Nearly two years ago, The XFL started putting together their rosters for all eight of their teams. The 2019 NFL preseason was a part of the XFL’s team-building process. A great number of players like P.J. Walker, Donald Parham Jr., Storm Norton, Michael Dunn, and countless others who ended up playing in the XFL in 2020 played in preseason games for NFL teams in the summer of 2019. Some players were released at final cuts by NFL teams or off of practice squads later and then subsequently played in the XFL before finding their way back and making NFL regular-season rosters a year later.
Flash forward to the present day, and while the XFL remains in limbo, after the league prematurely ended due to the pandemic, and then was bought out of bankruptcy last August by RedBird Capital Partners, Dany Garcia, and Dwayne Johnson. Many of the XFL’s former players from the 2020 season have found playing homes in the NFL, CFL, and other leagues.
To their credit, outlets like HUB Football and The Spring League have created a new pathway towards the NFL while the XFL is on hiatus until 2023. The former XFL players that didn’t make their way to the NFL in 2020 have pushed forward and utilized HUB and TSL as springboards to further their pro careers and their NFL aspirations.
As chronicled here recently, there are currently 48 former XFL players on CFL rosters. Last night, three former XFL players in RB James Butler (Roughnecks), DE Obum Gwacham (Vipers), and OT Kent Perkins (BattleHawks) started for BC and helped the Lions beat the Stampeders in Calgary.
39 former XFL players finished the 2020 NFL season on NFL rosters. Many of those players are still on NFL rosters. In recent weeks, some former XFL players have finally made their way onto NFL rosters a year after the XFL ended play. While others, like former LA Wildcats standout Josh Johnson, have switched teams (49ers-Jets).
The expansion of the NFL’s practice squad to 16 players and the loosening of rules prohibiting veterans has helped players find new entry into the league. The pandemic also created opportunities for players to make the NFL last year.
A year ago, former St. Louis BattleHawks quarterback Taylor Heinicke was signed as a quarantine quarterback, and weeks later, through injuries and circumstance, Heinicke was starring for the Washington Football Team in the playoffs against Tom Brady and the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Heinicke had resigned himself to his post-playing career, and by years end, he received a lucrative two-year contract extension. The former BattleHawk is now in a battle to become Washington’s starting quarterback for the 2021 season. The new NFL season could provide new stories for former XFL players like Taylor Heinicke.
Here is a complete list team by team in alphabetical order of all the former XFL players currently on NFL rosters who will be vying to make NFL teams during the 2021 preseason. Before the regular season starts, this can change but for now. Here are the 42 former XFL players currently on 23 separate NFL teams.
XFL Players On 2021 NFL Rosters (42)
- LB: Jamell Garcia-Williams (St. Louis BattleHawks)
Williams signed with the Cardinals back in April after participating in HUB football in front of NFL scouts. Players like Williams spent the entire 2020 season after the XFL ended working out for NFL teams, but HUB allowed him to showcase his talents in front of several evaluators.
- OT: Willie Beavers (Dallas Renegades)
- WR: Jeff Badet (Dallas Renegades)
Beavers had a tryout with Atlanta and was eventually signed to the Falcons practice squad last September. Beavers finished the year with Atlanta and was signed to a futures contract. Jeff Badet, one of the fastest wide receivers (4.2/40) in pro football, signed on with Washington last year and saw regular-season action with them after being elevated from the team’s practice squad. Badet signed with Atlanta this spring, but unfortunately, a training camp injury (lower body) led to him being waived and placed on the Falcons injured reserve list. There is no timetable right now for his return.
On a side note, unrelated to the XFL, but in some respects, it is. As a testament to the value of these leagues. Former AAF Atlanta Legends kicker Younghoe Koo made the pro bowl last year for Atlanta having a breakout season as one of the league’s best young kickers.
- LS: Nick Moore (Tampa Bay Vipers)
Nick Moore spent the entire 2020 season on the Ravens roster. Baltimore parted ways with long-time snapper Morgan Cox when the season ended and publicly announced that they were handing the job to Moore. It’s his job to lose; ironically enough, Moore beat out former DC Defenders long snapper Brian Khoury in training camp this summer for those duties. Khoury was recently released by Baltimore and picked up by New England.
