The San Antonio Brahmas are the newest addition to the XFL in 2023. Seven of the eight-team names were picked due to the nostalgia they represented from the 2020 season. The Brahmas were the one team that did not exist in either iteration of the XFL previously. As the Rock’s pet project for the league, I expect him to be very vocal in his support of the Brahmas in particular. Donning an electric black and yellow look that visually pops on screen, this team is led by a host of former NFL players from the late 90s to early 2000s.
Building in the Image of Hines Ward
Hines Ward was named the head coach after a season in which he was interviewed for NFL head coaching openings. Ward is fairly new to coaching, but that didn’t stop the XFL from giving him his first chance to run a team. When you look back to Ward’s career I believe there will be two traits that stand apart for this team. They will be Versatile, and they will be Nasty.
Hines Ward during his playing career was always one of the most versatile players on the field as a former quarterback turned wideout. His tenacity, and tendency to deliver devastating blind side blocks, garnered him a reputation as one of the nastiest players in the league. Coach Ward will have no problem “laying down the law” in 2023.
As if the mentality of Ward wasn’t enough, you also have big names like Joey Porter, another very high-energy coach. He will be another tone-setter for this team, and another former player promoting this team to be among the toughest teams to face in the league. Paul Spicer the defensive line coach is no different. He too was known as a fiery player during his career. Top to bottom there will be a clear tendency to strike fear in your opponents in one way or another in 2023.
Quarterback Room is Chock Full of Talent
The Brahmas were the only team to select four quarterbacks during the initial draft process. With the Supplemental draft in January, there is still a chance this room sees changes before the season. The first two quarterbacks assigned to the roster in 2023 were Jawon Pass and Anthony Russo. It seems that San Antonio is using the dart method. Throwing darts at a board until one hits the bull’s eye.
Jawon Pass 6’4 225 lbs
Pass is a dual-threat quarterback who began his college career with Louisville before transferring to Prairie View University for his fifth collegiate season. During college, Pass completed 58% of his 717 passing attempts. However looking at his stat lines, you can see he was only the starter for two seasons. His second at Louisville and his final season at Prairie View. During his time as a starter at Louisville, he managed just 8 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions.
For the next two seasons, he would remain mostly on the bench for the school. Then after the 2020 season, he opted to transfer. This ultimately was a solid decision and changed the perception of him as a player. During his time with Prairie View, he completed 61.2% of his passes, a 7% jump from his first season as a starter. He also threw for 2,626 yards, and 16 touchdowns, and rushed for 264 yards and 4 touchdowns all of which were career highs. Graduating after the 2021 season, Pass is still technically a rookie.
At 6’4 224 pounds, Pass has the prototypical size for the quarterback position. His athletic abilities and size alone make him a very interesting prospect. He is the exact type of player the XFL wanted to attract, the player 54’s of the world. A guy who was just outside the NFL looking in, Pass now has a path to playing time if he can beat out the other three signal callers.
Anthony Russo 6’4 240 lbs
Russo was one of the initial names we had heard in connection with the XFL. There were even some fans getting extremely upset when the leaked names in the days leading up to the quarterback assignment period didn’t initially include Russo. Russo is another young quarterback looking to get his professional career off of the ground in San Antonio.
After beginning his college career at Temple as a starter it seemed Russo had fallen out of favor by the time 2020 wrapped up. This along with the modified transfer rules allowed Russo to move on the Michigan State University. Russo made this move in hopes of winning a starting job, but the move backfired and Russo rode the bench in 2021 for MSU. To make matters worse, during the 2021 season Russo was cited for operating a vehicle while under the influence during his time as the backup quarterback at MSU.
Not a good look right before you enter the professional football world. Eligible for the 2022 NFL draft, to this point he had completed just under 60% of his passes for 6,335 yards, 44 touchdowns to 32 interceptions. Russo can escape the pocket, but will never be confused for a dual-threat quarterback despite his 7 rushing touchdowns in four seasons of college. At 6’4 240 pounds, size wise he looks similar to Big Ben Roethlisberger on the field at times. It remains to be seen how Russo does in the XFL. Can he win a job over players who started up until last season?
In the open portion of the draft on day 3 of the three-day process, the Brahmas brought in two more quarterbacks that were veterans of the NFL. The first name is Reid Sinnett.
Reid Sinnett 6’4 230 lbs
Sinnett is another NFL-sized quarterback at 6’4 220 lbs. If one thing is clear, the Brahmas were not about to select an undersized quarterback due to the limitations it can place on an offense. A one-year starter in high school, Sinnett was ignored as a player in the recruiting process. He received one offer from a big-name school with Penn extending an offer before a coaching change led to the offer dissolving.
Sinnett instead attended San Diego where he would redshirt as a freshman. The next three seasons he spent as a backup behind a record-setting starter and rarely sniffed the field. Before his redshirt senior season, he had attempted just 48 passes. With 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions, not the most inspiring statistics, he would seize the starting job as a redshirt senior. However, if you thought Sinnett would crumble given the opportunity, you would have been wrong.
Sinnett came in and played better than most expected. Attempting 375 passes on the year, completing 66.9% of his passes, and demonstrating an ability to limit turnovers and protect the ball. He would finish the season with a 3 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio tossing 32 scores, and just 10 interceptions on the year. Averaging 9.4 yards per attempt was elite production in college, and I expect the XFL to be the best place for him to grow and develop as a passer to hit his ceiling.
