The D.C. Defenders players won’t participate in NFL team workouts or minicamps in the coming days. That’s only because the Defenders still have a game to play. D.C. will square off with the Arlington Renegades on Saturday, May 13th, for the XFL 2023 Championship.
One More XFL 2023 Game For D.C. Players To Shine And Cash In
XFL head coach of the year Reggie Barlow’s squad will have one more showcase game in primetime on ABC before the season officially ends. Players and coaches alike will have one more chance to shine on the season’s grandest stage. On top of that, it will serve as the final audition for many who have NFL aspirations.
As reported here last month through NFL documentation, XFL players can sign with NFL teams two days after the league’s championship game on Monday, May 15th.
Once the smoke clears on the league’s championship, the door officially opens for XFL players to join NFL teams.
XFL Win Bonus Structure Paying Off For The D.C. Defenders
In XFL 2023, Defender players have been adding to their playing resumes and bank accounts.
During the XFL’s North Division Championship Trophy Presentation with league owner Dany Garcia at Audi Field, Defender players were joyfully screaming in the background. “Richest Team In The League!”
The now 10-1 Defenders will be looking to cash in their eleventh win bonus of the season on May 13th. The XFL championship game pays out $11,500 to each winning team player.
In case you are unfamiliar with the XFL’s win bonus structure, winning players pocket an extra grand for every victory during the regular season. The semi-final playoff payout saw a big boost, with eight grand pocketed per winning player.
Combined with training camp pay, $4,000 per player over five weeks, a base salary during ten regular season games of $50k, nine-win bonuses during the regular season ($9,000), and a North Final win bonus of $8,000, coupled with the weekly 5K salary for the added playoff game. A D.C. Defender player who has played all eleven of their team’s games, for example, RB Abram Smith, has earned $76,000 this season. He can increase that figure to $92,500 if D.C. wins the XFL Championship.
Not a bad sum for D.C. players to compile over five months. But the standout players who shined the brightest for the Defenders in 2023 could be adding to their football and financial portfolio when they get an opportunity to step on an NFL field again or for the first time.
Many D.C. Defenders players will get chances to make NFL rosters. This is part one of a two-part series leading into the championship game that will go through offense, defense, and special teams standouts for D.C.
Here is a list of five D.C. Defenders on offense who deserve NFL shots, along with a list of which teams I think should sign them and which would suit them best.
Five D.C. Defenders Offensive Players Who Would Make Great Additions To NFL Teams
D.C. Defenders Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu
It’s easy to forget that Jordan Ta’amu is only 25 years old. He’s spent time with five different NFL teams, primarily on practice squads, as someone who can simulate the opposing team’s mobile quarterbacks. Something he did a few seasons ago for the Chiefs, where coaches and teammates credited him for helping K.C. neutralize Lamar Jackson.
The XFL’s offensive player of the year, voted on by head coaches and directors of player personnel in the league, has grown a lot since being a glorified stunt double in the NFL a few seasons ago. Ta’amu, who has gotten a lot of starting experience and reps playing in spring pro football leagues since 2020, evolved as a quarterback and leader in 2023.
Ta’amu finished the XFL regular season 143-of-229 passing for 1,894 yards and 14 touchdowns with just three interceptions. His interception total was the lowest among XFL quarterbacks, with more than 150 passing attempts, while his passing yardage and touchdown totals ranked No. 3 in the league. Ta’amu was also effective rushing the ball, ranking seventh in the XFL with 298 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He ranked No. 2 in the XFL in total offense (215.2 yards per game).
The D.C. offense, with Ta’amu at the controls for much of the season, won nine games, ranked No. 1 in scoring offense (29.6 points per game), No. 1 in rushing offense (140.8 yards per game), and No. 2 in total offense (343.2 yards per game) in the regular season.
The 6’3, 220lb Ta’amu has elite physical tools as a passer and runner. He has the intangibles and toughness to continue growing as a QB. His experience playing in different styled offenses over the last two years has helped his overall growth.
For those reasons, I feel he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.
Best NFL Fits for Jordan Ta’amu: Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks
The Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs seem like strong fits for Ta’amu’s skill set. Jordan has experience with Andy Reid and could serve as an excellent backup to either Mahomes again or as Lamar Jackson’s caddy in Baltimore.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks strike me as intriguing possibilities for Ta’amu.
In Tampa, their new offensive coordinator, Dave Canales, helped resurrect the career of reclamation project Geno Smith, who, at the age of 32, established himself as a Pro Bowl player. The Bucs have Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask under contract. But there could be an opening at QB3.