- WR: Tanner Gentry (New York Guardians)
Much like Taylor Heinicke’s relationship with WFT OC Scott Turner helped him gain re-entry into the NFL. There’s no question that Gentry’s ties to Bills superstar quarterback Josh Allen from their days together at Wyoming didn’t hurt him in finding a path onto an NFL roster. Gentry signed with the Bills onto their practice squad during the NFL playoffs. He signed a futures deal and is currently competing in camp to remain on the team for the coming season.
- QB: P.J. Walker (Houston Roughnecks)
- TE: Colin Thompson (Tampa Bay Vipers)
- OT: Martez Ivey (Tampa Bay Vipers)
- FS: Kenny Robinson (St. Louis BattleHawks)
XFL fans adopted the Panthers as their team to watch during the 2020 NFL season. After all, Carolina not only signed the XFL’s MVP P.J. Walker but also drafted XFL player Kenny Robinson in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL draft. It was no surprise that former Temple coach Matt Rhule signed two former Owls in Walker and Thompson when he got the head coaching job with Carolina.
P.J. Walker ended up seeing action in several games last year. And he continued his undefeated starting streak, dating back to his final year at Temple, and with Houston in the XFL, by beating the Detroit Lions in his first-ever NFL start throwing for 258 yards and a touchdown.
Martez Ivey is a recent addition to Carolina’s roster this offseason. But Kenny Robinson and TE Colin Thompson saw plenty of playing time last year for the Panthers. Thompson played the entire year on the active roster as an added blocker and special teams player. The first touch of his NFL career was a touchdown, and at the season’s end, the Panthers thought highly enough of Thompson’s performance that they signed him to a contract extension. Kenny Robinson saw time on special teams and in sub-packages on defense throughout last season. The Panthers boast one of the best safety groups in football, and landing playing time wasn’t easy for the XFL’s NFL drafted player.
- QB: Eric Dungey (Dallas Renegades)
- RB: Jacques Patrick (Tampa Bay Vipers)
- WR: Reece Horn (Tampa Bay Vipers)
- DT: Kahlil McKenzie (Los Angeles Wildcats)
XFL fans certainly witnessed the talents of Jacques Patrick first-hand when he was with Tampa. Patrick was one of the league’s most dynamic and bruising runners. He spent the entire season on the Bengals practice squad last year. Patrick didn’t play preseason games last year because there weren’t any. So he will be someone to follow closely in the coming days and weeks.
XFL fans did not get to see the full potential of Eric Dungey with Bob Stoops in Dallas. Dungey spent his time in the XFL dealing with off-field issues. Dungey signed on to play in The Spring League earlier this year, but a workout with Cincy landed him a roster spot.
Reece Horn played in The Spring League and benefitted from his time spent there putting out some great film and earning a spot with the Bengals.
Kahlil McKenzie went back to his college position of defensive tackle for Cincy and spent the entire 2020 season, on and off the Bengals’ active roster. Preseason action could benefit his chances of sticking around again.
- FB: Johnny Stanton (Los Angeles Wildcats)
- OL: Michael Dunn (Seattle Dragons)
- TE: Connor Davis (St. Louis BattleHawks)
Because of a string of injuries on their offensive line, the Cleveland Browns had to turn to Michael Dunn at the end of their regular season and during their first playoff victory in decades. Michael Dunn, like Taylor Heinicke, was not only up for the challenge but shined on the brightest stage. Dunn neutralized Steelers standout D-linemen Cameron Heyward in the playoffs, helping his team defeat their long-time rivals. The former AAF and XFL standout finally got his shot and proved that he should be an NFL mainstay for years to come.
Johnny Stanton is a versatile role player on offense and special teams. He spent almost the entire season for Cleveland on the Browns practice squad but did see some regular-season action last year.
