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10 Quarterbacks Who Could Start in the XFL

With the XFL back on its feet, there are a lot of questions swirling around. Which, if any teams will relocate? Will the league keep its original rules? Which familiar faces will return? All of these are key to understanding what the 2021 season will look like, but one key component remains.

With 32 XFL players making their way to the NFL, and 6 to the CFL, teams will have to find ways to fill their spots. Most, if not all of these players were starters and key contributors, and while we hope to see the return of stars like Cam Phillips, Josh Johnson, Matt Jones, Nelson Spruce, and Landry Jones, the league will need another infusion of talent for 2021.

Two of the XFL’s brightest young stars in PJ Walker and Jordan Ta’amu have found NFL homes in Carolina and Kansas City. Obviously we have a long offseason ahead, but as it stands, only the Wildcats, Renegades, and Guardians appear to be set at QB. Josh Johnson, Landry Jones, and Luis Perez stand as successful incumbent starters, but the Dragons, Defenders, BattleHawks, Vipers, and Roughnecks could be in the market for passers.

If anything, the shortened 2020 season proved that the startup league is a viable product that can both garner interest and propel players’ careers forward. The XFL put 2x more players in the NFL than the AAF, and achieved notable popular success before the shutdown.

This will only serve to woo more players away from the NFL’s roster fringes, in hopes of finding football glory on the field instead of riding the bench, or sitting in retirement. One week in, and former Heisman Winner Matt Leinart already wants to play.

This bodes well for the league, and lets take a look at QB prospects that would fit in here. Who out there has something to prove? A chip on their shoulder? A desire to make a name for themselves in football history?

Matt Leinart

The 37 year old wants in on the action, and I’m in full support of it. I loved watching him and Reggie Bush tear it up at USC when I was a kid, and his comeback would be a feel-good story for everyone. The College Football Hall of Famer was one of the greatest in NCAA history, but he never quite caught on in the NFL, as he sat behind another Hall of Famer (NFL) in Kurt Warner.

He showed flashes of greatness, setting the rookie passing yards record for a single game (405) as a 1st round pick, but Arizona wasn’t a great fit and after some up-and-down performances in relief of Warner he never got the chance to become a starter elsewhere.

I think we all were left wondering what could have been, and Leinart could come in and immediately take a starting spot in the XFL. 37 is honestly not that old for a quarterback this day and age. He’s just a few months older than Aaron Rodgers, and much younger than Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

He looks like he’s in great shape, and having been out of football, is probably fresher than other QB’s his age without the wear and tear of being on the field. I’m all for it.

Tim Tebow

The XFL flirted with Tim Tebow in the leadup to 2020, and while he opted to keep pursuing his baseball career this year, things could change. He had success in AA ball, but after a down year in AAA, and a 2020 MiLB season which is very much up in the air, the XFL could be very attractive to the 31-year-old athlete.

Tebow’s style of fast, fun quarterbacking would fit in very well in this league, and while NFL coordinators never really found a way to build an offense around him, some of the XFL’s more creative minds could put him to use.

A legit dual threat QB in his time with the Florida and Denver, his time in baseball has surely kept his arm fresh, and maybe even tightened up his throwing motion. Plus, Tebow-Mania is a guarantee to put fans in the stands.

Mason Fine

Bob LeveyGetty Images

The North Texas product had a outstandingly productive career with Mean Green, throwing for over 12,000 yards and 93 TD’s to just 34 picks. In 4 seasons as a starter, he displayed good arm talent, with the blend of touch and power that coaches look for. He wasn’t asked to run the ball much in his offense but has the plus athleticism to move in the pocket and escape outside.

NFL scouts expressed concern about his height, but we’ve seen time and time and time again that tall good. Doug Flutie. Drew Brees. Russell Wilson. Kyler Murray. Our very own PJ Walker. We done here? I’m not concerned about him being 5’11, 190. Let’s get over this narrative.

He went undrafted in 2020, and has yet to be picked up by a team. Of all the talented players to slip through the cracks in the 2020 draft process that saw pro days, interviews and draft rooms severely limited, Fine could be the best. He’s a perfect fit.

