We have reached the midway point of the XFL 2023 regular season. 20 XFL games have been completed, and 20 remain before a three-game playoff decides the league’s champion Saturday night, May 13th, on ABC.
So many players have shined during this XFL season that putting together a list like this is challenging, especially at certain positions like Wide Receiver. The league has many standouts who have emerged in the first half of the season. And this could change by the season’s end, but for now. Here is my Midseason All-XFL 2023 team.
MIDSEASON ALL-XFL 2023 TEAM
A.J. McCarron, St. Louis Battlehawks
- Two comeback game-winning victories down multiple scores. Second in completion percentage among starting quarterbacks (65.5%), first in passing touchdowns (11), and third in yardage (1,086).
Honorable Mention: Ben DiNucci (Seatle Sea Dragons) and Brandon Silvers (Houston Roughnecks).
This is a tough one. Because both Ben Dinucci (1,328) and Brandon Silvers (1,189) have more pass yards than McCarron. However, Dinucci has turned the ball over twelve times, mostly in crucial spots during games.
Silvers, who has the exact 11 touchdown to four interception ratio as McCarron, could’ve received the nod here. However, the two aforementioned quarterbacks have benefitted from the pass-heavy systems they play in. While McCarron has played the role of coach on the field. Leading a pro-style attack. He has also directed four come-from-behind efforts down two scores in the first half of the season. Game-winning drives when the chips are down tip the scale in A.J.’s favor. For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus had McCarron as the league’s highest-graded starting quarterback heading into Week 5.
Abram Smith, D.C. Defenders
- 466 yards from scrimmage. League leader in rushing (432 yards, 5.1 yards per carry, 4 touchdowns).
Honorable mention: Morgan Ellison (Seattle Sea Dragons), Brian Hill (St. Louis Battlehawks), and Max Borghi (Houston Roughnecks).
Brian Hill has been the XFL’s best all-around back. Morgan Ellison, whose injuries have slowed his production in recent weeks, has had a tremendous first half of the season. Max Borghi has had a similar story as Ellison. But it’s Abram Smith who has emerged as the league’s premiere running back. Thanks mainly to an otherworldly performance in Week 5, where he ran for 218 yards at nine yards a pop and three scores.
Before week five, Smith, the Baylor standout, fifth in the nation in rushing in 2021, had modest numbers working in a committee rushing attack that includes two of the league’s best-running quarterbacks, D’Eriq King and Jordan Ta’amu. But this past week, Abram Smith was given the keys to the kingdom and played like royalty.
The first-overall selection by D.C. in November’s XFL draft is an explosive back who can break tackles and make house calls.
Jontre Kirklin, Houston Roughnecks
2nd in receiving touchdowns (4), one passing td, and 16.9 yards per catch.
Jahcour Pearson, Seattle Sea Dragons
1st in catches (46), plays over twenty yards (6), and in receiving yards (430), 1 TD
Hakeem Butler, St. Louis Battlehawks
2nd in receptions (30), 3rd in yards (336), tied for 2nd in touchdowns (4)
Jeff Badet, Vegas Vipers
League leader in receiving touchdowns (5), 2nd overall in receiving yards (341)
Honorable Mention: Josh Gordon (Seattle Sea Dragons), Austin Proehl (St. Louis Battlehawks), Deontay Burnett (Houston Roughnecks), Blake Jackson (Seattle Sea Dragons)
Inserting four wide receivers into this group is playing a bit loose with the rules. But hey, the XFL rules, while not vastly different from the NFL, do have some forward-thinking exceptions. So with that in mind, I have decided to name four wideouts to the mid-season All-XFL team.
The real controversy is not having Josh Gordon on this list. When truthfully, pound for pound. He is arguably the league’s best and certainly most accomplished pass catcher. However, it’s challenging to ignore what game-breakers like Hakeem Butler, Jahcour Pearson, Jontre Kirklin, and Jeff Badet have done through five games.