TE Connor Davis is the true definition of a diamond in the rough. The 6’8 stud tight-end has completely reformed himself after coming out of Stony Brook, and NFL teams have taken notice. Davis worked out for the Jets last year and landed a spot immediately on their practice squad. But a new regime change in the offseason led to the Jets letting Davis go earlier this year. Cleveland scooped up Davis before he could work out for several NFL teams at HUB football. Connor blew away the Browns brass with his physical gifts and with preseason games this year. It will be interesting to see him finally in action.
- P: Hunter Niswander (DC Defenders)
AAF fans know that former Orlando Apollos quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who saw game action last year starting against the Pittsburgh Steelers, is locked into #2 QB duties behind the returning Dak Prescott.
XFL fans might remember the media stunt last year when “PFT Commenter” worked out for the DC Defenders in training camp. The player who aided and “competed” with him in his tryout, Punter/Kicker Hunter Niswander ended up having a fantastic season with the Dallas Cowboys last year after joining their roster at midseason.
Niswander averaged 47.2 yards on 26 punts in the final eight games, tying for ninth-best in the NFL. He landed 10 of his punts inside the 20-yard-line. His production convinced the Cowboys to release punter Chris Jones. Niswander has kicking experience and has been doing that for Dallas while kicker Greg Zuerlein recovers from back surgery. Although, Niswander’s kicks in the hall of fame game last week left a lot to be desired. Punting really well is his calling card.
- WR: De’Mornay Pierson-El (St. Louis BattleHawks)
- DB: Saivion Smith (Houston Roughnecks)
Pierson-El has been down this road before. The former Nebraska standout, only 25 years old, has spent time with 6 different pro football teams since going undrafted in 2018. Pierson-El has spent time on practice squads but has never received regular-season action. The Broncos will be a tough roster to crack, considering the depth and talent of their receiving corps.
Saivion Smith, the cornerback/safety, is on his third NFL team since playing with Houston in the XFL. Last year, he spent the season on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad but did see action in several regular-season games. Against the Bengals, Smith had an excellent game starting for a depleted Cowboy secondary but a hand injury wiped out his season. Smith was released by Dallas this past May, claimed on waivers by Seattle, and the cut by them in late July. Before signing on with the Denver Broncos on 8/3. Like Pierson-El, Saivion Smith is facing an uphill battle to make Denver’s roster.
- RB: Godwin Igwebuike (Seattle Dragons)
- LS: Scott Daly (New York Guardians)
That’s not a misprint on former Seattle Dragons defensive back Godwin Igwebuike. The Lions signed Igwebuike in January and have him playing running back. It’s a position; he played as a senior at Pickerington North high school in 2012; Igwebuike rushed for 1,985 yards and 29 touchdowns as a two-way player in Ohio before starring at Northwestern at safety.
Scott Daly is in a battle with long-time Lions long snapper Don Muhlbach. The two-time pro bowler has assumed long-snapping duties for Detroit since 2004. Daly, who did an excellent job with New York in the XFL, might have to wait his turn as Nick Moore did with the Ravens.
Green Bay Packers
- WR: DeAndre Thompkins (DC Defenders)
DeAndre Thompkins, the former Penn State alum, signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2019. Thompkins received an $85,000 signing bonus. He was released by Philly at final cuts that summer. He ended up with DC in the XFL before eventually spending time last summer on the Steelers roster. This is his third NFL team in three summers. NFL Teams see Thompkins’s upside as an explosive returner and deep threat, but final cutdown day has not been kind to him up until this point.
Kansas City Chiefs
- WR: Antonio Callaway (Tampa Bay Vipers)
Antonio Callaway, the former fourth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns, is trying to revitalize his once-promising career with the Chiefs this summer. A year ago, Callaway spent time on the NFL’s suspended list after officially joining the Miami Dolphins. Calaway spent time on Miami’s practice squad and the active roster before the Dolphins let him go in December. Only 24 years old, Callaway is going to keep getting chances in the NFL because of his talents, but time might be running out.
