After winning the XFL Championship a month ago, the Arlington Renegades get ready for their title defense as they prepare for the 2023 XFL Rookie Draft on Friday.
The league will be holding its Rookie Draft on Friday, June 16 as it starts at 10:00 am CST. Teams will be drafting players who were eligible for the 2023 NFL Draft and not under contract with a professional football team. It will consist of ten rounds as teams look to bring their roster sizes to 90 before training camp. XFL teams will hold exclusive rights to the players they draft. The rookies will join players that finished the season on active and reserve lists. All players who sign an XFL contract will have an “NFL Out” in their contracts until December 26, 2023, which would be the conclusion of Week 16 of the NFL season.
Arlington will be picking eighth in each of the ten rounds in the draft. The results of the draft won’t be posted until Friday night. With it being an unpredictable draft, not much is known about what each team will be doing with their picks, but Arlington should use this draft as an opportunity to get younger.
In terms of replacing players, Arlington has only lost two players so far this offseason. Linebacker Willie Taylor signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars so as of right now, he is in the NFL. Defensive lineman T.J. Barnes announced his retirement from football shortly after the XFL Championship game.
Here are some things to keep in mind heading into the Rookie Draft for the Arlington Renegades.
Arlington Renegades Draft Preview
De’Veon Smith was fourth in the XFL in rushing yards with 365 yards and ran for a league-high seven touchdowns in the regular season. Leddie Brown played a big role late in the season as he was signed on as he scored two touchdowns in the XFL Championship game. Four other running backs would get carries throughout the season, but Smith was always the constant.
Despite all that, the Renegades were the second-worst rushing attack in the league averaging 82 yards per game on the ground. There were multiple games where the backs just didn’t look effective as they had a league-worst 20 rushes that were ten or more yards. Big plays weren’t happening on the ground for them.
Arlington must look for a younger, more athletic back who can do it all for the offense. Smith should still be the featured back for them, but he will be 29 when the 2024 XFL season begins. Running backs start to see a regression around that age the Renegades have to be ready for that.
Running Back Target: T.J. Cole, Ouachita Baptist
Talking about a shifty running back, T.J. Cole is elusive with his feet and can make big plays on the ground. Cole ran for 1,649 yards and 26 touchdowns last season for Division II’s Ouachita Baptist. It would be a big risk to draft a back like Cole due to playing in a smaller school, but his potential is too good to pass up on, and could be the home run hitter Arlington needs behind Smith on the depth chart.
If there was one position that never saw consistency, it was the wide receiver position. The Renegades’ receiving core combined caught just four touchdowns with their tight end Sal Cannella being the leader in receiving yards on the team with 415 yards. The only wide receiver to have over 300 yards in the season was Tyler Vaughns as he had only 302 yards. Arlington could never find anyone to step up to the plate game after game.
It would be fair to say that the rotating quarterback movement did not help with finding consistency with the wide receivers. Arlington had the second-worst passing attack in the league, averaging 176.3 passing yards per game. The good news is if Luis Perez does not sign with an NFL team, Arlington should be solid at quarterback.
What the Renegades need is a game-breaker at receiver. They have JaVonta Payton who came up strong at the end of the season with big plays in the playoffs. Vaughns made for a solid possession receiver. LuJuan Winningham was big on contested catches and could make spectacular catchers. More speed at the slot receiver position would help Arlington. Victor Bolden was supposed to be that guy, but injuries limited him. Having a receiver who runs a 4.3 or 4.4 40-yard dash would be massive for an offense that was limited to big plays.
Wide Receiver Target: Kris Thornton, James Madison
Kris Thornton is noticeable when fans watch his tape as he can make plays and do it on a consistent basis. Thornton had two 1,000-yard seasons in the last two seasons at James Madison as he was considered statistically one of the best receivers in the country. XFL News Hub’s Dusty Wilson compared him to Seattle Sea Dragons receiver Jahcour Pearson with his speed and agility as well as his big play ability. That’s enough for any Renegades fan to say draft Thornton.
As mentioned above, both Taylor and Barnes are not on the roster as one has signed with the NFL and the other has retired. This means the team is losing 31 percent of their sack production after Taylor recorded a team-high four sacks and Barnes recorded two. Arlington is going to need more support when it comes down to pass rush and find another run-stopper in the middle.
Doug Costin is the only defensive lineman that is 25 years old or under on the team, but Will Clarke is the only defensive lineman who is over 30 years old as he is currently 32. While the defensive line isn’t necessarily old, Clarke was tied with Taylor in sacks with four last season and as he gets old, they will need more production from the rest of their defensive line.
The defensive tackle position should be covered as Tomasi Laulile and Josiah Coatney should be able to hold down the position. The team needs more speed on the outside as that is the key trait they are losing from Taylor. It might be a good idea for Arlington to look at a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end who can get to the quarterback as they get younger and faster on defense.
Defensive Line Target: Jordan Ferguson, Middle Tennessee State
Jordan Ferguson is one of Dusty Wilson’s favorite prospects and fans who watch his tape can see why. Ferguson recorded nine sacks in each of his last two seasons at Middle Tennessee State and was named Defensive MVP in the Hula Bowl. While playing in Division One football, his level of play still could have played a role in him not getting drafted, but the potential he has is impressive. Having Clarke work with Ferguson and Arlington could see similar results that Taylor has last season.
This shouldn’t be considered a position of need as they have one of the best safety tandems in the XFL with Will Hill and Joe Powell headlining the group. Powell was tied for second in the XFL in interceptions with four. Hill was second on the team in tackles with 48 while also recording an interception in the regular season.
The concern comes once again with age being a concern as Hill is 33 years old, Powell is 29 years old, and Jamal Carter is also 29 years old. Brandon Rusnak, who got an interception in the XFL Championship game, is the youngest of the safeties at age 27. Again, this shouldn’t be taken as safety is a position of struggle as it is a strong unit, but the team should draft a younger safety for depth purposes.
Arlington should be looking for a safety who is a sure tackler who can be used to blitz in running and passing situations. That type of versatility is what made Hill and Powell so dynamic as Powell’s strength was in coverage while Hill’s strength was in run support. Drafting a player who has a similar play style to Hill would be massively big for the Renegades in upcoming seasons.
Safety Target: Bentlee Sanders, Nevada
Bentlee Sanders only got a chance to start in his senior season last year but made the most of his opportunity as the starting safety. At Nevada last year, Sanders recorded 82 tackles, one forced fumble, and five interceptions. One of his biggest assets as well is that he has plenty of experience on special teams in kickoff returns. A lack of playing experience on defense held him out from being drafted in the NFL, but this hidden gem would be a perfect fit for the XFL.
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