No position is as critical to the quality of on-field play in any football league as the quarterback. And quality of on-field play is one of the key determining factors in whether or not a league like the XFL will draw an audience, both on television and in stadiums, that will allow it to continue its existence.
It’s the reason why quarterbacks were paid more than any other position when the league reopened in 2020, and why the XFL appeared to try to dole out those quarterbacks to teams as evenly as they could. The top quarterbacks even had their own designation: They were “assigned” to teams rather than placed into the draft that every other player had to go through.
So where will XFL 2023’s quarterbacks come from? History says those quarterbacks are on NFL rosters right now. Of the 26 quarterbacks that ended the abbreviated XFL 2020 campaign on team rosters, 18 of those QBs spent all or part of the 2019 off-season (May thru August) with an NFL team. Eight of them played in the Alliance of American Football that spring. More recently, one-third of USFL quarterbacks on team rosters through week five attended some part of NFL training camps in 2021.
USFL to XFL Players
There will be a twist this time around as the XFL will have to compete with the aforementioned USFL for its players, and the fiercest competition could come at the quarterback position. On the flip side, a few XFL quarterbacks may come from the USFL: Either players that are released from their contracts by the league at the end of the season, or players who may request a release to look for NFL work and decide to try their hand at the XFL instead. It will be interesting to see if any players test the USFL’s contract set-up that is meant to keep players from signing with the XFL for the upcoming season.
NFL to XFL Players
NFL teams won’t give away quality quarterbacks very easily, however; while many teams now only keep two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, the expanded practice squads allow for quarterbacks to be stashed there to save that extra roster spot. Eighteen teams ended the 2021 season with at least one quarterback signed to its practice squad; two teams, the Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants, kept two. This is where the XFL player personnel department will need to utilize their skills of persuasion to convince some QBs on the roster bubble that they’d be better off in the XFL and getting significant playing time, instead of running the scout team at practice in the NFL. It may be a tough argument to make, but one the league should at least attempt.
Here, I’ll take a look at the current quarterback depth charts of every NFL team to see who might land in the XFL next year. Now that rookie mini-camps are complete, the roster churn should slow down a little bit until training camp begins in full in mid-July. In this edition, I’ll scout the AFC team QB depth charts. Be on the lookout for the NFC edition in the coming days.
QB Depth Chart: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley, Anthony Brown
Jackson is in search of a break-the-bank contract extension with the Ravens, a cloud that will hang over the team this summer if no deal gets done. He’s scheduled to hit free agency next winter. Huntley had his moments as a backup last year, but will need to continue to show improvement: He only went 1-3 as a starter and threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Brown was one of my Pro Day spotlight players. Baltimore kept two quarterbacks on opening day last season, meaning Brown will likely have to unseat Huntley to make the roster. He may be playing this preseason for a practice squad spot. All three of Baltimore’s QBs have a similar style of play.
QB Depth Chart: Josh Allen, Case Keenum, Matt Barkley
Buffalo has opted to go with two veterans in Keenum (34 years old) and Barkley (31) behind their franchise player. Neither is someone the Bills should be comfortable throwing out there for multiple games should an injury befall Allen. It will be interesting to see if Buffalo adds a younger arm before training camp opens so that the Keenum and Barkley are not overextended in practice. While it seems like only one of Keenum or Barkley will make the final roster, neither is probably a candidate for the XFL; rather, they’d be on speed-dial for NFL teams should they need an emergency backup in-season.
QB Depth Chart: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen, Jake Browning
The surprise Super Bowl entrant from the AFC last season, the Bengals return their top two quarterbacks in Burrow and Allen. Allen is the kind of veteran presence you like to have in a backup. The Bengals clearly appreciate that presence as they re-signed him as a free-agent in the off-season. Browning is the perfect example of a player who could benefit from the XFL: An undrafted player who has kicked around practice squads without ever getting an opportunity in an NFL game. He’s still young enough at 26 years old to have an NFL future, even if as a backup, should he shine in a league like the XFL.
