In a little more than four weeks, the XFL 2023 season will begin Saturday, February 18th, on ABC. The Rod Woodson-led Las Vegas Vipers will clash with Bob Stoops Renegades in Arlington to kick things off for the reemerging XFL.
XFL 3.0 Starting From Essentially Ground Zero
Although the XFL is technically resurfacing after a three-year hiatus, with some returning cities, team names, players, and coaches, the reality is that the entire league is starting from scratch.
The league’s centralized training camp in Texas is in full swing as all eight teams undergo a steep learning curve in preparation for a ten-week regular season.
The ancient saying that “practice makes perfect” doesn’t apply in this situation because immediate perfection is not a realistic goal. Establishing a team’s identity and building continuity will be a work in progress. Particularly in the early part of the XFL season.
So it seems highly premature and foolhardy to proceed with a preliminary power rankings list for eight teams who have never played a game.
It begs the question, how does one rank? What are essentially eight brand-new pro football expansion teams?
Not only are these teams getting to know each other for the first time. But the same can be stated for anyone who is following the process.
After carefully analyzing every team’s coaching staff, front office, and player roster, and then based on criteria for those combined factors. Here are my preseason power rankings for all eight XFL teams. From eight to one.
This will likely age poorly over time. So here goes:
XFL 2023 Preseason Power Rankings
#8: The Orlando Guardians
The law of averages suggests that someone has to, for lack of a better term, will suck in XFL 2023. Based on their roster composition. To me, the Orlando Guardians have the appearance of a team headed for a 2-8 type 2023 campaign.
Terrell Buckley’s Guardians squad can make this ranking look foolish when the smoke clears in May. As the legendary Chris Berman has always said, “that’s why they play the games.” But for now, on paper, Orlando appears to be the weakest XFL team.
There are several reasons for this ranking, but chief among them is the uncertainty surrounding the Guardians’ coaching staff and its quarterback position.
The latter consists of DeAndre Francois, Mitch Kidd, and Quentin Dormady. Three talented but unproven signal-callers with a limited body of work playing pro football.
Larry Lee, the Guardians DPP, and offensive coordinator Robert Ford, and quarterbacks coach Shane Matthews, who figures to have significant say in the coordination of the pass offense, are taking a gigantic leap of faith in the talents they chose to lead their quarterback position. On paper, they do not stack up to the other XFL teams’ QBs, who have more recent NFL/playing experience.
When it comes to all eight XFL teams, there are a lot of first-time aspects to each one. But the Guardians have an overabundance of that trait with neophytes at head coach, all three coordinator positions, and quarterback.
The team is not lacking in talent at skill positions. Predictably, a Terrell Buckley/Lamar Thomas-led staff has some promising young talents in those departments, like rookies, wide receiver Charleston Rambo, or defensive back C.J. Holmes. The defense looks solid on paper, and a receiver room with Eli Rogers, Cody Latimer, and Andrew Jamiel should be formidable. Predictably Orlando’s roster has several standouts from the state of Florida throughout the roster. But the uncertainty surrounding the QB position in Orlando lands them at #8.
#7: St. Louis Battlehawks
The truth of the matter is that XFL teams ranked from seventh to three on this list are very comparable.
The Battlehawks have a lot of things going in their favor. The QB room is sound. A.J. McCarron provides valuable leadership and experience, and very quietly, Ryan Willis has been one of the better quarterbacks in spring pro football the last few years.
However, like the Guardians, St. Louis’s inexperience from first-timers in head coach Anthony Becht to coordinators Bruce Gradkowski (offense) and Donnie Abraham (defense) work against them. Until this group proves itself in its first go-round on the pro level, it’s challenging to stack the Battlehawks in a higher position than other more established and experienced coaching staffs in the league. Admittedly, the early signs are incredibly favorable for Anthony Becht, who has been displaying outstanding leadership since he was hired as STL’s head coach.
Roster-wise, overall, the Battlehawks appear to be on solid ground. Director of Player Personnel Dave Boller and the staff have done a good job putting together a quality roster filled with veterans and young players. The evidence of this is the handful of drafted players in November who landed back in the NFL.
WR and TE, in particular, are two positions that stand out as strengths for St. Louis. The team should have respectable play at quarterback and skill positions with players like Marcell Ateman, Darrius Shepherd, etc.