Kyle Sloter

Rich Barnes USA TODAY Sports

The UNC product is a preseason hero, with 11-1 interceptions and a beaming 115.4 passer rating over 3 years with the Vikings and Broncos. However, we’ve yet to see what he’s capable of in regular season action, and after bouncing around a few practice squads and going unsigned in 2020, the XFL could be his shot to make a name for himself.

At 6’4″ with 4.5 speed, an arm that can deliver and 3 years of success against 2nd and 3rd team NFL units, he could make a serious impact in the XFL. He’s had all these performances while working as 3rd or 4th string QB, with basically no reps in practice, and if a coaching staff gives him a real shot, he could shock the league.

He’s already cultivated a cult following in Minnesota and Denver, and is just the kind of talented underdog that XFL fans love to root for.

Josh Freeman

It’s been a while since Freeman’s name has been discussed in football circles, but in many ways, he could be one of the more feasible and talented options on this list. A first-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2009, he’s just 32 years old today, with 61 starts on his resume.

He made his first start as the Bucs were on an 11 game losing streak, and beat Aaron Rodgers’ Packers 38-28. He followed up promising rookie performances with a stellar 10-6 sophomore campaign where he threw for 3,451 yards, 25 TD’s, and just 6 picks en route to a Pro Bowl alternate nomination.

After a down year in 2011, Freeman had a comeback season in 2012 with 4,065 yards, 27 TD’s and 17 picks, though Greg Schiano’s regime drafted Mike Glennon to be his replacement that offseason. He was traded to the Vikings and thrust into the starting lineup the same week, throwing the ball 53 times in a loss. After stints with the Giants, Dolphins, Colts, and tries in the FXFL and CFL, his football career is on ice.

The story of his fall from the NFL’s graces is unfortunate. A floundering Greg Schiano regime in Tampa Bay found itself increasingly at odds with players. There were stories of toxicity all around, and Freeman became the focal point of an exodus of talent from the team that included starters Aqib Talib, LeGarrette Blount and many more.

His story in parts, reminds me of Robert Griffin III’s, and with time to reflect and grow, I’d wager that he might still have something to prove.

At 6’6″ and 240 pounds with a big arm and a good athletic base, he’s a great candidate to star in the XFL. He’s already attempted comebacks in other leagues before: once with the FXFL in 2015, and again in the CFL from 2017-2018.

Cody Kessler

The 27-year-old has become a bit of a Journeyman after coming out of USC and has played with the Browns, Jaguars, Eagles, and Patriots. His time in Cleveland was marred by franchises in free fall, and despite losing records he posted respectable QB play.

He’s just the second QB to have a 90+ passer rating for the Browns since Bernie Kosar in 1987, no small feat. He went 0-8 on a poorly constructed Hue Jackson team but passed for 1,380 Yards, 6 TD’s, and 2 Picks with a 65.6% Completion Rate.

He’s always been an efficient passer, and while his career record is 2-10, let’s remember that he made the bulk of his starts as a rookie. On the Cleveland Browns. In a year where they went 1-15.

I think he has the traits and vision to run an offense at the XFL, and while he’s been labeled a game manager in the NFL, the Quarterback’s main job is to manage the game.

Shea Patterson

The 4-year starter was picked up by the Chiefs after going undrafted in April, yet was edged out by XFL star Jordan Ta’amu in Kansas City. The Chiefs are moving forward with Matt Moore and Chad Henne as their veteran backups, while Ta’amu is the developmental prospect.

However, XFL fans who saw Ta’amu in action should be unsurprised by this, and Patterson has potential. In his time at Ole Miss, he backed up Chad Kelly and split time with Ta’amu before transferring to Michigan.

With the Wolverines, he posted a 19-7 record and passed for 5,661 Yards, 45 TD’s and 15 picks in two seasons. Scouts were concerned with his arm strength, but looking at the tape he can launch it. It’s more of a footwork issue, and with some refining he can get better at setting his base and driving it downfield.

He brings great mobility, pocket feel and vision to the table, and with experience in Jim Harbaugh’s pro-style system he’s an intriguing prospect.

Brad Kaaya

Kaaya piloted an efficient air attack with the Miami Hurricanes, throwing for 9,968 Yards, 69 TD’s and 24 picks in 3 years as a starter. Not only was he great at protecting the ball and distributing it, he improved every year, which coaches love to see from a college QB.

