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XFL 2023: Houston Roughnecks Midseason Review

We have now reached the halfway point of the 2023 XFL season, and the Houston Roughnecks currently sit at 4-1. After starting out hot with four straight wins, the Roughnecks suffered their first loss of the season in a game against the Seattle Sea Dragons last Thursday.

With five games left before the playoffs, Houston still has some more tests to withstand, including a matchup against the unbeaten DC Defenders this coming Monday. Before we go any further, let’s take a look at some of the players who have made this season a success so far. 

Top Performers (Offense)

Brandon Silvers, QB, Troy

Silvers has been one of the top quarterbacks in the XFL this season, alongside the likes of Ben DiNucci and AJ McCarron. Through five games and five starts, he has completed 113 of 182 passes (62.1%) for 1,189 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. The 11 touchdown passes are tied for first in the league, while the 1,189 passing yards come in second. 

Jontre Kirklin, WR, LSU

Unfortunately, Kirklin will miss the rest of the season with a chest injury, but he proved to be a real threat during the five games he was healthy (technically four since he exited the Seattle game early). Over that stretch, Kirklin caught 15 passes for 253 yards and 4 touchdowns, and also added a 49-yard passing touchdown to Deontay Burnett against the Guardians. Kirklin will certainly receive NFL interest once he has fully recovered, and the Roughnecks are going to miss his production. 

Deontay Burnett, WR, USC

Burnett can be viewed as Houston’s new top option with Kirklin gone, and helped the Roughnecks put on a show in the season opener (8 catches, 90 yards, 1 touchdown). Through 5 games, he has caught 17 passes for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns, having been targeted more times (33) than anyone else on the team. 

Dareuan Parker, OG, Mississippi State

Parker has started at both left and right guard for the Roughnecks this season, and has performed well in his role. During the 2020 college season, Parker recorded the most pass-blocking snaps at the FBS level and did not give up a single sack. He also had the fifth-highest pass-blocking grade amongst FBS linemen according to PFF. Parker has been a great help when it comes to running the “Mike Leach” offense, a coach he happened to play for during his time in Starkville. 

Alex Mollette, OC, Marshall

Continuing the appreciation for the offensive line, this list would not be complete without center Alex Mollette. Similar to Parker, Mollette had some high PFF grades while playing for the Marshall Thundering Herd, and has now become the best center in the XFL with little debate needed. He has played every snap for the Roughnecks this season, and deserves more credit than he gets.

Honorable Mentions (Offense)

Travell Harris, WR, Washington State (15 catches, 237 yards, 2 touchdowns)

Max Borghi, RB, Washington State (41 carries/155 yards/3 touchdowns, 15 catches/85 yards)

Top Performers (Defense)

Trent Harris, EDGE, Miami 

Harris currently leads the XFL in sacks with six, four of which came in the season opener. He has also added 15 total tackles (10 solo) and eight tackles for loss. Simply put, Harris is an intimidating force when it comes to the pass rush, and will give any opponent a difficult time. 

Tim Ward, EDGE, Old Dominion

If Trent Harris is Batman, then Tim Ward would have to be Robin. The Old Dominion product has provided an additional burst in the pass rush department, recording 19 total tackles (15 solo), 5 sacks, and 7 tackles for loss. It’s not common for a team in any league to have the top two players at their position, but Houston has achieved just that. 

Emmanuel Ellerbee, LB, Rice

Ellerbee is currently tied with Willie Harvey of the BattleHawks for third-most tackles in the league (34), and he is also tied with Deontay Anderson of the Vipers for fourth-most solo tackles (18). Ellerbee has been incredibly dynamic for the Roughnecks, also recording 1.5 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. 

Ajene Harris, CB, USC

Harris is currently tied with Michael Joseph of the Defenders for the league lead in interceptions (4), with two of them having come in the same game. Harris was a part of the original Roughnecks squad from 2020, so it’s good to see him having a career renaissance of sorts. 

Sean Davis, S, Maryland

Davis, a former second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has the second-most interceptions in the XFL through 5 games (3) as well as a fumble recovery. The NFL veteran is proving that he can still play at a high level, and has helped form a very firm secondary alongside Ajene Harris. 

Honorable Mentions (Defense)

John Daka, EDGE, James Madison (14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles)

Tavante Beckett, LB, Marshall (24 tackles, 1 interception)

The Past

With five games now completed in 2023, Houston’s identity has officially taken shape. Even though there are some notable changes between now and when the Roughnecks first played three years ago, the “flow” or “vibe” has ultimately remained the same. There is a high-flying, fast paced offense with several highlight-worthy plays and touchdowns, paired with a defense that plays equally fast and knows how to force turnovers. All of that amounts to a pretty good football team, which the record indicates without question. Being the top team in the division is certainly something to take pride in, and even if things have been slow at times (particularly on offense), this team has all the tools to keep winning.

The Present

The Roughnecks took their first major hit of the season by losing Jontre Kirklin, who had been their top wide receiver over the past five weeks. In response, Houston has signed a couple of players to help fill the void, which will be discussed in further detail with the upcoming week six preview article. Right now, the team is preparing for what could easily be their most difficult task yet, traveling to DC and taking on the 5-0 Defenders. Afterwards, they will return home and take on another North opponent in the St. Louis BattleHawks. The short-term outlook is a pivotal one, and has the strength to change odds, standings, etc. 

The Future

The Roughnecks are without a doubt one of the most complete teams in the XFL. While there is no need for concern, there also isn’t room to take the foot off the gas pedal, as the rest of the league is starting to catch up and make adjustments. A path to the championship doesn’t seem far out of reach for the Roughnecks, but with over a month of football left to be played in the regular season, no one can get excited too early. The two main goals for this team to achieve moving forward are securing the much-talked-about playoff spot and winning the division to put the semifinal game at home. 

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Football journalist/scout/future coach covering the Houston Roughnecks. Air Raid/Run-and-Shoot enthusiast.

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