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XFL specialists made their presence felt in the NFL

If your team needs a specialist, a former XFL specialist is quite certainly the place to shop around.

The 2020 football season was a crazy one, with the XFL season ending due to COVID-19, and leaving every XFL player as a free agent. Quite a few of the XFL specialists would go on to land an NFL home and the majority of them all performing very well.

Sergio Castillo New York Jets

Sergio Castillo New York Jets.

Sergio Castillo

The former Houston Roughnecks kicker landed himself in the Big Apple with the New York Jets. Castillo would look pretty good all the way up until his last game. The Jets gave up on him too quickly, as it wasn’t like they were battling for a playoff spot or anything. Castillo would end his time as a Jet going eight for 13 on field goals, which sure isn’t great but the distances he blasted them through the uprights from were great.  He also made six of seven point after attempts.

Castillo would blast the ball through the uprights all the way from 55 yards out. He also had a field goal from 50, going two for two from 50 plus yards. The 55 yards field goal went through the uprights looking like a 45-yard attempt.

If it was not for the final game, Castillo’s NFL legacy would be solid. He still is signed to the New York Jets practice squad at the moment, so maybe we could see him next year. Especially since the Jets cut their normal starting kicker Sam Ficken yesterday afternoon.

matthew wright steelers

Matthew Wright Pittsburg Steelers

Matthew Wright

Wright is actually someone we did not see play an XFL snap. He was the Tampa Bay Vipers kicker in camp before the team parted ways. Unsure why, as Wright has done everything right since coming to the Steel City.

Sunday afternoon against the Cleveland Browns, Wright drained all three of his field-goal attempts which included two from 46 yards out. In college Wright’s longest field goal in his whole college career was only a 50-yarder, but sometimes you don’t need to attempt a 55-yard field goal like Castillo to prove your point.

Wright also is perfect on all four of his point-after attempts, there is a slim chance that we see Wright in the rematch against the Browns in the playoffs next week if the veteran kicker Chris Boswell is not healthy for the Steelers.

At 5’11, 165lbs, Wright is not a guy who will wow you in size or stature. But he can blast a kickoff into the endzone which he did every time on Sunday in Cleveland. They may not have been touchbacks, but the ball went into the endzone on the fly which is sometimes better than a touchback so your team has a chance to stop the return man inside their 25-yard line.

Hunter Niswander Dallas Cowboys

Hunter Niswander Dallas Cowboys.

Hunter Niswander

The MVP of XFL specialists in the NFL has to go the DC Defenders punter. Niswander has cemented his name as an NFL punter in the Lone Star state for the Dallas Cowboys.

He ended the 2020 season punting the ball 26 times for an average of 47.2 yards per punt, and a long of 58 yards in his eight games. Niswander landed 10 of those punts inside the 20-yard line, with only just two touchbacks.

Niswander netted 43.5 yards on his punts also. The net yards stat is good to look at to see how good of a ball the punter hits, net is basically how many yards his punts would be after a return. Only allowing an average of five yards on punt returns is great.

The former Defender is someone who will shock you in size for a punter, he is 6’5, 243 lbs which is practically the size of a tight end in the NFL. To put it in perspective, one of the best tight ends in the NFL, George Kittle who plays for the San Francisco 49ers is 6’3, 243 lbs. Niswander actually outsizes Kittle which is a pretty awesome stat.

There really is no reason for the Cowboys not to bring Niswander back to punt next year. He proved that he can punt with the best and look good doing it, which is great for him and the XFL. Way to go, Niswander.

Honorable Mentions

These are the guys who were either on practice squads or did not look great in their NFL time, but still deserve to be given the floor.

First up is Taylor Russolino of the St. Louis BattleHawks who kicked in one game in Mile High for the Denver Broncos. He went one for three on extra-point attempts and missing his lone field-goal try. One rough game is no reason to give up on Russolino, it was his first-ever NFL game, as you could imagine surely nerves are running high and just one game could have been a fluke. As we know, he looked amazing in the XFL including the moonshot that he blasted in for a 58-yard field goal. Russolino deserves another chance to prove himself, because he definitely has the skill set to be in the big show, no questions.

Quite a few guys had their names called up to practice squads but never got to play in an NFL game, which included the former Dallas Renegades kicker who went 10 for 10 on field goals in the XFL, Austin MacGinnis of the Los Angeles Rams.

Matthew McCrane, the former New York Guardians kicker who drained a 53-yard field goal during his XFL time spent the season with the Cleveland Browns practice squad.

The former Los Angeles Wildcats kicker, Giorgio Tavecchio stayed on the Tennesse Titans practice squad for a few weeks. Tavecchio has quite a bit of NFL experience prior to the XFL.

XFL specialists do it better

The XFL made specialists better with the unique rules like no running starts to kickoffs and penalties for punting the ball out of bounds or for a touchback. It made them have to compete with reason and precision more than ever to help their teams win games, which makes them better and always focused on hitting the best punt or kickoff that they possibly can. If your team needs a specialist, a former XFL specialist is quite certainly the place to shop around.

Moose Gibson has been involved with football long as he can remember, but no league does he love as much as the XFL. He is a huge fan of the Seattle Dragons, his favorite players are Brock Miller and Brandon Silvers. You can follow him on Twitter @midnightxmoose.

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