The Battlehawks could be a contender if Becht and his staff are up for the challenge on game days.
#6: Las Vegas Vipers
There’s a lot to like about the Las Vegas Vipers. They have a strong QB room with Luis Perez and probably the best player football casuals have never heard of in Bryan Scott. The latter has MVP potential.
On the surface, despite having never been a head coach on any level. Rod Woodson has all the makings to be a great leader. But, like most aspects of XFL 2023, the hall of fame great is an unknown entity as a head coach.
One thing is sure; however, the Vipers’ coaching of defensive backs could be the best in the league, with Cris Dishman coming off a great run in the USFL as the New Jersey Generals DC and Darren Perry coaching up the secondary. The trio of Woodson, Dishman, and Perry should be highly beneficial to the Vipers’ young defensive backs.
Rod Woodson has compiled a solid veteran staff. Notable NFL lifers like line coach Bob Wylie, Ray Sherman, and Chuck Bresnahan. To go along with rising assistants like Dr. Jen Welter.
Whether or not the Vipers succeed in 2023 will be contingent upon two things. Firstly, the performance of first-time pro offensive coordinator Duane Taylor, who arrives in Vegas with a highly decorated resume in the FCS. But has never coordinated a pro offense. And lastly, the level of play of the team’s veteran collection of players.
Mainstream football fans will recognize Vipers like DE Vic Beasley, RB Matt Jones, and WR Martavis Bryant. The question is, do these players have anything left in the tank? Vegas is banking on them being significant contributors. If they are, the Vipers could be one of the best teams in the XFL.
#5: Houston Roughnecks
It’s challenging not to rank Houston higher because of their head coach Wade Phillips. Based on his impressive resume, particularly on defense, and the staff he has put together on that side of the ball with vets like Brian Stewart.
You can pretty much guarantee that the Roughnecks’ defense is going to be good. Based on the team’s expertise in that area.
The real question will be the level of play Houston gets on offense with innovative young play caller A.J. Smith. The Roughnecks took a bit of a hit when assigned quarterback Kurt Benkert bowed out of playing in the league because of a desire not to move his family to Texas.
Former 7th-round NFL draft pick Cole McDonald and promising rookie Kaleb Eleby will determine how far Houston goes in 2023. The XFL South, comprised of three strong Texas-based teams, will be very tough, and the quality of QB play will decide who emerges from that division by season’s end.
#4: Seattle Sea Dragons
From top to bottom, from the front office to coaching staff to players. The Dragons are lined up nicely for success in 2023.
Few XFL teams have the built-in advantage that Seattle does with DPP Randy Mueller, head coach Jim Haslett, and offensive coordinator June Jones. All three have had great success in alternative pro football leagues and working together in the past.
Mueller and Jones built a powerhouse three years ago in XFL Houston. Haslett and Mueller both won prestigious awards as NFL head coach and executive of the year. The shared experiences and successes are invaluable tools.
The focus on Seattle’s offense will be on QB Ben Dinucci and WR Josh Gordon. Two recent NFL players. But defensive coordinator Ron Zook, another Haslett ally, could make a difference in how far the Dragons soar in 2023.
#3: San Antonio Brahmas
There’s a lot to love about the Brahmas. From the team’s great and bold look to the great city, they are playing in to Hines Ward as their leader. The horns are definitely pointing forward for San Antonio.
Experienced personnel man Will Lewis has done a great job putting together the Brahmas roster.
One of the best aspects of the team is a deep QB room with recent NFL players like Reid Sinnett and Jack Coan. Either player could end up being the best QB in the XFL.
Jamie Elizondo and Jim Herrmann are experienced coordinators who have had great success in this space. Both coaches have reunited with several players they have coached in other pro leagues, giving them an advantage over XFL teams going through a learning curve, working together for the first time.
The Brahmas boast one of the league’s best overall rosters. The team is brimming with promising talent on both sides of the ball.
One area that particularly stands out is their offensive backfield with the likes of 2020 XFL standout Jacques Patrick, NFL veteran Kalen Ballage, and dynamic jack-of-all-trades rookie Calvin Turner.
San Antonio has a realistic chance to hoist the league championship trophy on May 13th on ABC.