He was drafted in 2017 by the Lions in the 6th round, and bounced around the league, making stops in Carolina, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. He was viewed by these as a developmental prospect, and never got out from behind the likes of Matt Stafford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Jeff Driskel, Kyle Allen, Jacoby Brissett, and PJ Walker.

Still, he put up solid preseason performances, and is 27-44 for 317 yards, 3 TD’s and one pick in his time on the field. He’s been consistently overshadowed by talented, deep QB rooms in his career, but Kaaya (24) is a great prospect with crisp mechanics, good vision and an ability to work through his progressions.

He’s more of a pocket passer, and while scouts have criticized his arm talent he makes some great throws on tape. He’s got decent arm strength and a quick, fluid release that translates to a tight spiral. His accuracy is good, and he’s got a deadly touch ball on fade routes. I like him, and I think the XFL could be the ideal venue for him to separate himself from the pack.

Brock Osweiler

Drafted in 2012 to develop into the QB of the future behind Peyton Manning, Brock sat behind the Hall of Famer for years in Denver before getting his shot. In 2015, Peyton was on his last legs, and was limited by injury so he got his first shot. He went 5-2, keeping the Broncos’ Super Bowl Dreams alive, and made some great plays along the way.

Peyton eventually took back over in the playoffs and won the Super Bowl, but without Brock, this run would never have happened. Though he was the heir apparent when Manning retired, his agents advised him to ignore John Elway’s calls and hold out for more money. The money came, in the form of a 4-year, $72 Million contract in Houston.

Houston didn’t work out, and he found himself shipped off to Cleveland, then back in Denver, and eventually Miami, where he last played. He may have earned a lot more money taking the Texans contract, but Osweiler regrets not staying in Denver and taking the reins from Manning in 2016. In an interview with Sports Illustrated he said

“We might have won the Super Bowl the next year”

Though Osweiler is in retirement at 29, the drive is still there and he’s still technically a QB in his prime. Sure, he’s struggled at times but was playing some great football in 2018 with the Dolphins.

In his SI interview, he seems happy spending time with his family, but the drive is still there. He said if a team called, he’d answer in a heartbeat. Maybe he’s the next Tommy Maddox.

Vince Young

If we’re going to talk about Leinart, we should talk about Young too. These two duked it out in the National Championship years ago, were drafted in the same first round, are members of the College Football Hall of Fame and both saw earlier exits from the NFL than expected.

Young however, got the chance to be the franchise QB right off the bat, and had some great success doing so. As the Rookie of the Year, he passed for 2,199 Yards, 12 TD’s and 13 Int’s with 552 Rush yards and 7 scores on the ground. He earned 2 Pro Bowl nods, a Comeback Player of the Year award, and holds a winning record at 31-19.

However, he flamed out with Jeff Fisher in Tennessee and found himself working backup jobs in Philadelphia, Green Bay, Cleveland and Buffalo before exiting the NFL in 2014.

Some people have criticized Young’s handling of the situation in Nashville, but I know his family (played football with his cousin Jordan back in the day) and he’s good people.

He tried mounting a CFL comeback as recently as 2017 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and competed for the QB2 spot before suffering a torn hamstring. He would only have been out 4-6 weeks, but was cut by the team. Like I said previously, 37 years old is a good solid age for a QB, and he’s always been a heck of an athlete.

Like Leinart we haven’t seen him on the field in some time, but he easily has the brightest resume of any QB in this list, and man. If he plays for a team in Texas they’re gonna have to call in the National Guard to keep fans from storming the gates to watch him play again.

Do you have a favorite Quarterback you want to see play in the XFL? Tweet @Matt_Nagashima and let me know!

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Matt Nagashima has been covering the XFL since before the 2019 Draft, and has witnessed history being made as a Credentialed Reporter for the Dallas Renegades. While he is engrossed with the X's and O's, the roster building and more, it has always been his goal to keep the players first in mind in coverage, showing the human aspect of this sport behind all the action on the field. With Dany Garcia and Dwayne The Rock Johnson now at the helm, he's excited to see all the opportunities that this league will create for players to showcase their talent and make their dreams come true.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ron

    August 11, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    I would also throw Johnny Manziel into the mix. Talk about having something to prove. He played well when given the chance in Cleveland and although his career has been marred by off the field problems I do not think any were that severe. Let’s be honest there have been a lot worse offenders given second and third chances.

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