With the NFL preseason now over, teams are finalizing their rosters and making some difficult cuts. There’s a lot to look at when it comes to preseason action, particularly player stories. A few players from the XFL are on NFL rosters in 2021, although most of them are part of their team’s practice squad. Despite that, they still got a chance to prove their worth in the preseason, and this article is meant to highlight that. Here are the five best preseason performances from former XFL participants.
No. 5: Tanner Gentry, WR
Although Gentry spent most of his time as a New York Guardian on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain, he was still a part of the team. He had previously spent two seasons with the Chicago Bears (2017-2018), but only caught 3 passes for 35 yards. The Buffalo Bills signed Gentry to their practice squad at the beginning of 2021, and he’s been there ever since. Gentry was college teammates with QB Josh Allen at Wyoming, which probably helped him get on the team. In the 2021 preseason, he caught 5 passes for 38 yards.
No. 4: Josh Johnson, QB
Johnson’s football career can be defined by a single word: journeyman. After being selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Johnson went on to be signed and cut by 12 different NFL teams. He was also a member of the UFL’s Sacramento Mountain Lions (2012) and the AAF’s San Diego Fleet (2019) when unable to find NFL jobs. Possibly the most productive period of Johnson’s career, though, was with the XFL’s Los Angeles Wildcats. In August 2021, at the age of 35, he signed with the New York Jets for the second time in his career. Johnson was coming off his third stint with the San Francisco 49ers at the time, and it looked like his playing days were coming to an end. However, the Jets needed another QB, and he was willing to join the team. Despite only appearing in a single preseason game, Johnson completed 7 of 8 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. Jets fans were hoping he’d win the backup job to Zach Wilson, but the team decided to move in a different direction.
No. 3: Taylor Heinicke, QB
Just like Gentry, Heinicke did not see the field during his time in the XFL. It wasn’t because of an injury, though, but because he was the backup to St. Louis BattleHawks QB Jordan Ta’amu. Both Heinicke and Ta’amu signed NFL contracts in 2020, but Heinicke’s was towards the end of the year. He became a member of the Washington Football Team, reuniting him with former Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. Heinicke spent two years in Carolina (2018-2019) before his XFL stint. He went on to start Washington’s Wild Card playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, following an injury to Alex Smith and the release of Dwayne Haskins. Although Washington lost the game, Heinicke’s performance was good enough for a two-year contract extension a few months later. Washington signed veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick at around the same time, and although he recently won the starting job, Heinicke is now considered to be one of the better backups in the NFL. In the 2021 preseason, he appeared in 2 games, completing 20 of 28 passes for 166 yards.
No. 2: Jacques Patrick, RB
Patrick, unlike the other players mentioned in this list, had no prior NFL experience when he joined the XFL. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Vipers, hoping that the new league would allow the NFL to see his talent. Patrick was not signed as a UDFA in 2019 following his collegiate career at Florida State. After becoming the XFL’s third-leading rusher, he agreed to a contract with the Cincinnati Bengals in April 2020. He has been on the team’s practice squad ever since, but because the 2020 preseason was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Patrick appeared in his first NFL game just a few weeks ago. Through three games in the 2021 preseason, Patrick rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown off 31 carries. He also had 3 receptions for 23 yards during that span as well.
No. 1: PJ Walker, QB
Walker is undoubtedly the most well-known XFL player, and was a fan favorite during his time with the Houston Roughnecks. Walker went undrafted out of Temple in 2017, and spent three years on the Indianapolis Colts practice squad. After the 2019 NFL season, he entered the XFL draft hoping to revive his career. During his time with the Roughnecks, Walker led the XFL in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. Although the league never handed out an MVP award, he would’ve won it with ease. Thanks to his great performance in the XFL, Walker signed with the Carolina Panthers in March 2020. He was reunited with Matt Rhule, his former head coach at Temple. Walker was named QB2 heading into the regular season, and ended up starting a game after an injury to Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater was traded to the Denver Broncos in the 2021 offseason, after the Panthers were able to get New York Jets QB Sam Darnold in a separate trade. Darnold was named QB1, and the QB2 spot was a competition between Walker and 2019 third-round pick Will Grier. In the 2021 preseason, Walker completed 16 of 39 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown. This effort was enough to beat Grier for the second-string job, and Walker will now remain in the same role he was given for 2020.
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UPDATE: Josh Johnson was signed to the Jets practice squad shortly after his release from the team.