Pearson leads the league in receptions and receiving yards. Hakeem Butler is second in receptions (30) and receiving touchdowns (4). Jontre Kirklin has nearly 17 yards per catch and five touchdowns in four games. He was injured at the start of Week 5’s contest against Seattle. Jeff Badet is second in the XFL in receiving yards and first in touchdowns.
It shows the quality of the XFL’s top-end receivers when you need to force four wideouts onto the first-team, and Josh Gordon is not among them.
Cody Latimer, Orlando, Guardians
3rd in receptions (307), third in yards (336), T-3 in receiving TD (3)
Honorable mention: Salvatore Canella. Arlington Renegades (26 receptions, 213 yards)
The most straightforward position to navigate for honors because there are only six XFL teams that deploy traditional tight ends. Houston and Seattle are running four-wide receiver sets all day, every day.
This is a two-horse race. To no one’s surprise, first-team All-USFL player Sal Canella has been one of the league leaders in receptions. But it’s converted TE and seasoned veteran NFL receiver Cody Latimer, who has been one of Orlando’s only bright spots in a dismal season.
One of the benefits of spring pro football leagues is the opportunity to get players meaningful reps at new positions. Latimer’s teammate, former WR Jaylen Smith, was on the Seattle Seahawks practice squad this year. He’s been on NFL rosters trying to develop as a TE. Leagues like the XFL can be an avenue for players like that. Unfortunately, for Smith, who has shined, he’s stuck behind Latimer, who has been tearing up the league.
OT: Sage Doxtater, Houston Roughnecks
OT: Colin Kelly, Seattle Sea Dragons
G: Mike Horton, Arlington Renegades
G: Liam Fornadel, D,C. Defenders
C: Khalil McKenzie, Vegas Vipers
Honorable Mention: C: Mike Maietti, D.C. Defenders, G/C: Liam Ryan, D.C. Defenders, G/T: Kohl Levao, San Antonio Brahmas, OT: Kyle Murphy, D.C. Defenders, OT: Garrett McGhin, Arlington Renegades, OL: Jack Snyder, Houston Roughnecks, OL: Daurean Parker, Houston Roughnecks, OT: Liam Jimmons, Seattle Sea Dragons
Never an easy task in any pro football league to unearth quality offensive linemen. However, the XFL teams, minus Orlando, have done an excellent job identifying quality offensive linemen with a ton of college starting experience. There are also some veteran pros mixed in who have fared well.
It’s not surprising that the XFL’s two most productive passing attacks in Seattle and Houston would have top OT’s on this list. Guard Mike Horton and Center Kahlil McKenzie are the two highest-graded linemen in the league by PFF at their respective positions. Unfortunately, the latter, McKenzie, is done for the year with an injury.
The Defenders have the league’s #1 rushing attack by a mile. D.C. has rushed for 870 yards in five games with eleven scores on the ground, despite having several injuries upfront. All SEC center Mike Maietti has made quite the impact since returning from injury. The Liam brothers, Ryan and Fornadel, have been fantastic this season. Veteran NFL player Kyle Murphy has seamlessly stepped in on the blindside and could be an all-league player by season’s end. Although it’s skewed somewhat because they’ve attempted the fewest passes, the fact that D.C.’s line has only allowed five sacks all season is impressive. (tops in the league).
Edge: Trent Harris, Houston Roughnecks
1st in sacks (6) in four games. 8 tackles for loss.