QB Depth Chart: Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield, Jacoby Brissett, Joshua Dobbs, Felix Harper
The only team with five quarterbacks listed on their roster as of this writing, the Browns also have perhaps the messiest QB situation in the league. Watson’s status for 2022 is up in the air as he and the team await the NFL’s ruling on any suspension he may have to serve for his legal entanglements. Mayfield likely won’t report to any off-season activities and has requested a trade, though the number of teams that could be interested has dwindled. Brissett has proven to be a trustworthy backup. Dobbs has been around as well and like Browning, would be a good veteran pickup for the XFL. Off of most draft radars, the rookie Harper out of Alcorn State was signed after a mini-camp tryout. There’s a lot that has to shake out here before we can make sense of how Cleveland’s QB room may look on opening day.
QB Depth Chart: Russell Wilson, Brett Rypien, Josh Johnson
The Broncos entered the AFC West arms race with their massive deal to acquire Wilson from Seattle. Johnson used his time as an L.A. Wildcat in 2020 to continue his trek around the NFL. Last season, he played for both the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens. The Broncos saw enough out of his work to bring him to camp. If nothing else, he’ll be a tough cut at the end of August and would no doubt be welcomed back to the XFL should he choose that route. Rypien is a player XFL fans had their eye on for the 2020 season, but he was able to make the Broncos in 2019 as an undrafted free agent and has stuck with the team ever since.
QB Depth Chart: Davis Mills, Kyle Allen, Jeff Driskel, Kevin Hogan
To the surprise of many, the Texans will enter 2022 with Mills as their starting quarterback after trading Deshaun Watson for a king’s ransom. Mills arguably outplayed his third-round pedigree last year. If he falters this year, Houston could be in position to select from what’s expected to be a deeper crop of quarterbacks in the 2023 draft than we saw this year. The three players behind Mills on the depth chart are a collection of spare parts. It wouldn’t surprise me if one or even two of Allen, Driskel, and Hogan end up in the XFL in 2023.
QB Depth Chart: Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger, James Morgan, Jack Coan
This depth chart could look different very soon if the Colts do indeed add Nick Foles as a backup as has been reported. That means either Morgan, a fourth-round pick of the Jets in 2019, or Coan, a rookie undrafted free-agent out of Notre Dame, would likely be cut to make room for Foles. Whichever of the two survives may not survive for long as Ryan, Foles, and Ehlinger seems like a QB room you can write in pen. Ryan, the longtime Atlanta Falcon, take the reigns as the Colts continue to cycle through veteran reclamation projects.
QB Depth Chart: Trevor Lawrence, CJ Beathard, Jake Luton, EJ Perry
Lawrence gets a clean slate after the Urban Meyer debacle of 2021, and he gets to do so with a QB guru in Doug Pederson as his new head coach. Beathard seems locked in as the backup. It’s not often you can say a rookie undrafted free agent is more likely to make the team than a veteran, but Perry, out of Brown, has some desirable traits. Luton was a draft pick of a previous regime so he doesn’t have ties to this staff. In the event Jacksonville only keeps two quarterbacks, Perry is probably more likely to be added to the practice squad, too. Luton is a name to watch for XFL fans.
Kansas City Chiefs
QB Depth Chart: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Shane Buechele, Dustin Crum
Recently Released: Anthony Gordon
I’ll add Gordon here since he was on the roster earlier in May and was cut just before rookie mini-camp. He attended another team’s mini-camp as a tryout player but was not signed. He may get a look somewhere in camp, but the Washington State product would be a great “get” for the XFL: He shined in Mike Leach’s Washington State offense and could do the same for a similar one in the XFL (June Jones in Seattle perhaps?). Buechele spent time on Kansas City’s practice squad before being signed to the active roster midway through last year. Crum was invited to the NFL Combine this year but went undrafted. He’ll battle Buechele for either the third QB spot on the 53-man roster, or for a role on the practice squad. The 36-year old Henne is back for another year as the backup to all-world starter Mahomes.
Las Vegas Raiders
QB Depth Chart: Derek Carr, Jarrett Stidham, Nick Mullens, Chase Garbers
Recently Released: Garrett Gilbert
Time may have run out on the NFL career of Gilbert, the top quarterback in the Alliance of American Football in 2019. The Raiders ended the will-they-or-won’t-they contract dance with Carr by signing him to a three-year extension in April. New head coach Josh McDaniels brought Stidham over with him from New England in a trade, so he knows the offense making it likely he’ll be the primary backup to Carr. Mullens has starting experience with San Francisco and played relatively well there. If Vegas doesn’t keep three quarterbacks, Mullens could be popular on the workout circuit during the season. Garbers is a long-shot undrafted free-agent out of Cal.
