As the XFL prepares to hold its first draft, it’s looking less and less like a sideshow. There will always be some who don’t take it seriously, and it’s not as if it’s going to put any sort of dent in the NFL’s dominance of professional football. But this is looking more like a real, competitive, and sustainable league with each passing day – and for that reason, we expect it to attract real, competitive players.
Predicting which players those will be is a tricky business. Most who can still make a good career of it in the NFL will undoubtedly stay put, leaving the XFL to be populated largely by ex-college players and people who couldn’t quite cut it in the NFL. However, it also seems likely enough that we’ll see some noteworthy pros – flashes in the pan, benched or over-the-hill players, or even those simply looking for a bigger role – making their way into the XFL.
Given these vague expectations and parameters, these are five players we’re keeping our eyes on….
1 – Josh Rosen
It may be a little too early to call Josh Rosen’s NFL career a bust, but things aren’t looking good for the ex-UCLA star. Rosen has already been traded away from the team that drafted him and has (admittedly partly because of injury) had trouble holding onto the starting job for the Miami Dolphins, who may be historically bad. Rosen may yet find his footing, but if it doesn’t happen soon he’ll find himself on the periphery of the league, facing a career as a second- or third-stringer. On the other hand, he could be a star in the XFL, and would certainly be one of the more high-profile QB talents in the league.
2 – Gardner Minshew
For those buying into Minshew Mania, this might be a blasphemous suggestion. The Jaguars backup has been excellent filling in for the injured Nick Foles, to the point that some recent NFL bookie commentary has suggested he’s rising in the Rookie of the Year odds. Whether or not he makes good on those odds, Minshew has proven to be a fun character and a quarterback who can win games. Still, none of this was ever supposed to happen, and it’s important to at least consider that this could be sort of like the NBA’s Linsanity moment. Minshew could fade, and if he does wind up looking at a career backup role he might consider that his persona and talent alike would sell very well in the XFL.
3 – Duke Johnson
Duke Johnson must be a little bit frustrated with his NFL career to date. He was one of the best running backs in ACC history, statistically speaking, and looked like a potential feature back in Cleveland before essentially getting crowded out of a starting role. Then the Houston Texans gave up fairly significant assets to acquire him, and when starting runner Lamar Miller got hurt it looked like Johnson could finally have a lead role. But at that point, Houston went out and got Carlos Hyde, as if they didn’t quite trust Johnson with the responsibility. Johnson would undoubtedly be a feature back in the XFL though and has the talent to dominate the league.
4 – Clay Matthews
Clay Matthews has to be thinking about the next stage of his career. He may be one of the best defensive players of his era, but he’s now 33 years old and was simply allowed to sign elsewhere by the team with which he made his name. Matthews recently broke his jaw, meaning he’ll miss the bulk of the 2019 season. He’ll enter the 2020 season at 34 years of age and in the last year of his contract with the LA Rams. It’s unlikely, but Matthews could at least explore sliding over to the XFL once that contract is up. He’d be a monster in the league, and might even command a longer-term contract, should he want one.
5 – Ted Ginn
Ted Ginn is having himself a perfectly fine NFL career and is still useful (even if he’s famously frustrating to fantasy owners because of his hit-or-miss nature). However, his explosive speed might be flat-out deadly in the XFL. That’s not to say there won’t be other speedsters in the league, but Ginn’s pure talent may win out in a way that it never quite has in the NFL.