The 2023 XFL regular season has concluded and now we can review the top players, coaches, and personnel from this past season.
The disappointment of not being able to see the 2020 XFL season complete a full season still lingers in the minds of many XFL fans as to what could have been for the league. Painful memories were erased as the 2023 regular season was able to complete with the focus being on not only playoffs but reflection on the season.
Part of that reflection is looking back at who was the best of the best in the XFL. Those include the offensive players, defensive players, special teams players, head coaches, director of player personnel, players overcoming adversity, and of course the MVP. The writing staff at XFL News Hub came up with a list of nominees for each category to be voted on by the staff. As they say at the award shows, here are the nominees:
XFL Season Award Categories/Nominees
Josh Davis Underdog Award
Quinten Dormady, QB, Orlando Guardians
There may not be a player who went through so much adversity through their young XFL career as much as Quinten Dormady. After being accused of sharing plays with other teams, he was released, then re-signed to the league, joined the President’s List while he was being investigated, was found innocent, and rejoined the Orlando Guardians. He made the most of his second chance by throwing for 1,507 passing yards with 14 total touchdowns (ten passing, four rushing).
Jalan McClendon, QB, Vegas Vipers
Being number three on the depth chart and being inactive for games doesn’t exactly mean someone is going to get a chance to play. Jalan McClendon had to wait multiple weeks until Luis Perez was traded, and Brett Hundley wasn’t playing to expectations. McClendon finally got his shot finishing with 873 yards passing and 137 yards rushing with five passing touchdowns to just one interception. It’s safe to say he proved to be the right guy for Vegas at the end of the season.
Jeff Badet, WR, Vegas Vipers
Throughout his whole career, Jeff Badet has been hit hard by the injury bug which has gotten him in and out of the NFL. This was the first season where fans were able to see Badet stay healthy playing nine of the ten games in the regular season. He finished the season with 34 catches for 449 yards and five touchdowns which were all team highs for the Vegas Vipers.
Cody Latimer, TE, Orlando Guardians
One of the more experienced NFL players in the league, Cody Latimer had a solid career winning a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos while playing in the league from 2014 until 2020. After being out of football for close to three years, he joined the XFL to try his foot back in the door with the NFL. He became not only the best tight end in the league, but one of the top five best pass catchers in the XFL. Latimer finished with 50 catches for 593 yards and four touchdowns for the Guardians.
Director of Player Personnel of the Year
Von Hutchins, DC Defenders
A lot should be said about the talent that Von Hutchins has brought to the DC Defenders. Hutchins constructed the most complete team in the XFL with talent on offense and defense. Abram Smith won the rushing title by a mile and Jordan Ta’amu threw the least number of interceptions among quarterbacks who started more than five games. Their defense was led by Michael Joseph who made waves with his two defensive touchdowns earlier in the season. This team is 9-1 for a reason and a big part of that was Hutchins’ ability to find talent.
Randy Mueller, Seattle Sea Dragons
The passing offense alone is a good enough reason to give Randy Mueller a nomination. Mueller was able to find Jahcour Pearson who is one of the best receivers in the XFL. Four of the top 11 receivers in receiving yards come from the Seattle Sea Dragons. His late-season pickup of Philip Lindsey was a steal of a signing to prepare for the playoffs. Not to mention the defense that is tied for second in the league with nine forced fumbles. Another group that is in the playoffs for a season.
Marc Lillibridge, Houston Roughnecks
The defense for Houston is considered the best in the XFL and that’s because of the work done by Marc Lillibridge to find the players for it. Guys like Trent Harris, Ajene Harris, and Tavante Beckett are considered the best at each of their positions. Despite being injured for a good portion of the season, receiver Jontre Kirklin was poised to be the best receiver in the XFL recording 253 receiving yards in four games. This is a team that has played well all season and Lillibridge found the players to fit into head coach Wade Phillips’ scheme.
Dave Boller, St. Louis Battlehawks
It’s disappointing to see the St. Louis Battlehawks not in the playoffs because Dave Boller was able to put together one of the best rosters in the XFL. Receiver Marcell Ateman was supposed to be the top receiver on the team, but finding gems like Hakeem Butler and Darrius Shepherd made it all the better for the offense. Even on defense, St. Louis had arguably the best linebacking core in the league with Travis Feeney, Will Harvey, and Carson Wells leading the charge. The Battlehawks may not be in the playoffs, but it certainly was not because they didn’t have the roster to do it.
Coach of the Year
Reggie Barlow, DC Defenders
The DC Defenders looked like a team that was overlooked at the beginning of the season as other teams like the Battlehawks, Sea Dragons, and Renegades had everyone’s attention. Head coach Reggie Barlow had this team rocking and rolling from the beginning. Their only loss of the season came in a one-point loss to the Orlando Guardians. They won their division and won every game outside of that. The most complete team in the XFL are the favorites to win the XFL Championship and that’s because of the culture that coach Barlow brought to the team.