After his college career ended on a high note, he received NFL consideration despite limited playing time. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Asked to back up Tom Brady of all players, it was a nice introduction to the professional world. He would spend the most time in Miami where he was on the practice squad for the 2020, and 2021 seasons, as well as a part of the 2022 season. In between his two stints in Miami he spent some time with the Philadelphia Eagles. He hasn’t been given an opportunity to get playing time in the NFL. Despite this, I honestly believe Sinnett might end up being the day-one starter for the Brahmas in 2023.
Jack Coan 6’3 221 lbs
Jack Coan is another rookie, but he has had the benefit of spending some time on an NFL roster in 2022 with the Indianapolis Colts. Coan began his collegiate career with Wisconsin. Spending two seasons as the backup for the school before seizing the starting job in 2019. His performance in 2019 showed he was a solid quarterback leading his team to a 10-4 record on the strength of an efficient season. Coan nearly broke the 70% completion mark, a hallmark of a highly accurate quarterback who is making the right decisions.
He would ultimately throw 18 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions showing an ability to keep his offense in plus situations and convert 3rd downs when it mattered the most. After appearing in 22 games over his first three seasons and collecting a 12-5 record in 17 starts, Coan suffered a season-ending injury in the 2020 season. He would not see the field at all during the covid marred 2020 campaign.
In 2021, Coan moved on to a new school to show he still had what it takes to be a professional quarterback. Transferring to Notre Dame he seemingly played better than he had in 2019. He attempted more passes, threw for more yards, and touchdowns while seeing a minimal increase in his interceptions, and incomplete passes. He would ultimately finish the season with 3,150 passing yards an average of 8.2 yards per attempt.
He would score 27 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions this time around. Primarily a pocket passer, Coan again has the ability to move within the pocket when needed but he will not be mistaken for a dual-threat quarterback at any point. He is a player that intrigues me and could have an outside shot at being the guy for San Antonio in 2023. He seems to have the right mixture of youth, and production as a starter. Coan could be a guy who ends up right back in the NFL if he has a solid season in the XFL.
Offensive Skill Positions
For the skill positions I will address them in the order they were selected to give a bit more clarity as to how each player was viewed in relation to the other players selected at their position. That said, it seems to be fairly clear to me that this staff with its heavy Steeler ties will be running the rock in 2023. All you have to do for evidence of this is look at their first two selections in the offensive skill position round.
Jacques Patrick 6’2 235 lbs
Patrick is a bowling ball with legs like a running back. Known for being tough to bring down, Patrick has found success in the XFL in the past. The XFL is actually what launched Patrick’s professional career. After attending Florida State University and proving he could help out in the passing game, I for one believed Patrick would be selected on draft day in the later rounds.
However, he had to wait until the XFL draft to hear his name called on draft day. Playing for the Tampa Bay Vipers in 2020, was his first taste of playing professional football. During his time with the Vipers, Patrick would collect 65 touches for 303 yards and 2 touchdowns. Ironically despite averaging over 12 touches a game for the 5 games in 2020, Patrick was splitting time with De’Veon Smith who led the league in rushing.
Despite this competition for touches within his team, Patrick still placed third in rushing yards for the league. He and Smith would combine for 619 rushing yards on the season averaging nearly 125 yards rushing per game between the pair. Patrick would then get looks from the NFL in Cincinnati, and San Francisco spent the most time with the Bengals but seeing the field with the 49ers. Patrick is expected to be the first off the bench in 2023, but I wouldn’t expect the Brahmas to lean on any one back in 2023.
Calvin Turner 5’11 198 lbs
If Patrick is the “smash”, Turner is the “dash” in this backfield. Turner was a three-sport athlete leaving high-school having played quarterback, ran track, and played basketball. He was named the Savannah Morning New’s Most Versatile Male Athlete of the year in 2017. He would end up committing to Jacksonville University to begin his college career.
What is extremely interesting to note about Turner, is he initially started his collegiate career playing defensive back as a freshman. During this season he collected 53 tackles, 6 pass deflections, and 2 fumble recoveries. He also saw time as a kick returner with 15 returns for 342 yards. After his one season on the defensive side of the ball, the coaching staff moved him back to quarterback.
Running an option offense with a high tendency to run the quarterback this offense suited Turner’s skillset as a runner. Over the next two seasons, Turner would attempt 149 passes to 447 carries showing just how run-heavy this offense was. If Turner had a future at quarterback at the time it certainly wasn’t shining through, completing just 47% of his passes for 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
What did shine was his ability as a runner. With 447 carries in just two seasons, he managed to collect 2,811 yards or an average of over 6 yards per carry scoring 32 times on the ground. He also caught 2 passes for 30 yards and 1 touchdown. Transferring to Hawaii after the 2019 season Turner made the move to running back a position he arguably was playing the entire time. Over the next 22 games for Hawaii, he did everything for the team.
Catching nearly as many passes as he had carries he finished his time at the school with 239 offensive touches for 2,069 yards and 22 touchdowns averaging over 8 yards per touch. He also had 25 kick returns for 609 yards and 1 touchdown, 6 punt returns for 46 yards, and 4 tackles on special teams. He is the type of versatile player that reminds me a lot of Hines Ward coming out of college.
Kendrick Rogers 6’4 204 lbs
Ward knows the value of a big-bodied receiver in any offense, and what they can do for a quarterback when they have a large catch radius such as Rogers. Rogers is a Texas native having attended high school in Frankston, Texas. He had offers from virtually every college in Texas after a solid high school career that saw him named the first-team all-district as a junior. Garnering the attention of Texas A&M, Houston, SMU, and North Texas he ultimately chose A&M.