Edge: Tim Ward, Houston Roughnecks
2nd in sacks (5), seven tackles for losses, 10 QB hits
Edge: Maximilian Roberts, Vegas Vipers
5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 7 QB hits
DL: Jarrell Owens, D.C. Defenders
3 sacks, the highest-graded run defender in the league, three tackles for loss, 3 QB hits
DL: Davin Bellamy, DC Defenders
3rd in sacks (3.5), four tackles for loss, 9 QB hits, 3 forced fumbles
DL: T.J. Barnes, Arlington Renegades
Top-graded XFL run defender in the league by Pro Football Focus (90.4)
Honorable mention: Edge: Vic Beasley, Vegas Vipers, Edge: Tuzar Skipper, Seattle Sea Dragons, Edge: John Daka, Houston Roughnecks, Edge: Pita Taumoepenu, Vegas Vipers, DT: Joe Wallace, D.C. Defenders, DL: LaRon Stokes, Vegas Vipers
The Roughnecks’ defense, coordinated by Brian Stewart, has three dominant edge rushers. The Defenders play an entirely different scheme under mastermind Gregg Williams. But also boast some of the league’s best defensive players up front. There’s so much edge talent in the league that it’s challenging to leave out a player like Tuzar Skipper, who has also been a force on special teams.
Donald Payne, Arlington Renegades
38 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery
Emmanuel Ellerbe, Houston Roughnecks
34 tackles, 3 for loss, 1.5 sacks
Jordan Williams, San Antonio Brahmas
League leader in tackles (40), 4 for loss
Honorable Mention: Willie Harvey, St. Louis Battlehawks, Jordan Evans, Seattle Sea Dragons, Francis Bernard, D.C. Defenders, Reggie Northrup, D.C. Defenders, C.J. Avery, Vegas Vipers, Terrance Plummer, Orlando Guardians, Darnell Sankey, Arlington Renegades, Mike Rose, St. Louis Battlehawks
Donald Payne, who led the USFL in tackles last season, reunited with his defensive coordinator Tim Lewis in the XFL and is on a tear doing the same thing. Emmanuel Ellerbe has been a three-down force for Houston against the run, blitzing, and in coverage. Jordan Williams may be the most fundamentally sound linebacker in the league. He’s led a stout Brahmas defense. Several players have missed action, who could be all-league players by the end of the season. D.C.’s Francis Bernard and Arlington’s Darnell Sankey come to mind. Both players have been very impactful.
CB: Luq Barcoo, San Antonio Brahmas
League’s highest-graded cornerback by Pro Football Focus. (92.0), Leads the league in pass breakups with ten: 19 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception.
CB: Michael Joseph, D.C. Defenders
4 INT, 2 returned for touchdowns, 6 passes defensed, 21 tackles
CB: Ajene Harris, Houston Roughnecks
1st in INT (5), 3 passes defensed
CB: Ranthony Texada, San Antonio Brahmas
Top graded nickel cornerback, 15 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, and a forced fumble.
S: Deontay Anderson, Vegas Vipers
3 passes defensed, 3 QB hits, 30 combined tackles (18 solo), 2 for loss, one forced fumble
S: Sean Davis, Houston Roughnecks
3 INT, 6 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery
Honorable mention: S: Nate Meadors, St. Louis Battlehawks, CB: Josh Hawkins, Arlington Renegades, CB, Dejuan Neal, D.C. Defenders, CB, Anthoula Kelly, D.C. Defenders, DB, Adam Sparks, Vegas Vipers, DB, Ben DeLuca, St. Louis Battlehawks, DB: Kam Kelly, San Antonio Brahmas, S: Will Hill, Arlington Renegades, S: Tenny Adewusi, San Antonio Brahmas
Luq Barcoo is having a tremendous season as a shutdown cornerback. The lanky corner will be back in the NFL again. As will Michael Joseph, who spent the first few years of his pro career with the Chicago Bears. The Cliff Harris award winner is back to his playmaking ways from college, with four interceptions and two scores. Ajene Harris, a returning XFL 2020 player, leads the league in picks.
Ranthony Texada was fantastic in XFL 2020 as well, and after a strong run in Canada, he is back locking down the nickel again. Sean Davis has been great in coverage for Houston, and the NFL veteran has been very heady as a deep cover safety. Deontay Anderson is a big hitter who brings the heat every week.
John Parker-Romo, San Antonio Brahmas
7-for-8 on field-goal attempts, including a long of 57 (Lumen Field record in Seattle), Five field goals made over 40 yards.
