It’s been over a year since the XFL 2020 season abruptly ended. The league never got a fair shot to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The same goes for the players who played in the XFL. However, although teams in the XFL only played five weeks, somehow, many of its former players have stood the test of time and defied the odds to continue their pro-playing careers in the NFL and CFL.
February of 2020 seems like a lifetime ago, and the world was certainly a different place. The landscape for alternative pro football leagues could also change drastically in the future. The XFL is in limbo until presumably 2023. The USFL is lurking behind the scenes, hoping to recapture what the XFL and AAF accomplished, both in tv ratings, interest, and overall quality. Some skeptics will scoff at the notion of the Alliance of American Football and the XFL being a success. But the proof of an alternative football league’s value is in the impact it leaves behind and moving forward.
The success of the players who played in the XFL and AAF proves that an alternative pro football league works and is for the greater good of the football landscape. Most importantly, the immeasurable value it provides to the 98 percent of all college football players who don’t make the NFL every year.
Let’s look at the former XFL players currently on 53-man rosters and 16-player practice squads of NFL teams.
As is always the case with NFL rosters, nothing is final. In fact, the bottom end of all 32 team rosters are so fluid and frequently change from week to week. Spots #45 to #69 on an NFL roster are subject to change, primarily because of injuries. For that reason, players on the sixteen-player practice squads should not be easily dismissed. A year ago, former St. Louis BattleHawk and current Washington QB Taylor Heinicke came off the street, onto a practice squad, and earned himself a new NFL future after shining in the playoffs against Tom Brady and the eventual SuperBowl champion Buccaneers.
XFL Players On NFL Rosters
Active Roster: QB, P.J. Walker (Houston Roughnecks), TE, Colin Thompson (Tampa Bay Vipers)
Practice Squad: S Kenny Robinson (St. Louis BattleHawks)
A year later, three former XFL players return to Carolina. Presumptive league MVP QB P.J. Walker is back with the Panthers as their backup quarterback to Sam Darnold. TE Colin Thompson, the former Tampa Bay Viper, earned his keep and a contract extension a year ago as a role player in Carolina.
Safety Kenny Robinson, the former BattleHawk, is in the record books as being an XFL player drafted by an NFL team. The Panthers kept five safties on their active roster. So at the moment, Robinson, the 2020 fifth-round pick, is on the outside looking in, but his time to shine could still arrive.
Los Angeles Chargers
Active Roster: TE, Donald Parham Jr. (Dallas Renegades), OT Storm Norton (Los Angeles Wildcats)
Practice Squad: WR, Austin Proehl (Seattle Dragons)
Of all the former XFL players currently on NFL rosters. The one that seems most poised to breakout in 2021 is Donald Parham Jr., The 6’8 FCS standout, broke out in the XFL and then rode that wave to LA last season, scoring three touchdowns in reserve duty. But with Hunter Henry departing, Parham’s time to shine could be on the horizon.
Storm Norton was the XFL’s top-graded offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus. Then with the Chargers, he accomplished the same ranking by PFF as LA’s top-graded linemen when called into starting duty. Norton is back to assuming swing tackle duties behind 2021 first-round pick Rashawn Slater and veteran Bryan Bulaga. But if called upon again, he will be ready.
After catching the first touchdown in XFL 2020, it took a while for Austin Proehl to catch on with an NFL team. He signed on with the 49ers late last season before making his way to the Chargers earlier this year. LA added the son of former NFL receiver Ricky Proehl to their practice squad after just missing the cut on their 53-man roster.
Washington Football Team
Active Roster: QB, Taylor Heinicke (St. Louis BattleHawks)
Practice Squad: DE Bunmi Rotimi (New York Guardians), DT Gabe Wright (Houston Roughnecks)
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke starts the 2021 season behind Ryan Fitzpatrick on the depth chart. But something tells me that before long, Heinicke will get another chance to display the same magic he showed late last season.