#2: D.C. Defenders
Synergy is a significant theme on this rankings list, and Reggie Barlow has that in place with Defenders’ offense coordinator Fred Kaiss. The two have paired together in the college ranks with outstanding success, especially in running the football. Kaiss’s offenses have routinely averaged over 200 yards per game on the ground and, in the process, produced NFL players.
And few XFL teams have the perfect marriage of player talent and scheme that D.C. has going for them. That’s a testament to DPP Von Hutchins and the work of the entire Defenders staff.
For starters, The Defenders’ have a solid three-headed QB room with USFL 2022 leading passer Jordan Ta’amu, D’Eriq King, and Eric Dungey. All three players are perfect scheme fits in a spread-out run-pass-option attack. It’s easy to see a scenario where all three quarterbacks get on the field and play. King and Dungey will be challenging to keep off the field. The mobile duo can be a poor man’s Kyler Murray/Tayson Hill-type combo based on their unique skill sets.
D.C. also has one of the deepest backfields in the league with the nation’s fifth-leading rusher, Baylor’s Abram Smith, Ryquell Armstead, Pooka Williams, and Artavis Pierce.
Rounding out and supporting this group is a promising young offensive line that features college standouts like All-SEC first-team player Michael Maietti, Liam Fornadel, and Ty Clary, among others.
D.C. also has one of the more experienced and accomplished defensive coordinators in the league Gregg Williams. The enigmatic veteran coach has some strong talent at his disposal. The recent pickups of Davin Bellamy and Reggie Northrup should only strengthen an excellent collection of defensive players.
The Defenders look like a legitimate contender. Based on their roster makeup and construction.
#1: Arlington Renegades
Chemistry and past connections are essential in new pro football leagues.
When it comes to spring pro football, there may not be a better coaching team up than what we have seen with the 2023 Renegades staff headed by Bob Stoops.
It’s no secret that things didn’t quite work out for Stoops and his 2-3 Renegades team in 2020 or his pairing with legendary OC Hal Mumme. But the revamped Stoops staff with Arlington seems like the perfect marriage.
Firstly, Stoops is reunited with his Iowa and OU colleague Jonathan Hayes. The former Battlehawks head coach brings along with him Chuck Long. The two former St. Louis coaches will team up as co-offensive coordinators.
On the other side of the ball, Tim Lewis and Jay Hayes reunite from their STL days as co-defensive coordinators in Arlington. Tim Lewis is one of the best secondary coaches on the planet. As evidenced by the fact, the Carolina Panthers drafted Battlehawks safety Kenny Robinson in 2020. Lewis, who was once upon a time a great DB himself, has a proven track record coaching in multiple pro leagues.
The Renegades staff has other experienced hands like Scott Spurrier. But the assistant who merits strong recognition is Offensive Line and Special Teams coach Jonathan Himebauch. The grizzled veteran coach and former player has one of the best non-NFL resumes you could ever find on the landscape.
“Coach Himey” is coming off a fantastic run as line coach on the USFL Champion Birmingham Stallions in 2022. But before that, the creator of his own training business, “5asone,” not only had success in the AAF and XFL 2020 but also won multiple championships in the CFL and a title in the original XFL.
To top off things, the Renegades’ brain trust is headed by former NFL executive Rick Mueller, who is no stranger to success in alternate pro football leagues. Mueller headed up the United Football League’s personnel department and helped lead the Florida Tuskers to an undefeated regular season with a staff that included Jay Gruden, Jim Haslett, and Sean McVay.
The Renegades player roster mirrors the team’s coaching staff in many respects. It reads like a who’s who of successful players in recent spring pro football.
From veteran players like Will Hill, and Rahim Moore, to DeVaunte Bausby. But the two players Mueller acquired and paired up that could have the most impact are QB Kyle Sloter and TE Sal Canella. Anytime you can pair up two first-team spring players with experience playing together on offense, you are ahead of the game and your opponents. Sloter and Canella have built-in ready-made chemistry. XFL 2023 fantasy players need to take a mental note of that.
Arlington also boasts arguably the best trio of specialists in XFL 2023. The reuniting theme continues with former Battlehawks Punter Marquette King and kicker Taylor Russolino. The team’s long snapper, Antonio Ortiz, was one of the best specialists at TCU.
Games are not won in training camp. But based on the early looks of it, it’s challenging not to see the Renegades as early favorites to be XFL Champions in May. We will find out how good they are when the XFL 2023 season kicks off on ABC.
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