Los Angeles Chargers
- TE: Donald Parham Jr. (Dallas Renegades)
- WR: Austin Proehl (Seattle Dragons)
- OT: Storm Norton (Los Angeles Wildcats)
When XFL fans weren’t monitoring the Carolina Panthers to see the likes of P.J. Walker and Kenny Robinson, the Chargers were the next best bet in 2020 to see league alumni. And not just on the playing field, either. Former DC Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton help lead rookie Justin Herbert to NFL rookie of the year honors. Hamilton is now in Houston with the Texans.
OT Storm Norton, who was the highest-graded XFL offensive linemen by Pro Football Focus, started three games for the Chargers. And once again, PFF graded Norton as the highest-rated linemen, but this time for LA.
TE Donald Parham Jr. looks like a star in the making. A year ago, Parham Jr. played every game for the Chargers and contributed three touchdowns as a backup, but Hunter Henry left through free agency this year. As a result, Parham could be taking center stage in LA.
Austin Proehl, the son of NFL veteran Ricky Proehl, scored the first touchdown in the 2020 XFL season. The 49ers signed him to a futures deal earlier this year, but San Francisco let him go in May. The Chargers claimed him off of waivers. A 7th round pick out of North Carolina by the Buffalo Bills in 2018. The Chargers are Proehl’s fifth NFL team since.
Los Angeles Rams
- K: Austin MacGinnis (Dallas Renegades)
MacGinnis was perfect in the XFL, and it got him a roster spot with LA last season. The former Kentucky kicker spent most of last season on the Rams practice squad and came close to stepping in and starting last year when Matt Gay was injured. No matter what happens. Preseason games are great for kickers because not only are you auditioning for your franchise, but opposing teams around the league are watching as well. A good performance by Mac could get him the shot he has earned.
New England Patriots
- LS: Brian Khoury (DC Defenders)
The Patriots just recently signed Khoury after the Baltimore Ravens released him. The former DC Defender will be competing with Joe Cardona for long-snapping duties.
New Orleans Saints
- WR: Jake Lampman (Tampa Bay Vipers)
This is Jake Lampman’s second stint with the Saints. He also spent time on the Tampa Bay Bucs practice squad. Last year, Lampan was on Team 9 in the XFL, got the call up to be on the Vipers roster, and only days later, the XFL suspended the season due to COVID. Last summer, Lampman went on the tryout circuit for NFL teams before eventually landing on the Saints practice squad.
New York Giants
- DT: Elijah Qualls (DC Defenders)
On August 11th, the New York Giants signed former Philadelphia Eagles sixth-round draft pick Elijah Qualls. The 337-pound nose tackle has been on four different NFL teams before signing with the G-men. After playing really well for DC in the XFL. Qualls spent the entire fall and winter working out for several teams, but he finally found a home a couple of days ago.
New York Jets
- QB: Josh Johnson (Los Angeles Wildcats)
- RB: Austin Walter (Dallas Renegades)
- LB: Edmond Robinson (Houston Roughnecks)
- CB: Elijah Campbell (DC Defenders)
A year ago, the New York Jets had three XFL players on their roster at various stages. Two are no longer with the green and white—Roughnecks kicker Sergio Castillo, who struggled mightily after getting to a good start. And Connor Davis is now with the Browns.
The Jets in 2021 have four of the best players that the XFL had in 2020. Josh Johnson was PFF’s highest-graded quarterback in the XFL. Last season, the journeyman spent time with the San Francisco 49ers on their practice squad. Johnson was called up to start for the Niners late last year but was placed on the team’s COVID list. The Jets have brought Johnson in because of his knowledge of Mike LaFleur’s offense and his veteran experience. Watching Johnson in the preseason should be interesting for XFL fans.
RB/KR Austin Walter is a former 49er brought over to join up with the San Francisco coaches who have joined Robert Saleh’s staff in New York. In the XFL, Walter made the All-XFL team at kick returner. The performance helped land him a spot with San Fran’s practice squad and eventually their main roster.
Edmond Robinson is a recent addition to the Jets. He recently joined the team after spending a season with the Atlanta Falcons. Like Johnson and Walter, Robinson has ties to the Jets staff after playing 13 games under defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich last year.