Jim Haslett, Seattle Sea Dragons
It had been two years since Jim Haslett coached and 14 years since he had been a head coach in professional football. The addition of Josh Gordon alone got people excited to see how Seattle would play. When you have a team where Gordon isn’t your best player, something is going right for the team. Jahcour Pearson became a household name for XFL fans and despite all the turnovers, Ben DiNucci was the most exciting quarterback in the league. The defensive-minded coach Haslett was also able to produce a team full of playmakers and pass rushers. Seattle should be competitive in the playoffs as they are the most exciting team in the league.
Wade Phillips, Houston Roughnecks
The coaching staff head coach Wade Phillips put together is worthy of speaking about with the creative young mind of AJ Smith and veteran defensive coordinator Brian Stewart have conducted a solid team. Houston got off to a rocking start with the passing game flying and the defense shutting down offenses. While it was a rocky end to the season, the thing that has been most consistent is the defense getting to the quarterback. Coach Phillips has his team poised for an XFL title appearance and possibly the whole thing because of the job of developing this young defense.
Anthony Becht, St. Louis Battlehawks
One of the feel-good stories among the coaches was head coach Anthony Becht doing everything he can to get into the XFL as a head coach. His persistence paid off, leading his team to a 7-3 record and barely missing the playoffs. Becht quickly became known for being a real players’ coach and having everyone buy into him. Any indication should be the last game of the season scoring 53 points understanding they need to go for it all. The league is hoping to have Becht back as head coach for another season.
Special Teams Player of the Year
John Parker Romo, K, San Antonio Brahmas
The most efficient kicker in the XFL, John Parker Romo led the league with 17 field goals made. Romo converted 89 percent of his kicks and had a long of 57 yards. It was rare to see Romo miss any field goals as he was pretty much automatic. With an offense that struggled, Romo was one of the most consistent players on the San Antonio Brahmas team.
Brad Wing, P, San Antonio, Brahmas
Another consistent player on the Brahmas, Brad Wing led the XFL in punts (44), average yards per punt (47.8), and punts inside the 20-yard line (16). Wing also recorded the longest punt of the XFL season with a 72-yard boomer. A big part of the success of the defense was helped by Wing setting up offenses with not-so-great field positions.
Darrius Shepherd, WR/Returner, St. Louis Battlehawks
Fans found out quickly how electric he could be before he was an offensive weapon thanks to his play on special teams. For returners who returned more than 20 kickoffs, Shepherd led the XFL in average yards per kickoff return with 24.5 and led the league in kickoff return yards with 907. He had the second-longest kickoff return in the XFL when he returned it 80 yards. Despite San Antonio Brahmas returner Fred Brown being the only player to return a kickoff for a touchdown, Shepherd was the most consistent returner and did a lot for his team.
Taylor Russolino, K, Arlington Renegades
Meet the second most efficient kicker in the XFL with Taylor Russolino of the Arlington Renegades. Russolino had the second most field goals made in the league with 16 and only missed three field goals all season. He was also one of the most consistent in the league in kickoffs as well, rarely making a mistake. Like San Antonio, this was an Arlington offense that struggled so it was good to know Russolino was consistent for them for points.
Kelvin McKnight, WR/Returner, Seattle Sea Dragons
Another electric returner, Kelvin McKnight was about as good as it gets when it came down to returning kickoffs and punts. McKnight was second in the XFL in kickoff return yards (748) and led the league in punt return yards with 235 yards. He has the longest punt return in the league this season with a 49-yard return. Seattle’s offense was set up in great field position a lot because of the blazing speed McKnight showed off on returns.
Defensive Player of the Year
Jordan Williams, LB, San Antonio Brahmas
San Antonio had a great defensive unit and a lot of that has to do with the play of Jordan Williams who led the league in tackles with 89 and tackles for loss with 12. Williams also recorded one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one interception, and one touchdown in the season. The Brahmas had some injuries to their defensive unit, but the one constant was Williams who played all ten games and dominated all season.
Ajene Harris, CB, Houston Roughnecks
Houston’s defense has been so dominating all season and it was because of the pressure they had on the quarterback and the turnovers they created. Ajene Harris led the league in interceptions with five and was a shutdown cornerback all season long. Add the fact that he got 31 tackles, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and one touchdown, Harris proved to be one of the best.
Pita Taumoepenu, LB, Vegas Vipers
If there was a player who turned it on at critical moments later in the season, it was Pita Taumoepenu for Vegas. Taumoepenu was second in the league in sacks with 7.5 and forced fumbles with four. He also had eight tackles for loss and a fumble recovery along with 26 tackles. No player played better in the second half of the season than Taumorpenu as he was among one of the best pass rushers in the XFL.
Trent Harris, DL, Houston Roughnecks
Speaking of top pass rushers, Trent Harris was so dominant on the defensive line and pressuring the quarterback. Harris led the XFL in sacks with 9.5 on the season playing nine of the ten games in the season. With how talented this defense for Houston was, it’s easy to get overlooked. For Harris, it’s easy to see why the unit is so good and it’s because of how consistently he played all season.