It took a year and a detour into The Spring League, but Bunmi Rotimi is finally back on an NFL roster. Gabe Wright is a great run stopper, and the former NFL draft pick is getting another shot.
Active Roster: RB, Godwin Igwebuike (Seattle Dragons), LS, Scott Daly (New York Guardians)
Former Seattle DB Godwin Igwebuike is not the only former XFL player who is experiencing success playing a different position. Igwebuike is back to playing RB after doing that in high school. Godwin was considered a long shot to make Detroit’s roster, but he impressed so much in camp and preseason that he landed on the Lions’ active roster.
Scott Daly is one of three former XFL long snappers on NFL rosters. The former New York Guardian is replacing one of the longest-tenured players in the NFL in Don Muhlbach.
Active Roster: TE, Tyree Jackson (DC Defenders) (* placed on short term IR)
After the Eagles signed the former University of Buffalo QB Tyree Jackson to a futures contract with guaranteed money at the end of the 2020 season, it’s no surprise that Philly is keeping Jackson on their roster. Still, the fact that he has impressed enough to make the team’s initial 53-man roster is very telling. The 6’8 250 Jackson was one of the standouts for Philadelphia this summer. He turned heads all camp and despite an injury late in the process. The Eagles think they have found a diamond in the rough and don’t want to risk losing him.
The Eagles placed Jackson on IR; putting him on the 53 initially gives them the ability to get him back during the season. Tyree is eligible to return in Week 4.
Active Roster: OL, Michael Dunn (Seattle Dragons)
Practice Squad: FB/TE, Johnny Stanton (LA Wildcats)
Both Michael Dunn and Johnny Stanton survived the 2020 season on the Browns roster. But it was Dunn, who arguably provided the best single-game performance of any XFL player, outside of Taylor Heinicke, in the NFL a year ago. Dunn came off the bench to start late in the year for Cleveland and was dominant against elite competition like All-Pro Cameron Heyward, helping lead the Browns to their first playoff victory in nearly two decades. After years of living on the NFL fringe, Dunn proved that he belonged.
New York Jets
Active Roster: OL, Isaiah Williams (Tampa Bay Vipers)
Practice Squad: QB, Josh Johnson (LA Wildcats)
Josh Johnson and Isaiah Williams both spent time on the 49ers roster last season. No surprise that they have both traveled to New York to join former San Francisco coaches Mike LaFleur and John Benton, among others.
Josh Johnson continues to defy time and the odds. His stellar late preseason performance got him another NFL opportunity. With New York carrying only two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Johnson makes his way onto the active roster.
Active roster: DB, Elijah Campbell (DC Defenders)
The XFL’s highest-graded cornerback by PFF, Elijah Campbell, has found a new NFL home after spending last season and this summer with the New York Jets. The Jets released the talented safety/cornerback hybrid at final cuts, and New York intended to sign him to their practice squad. But their division rivals, the Miami Dolphins, claimed Campbell off of waivers. There are no guarantees in the NFL, but Miami made a move for Elijah, showings that they recognize how talented he is.
Active roster: LS, Christian Kuntz (Dallas Renegades)
The Dallas Renegades have seen several of their former players find homes on NFL and CFL rosters since 2020. Kuntz went back and forth on the Steelers roster as a practice squad player a year ago. This year, he is being given long-snapping duties. Based on his performance in the regular season. Christian Kuntz may have finally found a permanent home.
Active roster: LS, Nick Moore (Tampa Bay Vipers)
Practice squad: DT, Kahlil McKenzie (LA Wildcats)
Alternative Pro Football Leagues can be great for specialists when it comes to long snapping in a non-NFL league. The question of talent level isn’t at play. Three of the XFL’s teams have long snappers now on NFL teams. Moore might be the best of the lot. Baltimore kept him in-house all of 2020 to replace long-time special teams standout Morgan Cox.