DB Elijah Campbell was the highest-graded cornerback in the XFL by Pro Football Focus. He joined the Jets practice squad last year and was immediately elevated to their active roster. Campbell’s sure tackling had him playing safety, and this year, he is competing at the nickel spot in the Jets’ secondary.
- TE: Tyree Jackson (DC Defenders)
One of the most intriguing players to watch this preseason in the NFL is former University of Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson. The 6’7 Jackson played in the XFL as a true rookie after just missing the cut with the Buffalo Bills. Jackson has been shining at his new position this summer with the Eagles.
NFL teams are looking to copy the recent success that Washington has had with former Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, who has transformed into one of the league’s best pass-catching tight ends. The Eagles paid a hefty signing bonus in the offseason to Tyree Jackson to get him to be their pet project. It will be interesting to see how this experiment plays out. So far, so good.
- LS: Christian Kuntz (Dallas Renegades)
A year ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers had four different XFL players on their roster for the entire season. This year, two of those players, former New York Guardians linemen Jarron Jones and Anthony Coyle, have both been released in recent months.
- Just after this article was published. The Steelers officially announced the release of former Renegades linebacker Tegray Scales on Saturday 8/14. The move leaves Pittsburgh with only one former XFL player.
Christian Kuntz see-sawed back and forth all season long on and off the Steelers practice squad. This is his second straight summer with Pittsburgh. Something tells me that it could happen again.
- DT: Walter Palmore (Houston Roughnecks)
Walter Palmore follows the ongoing trend with the majority of the players on this list. On an NFL team in 2019, let go at final cuts, play well in the XFL, latch on to an NFL team’s practice squad (Cowboys), and end up on another roster a year later. This time, Palmore is with Seattle, his fourth pro team in two years.
- FB/TE: Donnie Ernsberger (DC Defenders)
Donnie Ernsberger is the type of do-it-all player NFL teams keep on the back end of their rosters. He played the role well in the XFL and most recently in The Spring League for Kevin Gilbride and the Jousters. Unfortunately for Ernsberger after signing with the Titans on August 5th. He suffered an injury in camp and was placed on injured reserve. Ernsberger’s status with Tennessee is in limbo for the time being. Players in his situation like Jeff Badet could be released with an injury settlement down the road.
Washington Football Team
- QB: Taylor Heinicke (St. Louis BattleHawks)
- C: Jon Toth (DC Defenders)
- DE: Bunmi Rotimi (New York Guardians)
- DT: Gabe Wright (Houston Roughnecks)
Jon Toth and Gabe Wright are recent pickups by Washington. Both players have bounced around NFL teams before handling the trenches well for their respective teams in the XFL. Wright, a former fourth-round pick, spent time on the Jaguars’ practice squad last season.
Washington recently signed New York Guardians and XFL standout DE Bunmi Rotimi. With New York in 2020, Rotimi was one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the entire league. It’s taken longer than it should have but Rotimi finally is back on an NFL roster.
Much the same way, Garrett Gilbert and John Wolford wave the flag for spring pro football quarterbacks and the AAF. P.J. Walker and Taylor Heinicke do the same for the XFL. The strongest argument for alternate pro football leagues in the states has been for quarterback development. In the NFL, there are not enough jobs or reps to go around for young signal-callers.
So players from the past like Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme, Jon Kitna, Tommy Maddox, and others all developed as quarterbacks playing outside the NFL.
Taylor Heinicke is a unique case in that the XFL was smart enough to see his value and have him assigned to one of their rosters, but he never actually played in the league.
Not only did Heinicke prove that he should’ve played in the XFL, but he ultimately proved that the NFL should never have let him get lost in the shuffle and fall out of the league. My guess is that there are several other quarterbacks just like Heinicke out there. Players who are either on the outside looking in like a Kyle Sloter or that are currently on NFL rosters who will never get a chance to lead their own offense like Joshua Dobbs.
Hopefully, leagues like the XFL can return and repeat what they accomplished in 2020, presenting quality football and providing opportunities for the game and the players to grow.
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