Just a two-hour drive from his high school, Texas A&M allowed him to continue building on the fan base he already had as an individual. In 2016 he would redshirt his freshman year to learn the offense and prepare to make an immediate impact in 2017. Each year Rogers saw more and more receptions. By the time he left college, he had 68 career receptions for 786 yards and 7 touchdowns. Five of those touchdowns came in his junior season in which he caught just 27 passes. This displays the red zone threat that Rogers could be in the XFL.
After he left college he would find chances with the Dallas Cowboys, and Ottawa Redblacks but didn’t log any statistics in either location. Rogers winds up the only Texas A&M player out of four drafted to land in San Antonio for the 2023 season. I am intrigued by what Rogers brings to the offense in 2023.
Jalen Tolliver 6’3 210 lbs
Tolliver is yet another big-bodied receiver that will look to bully defensive backs in the 2023 season under former wide receiver Hines Ward. One thing you can expect from this wide receiver group in year one is physicality. The receivers with the Brahmas will have no choice but to be solid blockers in the run game, and show toughness two traits their head coach will instill in them.
Tolliver was a division two stand out earning first team all GAC in 2016 and 2017, as well as second team all GAC in 2015. Tolliver managed to overcome the stigma for small school players and find his way into the NFL straight out of college. He would receive an offer from the Arizona Cardinals and stick on their practice squad for the 2018 season. He would be elevated to the active roster on several occasions, catching 3 passes for 37 yards in 3 appearances.
Over the next two seasons, he would bounce around spending time in Tennessee with the Titans, and Kansas City with the Chiefs. Ultimately in 2020, he got his first taste of spring football with the XFL. He was selected by the Tampa Bay Vipers where he played with Jacques Patrick and under offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo. With the Vipers in 2020, he caught 21 passes for 297 yards and 1 touchdown. When the XFL shut down in 2020, he and Elizondo both needed new homes.
Eventually, Elizondo was hired as the Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, and QB coach for the Edmonton Elks. Of Course, he called his former wide receiver to join him in the CFL. Tolliver happily obliged and had his best season as a pro so far. He caught 29 passes for 383 yards and 4 touchdowns for the Elks in 2021. He also collected 6 tackles showing a willingness to play special teams as well. They say year three is a breakout season for most wide receivers. Could year three in Elizondo’s offense prove to be a career year for Tolliver?
Dylan Parham 6’4 253 lbs
I’m beginning to think that Ward likes to select former collegiate quarterbacks playing other offensive positions. Parham originally committed to play for NC State as a quarterback after being ranked as the #3 quarterback in the state of North Carolina. During his junior and senior seasons as a high school quarterback, he managed 148 carries for 798 yards and 15 touchdowns with two games over 100 yards rushing. He got his first taste of catching passes as a senior with 1 reception for 17 yards.
Spending his freshman season of college redshirting with NC State, he converted to tight end before ever getting a chance to try his hand at quarterback for the school. How did his transition work out? Well, I would say you have to consider it a success. Over the next four years of his career at NC State he would play in 32 games, with 5 starts seeing just 453 snaps total in college. He collected just 7 receptions for 88 yards during this time.
How is this transition a success? The short answer is he wound up signed by the Denver Broncos after seeing less playing time in college than most teams would like. He made it until final cuts in training camp, before being released on August 30th. By the 31st, Parham was back on the practice squad right next to fellow XFL draft pick Darrius Sheppard. Ultimately Denver released Parham in mid-September opting for a more experienced player at the position. If all NFL teams wanted was more experience, chances are we see Parham called back up to the NFL after one season in the XFL. Parham was the first tight end off the board for the Brahmas, so it would appear they are high on what he brings to the table.
Kalen Ballage 6’2 231 lbs
Ballage is another bigger back that can pound the rock between the tackles, but also adds value as a receiver. Selected in the fourth round during the 2018 NFL draft after attending Arizona State University, the Colorado native began to follow in his father’s footsteps.
His father Howard Ballage played wide receiver in the USFL for the Denver Gold in the 80s after attending Colorado University. Football certainly seems to run in the family. Kalen has managed a decent career but hasn’t found a steady home in the NFL since his first two seasons in Miami.
Released after just two years with the team that selected him in the fourth round. He would spend the 2020 season split between the Jets, and the Chargers before landing with the Steelers in 2021. Despite finding some success in 2020 with the Chargers, he just can’t seem to create any lasting momentum in the NFL. By 2022, his chances had dried up and he did not receive any calls from the NFL.
This led him to pursue a route not all that different from the one his father followed nearly 40 years before he did. It’s slightly surprising the USFL didn’t try to tap the namesake of a former player in the original league given his availability and apparent interest in continuing his football career in the Spring.
Alize Mack 6’4 251 lbs
It didn’t take long for the Brahmas to select another player to pair with Parham who is regarded as a blocking tight end. Coming out of Nevada where he attended high school he was regarded as a 4-star recruit at tight end. Already standing 6’4 215 pounds at the time, colleges knew he would grow into his frame once he got into a college weight room.
While Mack’s statistics in college don’t necessarily blow you away, he had a very solid career and displayed his abilities as a receiver. He would play in three seasons for the Fighting Irish with his best season coming as a senior when he caught 36 passes for 360 yards and 3 touchdowns bringing his career totals to 68 receptions for 716 yards and 4 touchdowns. This, and his solid if not spectacular combine numbers led him to be selected in the 7th round by Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints.
In his first season alone he spent time with New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City. Then he signed a futures deal with Kansas City to return for the 2020 season but was waived in May before attending camp. He wouldn’t find his next interest until February of 2021 when he was signed by the Detroit Lions. He would make it to final cuts but wind up released. In 2022 he signed with the Green Bay Packers, and after a solid off-season, he looked to have a decent chance of making the roster until he suffered an injury.