Honorable mention: Matthew McCrane, D.C. Defenders (7/8 Long 47)
Daniel Whelan, D.C. Defenders
43.4 yards punting average, tied for league-lead with 8 punts inside the 20.
Honorable mention: Race Porter, Houston Roughnecks, Marquette King, Arlington Renegades, Brad Wing, San Antonio Brahmas
Darrius Shepherd, St. Louis Battlehawks
29.9-yard kick return average. Five hundred sixty-nine yards, long returns of 80 and 70.
Thomas Fletcher, Seattle Sea Dragons
In a spring pro football league where many of the players are anonymous to most casual football fans. It’s extra easy for the long snapper to get lost in the shuffle. Heck, most NFL followers can barely name their own team’s long snapper, let alone specialists who are employed by all 32 teams.
The truth is that the ones who do their job the best are rarely ever mentioned or noticed. A long snapper’s name enters the conversation only when sometimes goes awry.
When this article was originally published, fittingly, this section ended up on the cutting room floor. Not on purpose, but in a rush to deadline and editing. The long snapper position didn’t make it to press. And the sad thing is very few people noticed. So here I am, writing multiple paragraphs on the topic.
Alabama standout, and 2020 Patrick Mannelly award winner for the nation’s best long snapper, Thomas Fletcher, is the XFL’s best specialist at the midseason point. And as a result, he is likely to be get several NFL looks when the XFL season ends.
Don’t scoff at the notion of a player like Thomas Fletcher carving out an NFL career that outlasts any other spring league standouts. In fact, three long snappers from the XFL in 2020 are gainfully employed by NFL teams three years later. Nick Moore (Vipers-Ravens), Scott Daly (Guardians-Lions), and Christian Kuntz (Renegades-Steelers).
Fletcher has the age (24), the big school pedigree (Alabama), and now a stellar body of work in the XFL to be a player who is still on an NFL roster years from now.
Honorable Mention: Antonio Ortiz, Arlington Renegades, Rex Sunahara, San Antonio Brahmas, Brian Khoury, Houston Roughnecks
BEST HEAD COACH
Reggie Barlow, D.C. Defenders (5-0)
Not every first-time pro football head coach in the XFL has had success this season. Anthony Becht has done an excellent job in St. Louis. At the same time, others like Rod Woodson, Hines Ward, and Terrell Buckley have struggled to varying degrees. Some worse than others.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the three teams who have head coaches with experience, Wade Phillips, Jim Haslett, and Bob Stoops, have run tighter ships.
But the coach who has been most impressive of the entire lot is Reggie Barlow. He does have winning experience as a head coach at the college level. But this is the former long-time NFL player’s first foray into coaching pro football players. And Barlow has taken to the role perfectly.
He’s had help, for sure, Von Hutchins, D.C.’s director of player personnel, has been a rock star putting together the Defenders roster. The talent has been tailor-made for the coaching schemes of Barlow’s long-time college lieutenant offensive coordinator Fred Kaiss and the infamous Gregg Williams and his defense.
It’s not easy putting a team together from scratch, getting everyone on the same page, and pushing toward a singular direction. That’s what Reggie Barlow has done. Like many of the participants in the XFL on this list. I know the NFL is paying attention to what Barlow and the league’s top players have done in the first five weeks of the XFL 2023 season.
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March 21, 2023 at 12:06 am
Good list Mike. Its been harder for me to ID the names of players I see playing well and this helps spotlighting them. Agree with your choices. I do think Ta’amu deserves more cred as he’s improved and used his legs well. In general the passing game needs to improve in the league but its heading in that direction.
Barlow wasn’t afraid of bringing in a Greg W and others and it shows it the record. He keeps this up and will be XFL coach of the yr. Disappointed with Haslett but he’s strung 3 wins in a row so he’s out of the dog house.
Too many novice coaches let alone HC’s and assuming a season 2 they need to chg that.