Luq Barcoo, CB, San Antonio Brahmas
Interestingly enough with Luq Barcoo, he may not show it in the stats, but Barcoo is among the best shutdown corners in the league. Barcoo recorded 31 tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and one interception. Not many offenses were throwing it on Barcoo and there’s a reason for it. Brahmas head coach told Barcoo back in week four against Seattle that if he shut down Josh Gordon, he would get in the NFL. Gordon was held under 60 yards and Barcoo got his lone interception so safe to say, he might be getting a call from the NFL.
Offensive Player of the Year
Ben DiNucci, QB, Seattle Sea Dragons
One thing that can be said about Ben DiNucci is that he kept everyone on their toes when he played. DiNucci did it all leading the team in passing yards and rushing yards. He finished as the passing yards leader in the XFL and sixth in rushing yards. 13 interceptions is an ugly statistic to look that, but he was electric with his swagger and playmaking ability that could earn his spot back in the NFL.
AJ McCarron, QB, St. Louis Battlehawks
As a long-time, backup in the NFL, AJ McCarron knew he had some time to prove still as a passer and he certainly proved it. McCarron led the league in passing touchdowns with 24 and completion percentage with 68.8 percent. He was also second in the league in passing yards with 2,150. His veteran leadership and the way the offense looked with him made St. Louis one of the most exciting offenses in the league.
Abram Smith, RB, DC Defenders
Not a lot of running backs had breakout games throughout the season, but Abram Smith shattered every running back in the league. Smith led the league in rushing yards with 791 yards including a 213 rushing yards performance against the St. Louis Battlehawks and tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with seven. To put things in perspective, the next leading rusher was 348 yards behind Smith. To say Smith dominated on the ground is an understatement.
Jahcour Pearson, WR, Seattle Sea Dragons
One of the most explosive players in the XFL was not Josh Gordon, but another receiver on the Sea Dragons in Jahcour Pearson. He led the league in receptions (60), targets (84), and receiving yards (670). While adding four receiving touchdowns, Pearson was electric with the ball in his hands making players miss and always adding to the yards after catch. Not many receivers in the league matched his level of performance.
Hakeem Butler, WR, St. Louis Battlehawks
A message on social media to coach Becht got Hakeem Butler a shot at the XFL and he made the most of his opportunity to play. Butler finished the season second in the XFL in receiving yards (51) and receiving yards (599). The key stat he led the league in was in receiving touchdowns with eight. Butler was a beast in the red zone as he was able to catch high-point passes over defenders and has been a playmaker from the beginning of the season. He became McCarron’s favorite target in the passing game as a reliable receiver which makes him a good candidate for an NFL team in training camp.
Most Valuable Player
Ben DiNucci, QB, Seattle Sea Dragons
It’s been talked about already with the turnover issues with DiNucci, but the way he carried the offense in the passing game and the running game makes him a prime candidate for MVP. His playmaking ability had fans making comparisons with Patrick Mahomes running all around the pocket and making the throw. The passing yards are nice and throwing 20 touchdowns and running for three touchdowns are good, but he has truly been able to put the team on his back and lead them into the playoffs.
AJ McCarron, QB, St. Louis Battlehawks
His story is incredible about wanting to play in the XFL because he wanted his kids to watch him play. McCarron’s teammates seem to love him with the way he connects and coaches them. In the one game he missed, the offense did not gel as well despite picking up the win in overtime. It’s clear McCarron has been the nucleus in the middle of the heartbeat of this St. Louis team. He’s the reason the team was in a position to make the playoffs the last week of the season.
Jordan Ta’amu, QB, DC Defenders
It was a slow start to the season for Jordan Ta’amu when the DC Defenders were more focused on getting the running game going. Starting in the second half of the season, they let Ta’amu sling the ball around and it paid off for their offense. He finished third in the league in passing yards (1,894 yards) and seventh in rushing yards (298). Ta’amu had 17 total touchdowns and had the least number of interceptions among quarterbacks who started five or more starts with three interceptions. He has been steady and consistent all season protecting the football and leading the team to nine wins and a regular season division title.
Jahcour Pearson, WR, Seattle Sea Dragons
His playmaking ability made him a difference-maker for the Sea Dragons. Jahcour Pearson is the leading receiver in the league and it’s because of how elusive he is with his feet. Pearson was the perfect receiver for DiNucci as he perfected the scramble drill because of how athletic they are. Jahcour Pearson has made a significant contribution to the passing game as this team might have been good without him, but they sure wouldn’t be in the playoffs without him. Watch for Pearson to get his shot in the NFL after the XFL season.
Trent Harris, DL, Houston Roughnecks
There were a lot of great defensive players in the XFL season, but Trent Harris was disruptive when he rushed the passer. Not many offensive linemen could block him as he was the sack leader in the XFL this season. Houston leaned on him to get to the quarterback and makes plays. That’s exactly what he was able to do and more. Not many pass rushers were as dominant as Harris was this season and that’s why he should be rewarded with an NFL roster spot this upcoming season.
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