Kahlil McKenzie, the son of Reggie McKenzie, went back to playing his former college position with the Bengals in 2020. Cincy released McKenzie at final cuts, and Baltimore signed him to their practice squad.
Practice squad: WR, Tanner Gentry (New York Guardians)
Tanner Gentry found his way back into the NFL by latching on with Buffalo early this year. Gentry reunited with his former Wyoming teammate Josh Allen. Now back with the Bills in 2021, Gentry is a stone’s throw away from catching passes from Allen in the NFL.
Practice Squad: RB, Jacques Patrick (Tampa Bay Vipers)
For the second year in a row, Jacques Patrick has made it onto the Bengals practice squad. Patrick was one of the XFL’s most dynamic runners. The 234-pound bruising halfback had an excellent preseason, but Cincy’s deep backfield has made it difficult for him to get regular-season action.
- Update 9/21: The San Francisco 49ers signed Patrick off the Bengals practice squad and onto their active roster.
Practice squad: OL, Willie Beavers (Dallas Renegades)
Willie Beavers is right back where he was a year ago. Despite a change in regime and coaching staff. Beavers impressed his new coaches enough to get another shot with the team.
It’s hard not to think of the Alliance of American Football when looking at this NFL team. The Atlanta Falcons kicker and punter tandem of Pro-Bowler Younghoe Koo and Cameron Nitzalek come from its AAF cousin, the Atlanta Legends. The AAF has several players on NFL rosters like QB Garrett Gilbert with the Patriots, RB D’Ernest Johnson with the Browns, and QB John Wolford with the Rams.
Practice Squad: WR, De’Mornay Pierson-El (St. Louis BattleHawks), DB, Saivion Smith (Houston Roughnecks)
This is De’Mornay’s third stint on an NFL practice squad since 2018. Pierson-El has been on seven pro football team rosters in the last three years. A stint in the CFL with Montreal, in the AAF with Salt Lake, on the Raiders twice in both Oakland and Las Vegas. And now with Denver this year.
Saivion Smith has bounced around three NFL teams since he played in the XFL. Smith played for the Dallas Cowboys last season before ending up with Seattle and Denver this offseason. A year ago, Smith started his year on the Cowboys practice squad before making his way to the main roster.
Practice Squad: K, Matthew McCrane (New York Guardians)
McCrane is on to his second NFL team in the last two years since finishing a perfect season on kicks in the XFL. Last season, McCrane spent all of 2020 on the Cleveland Browns practice squad. Being in reserve for Arizona makes him only one step away from kicking field goals in regular-season games.
Las Vegas Raiders
Practice Squad: TE, DeQuan Hampton (Los Angeles Wildcats)
Hampton is a former Wide Receiver who spent this past summer shining in the Spring League, playing his new position for the Jousters. Hampton has some similar traits to megastar Raiders tight end Darren Waller. So it’s fitting that Hampton would land with Las Vegas.
Practice Squad: OL, Anthony Coyle (New York Guardians)
Coyle is back on an NFL practice squad after spending all of 2020 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- As of 9/17/2021, there are 28 former XFL players on NFL rosters. There will be daily and weekly movement that could change that number as the season progresses. The 2021 NFL regular season opens on Thursday and week 1 gets underway in full stream this coming weekend. Some NFL teams haven’t established their full 16-player practice squads. But that could change in the coming days. This page will be updated as the season goes along.
For some, it may seem pointless or even ridiculous at this point to track former XFL players in other pro football leagues. After all, so much time has passed since the “XFL was a thing.” And quite frankly, there is uncertainty about the league’s return. The next iteration of the XFL, if it arrives in 2023, will be a lot different than the league that existed in 2020.
But the value of what an alternative pro football league in the states can mean for the pro football landscape and, most importantly, football players and coaches is evident in the number of players who have continued their careers.
In a world where less than two percent of college football players make the NFL. And where the average NFL career is less than four years. There is a need for a league like the XFL to exist. The proof is right there for all to see. All you have to do is look for it.
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