The XFL is all set to return in 2023 for the first time in three years. The 2020 season started strong under the ownership of former WWE executive Vince McMahon but fizzled out when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
An unnamed Seattle Dragons player self-reported symptoms of the virus to his medical staff and later tested positive, and that spelled the end of the league in March 2020. A month later, the XFL’s parent company Alpha Entertainment filed for bankruptcy. In August, the league’s assets were sold to actor Dwayne Johnson, his wife and business partner Dani Garcia, and RedBird Capital founder Gerry Cardinale for $15 million.
That abrupt end to the 2020 season and the subsequent disbanding was, no doubt, a hard knock for several budding players. However, some of them have done the grind, survived, and are now in the NFL. Here’s a list of three of them.
PJ Walker (Houston Roughnecks)
Walker’s unforgettable XFL season in 2020 made the world sit up and take notice of this shining new prospect. He spent 2017 and 2018 sitting on the sidelines for the Indiana Colts before he was drafted into the Roughnecks’ squad for the XFL. He threw 15 passing TDs in five games, along with running 1338 passing yards – that’s an average of 267 per game, with the 300-yard mark breached twice. before the season was called off.
Walker’s speed, strength, and mobility put him back on the NFL radar as he led the Roughnecks to a 5-0 record before the league was canceled. That same month, he signed a two-year contract with the Carolina Panthers worth $1.5 million and came in as their starting quarterback six months later.
While Walker hasn’t quite put up the numbers to match some of the quarterbacks who are listed as strong favorites on NFL betting sites to be MVP, come the end of the season, his step down and then back up is one of the unheralded comeback stories in football over the last few years. He remains one of the few quarterbacks from the XFL who got a second look at the highest level.
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Donald Parham (Dallas Renegades)
Parham was the tight end that towered over the rest in the XFL 2020 – literally, he stands at over 6”8. He recorded 24 receptions for 307 yards and four touchdowns in the five matches he played and particularly stood out in the game against the Los Angeles Wildcats, where he made five catches for 76 yards, along with one touchdown.
In the next one against the Seattle Dragons, he made five receptions again, this time running 101 yards. After his contract with the league expired, he signed with the LA Chargers and made his debut the following season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he recorded his first career reception off a 19-yard TD pass. Parham has since become an integral part of the NFL.
Saivion Smith (Houston Roughnecks)
Another one from the Roughnecks batch of 2020, Smith has had a more challenging path into the NFL than former team-mate PJ Walker. Smith only played in two games for the Roughnecks, with no memorable performances to note. But once the league was disbanded, he was snapped up by the Dallas Cowboys almost immediately. There began a pattern of coming close to and then being pushed away from the active roster that would last over four stints – his career yo-yo’d with the Seahawks, the Broncos, and the 49ers not long after the Cowboys let him go.
A shot at being a regular finally came when the Detroit Lions picked him up and although there was much of the same jumping between squads and waiving involved, Smith did finally get to make an appearance in October this year. Unfortunately for him, it happened to be his last one as he suffered one of the most serious injuries of the NFL season and was ruled out after having to undergo neck surgery.
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