This football offseason has been one for the books. Since the Super Bowl, we’ve seen a leaguewide frenzied QB shuffle, record-breaking contracts, a deep draft class, and obviously, the impact of the coronavirus lockdown.
We’re all tired of hearing about it, but the past few months have had a profound impact on football operations, especially in regard to the Draft, practice reps, and the preseason. All of these processes have been abbreviated, and while that’ll lead to an interesting NFL season, the implications for the XFL are overwhelmingly positive in my view.
The lockdown struck at a key moment in the offseason process, just as draft prospects were gearing up for their pro day showings. While the official combine gave teams a good look at the field of prospects, pro days represent more players from around the country. When these guys didn’t get their shot, many fell through the cracks.
Small school and lesser-known prospects never really got a shot to ingratiate themselves to teams or put themselves out there at all. With no pro days, no workouts, and no interviews with scouts, all they had was film and homemade workout tapes.
While we saw some otherworldly 40 times come out of these workouts, a lot of players still got left behind, forgotten as 7 rounds and the UDFA period passed. The amount of untapped talent passed over in the 2020 draft process could significantly boost the XFL’s prospect pool, as the league represents the perfect opportunity for players to make a name for themselves.
Another interesting development on this front was pointed out by NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread. He pointed out that NCAA players could opt out of the 2021 season, maintain their standing at their school, hope to get drafted in the spring, and then return to their schools in the fall if they go undrafted.
As an XFL shill by trade, I’d like to point out that they could try their hand in the new league as a part of this process. Putting up game tape vs pro talent went a long way toward’s Kenny Robinson’s success out of West Virginia (en route to a 5th round selection by Carolina) and his path could serve as a blueprint for other young players with eligibility left in college.
We’re talking about practice. Reps are a huge part of developing young players, and at the tail end of July, we’re finally starting to see teams hit the field for the first time since winter. Rookie Minicamps were essentially canceled, with virtual sessions taking the place of the typical orientations.
While rookies got their playbooks and got to meet the other guys, awkwardly talking over each other in zoom meetings isn’t quite the same as suiting up, running drills, and getting to know the facility.
Rookie camp reps are critical, as those 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills give them time to iron out their knowledge of the playbook. In regular training camps, rookies are lucky to crack the 2nd team, and typically have to scrap for 3rd and 4th team snaps.
OTA’s have also been virtual, so that also decreased the time players can grow, develop, and prove their worth to coaches. Some players have conducted private workouts with teammates, like Tom Brady in Tampa and Drew Lock in Denver, but these typically haven’t included roster bubble players who really need to prove themselves.
Practice has returned with the onset of training camp this week, but we’re also seeing camp rosters reduced from 90 to 80. I’ve gone into this issue in more depth, but it just fits the overall trend of fewer reps, less practice, and fewer opportunities for guys trying to make the cut in 2020.
With this uphill battle made even more difficult recently, I think players shorted this offseason will really be itching to fully participate in a program and earn their spot somewhere.
Sure, some could capitalize on open spots created by vacancies from the new Reserve/COVID and Reserve/Opt-Out lists, but the XFL still represents a unique opportunity. 3rd and 4th stringers from the NFL get a real shot to earn starting gigs in this league, and more practice reps for these guys is crucial.
The NFL Preseason isn’t happening. While it shouldn’t hinder NFL teams too much, it’s a disaster for depth players. Starters are typically entrenched by the preseason, and these guys only dress for a drive or two in rehearsal. For everyone else, the Preseason is their biggest stage to make an impact. That guy who’s been making plays all throughout camp, but might not make the team?
He won’t have the chance to prove his worth on the field while the cameras are rolling, and what would have been an audition for him has been erased this year. Game film is any athlete’s currency, and in 2020 a lot of players aren’t going to be able to cash in.
Their biggest concern in the NFL is the biggest bonus of the XFL. Sure you get paid, and you get to play the game you love in front of amazing fans but you also get to show the world what you can do at a professional level instead of just riding the bench and hanging on.
The XFL saw a rash of players get picked up by the NFL after the season prematurely ended. Some of the brightest young stars like PJ Walker, Jordan Ta’amu, Cavon Walker, and Donald Parham found their way to NFL franchises, and the tape they put up in 2020 was entirely responsible for those opportunities.
Do I sound like a broken record yet? I’m sure I do. But the drawbacks of the 2020 offseason for the NFL could pay major dividends for the XFL as players will be increasingly eager to shoot their shot.
We at XNH are very hopeful for the future of this league, and as the sale of the XFL draws near, we’re preparing the proverbial fields for rain. There’s a ton of work to be done once the bidding decides ownership, but the ground looks fertile for a return in the very near future. Stay tuned!
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