Now even though the injury was not season-ending, the Packers wanted to try and keep Mack on the roster for the future and placed him on injured reserve. However, Mack and the team came to an injury settlement which resulted in his release from the team just days later. His name being called on draft day was slightly surprising but he is a solid selection, and a young player still waiting for his first real opportunity to play professionally.
Terry Wright 5’10 177 lbs
Wright is the first player under 6’2 selected by the Brahmas, but the second player selected who had spent time with the Ottawa Redblacks where Elizondo coached from 2016-2018, although had no overlap with Wright, who played there during the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
Wright is one of those dynamic open-field athletes that can beat you with his speed or agility. Despite being recruited by Jeff Brohm (former XFL 1.0 quarterback), he was forced to begin his college career at the JUCO level due to academic ineligibility. Wright initially didn’t see much time on offense instead showcasing his abilities as a kick returner, a role I expect him to serve for the XFL as well. In year two he saw the field on offense and collected 50 receptions for 805 yards and 8 touchdowns. This began to turn heads at Division I schools hoping to land a diamond in the rough from the JUCO level.
Ultimately, Wright ended up deciding on attending Purdue. He would not only play football but also run track for the university. Over the next 19 games for Purdue, he managed 63 touches for 788 yards and 6 touchdowns but ironically did not play on special teams. After graduating he would find chances with the Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Miami Dolphins. Ultimately, to this day Wright has not seen any in-game action. He was placed on the suspended list shortly after signing with the Redblacks and has never logged a statistic.
Perhaps the XFL is where Wright can finally jumpstart his professional career. I see a role for him as a slot receiver and return man also seeing offensive touches as a runner at times much as he did in college. Jamie Elizondo will have a plan for Wright on day one, and it wouldn’t shock me to see him see a role similar to Kavontae Turpin with the New Jersey Generals in 2022.
Tj Vasher 6’6 215 lbs
There are big receivers, and there is Tj Vasher. Vasher stands 6’6 which is unusually tall for a man who sees most of his snaps split out wide, rather than inline as a tight end. A native of Texas, he would build a name for himself by playing football and basketball for S.H. Rider High School. As a senior Vasher topped 1,100 yards and scored 9 touchdowns.
He would see offers to play football and basketball from several different division one schools. Vasher chose to stay close to home opting to commit to Texas Tech under Kliff Kingsbury. He would receive a medical redshirt as a freshman after getting hurt in week one. He would go on to play for Texas Tech for four more seasons.
His best years came in 2017, and 2018 under Kingsbury. In 2017 he averaged over 18 yards per reception on 29 catches scoring 6 times, or just over once every five receptions. In 2018, his final year under Kingsbury he played in 11 games, catching 54 passes for 687 yards and 7 touchdowns. In 2019 under new head coach Matt Wells he would return once again as a key part of the offense. He played in 10 games, catching 2 passes for 515 yards and 6 touchdowns. During the 2020 season, he was limited to 6 games, but still produced 19 receptions for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns.
After the 2020 season, Vasher declared for the NFL Draft. He would go unselected, but sign with the Dallas Cowboys staying in Texas. He would make the team, but suffer a meniscus injury in preseason that would force him to miss the entire 2021 season. He would end up on injured reserve to fully heal and be prepared for the 2022 off-season program. Unfortunately in June, Dallas decided to move on from Vasher who caught 2 of 3 passes last preseason and showed promise throughout training camp. Vasher is very likely to receive NFL interest after showing what he can do in the XFL. Maybe he even returns to Dallas.
Travis Jonsen 6’4 211 lbs
Yet another large receiver is added to this roster with Travis Jonsen standing 6’4. Jonsen attended Montana State University first as a quarterback. It’s amazing how many former collegiate quarterbacks will be on this roster now playing another skill position. It’s almost surprising Quinton Flowers didn’t return as a running back after playing with the Vipers in 2020.
He was once ranked as the #3 dual-threat quarterback in the Nation. Originally commuting to Oregon, he would begin his career as a true quarterback. After graduating high school early, Jonsen immediately rushed to join his college teammates to begin learning his new offense, showing his dedication to his craft along the way. He would play in the 2015 spring game performing well but ultimately suffering an injury that resulted in him missing the year. In 2016 he would redshirt after playing in the spring once again.
By 2017 he again played in the spring game but then decided to transfer seeing no path to playing time at QB. He would end up at Riverside City College as their starting quarterback but it wouldn’t last long. After just one game in which he completed 17 of 26 passes for 176 yards 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions he would end up seeing the field as a backup, and a run threat only. This led to a decision to head to Montana State University which had a plan for Jonsen.
This is when Jonsen truly began to be utilized in the best manner. For his final two seasons of college, he attempted 13 passes completing 11 for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was still utilized heavily as a runner collecting 118 carries for 725 yards and 13 touchdowns. Most of his damage came as a receiver where he caught 83 passes for 899 yards and 2 touchdowns. He even added value on special teams with 9 tackles, and 1 kick return for 16 yards.
Jonsen found a home with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 and bounced on and off the practice squad for multiple seasons. In May of 2022, he was released due to a DUI and now has to rebuild his reputation in the XFL. Something tells me Jonsen will be s favorite of Coordinator Jaime Elizondo.
DeAndre Goolsby 6’4 239 lbs
Goolsby is a career-tight end. Entering Florida at 6’4 230 lbs listed as a tight end he is one of the few players on this roster with no college experience playing quarterback.
Goolsby went on to have a solid career in four seasons with the school collecting 68 receptions for 724 yards and 5 touchdowns. If not for the transfer of Jake McGee during his freshman year Goolsby might have put up much better statistics during his time in Florida. Coming out of college he wasn’t drafted instead signing as an undrafted free agent with the Detroit Lions.