Los Angeles Chargers
QB Depth Chart: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick, Brandon Peters
According to ESPN’s QBR formula, it was Justin Herbert – not Patrick Mahomes, or Derek Carr, or Russell Wilson – who ranked highest in that rating in 2021 among this year’s AFC West quarterbacks. Daniel enters his 14th professional season having started just five games over that span. He’s the perfect sounding board for a young starting QB. The Chargers kept Herbert, Daniel, and Stick on their opening day roster last season, and could do the same again this year. It’s difficult to see a path onto the roster for Peters, an undrafted rookie out of Illinois. Injuries could always change the equation.
QB Depth Chart: Tua Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater, Skylar Thompson
Recently Released: Chris Streveler
If nothing materializes this summer for Streveler, he may be more likely to head north to the CFL, where he played in 2018 and 2019, than to try the USFL or XFL. This is an important season for Tagovailoa: He’s the unquestioned starter, but if he doesn’t make strides, Bridgewater has starting experience behind him. At this stage, Bridgewater provides just enough talent to push Tagovailoa in camp without posing a significant threat to his job. The Dolphins took a late-round flier on Thompson, which likely helped push Streveler off the roster. He’s a developmental backup who could be stashed on the practice squad if Miami doesn’t keep three QBs.
New England Patriots
QB Depth Chart: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Bailey Zappe
Recently Released: D’Eriq King
New England seems to have found their long-term replacement for Tom Brady in Jones. Hoyer returns for yet another year as New England’s backup. However, he’s 36 years-old, so finding a replacement for him led New England to drafting Western Kentucky’s Zappe in round four. Zappe was 2021’s most prolific passer, throwing for the most yards and touchdowns at the FBS level. From my scouting notes on Zappe: “student of the game; plays in hurry-up; lots of bubble/slant concepts; system QB (Air Raid); not a lot of tight window throws as most are wide open; has some escapability in pocket.” King is interesting as he was signed as a slash-type player after the draft, but New England apparently didn’t like what they saw in rookie mini-camp and released him. Another team may want to try him at receiver, but his style may better be suited for an alternative league than the NFL.
New York Jets
QB Depth Chart: Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, Mike White
Wilson had an up-and-down debut last year after being the number two pick in the draft. Flacco, the longtime Baltimore Ravens starter, was traded to the Jets from Philadelphia last October after Wilson got injured. White saw his first regular-season game action in his fourth season last year, starting three games when Wilson went down. He got a stamp of approval from the Jets, who re-signed him to a 1-year, $2.54 million contract in March. The Jets kept just two quarterbacks after final cuts last year; with both Flacco and White on one-year deals, they could look for a long-term backup to Wilson on the waiver wire or in the 2023 draft.
QB Depth Chart: Mitchell Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph, Chris Oladokun
For the first time since 2004, the Steelers’ quarterback depth chart won’t feature Ben Roethlisberger. And who did Roethlisberger unseat on his way to becoming Pittsburgh’s franchise quarterback for almost two decades? Former XFL MVP Tommy Maddox, of course. The Steelers picked two QBs in the draft this year, and Pickett may end up starting sooner rather than later. Pickett played his college home games on the same field the Steelers play, so the outcry for him to start may come more quickly and more loudly than it would for other fanbases. I was a big fan of Oladokun out of South Dakota State. Rudolph may be the one standing without a chair when the music stops, unless Oladokun goes to the practice squad.
QB Depth Chart: Ryan Tannehill, Malik Willis, Logan Woodside
Throughout the pre-draft process this year, Willis was mocked as high as #2 overall to the Detroit Lions. Instead, the Titans nabbed him in the third round. It wasn’t a destination that any had predicted, but he falls into a nice situation. Willis is still raw, so he can sit and develop behind Tannehill, a playoff-caliber QB. Tannehill is a free agent in 2024, when Willis may be ready to take over as starter. How well Willis progresses during the summer may be the determining factor in whether or not the Titans keep three quarterbacks. Woodside is in his second stint as a Titan, sandwiched between a turn as starter for the San Antonio Commanders of the AAF in 2019.