With the 2023 XFL season now only two weeks away, there is a growing feeling of excitement among fans, players, and coaches alike. However, even though there is plenty of entertainment on the horizon, it’s important to not forget the roots of this league. The first version of the XFL kicked off in 2001, lasting a single season before being revived almost two decades later.
The 2020 edition of the XFL marked the birth of the Houston Roughnecks, who will be returning after a three-year hiatus. The 2020 team only played five games before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down league operations, yet they went undefeated during that stretch. The original Roughnecks team had some very talented individuals that went on to find success elsewhere, a handful of which will be covered in this article series. With the offensive players out of the way, we’ll now look at five players from the defensive side of the ball.
Deatrick Nichols, CB, South Florida
Nichols was arguably the best defensive player in XFL 2.0, leading the league in interceptions (3) while also recording six passes defended. He was also one of the first players from XFL 2.0 to sign a NFL contract, joining the New Orleans Saints on March 24th, 2020. Nichols was waived during training camp, and later signed by the Miami Dolphins two weeks later. However, he didn’t last long with the Dolphins either, getting released for a second time during final roster cuts. Nichols did not land with another team or practice squad through the 2020 NFL season, and later signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (CFL) in February 2021.
Nichols immediately became a star in the CFL, recording 46 total tackles and 3 interceptions en route to an appearance in the 108th Grey Cup. In that championship matchup against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Nichols proved to be a pivotal asset, breaking up a crucial pass on the last play of the fourth quarter and later tipping a ball that resulted in the game-winning interception for Winnipeg (overtime). Due to his efforts, Nichols was named a CFL All-Star for the 2021 season. He most recently appeared in a second Grey Cup against the Toronto Argonauts, but the Blue Bombers were unable to pull off a victory this time.
Cody Brown, S, Arkansas State
Brown finished his time in the XFL with 24 total tackles, 3 passes defended, and 2 interceptions (tied for second-most in the league behind Nichols). The former Arkansas State standout had to wait until 2022 to play again, but he made the most of the next opportunity. As a member of the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars, Brown recorded 61 total tackles (41 solo) and helped the team appear in the USFL championship game. The Stars would fall to the Birmingham Stallions 33-30, and Brown would lose to one of his former Roughnecks teammates as a result (who happens to be the next player on this list).
DeMarquis Gates, LB, Mississippi
Gates was one of the more versatile players in XFL 2.0, filling up a stat sheet with ease (32 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 3 passes defended, 3 fumble recoveries, 2 sacks, 1 interception). The Ole Miss product has been well traveled in the alt football world, having now played in five different leagues. Following his time in Houston, Gates was signed by the Minnesota Vikings, just a day after the Saints acquired his teammate Deatrick Nichols. After being waived during training camp a few months later, Gates landed with The Spring League (TSL) Blues for their COVID-delayed 2020 season.
The stint in TSL helped Gates get a job in the CFL, where he played in five games for the Saskatchewan Roughriders during their 2021 campaign, mostly on special teams. His real breakout campaign came just this past year, however, when he was drafted by the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL. Gates recorded 68 total tackles (44 solo), 6.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles, helping the Stallions win the “inaugural” USFL championship. Most recently, Gates got his first true NFL action with the Chicago Bears, appearing in 3 games and recording a single tackle.
Beniquez Brown, LB, Mississippi State
Brown finished the shortened 2020 season with 36 total tackles, which was third-best in the league behind Steven Johnson (Dragons) and Ahmad Dixon (Wildcats). He also recorded 4 tackles for loss, 2 passes defended, and a forced fumble. Unfortunately, Brown didn’t receive any NFL interest, and his next opportunity wouldn’t be until 2022 when he was drafted into the USFL. He recorded 15 total tackles (10 solo), an interception, and half a sack during his time with the Houston Gamblers.
Edmond Robinson, LB, Newberry
Robinson was another part of the Roughnecks’ strong linebacker corps, and played his role very well. He finished the 2020 campaign with 22 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks. As a result, Robinson was picked up by the Atlanta Falcons on March 30th, 2020. He was originally a member of the teams’ practice squad to start the season, but was elevated to the active roster and eventually played in 13 games. Over that stretch, Robinson recorded 15 total tackles. Heading into 2021, Robinson signed with the New York Jets, but was with the team for just three weeks before being cut during the preseason. He later joined the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad in mid-November, being elevated for three games down the stretch. After not playing in 2022, Robinson has returned to the XFL in 2023 as a member of the Arlington Renegades, recently being announced as part of the 51-man final roster.
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