Released a month later the Jaguars would bring him back to Florida tapping his ties to the area. An injury in September landed him on injured reserve. This was a way for the Jaguars to keep him without using a roster spot. By November Jacksonville opted to release Goolsby. After that He seemingly didn’t receive much interest until the Tampa Bay Vipers and offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo came calling. He would play in 5 games catching 5 passes for 76 yards and 1 touchdown. He will now return to the XFL and play for his old OC once again.
Every good offense begins in the trenches. The offensive line is always the position group that seems to lack enough elite-level talent to go around. This was reiterated when the offensive line portion of the draft ended quite unexpectedly when the XFL teams chose to pass on selecting any more linemen at this time. The Brahmas were one of the teams that chose to pass on their final two picks of the offensive line portion of the draft. This left them with 9 linemen to start, more than enough to run training camp if it came to it.
Luke Juriga C 6’4 301 lbs
Luke Juriga is a very versatile lineman who can play any of the three interior offensive line positions, however, he was selected this high for one reason, to play center. Juriga will come in and immediately solidify the most important position on the offensive line. Protection calls will be seamless. Let’s not underrate the importance of his experience working with Reid Sinnett as well.
Both of these men were with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021. Juriga was on the practice squad and Sinnett was on the active roster as the emergency quarterback at the time. Anytime you can get an offensive lineman that has attended “Stoutland University” as Jordan Mailata affectionately calls it, you should leap on that chance. Jeff Stoutland for those that aren’t aware is the offensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. He has coached the offensive line since 1993 and has been with Philadelphia since 2013.
During that time he has helped grow and develop young players including Mailata who had no previous football experience. With that in mind, Juriga spent the better part of two years under this guru of the offensive line. In 2023, Juriga will be coached by Pete Mangurian who began coaching the offensive line over 40 years ago. Juriga hails from Western Michigan where he was a decorated four-year starter after redshirting as a freshman. He would earn First Team All-MAC in his Junior and Senior seasons while collecting Second Team All-MAC in his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons.
Juriga belongs playing professionally. However, there is a deeper connection between Juriga and Mangurian. Luke’s Father, Jim Juriga was once a 4th round pick of the Denver Broncos in 1988. He played with the Broncos from 1988-1990, before his NFL career ultimately ended. During that time Mangurian was serving as the TE/H-backs coach for the Denver Broncos. He would go on to coach offensive line the year following Juriga’s departure. No word on if this connection played a part in the selection of Juriga.
Darius James OT 6’6 315 lbs
James is yet another Texas native. Born and raised in Kileen, Texas, just over a two-hour drive from San Antonio. He would attend high school at Harker Heights not far from where he was born. Regarded as a 4-star recruit heading into college, he again stayed close to home deciding to attend Texas University.
He also received interest from SMU, TCU, Texas A&M, and Baylor. James was rated the #1 center in high school but made the move to tackle in college. In 2013 he would redshirt, but showed out in practices so much he won awards as the top performer despite never playing a game. He would go on to appear in 6 games in his redshirt freshman season. Two of these games came at right tackle for the Longhorns. However, he would opt to transfer after the 2014 season.
He was forced to sit out the 2015 season due to transfer rules at the time. Returning in 2016, he would see the field immediately. Auburn would use James as an extra offensive lineman at times in the first four games but it didn’t take long for James to take over the starting left tackle position where he would start 8 games. The following season, he would start on the right side playing in 13 games.
James suffered a very scary injury in 2017 with Auburn in which he couldn’t move his neck after a play. He retained mobility of his fingers and toes, which was comforting at the time but not a sign that he was completely okay. Luckily it turned out to be a stinger, that was treated, and through a rehab process, he returned to the field the following week. James would get an opportunity to sign with the Jets coming out of college. He was let go prior to the 2019 season. In 2020, he played in 2 games with the Dallas Renegades, bringing him back home. James is just one of many XFL 2020 faces on this roster.
Willie Wright G/T 6’3 300 lbs
Willie Wright was born in Houston, Texas on February, 25th 1996, making him just 26 years old in 2022. He would play his high school ball in Houston as well where as a senior in 2013, he would earn First Team All-District as an offensive tackle at the time.
Ultimately Wright wound up attending Tulsa, where he began his career as a defensive tackle, but immediately the coaching staff saw the error in that plan and moved him back to the offensive line where he belongs. After redshirting as a freshman he would become a four-year starter for the school. He would end up going unselected in the 2019 NFL Draft, but that didn’t stop him from making it on a practice squad.
Signing with the Browns after the NFL Draft, he would immediately start working out as a left guard strictly. The Browns kept him in this position to develop him as a guard a position he hadn’t played in college. He played 162 offensive snaps in the preseason that year, allowing just 1 sack, and committing 1 penalty grading out at a 53 overall per PFF.com. This performance led him to the practice squad where he spent the entire 2019 season. After the year the Browns moved on from Wright.
This began a three-year journey in which Wright spent time with the Falcons, Bears, Titans, and Raiders. Just nine days ago, Wright was signed to the Raiders practice squad where he currently remains. The Brahmas are hoping Wright will opt to pass on a futures deal, and come start for them at left guard between Darius James and Luke Juriga.
Marcus Tatum OT 6’6 300 lbs
Coming out of high school Marcus Tatum was 6’7 275 pounds, and looked more like a basketball player or tight end than he did an offensive tackle. Despite this, he earned First Team All-State in 2015, his senior season. Regarded as a 4-star recruit he was recruited by several large schools at the time. He would decide to commit to Tennessee where he would spend the next four years.