The Seattle Seahawks have committed to Geno Smith for the next few seasons. However, they have Drew Lock under contract for only one more season. The only other quarterback on the Hawks roster is undrafted East Carolina rookie Holton Ahlers. Jordan Ta’amu would have a realistic shot at making Seattle’s team and potentially their final 53-player roster. Ta’amu has a similar skill set to Geno Smith and could fit in nicely running Seattle offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s concepts.
D.C. Defenders Running Back Abram Smith
The XFL’s leading rusher in 2023 came right into the league after being the fifth-leading rusher in the nation at Baylor. Abram Smith missed the NFL cut in the fall of 2022. But in the XFL, he proved that he deserves another shot to stick.
The 24-year-old Texas product was a late bloomer in college. At 5’11, 221, The former linebacker, Smith, didn’t get going as a full-time running back until his final collegiate season, where he rushed for 1,601 yards, six yards per rush, and 12 touchdowns.
The fact that Abram Smith is a former defensive player makes sense when you watch his running style on tape. He is adept at not only breaking tackles through his physicality but anticipating the angles defensive players will take when attempting to tackle him.
Abram Smith has an upside because he is still in the early stages of his development as a running back. The bonus to him playing RB late in college is that he doesn’t have a lot of tread on his tires.
Best NFL Fits for Abram Smith: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks
Finding a spot on an NFL roster as a backup running back can be challenging if you don’t have a special teams profile. Abram Smith has starter capability as an every-down runner. However, finding a starting spot won’t come easy.
The Arizona Cardinals have an opening behind the talented but often-injured James Conner. The same can be stated for the Rams’ situation behind on-again, off-again featured back Cam Akers. The Jaguars could use a physical runner behind Travis Etienne. The Chargers and Cowboys could be looking for depth behind league standouts Austin Ekeler and Tony Pollard. The same depth issues exist with the Bucs and Seahawks. Abram Smith needs to find a landing spot with a clear path to a #2 job at running back.
D.C. Defenders WR Lucky Jackson
Sometimes it takes a lot of good fortune to make an NFL roster. After all, less than two percent of all collegiate players make the National Football League. Lucky Jackson hasn’t had a lot of luck since starring at Western Kentucky. However, based on his breakout performance in the XFL, perhaps that’s about to change.
The six-foot-one, 190-pound target, Jackson spent four seasons at Western Kentucky, becoming one of the best wideouts in school history. He recorded 94 receptions for 1,133 yards and four touchdowns in his senior season and was named MVP of the First Responder Bowl after a 17-catch performance.
Jackson finished his collegiate career with 209 catches for 2,680 yards and 13 touchdowns with the Hilltoppers. Lucky streaked to a 4.36 forty-yard dash on his pro day in March 2020.
However, despite his stellar production in school and elite measurables. Lucky would be overlooked by NFL teams, going undrafted.
It was a tough break for the WKU standout, who, like many college players during the onset of the pandemic, was short-changed by restrictions during the player evaluation process.
Lucky finally got his break in the XFL this season. He was fifth in the league in receiving with 573 yards, at 15.6 per catch, with five touchdowns. Jackson turned heads and caught the attention of NFL greats like Chad Johnson. ‘Ochocinco’ saluted Jackson by telling him that he would see him on Sundays during the fall.
Best NFL Fits for Lucky Jackson: Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams
Like teammate Abram Smith, landing a backup position in the NFL without a clear-cut special teams pedigree could be challenging. Jackson’s 4.3 speed, however, could be an asset in that area.
However, where he will need to land is a place that is looking for a receiver with big-play ability and size. Lucky has both qualities, and Houston, Tennessee, Atlanta, and the Rams all have that particular need on offense.
The Chargers stand out as a wonderful potential landing spot for Lucky. Justin Herbert needs a legitimate deep threat to complement veteran receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
The ancient saying is that it’s better to be lucky than good. Mr. Jackson is both; hopefully, he gets a legitimate chance to shine the way he has in the XFL.
D.C. Defenders WR Chris Blair
Lucky Jackson’s running mate at receiver, Chris Blair, share a lot in common. They were both late bloomers in college, who had monster final seasons, only to see their NFL chances limited or hurt by the COVID pandemic.
After starting his playing journey at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi, Chris Blair transferred to Alcorn State for his final two collegiate years. In 2019, Blair took the school by storm, finishing sixth in the nation in yards per reception (21.2), and led the Braves with 931 yards while scoring seven touchdowns.
Sporting top-notch measurables at 6-foot-2 inches and 206 pounds. And a 40 time of 4.47 with a 40.5-inch vertical jump. Chris Blair went undrafted in 2020 but was able to land with the Green Bay Packers and spent time on their offseason roster and practice squad, but playing time eluded him.
The same type of big-play production Blair displayed in college showed up when he got his chance to shine with playing time in the XFL this season.
