Green Bay Packers Sign D.C. Defenders Standout Punter Daniel Whelan
The 6’6, 232-lb Irish-born rookie punter out of UC Davis was a standout special teams performer in the FCS before getting a shot with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2022.
At UC-Davis, Whelan averaged 44.0 yards per punt for his career. As a fifth-year senior in 2021, he averaged an FCS-leading 46.3 yards per punt with 20 inside-the-20 kicks vs. only five touchbacks. 21 punts of over 50 yards illustrated his leg strength with a long of 65.
Daniel Whelan missed the cut in New Orleans in September of 2022. But then took part in the XFL’s specialist showcase run by longtime NFL kicker Nick Novak. The developmental program run by Novak has helped train many specialists, including Whelan, who showed off his leg strength as a punter and kicker during the XFL’s exclusive showcase dedicated to special teams last Fall.
The D.C. Defenders initially drafted Whelan in November 2022 as a potential dual-purpose specialist. He was D.C.’s second overall selection in the XFL’s special teams draft.
In the XFL, Whelan ranked third in the league with a 45.6-yard average with 11 inside-the-20 kicks vs. two touchbacks. He led the eight-team league in hang time. In one outing versus the St. Louis Battlehawks, four of Whelan’s five punts pinned his opponent inside the 20.
After the season, XFL head coaches and directors of player personnel voted Whelan as an all-league selection at Punter.
Daniel Whelan is now one of seven All-XFL players to sign on with NFL teams. In Green Bay, he will compete with veteran punter Pat O’Donnell for a potential spot on the 53-player roster. Whelan will continue his development, receiving coaching from one of the NFL’s very best coaches, Packers assistant head coach/special teams coordinator – Rich Bisaccia.
A native of Enniskerry, Ireland, Whelan is looking to become the first Irish-born player to compete in an NFL regular-season game since 1985, when kicker Neil O’Donoghue played his last season with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The NFL’s XFL Player Signings
As of press time, 20 XFL 2023 players have signed on with NFL teams. 58 XFL players have either been invited to camps or have held individual workouts with NFL teams since the conclusion of the regular season. Monday, May 15, was the first day XFL players could officially sign NFL contracts.
Because the D.C. Defenders and Arlington Renegades were scheduled to play the league’s championship game in late April.
One hundred two of the XFL title game participating players were not eligible to work out for NFL teams during tryout minicamps.
Once the smoke cleared on the XFL championship game, each team has seen one player sign on in the NFL.
Arlington’s Rookie pass rusher, Willie Taylor, who, despite being draft eligible, decided to play in the XFL and has now signed on with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent. And D.C.’s Daniel Whelan.
More NFL signings from both teams could occur with their windows now open in the coming days. Tryouts will take place in the coming days, weeks, and months heading into the fall.
The odds are always against fringe players making NFL rosters. Most NFL teams are currently at or near their 90-player off-season limit. As a result, roughly only 21 roster openings are scattered across 32 NFL teams. Therefore, getting in the door is very challenging, no matter how talented XFL 2023 players are.
The one promising sign for NFL hopefuls from the current XFL player class is that 14 players from XFL 2020 are currently on NFL rosters.
QB PJ Walker (Chicago Bears), QB Taylor Heinicke (Atlanta Falcons), DB Elijah Campbell (Miami Dolphins), RB Austin Walter (Las Vegas Raiders), TE Donald Parham Jr (Los Angeles Chargers), OL Michael Dunn (Cleveland Browns), LS Christian Kuntz (Pittsburgh Steelers), LS Scott Daly (Detroit Lions), LS Nick Moore (Baltimore Ravens), TE Tyree Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles), OT Storm Norton (New Orleans Saints), DB Saivion Smith (Detroit Lions), DeMarquis Gates (Chicago Bears), and DB Kenny Robinson (Pittsburgh Steelers).
A player like LB DeMarquis Gates spent time in the NFL after starring in the XFL three years ago before taking a detour into the USFL and then cycling back into the big league. However, most of the XFL 2020 group is potentially headed toward their fourth straight season playing in the National Football League after starring in the XFL three years ago.
Ironically, XFL 2023 players are joining XFL 2020 players on the same NFL rosters. Maybe former 2020 Battlehawks safety and fifth-round NFL draft pick Kenny Robinson will be breaking up passes in Steelers’ practice intended for 2023 St. Louis star, WR Hakeem Butler, as both players battle for a spot on Pittsburgh’s roster.
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