While with Tennessee he would see very little time during his first two seasons. Playing in just two games as a freshman, and four as a sophomore before an injury ended his season. He would receive a medical redshirt allowing him to retain that year of eligibility. After this season he got the opportunity to step into a large role. He would play in all 12 games with 5 starts at left tackle to close out the season. In 2019 he was asked to play right tackle. This could be an indication of where the Brahmas see him slotting in the opposite of their second pick Darius James.
After graduating from Tennessee he became a graduate transfer at UCF. Closer to home for Tatum, he would play two more seasons for the school in 2020 and 2021. In 2020 he wasn’t trusted to start from day one, but that changed quickly. When he took over as the starter mid-season, finally in 2021 he would start all 13 games as an offensive tackle earning Second Team All-AAC honors along the way. Tatum would draw interest from the Jacksonville Jaguars after playing in their backyard for two seasons. He would sign with the Jaguars but ultimately be released before the preseason. This would open the door for the XFL to select him and hopefully give him a chance to show he belongs in the NFL in 2023.
Malcolm Bunche OT 6’6 325 lbs
Malcolm Bunche is another veteran of this group. Bunche first entered the NFL in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent after attending Miami for four years and ending his college career with UCLA. He would spend the entire 2015 season with the aforementioned Jeff Stoutland. In final cuts of the 2016 NFL season, he was released and not brought back to the practice squad during the year.
This led Bunche to consider his options in the CFL, signing with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where he spent training camp. This left the possibility of latching on with an NFL team on the table for Bunche, and that’s exactly what happened when the Jaguars came calling. Bunche would spend the preseason with the Jaguars ultimately released in early September. This led to another year off of a team.
In 2018, he was signed by the Giants who kept him from May to September 1st final cut-down day. He would be released, and ultimately turn his attention to Spring Football for the first time. He would sign with the Arizona Hot Shots of the Alliance of American Football in late 2018. Playing with the Hotshots in 2019, helped him develop and ultimately get another shot to make the Giants roster during the 2019 preseason, which ultimately led to him being let go in final cuts once again. He would spend a very brief period on the Washinton practice squad. This would lead us up to the 2020 supplemental XFL draft.
The DC Defenders decided to take a chance on the former AAF player, and recent Washington Redskin. He would go on to play the entire 2020 season with the team. Playing in 13 games with two spring leagues, it was somewhat surprising to not see him resurface with the USFL in 2022, and wait until the XFL. However here we are with Bunche now with the Brahmas, where he will face his former team at some point.
Roubbens Joesph OL 6’4 325 lbs
Roubbens Joesph is yet another veteran offensive lineman that should come in day one and add value to this offensive line whether as a starter or a depth piece having played multiple positions during his career. He would begin his college career at the JUCO level attending Hudson Valley Community College for the 2013, and 2014 seasons. Working at Taco Bell at the time to house himself and continue attending college.
He was ranked as a top 50 JUCO offensive tackle, and by 2015 he had committed to the University of Buffalo. He would go on to earn a starting job late in the 2015 season. Seeing playing time often in 2016 as well. Following his college career, he garnered NFL interest. Originally signing with the Baltimore Ravens.
By 2018 he had moved on to the Miami Dolphins, and landed with the Washington Redskins in 2019. After this, he fell off the NFL map, and into the CFL cycle. Signing in late 2019 he would play in 3 games for the Toronto Argonauts. He was retained for what ended up being the canceled 2020 season but opted to release him in February of 2021 before their camp began.
In 2021 he would win an NAL championship with the Albany Empire and Head Coach Tom Menas a former NFL and USFL player, as well as a CFL coach. When Asked Coach Menas offered this: “Joseph is an exceptional offensive lineman, his skill set was by far the best in the NAL. In my opinion he should be playing in the NFL, yes he’s that good.” By 2022 he signed with the Massachusetts Pirates of the IFL. His performance indoors the past two seasons led to his selection in the XFL draft in 2023.
Norman Price OG 6’4 311 lbs
Norman Price is a guard from Southern Mississippi, who was once a JUCO product. He began his college career at Hind’s Community College. Price was a guy who wasn’t the highly touted lineman out of high school that he developed into at the college level. By the end of his career at Southern Miss, he had NFL coaches raving about his athleticism after reportedly running a 4.88 in the 40-yard dash.
This number is fairly normal for tight ends, and defensive ends, but not necessarily a common number to see from an offensive lineman. This of course turned heads and led to him being signed by the San Francisco 49ers where he would spend the 2016 season on the practice squad and signing a futures deal with the 49ers after the year. He lasted until final cuts, but not be retained on the practice squad. In October of 2017, the Jaguars came calling.
He would last just a short time in Jacksonville before signing with the Carolina Panthers for the 2018 season where he again lasted until final cuts only to be released. Receiving interest from the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL, he would spend a little over a month but wind up again released.
You’ll see a trend throughout his career to this point, he would land with Carolina, and again…be released in final cuts this time due to an injury during the preseason. He would then look to the Toronto Argonauts for his next opportunity just as the CFL canceled their season. He would sign a contract extension to remain with the Argos in 2021, but he was let go on May 18th, 2021. Since then he has been a free agent which has led him to pursue the XFL. I have to wonder if he considered the USFL in 2022 as well.
Kohl Levao G/T 6’6 350 lbs
Kohl Levao hails from Aberdeen High School in Washington. During his high school career, he not only played guard and center for the football team but also wrestled and ran track as well. Wrestling is something that seems to be helpful for offensive linemen who are developing and learning to hand-fight with defensive linemen. Originally born in Pago Pago, American Samoa he shares roots with the face of the league Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Levao would attend City College of San Francisco to begin his college career. He would play two seasons for the school before finding his way to Hawaii. He would play out the next four years of his career with Hawaii. Thanks to covid, and a year lost to injury in 2019, Kohl was given two extra years of eligibility. This arguably helped his case tremendously. After losing most of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Levao would have likely fallen through the cracks altogether if he had not been able to play in 2021.