Chris Blair led all starting XFL receivers with 22.8 yards per reception. He also led all receivers with five receptions over 40 yards. Blair was third overall in yards receiving (594), despite only having 26 receptions. The Defenders got a lot of bang for their buck with the HBCU stud.
Best NFL Fits For Chris Blair: Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints
It’s all about contrast and receiver types in the NFL. Blair has the size and speed combo that NFL teams covet. He can break tackles in the open field and outleap defenders on deep balls.
Several teams in the NFL can use someone of Blair’s skill set in their regular offense. That being stated, with little special teams experience, walking onto an NFL team and cracking the top three spots on ready-made rosters is exceedingly tricky.
Blair’s best chance at the outset is as a WR #4 who can back up both starting outside wideouts. The Bills with Josh Allen seems like a great fit. Buffalo’s best home run hitter is Gabe Davis. Josh Allen needs more downfield threats.
Chris Blair’s specialized skill set transfers exceptionally well on the pro level. He needs the chance to play.
D.C. Defenders Guard/Tackle Liam Fornadel
James Madison’s Liam Fornadel had a fantastic season for the Defenders this year as a pass-and-run blocker for the league’s best overall offense. Fornadel scored a 75.9 overall grade by Pro Football Focus. He was the second highest-run blocker among all guards in the league’s top rushing offense. Fornadel allowed only one sack allowed on 326 pass-blocking snaps.
The 6’5 311, pound JMU standout had 41 starts on the offensive line in college, mostly at left and right tackle. Fornadel was a two-time All-American, earning multiple First Team and all-conference honors.
Once afforded an opportunity to start in the XFL, Liam Fornadel made the most of his chance. Overlooked by NFL teams due to less-than-desirable agility numbers. He made a tremendous transition from tackle to guard. A position that best suited his skill set. Only 23 years of age, based on what he showed in the XFL. Fornadel deserves a real shot to make an NFL roster. What he may lack from an athleticism standpoint, Fornadel more than makes up for with his tenacity and toughness.
Best NFL Fits For Liam Fornadel: Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings
Fornadel’s college experience at tackle could help him stick on the back end of an NFL roster. Anytime you have a young offensive lineman who has the position versatility to play inside and out, it’s a plus, especially in the war of attrition that a long NFL season entails.
Fornadel would best be served on a team that values technique and toughness over elite athleticism. In the XFL, Liam Fornadel showed the ability to be an effective player in a stationary position or in space. Despite any limitations, he may have when it comes to speed.
The Minnesota Vikings stand out as an excellent fit for Liam Fornadel. Not only because they could use some more depth on the interior at guard, but their offensive line coach Chris Kuper is a former guard from a similar college background coming out of North Dakota. If anyone can appreciate the road Liam has taken, it’s him. When he came out for the NFL Draft, Kuper was criticized by experts and scouts for his “lack of ability” in space. He went on to start 79 games in the NFL over an eight-year career.
Honorable Mention For Defenders Offensive Players Who Deserve NFL Looks
QB: D’Eriq King, C: Mike Maietti, OL: Liam Ryan, OT: Kyle Murphy, OT: D’Marcus Hayes, TE: Briley Moore, RB/WR/KR: Pooka Williams
King, Pooka Williams, and Kyle Murphy have all seen some time on NFL rosters. QB D’Eriq King still needs seasoning, but he can be an asset as a practice squad quarterback who mimics the opposing team’s mobile quarterbacks. Pooka has shown up late in the XFL season after dealing with injuries. His position versatility and return skills are a plus. Kyle Murphy is a bit older than most XFL players. But he did a great job on the blindside protecting Jordan Ta’amu.
There are three young Defenders offensive linemen who absolutely deserve NFL looks. C, Mike Maietti, who was the league’s highest-graded Center. Liam Ryan showed a lot of versatility with his ability to play Guard, Center, and Tackle. In 2022, he spent time with Seahawks on their practice squad. And mammoth Georgia offensive tackle D’Marcus Hayes, who was a beast in the run game. Hayes is just scratching the surface as a developmental tackle.
The numbers game never favors football players looking to make the NFL. Less than two percent of all college football players make the big league. That’s why a league like the XFL has excellent value in the football landscape. The odds are definitely against the XFL’s best players making an NFL roster, but as the recent success of spring pro football and the XFL back in 2020 showed, it’s not an impossibility.
See examples of P.J. Walker, Taylor Heinicke, Donald Parham, Michael Dunn, Austin Walter, Elijah Campbell, Nick Moore, Scott Daly, and many others. Players who are moving on to their fourth straight season of playing in the NFL after playing in the XFL three years ago.
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