr. (#89 – Renegades) is healthy for training camp and ready to battle for more playing time in his third season in L.A. The Chargers signed Gerald Everett as a free agent at the tight end position, so Parham will once again be the primary backup. That’s where he appears on the team’s initial depth chart.

Forced into starting action for much of last season, the results weren’t always pretty for OT Storm Norton (#74 – Wildcats). Yet he enters camp in 2022 with a chance to earn the starting right tackle job full-time. He has to beat out Trey Pipkins for the spot. The two have rotated equally with the first team during camp so far, and both appear on the first team at that position on the depth chart, indicating neither player has gained separation on the other thus far.

New York Giants: Like Gentry, WR Austin Proehl (#87 – Dragons) has managed to hang around the periphery of NFL rosters since he left the XFL. Proehl spent most of last season with the Bills, but was picked up by the Giants as a free agent in February after he was not offered a reserve/futures contract in the initial wave of signings in January. New York lists three receivers among its 11 offensive starters. Proehl finds himself as a fourth-teamer at one of the receiver spots, ahead of only Sterling Shepard, who will likely pass him once he’s activated off the Physcially-Unable-To-Perform List.

Philadelphia: Transitioning from quarterback to tight end last summer, it was thought that TE Tyree Jackson (#80 – Defenders) might need some time on the practice squad before he was ready to contribute in a meaningful way. Instead, he was on his way to making the team out of camp before suffering a preseason injury that landed him on injured reserve. Jackson worked his way back to play in nine games and even caught a touchdown pass before tearing his ACL in the final game of the year. He is currently on the Active/Physically-Unable-to-Perform list, yet to practice as he continues to recover.

Washington: One of a staggering five former XFL players on the team’s 90-man roster, OT Willie Beavers (#64 – Renegades) signed with the team in late June to add offensive line depth for the preseason. In 2020 and 2021, Beavers spent time with the Atlanta Falcons, including seeing extensive playing time in last year’s exhibition games. Beavers can play both guard and tackle, and rotated at both positions at times in last year’s preseason. This year, he’s slotted third on the depth chart at left guard. It remains to be seen if he’ll again play multiple spots.

QB Taylor Heinicke (#4 – BattleHawks) continues to be a fascinating story as he went from XFL backup to NFL starter following the injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick in the first regular season game in 2021. Heinicke filled in admirably, proving he has a place on an NFL roster. This year, he’ll take a backseat to the recently-acquired Carson Wentz. On Washington’s first depth chart, Heinicke is entrenched as QB2 while rookie Sam Howell soaks in the game from the third slot.

Seen as somewhat of a longshot to crack Washington’s roster last year, DE Bunmi Rotimi (#57 – Guardians) bided his time on the practice squad until an opportunity came calling in November. Rotimi finished the season playing in nine games (including one start), notching 10 tackles and a sack. Washington was so impressed with Rotimi that they tendered him a contract as an exclusive rights free agent in the offseason. That doesn’t guarantee Rotimi a roster spot however; despite playing well again in camp this year, he’s somewhat surprisingly fourth on the depth chart at one defensive end position, behind Shaka Toney.

A player appearing on this list for the first time since the closure of XFL 2.0 is CB Channing Stribling (#40 – Dragons). Since his stint with the Dragons, Stribling has played in the CFL, The Spring League, and USFL, where he led the league in interceptions. His performance there earned him a look with the Commanders. Currently, Stribling is running behind William Jackson III and Christian Holmes, and ahead of DeVaunte Bausby, another USFL product, at one of three CB spots.

C Jon Toth (#61 – Defenders) returned to D.C. after playing five games with the Defenders in 2020. Now a Commander in the nation’s capital, Toth did the roster dance last year and ended up playing in six games, mostly on special teams. Toth spent the last month of the season on Washington’s active roster. He’s buried in the fourth spot on Washington’s initial depth chart at the center position.

Chicago: Resurfacing in the NFL during training camp is LB DeMarquis Gates (#43 – Roughnecks), who stuffed the stat sheet with Houston in the XFL in 2020. In five games, he made 32 tackles, had two sacks, three tackles for loss, an interception, three passes defensed, a forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries. That earned him a look in Minnesota’s training camp later that summer, but he was waived prior to final cuts. After stints in The Spring League and the CFL, Gates parlayed his play in the USFL into another NFL opportunity, this time with the Bears. Gates starts off on the third team at one of three linebacker spots; he’ll look to beat out undrafted rookie Jack Sanborn to make the team.

Detroit: After knocking off a Lions legend in Don Muhlbach for a roster spot in 2021, LS Scott Daly (#47 – Guardians) returns to that position in 2022. He played all 17 games with no errant snaps. Like his fellow former XFL long snappers now in the NFL, Daly has no competition currently in camp.

Another player making a position change who was able to contribute more quickly than expected, RB Godwin Igwebuike (#35 – Dragons) moved from safety to running back last summer and played all 17 games with Detroit. He showed promising explosiveness by averaging 6.6 yards on 18 carries, and almost 25 yards per kick return. Perhaps disappointingly, Igwebuike appears fifth on the depth chart at running back; however, he could earn a roster spot and leapfrog those ahead of him with his special teams play, as he is designated the first-team kick returner.

On his fifth team since playing for the Houston Roughnecks in 2020, CB Saivion Smith (#19 – Roughnecks) will try to make his mark with the Lions, who claimed him off waivers late in the 2021 season. He played in two games last year with Detroit, so the coaching staff does have some familiarity with him, which should help. Smith appears to be competing with second-year man Mark Gilbert at one cornerback spot, with Gilbert ahead of him and rookie free agent Cedric Boswell behind him.

Carolina: After a year and a half of struggling to plant his flag in Carolina, S Kenny Robinson (#27 – BattleHawks) may have finally done just that last season. He was activated from the practice squad in October and played in 10 games, starting one, getting the most extensive playing time on defense that he’s had in his two-year NFL career. He’ll have to continue to scratch and claw to make it as a Panther, however, as he appears third on the depth chart at free safety, behind starter Jeremy Chinn and primary backup Sean Chandler.

A deep reserve and special teamer the last two years, TE Colin Thompson (#86 – Vipers) will have to show more of the same skills this year to grab a roster spot. Not known for his pass-catching prowess, Thompson was blanked in that category last year despite playing 11 games and starting two. Carolina starts two tight ends; Thompson is the main backup to one of them, Ian Thomas.

The path to a roster spot for QB PJ Walker (#11 – Roughnecks) likely depends on the status of Sam Darnold going forward. If Darnold makes the team as a backup to former Browns star Baker Mayfield, Walker probably doesn’t have a spot. If the Panthers decide to trade or release Darnold (both of which would be difficult to do given his contract), Walker makes the team. Spots are basically guaranteed to Mayfield and third-round rookie Matt Corral. If Walker gets cut, the market could be hot for him as a backup somewhere. So it might be time to quash those dreams of Walker returning to the XFL for 2023. For now, Darnold and Mayfield are listed as co-starters, with Walker on the second team.

Los Angeles Rams: Returning to the Rams, the team that signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2018, QB Luis Perez (# 14 – Guardians) wrested the starting QB job from Matt McGloin in 2020 and seemed to be getting the New York offense on track just as COVID-19 shut down the XFL. Perez then played for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL, leading the league in completion percentage among qualifying players. Perez is listed as the fourth-team QB in LA, but with head coach Sean McVay preferring to rest most of his key players in the preseason, he should see plenty of field time to impress other teams.

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