With less than a week until kickoff, the Orlando Guardians have locked in their final 51-man roster with all eyes set on the inaugural XFL Championship in the league’s first season since the surprising 2020 shutdown.
Orlando’s coaching staff features several notable Florida football names. Former FSU superstar Terrell Buckley will be getting his first head coaching opportunity in the XFL after spending nearly two decades as an assistant at several universities across the country. Buckley and his staff, which also includes former Hurricanes and Dolphins wideout Lamar Thomas and UF standout Shane Matthews, will look to exceed expectations as they start the season with the longest odds of all eight teams to win the championship.
Despite being dubbed significant underdogs before ever playing a game, the Guardians and their fan base should have plenty to look forward to with several dynamic pieces filling out the roster. Here are three players who can make an impact this season while sporting the Green and Gray:
- Paxton Lynch (QB)
Lynch makes his XFL debut just 30 miles away from the high school where the 6-foot-7 quarterback made a name for himself. The former Memphis star was a first-round pick in 2016 but lasted just two years with the Denver Broncos before being cut. Lynch never got a legitimate shot to showcase his true abilities, starting just four games in his first two seasons. Lynch finished his NFL career with 79 completions for 792 yards, four touchdowns, and four interceptions. After failing to stick on several NFL rosters, Lynch made the move to the CFL in 2021 and USFL in 2022. The 29-year-old finished with 54 completions for 550 yards, seven total touchdowns, and four interceptions in six games with the Michigan Panthers last spring. Lynch was named the starting quarterback for Orlando’s Week 1 matchup this weekend.
- Cody Latimer (WR)
Arguably one of the most accomplished player in the league, Latimer joins his former Broncos teammate, Lynch, in Orlando. The duo played together multiple seasons in the NFL, and now look to rekindle a connection on their new squad. The Super Bowl-winning receiver last played professionally in 2019 with the New York Giants. The 30-year-old veteran finished with 24 receptions for 300 yards and two touchdowns. Latimer would go on to sign with the Washington Football Team but was cut during the Summer of 2020. The lanky deep threat should make a big impact despite the three-year hiatus from the sport.
- Matt Elam (S)
A 2013 NFL first-round pick, Elam, makes his return to the XFL – much like current teammate Eli Rogers – after a two-year run in the IFL and CFL. Elam and Rogers were teammates on the Defenders in the XFL 2.0 three years ago. The now 31-year-old started his career with the Baltimore Ravens who ultimately decided not to pick up the safety’s option at the conclusion of his rookie contract after he suffered a knee injury in 2016. Elam posted 131 total tackles during his NFL tenure. Since then, the former First-Team All-American has had some trouble sticking on a roster, including 2022, when he was cut after just three games with the CFL’s Edmonton Elks. Elam finished with 10 tackles during that brief tenure north of the border.
Eli Rogers (WR)
Rogers makes his return to the XFL for the 2023 season after a two-year run in the USFL and CFL, where he failed to see the field. This latest stint will mark the journeyman’s fourth-consecutive run in an alternative league after beginning his career as an undrafted free agent on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rogers’ three-year NFL career saw the shifty wideout post 78 receptions for 822 yards and four touchdowns. The now 30-year-old still has plenty to offer and was in the midst of a solid season with the DC Defenders before the XFL’s shutdown in early March 2020. Rogers finished that COVID-shortened season with 19 receptions for 164 yards in just five games.
The Guardians will start their 2023 campaign on the road this Saturday, February 188, at 8:30 PM EST. The season-opener is set to be broadcast on ESPN.
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