In 2021 Levao assumed the starting center position where he would start 12 of 13 games. In the final game, Levao was asked to play left guard. This season playing in every game, and staying healthy was crucial to his future as a professional football player. He collected All-Mountain West Honorable Mention for his performance in his final season of college. Declaring for the 2022 NFL Draft, Levao would find himself unselected by the NFL.
This would lead him to be signed by the BC Lions of the CFL. He would spend a little over a month with the Lions before he was let go and not re-signed to the practice squad. This left him searching for other options. With the XFL draft approaching, Levao attended a showcase and drew USFL interest as well. However, despite a USFL offer on the table, Levao decided to bet on himself and take his chances in the draft class. This move seems to have paid off for Levao who was the second to last lineman picked by San Antonio when they opted not to pick a 10th and 11th offensive lineman. This creates an opportunity for these players to establish themselves before more names are added in January.
Jonathan Irizarry OL 6’4 300 lbs
Irizarry is an interesting prospect for the XFL. He began his college career at a JUCO program called Trinity Valley Community College in Cisco, Texas. Irizarry was a multiple sport athlete coming out of high school showcasing his athleticism on the basketball court as well as the football field. He would play two seasons for the school before landing at Wagner for his Junior season.
After landing at Wagner he played sparingly for the 2018 season seeing action in just two games for the team. In 2019 that changed and he was inserted into the lineup. He would play all 11 games, and start five of them. In 2020 he returned, only to watch the season be canceled. Rather than return, he moved on as a graduate transfer to Mississippi Valley State University. He would attend the school for just one season left in 2021.
Following the 2021 season, Irizarry entered the NFL Draft pool but found himself unselected. The USFL also failed to spot the versatile lineman so he would land with the Fan Controlled Football League where he got to demonstrate his superior level of conditioning. The FCF asks their linemen to play in two games each weekend. Lining up to protect two different quarterbacks, and blocking for two different groups of skill position players.
Despite not landing on the Orlando Guardians that seemingly drafted the majority of FCF players, Irizarry lands on a roster with just 9 offensive linemen, having played every position across the line. There is an off chance that the Brahmas do not add any more linemen long-term unless an injury occurs. With a starting five, and four back-ups including Irizarry that can quite literally play any position along the line, their offensive line room is easily one of the deepest coming out of the initial draft class. Any additions in January will only aid their case for dominance in the trenches in 2023.
Jonathan was kind enough to give us a quote: “Getting an opportunity to be able to play outdoors again is a great feeling. I feel like now I get to play football that I know and am use too. Getting drafted by the San Antonio Brahmas is very big for me because now I feel as if I’m one step closer to my goal of playing in the NFL. It’s exciting to be back playing outdoor football, there’s nothing like it.”
Rex Sunahara LS/TE 6’6 242 lbs
Rex Sunahara is a career-long snapper in college who logged no offensive statistics. However, before arriving in West Virginia, he dabbled in many positions during his high school career. He helped his team as a passer, runner, receiver, safety, and special team, while also playing Forward on the basketball team up into college. I have him listed as a long snapper/tight end, because you never quite know with smaller rosters, when and if someone will be forced to test their depth.
During his high school career, Sunahara showed an ability to be solid as a receiver, as a senior he caught 21 passes for 474 yards and 4 touchdowns averaging over 22 yards per reception. The previous year as a junior he was inserted into the line-up as a quarterback in which he threw 15 passes for 137 yards 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions, while still catching 12 passes for 188 yards and 1 touchdown.
It’s been a long time since high school for Sunahara, and I wouldn’t expect him to come out and necessarily light it up at the tight end if he got on the field. When you’re a utility player like a long snapper, adding value to other positions only works in your favor when it comes to getting on a roster.
One thing I wanted to say about his game as a long snapper; he is very active in the kick coverage aspect of long snapping. As a freshman at Rhode Island, he had 4 tackles in one season, during his career with West Virginia he had 4 tackles in 2019 as well.
John Parker Romo K 5’11 175 lbs
John Parker Romo is a very young kicker. He left college following the 2021 season. During his college career, he began in Central Arkansas in 2016. He would move on to Tulsa for the 2018 season before transferring to Virginia Tech. He can kick, punt, and handle kick-offs. The concerning thing is he didn’t get a chance to kick or punt with any consistency. The one duty that he was always asked to perform was kick-offs due to his power.
With Central Arkansas, he was used strictly as a kick-off specialist with just one field goal attempt in 2016. He would play in 8 games with 44 kick-offs. During his first season with Tulsa, he kicked in eight games going 17 of 18 on extra points, as well as 2 of 5 on field goals. After moving on to Virginia Tech for the 2019 season, he would play in just 2 games. This time entering the game as a punter. He would punt 8 times for 354 yards, an average of 44.3 yards, certainly serviceable at the XFL level if ever needed.
During the 2020 season, due to covid and other factors, he played in one game where he was handling kick-off duties and logged a tackle. No punt or kicking statistics in his long appearance. His final collegiate season was in 2021, afterwards, he would find his way onto the New Orleans Saints. He would play in two preseason games in which he would go 1 of 2 on field goal attempts. He will try to improve upon his previous statistics and in turn, prove he belongs in the NFL in their 2023 season.
Open Rounds of the Draft
During the open portion of the draft, the Brahmas selected a total of eight players. Passing on a total of five selections during the three draft periods. One of the players they had selected, Rico Gafford has decided to take his talents to the USFL instead. Meaning just 7 of these players remain, 3 of which are offensive players.
Landen Akers WR 6’0 191 lbs
Landen Akers just won a Super Bowl in the 2021 season, and now joins the San Antonio Brahmas. Having played for the Los Angeles Rams during the 2021 season, he caught passes from Matthew Stafford and former AAF quarterback John Wolford. He would see action in two regular season games but did not log a statistic.
The Iowa State alum had an interesting beginning to his college career. Akers was a Class 4A All-State Selection while playing defensive back. He would initially grey-shirt in 2016 when arriving in Iowa. In 2017 he would redshirt, again not using a year of eligibility. Akers is a guy who has the body type to play inside or outside as a wide receiver, has the defensive background to be a special teams ace, and has experience as a return man as well.
His versatility directly led to his selection by San Antonio which should prove crucial for the team. Although he doesn’t fit the mold of the bigger wide-outs they selected in the skill position portion of the draft, he is simply too valuable for the Brahmas to pass up on. In 38 games spread through his last three seasons of college, he collected 19 tackles and a blocked kick. He also logged 1 punt return for 18 yards and 14 kick returns for 293 yards.
During his career, offensively he would produce 39 touches for 601 yards and 1 touchdown. Akers will get a chance to prove that he deserves more touches if he can repeat his solid performance on special teams.
Dai’Jean Dixon WR 6’3 205 lbs
Hines Ward and company felt 7 pass catchers over 6’3 weren’t enough. They went on to select Dixon, who stands 6’3 as well. Dixon is New Orleans, Louisiana native who played his entire football career in the state until being selected by the Brahmas. Dixon would attend college at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Dixon was a big-time performer for the school but also got into some off-field trouble in 2020 while attending Nicholls.
Looking at his numbers it’s shocking he wasn’t drafted and drafted in the mid-rounds at that. Despite Nicholls being an FCS school, you have to marvel at the level of production Dixon had at the school. In 51 career games, he had a monster performance, with 236 receptions for 3,802 yards, and 35 touchdowns. Meaning he averaged 4.5 receptions, and 74.5 yards per game for five seasons.
Dixon would top the 1,000-yard mark twice in his career in 2019, playing in just 9 games he averaged 19.3 yards per reception on 54 catches. His final season in 2021, he set a career-high in receptions with 71. After college, he was invited to the combine where he ran a 4.62 40-yard dash, slower than teams would have liked to see. Now here is where I wanted to interject some context…I am no expert on how to run a fast 40-yard dash but watching the video of his performance in the drill, I came away convinced he didn’t train for the drill.
I don’t say this to disrespect him I say this because I believe he is MUCH faster than this drill displays. He simply didn’t look prepared, he ran very upright and that’s one thing you will see many receivers avoid in the 40. They stay very compact, retaining explosiveness. To put this into perspective, Aj Brown ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine. His 10-yard split and 20-yard split were 1.56 and 2.65 respectively. Dixon’s numbers: 1.53 in the 10-yard split, and 2.63 in the 20-yard split. His statistics alone show he has no qualms about burning defensive backs deep.
After his college career, the Saints signed Dixon. He would last through the preseason, playing in two games catching 4 passes for 38 yards. Ironically, in PFF.com’s College Career Dominance Rating, Dixon ranked as the top receiver:
Jon Hilliman RB 5’11 216 lbs
Jon Hilliman is an interesting prospect to see selected by the Brahmas, but these open rounds were more or less meant for the players these teams saw as less sure-fire selections. To say this isn’t to say that Hilliman doesn’t have the requisite talent to be here. I say this because he hasn’t played professionally outdoors since the 2019 season in which he had a stint with the Giants.
He attended college at Boston College from 2014-2017 before moving on to finish his college career at Rutgers. During his five-season career, he played in 53 games with 695 carries and 41 receptions. Collecting 2,575 yards on the ground or 3.7 yards per carry, and 7 yards per reception. Scoring 34 times offensively.
As I mentioned after college he was signed by the Giants that needed depth behind Saquan Barkley who was starting to show chinks in his armor and miss games due to injury. Hilliman was able to make an impression during the preseason by playing in all 4 games carrying the ball 25 times for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns, adding 6 receptions for 36 yards. He would be released but re-signed to the practice squad.
He would later be elevated to the roster, playing in 3 games and starting one. He would collect 30 carries for 91 yards as well as 3 receptions for 1 yard. Unfortunately, a key fumble in week 6 led to his release in favor of a more experienced running back. He returned to the practice squad, signing a futures deal after the season but was cut before training camp began. From everything I can find he has not played anywhere since. He has also pursued music as a rap artist, perhaps he was focused on his musical career at the time.
There you have it, all the offensive players that the San Antonio Brahmas selected in the 2023 XFL Draft. Their offensive skill position players are very intriguing given their above-average size, while versatility was extremely important to this team. I believe Hines Ward’s background as a quarterback was used to specifically target former quarterbacks who have a deeper understanding of the position they now play since their transition. If you have an offense full of former quarterbacks that understand offense on a broader spectrum, it might allow Elizondo to get extremely technical and creative given how these guys process the game.
The offensive line is likely one of the better units on paper this season. Even though they chose not to select two more offensive linemen, I am encouraged by the group they selected and what these guys can do for their team in 2023. I expect the Brahmas to pound the rock in 2023, with incredible efficiency due to this offensive line, and their impressive backfield. Time will tell if this team gels as I expect, but after looking deeper at the roster, I am encouraged by the team they have built.
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