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XFL 2023: Houston Roughnecks Open Round & Specialist Selections Breakdown

With XFL training camps now underway, there’s no better time to start examining the rosters more closely. After the conclusion of the XFL draft in November, the league held an “open rounds” segment where teams could not only fill the rest of their vacant roster spots, but add extra players to compete for those same spots before the first kickoff.

On top of the open rounds of the draft, the three major special teams positions (K, P, LS) were also taken care of. Please note that this is different from the supplemental draft, which took place far more recently and is covered in a separate article. For the Houston Roughnecks specifically, the roster is perhaps the most diverse of any team, and will require some critical/interesting decisions to be made leading up to February 18th (2023 season opener). Here, we continue to look at some of the playmakers Houston has added over the past few weeks and months. 

Open Rounds

Round 1, Pick 4: Chauncey Manac, LB, Louisiana-Lafayette

Manac joined the Ragin’ Cajuns program in 2018 as a redshirt sophomore, and got off to a hot start after transferring in from Garden City Community College. His production dropped off over the next two seasons, but he rebounded as a senior. In 2021, Manac had career highs in every defensive category except interceptions, most notably recording double-digit sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (14.5). His performance spike landed him in training camp with the Green Bay Packers this past offseason, but he was cut before the 53-man roster was finalized. 

Round 2, Pick 13: Duke Ejiofor, LB, Wake Forest

If Ejiofor’s pro career could be summed up in one word so far, it would have to be “unfortunate.” The Houston native attended Wake Forest and was selected in the 2018 NFL draft (sixth round) by his hometown Texans. He recorded a sack in his debut with the team, but things started to go downhill quickly after this. During the ensuing offseason, Ejiofor tore his Achilles and missed all of 2019. As he was preparing for his return in 2020, he tore his ACL and would miss the entirety of that season as well. In 2021, which seemed to be Ejiofor’s last chance, he was released due to a failed physical. After not playing in the NFL for three seasons, he signed a futures deal with the Atlanta Falcons at the beginning of 2022, but didn’t make it to training camp. The XFL will be a real test for the 27-year-old, and will prove whether or not he still has some gas left in the tank.

Round 3, Pick 20: Ben Putman, WR, Nevada

Putman is a near perfect fit for the Roughnecks’ offensive scheme, having played in a true Air Raid system under Wolfpack offensive coordinator Matt Mumme. Matt is the son of Hal Mumme, who invented the Air Raid along with Mike Leach (Rest in Peace). Putman also played under Hal himself with The Spring League (TSL) Linemen in 2021, catching passes from future Chicago Bears/St. Louis BattleHawks quarterback Ryan Willis and winning a championship at the end of it all. Even if Putman may not be at the top of the depth chart, his level of experience cannot be overlooked, and he will be an easy player to trust throughout the season.

Round 4, Pick 29: Travell Harris, WR, Washington State

Staying with the theme of Air Raid disciples, Harris played under Mike Leach in Pullman, being a crucial part of the Cougars’ recent success. He currently ranks third all-time in all-purpose yards at Washington State, as well as being the program’s leader in career kick returns and kick return yards. He was signed by the Cleveland Browns as a UDFA this past offseason, and later joined the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League (CFL). Harris is primed for a major role on special teams, and can hopefully work his way into the offense as time goes on.

Round 5, Pick 36: Trevon Mason, DT, Arizona

Mason is another Texas native who is returning home to play pro football. The former Arizona Wildcat transferred in from Navarro Community College, and similar to Chauncey Manac, had a breakout senior season. After being named an All-Pac-12 honorable mention, Mason signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a UDFA. However, his stint in the Black and Yellow was short-lived, and the XFL appears to be his chance at something bigger.

Round 6, Pick 45: Brandon Lewis, WR, Air Force

Lewis can easily be considered a two-way player, and reminds me a lot of Garrett Owens (TE, Duquesne) from the second round of the initial draft. Despite playing in a run-heavy Triple Option offense at the Air Force Academy, Lewis had the unique ability to haul in deep passes while also taking effective touches out of the backfield. During his senior campaign in 2021, Lewis averaged 8.5 yards per carry as a runner (21 carries) and 29.5 yards per catch as a receiver (21 catches). While the role didn’t exactly translate to the NFL, he still landed a UDFA deal with the Tennessee Titans in 2022. Even if Lewis doesn’t see the field a ton with the Roughnecks, it’s almost guaranteed that every play that goes in his direction will be game-changing. 

Round 7, Pick 52: Koby Quansah, LB, Duke 

Quansah was a tackling machine playing from the middle spot during his four years at Duke, especially during his senior campaign in 2019. He led the ACC in assisted tackles that year (63), and also recorded double-digit tackles for loss (12). Quansah most recently played for the Massachusetts Pirates of the Indoor Football League (IFL), who recently partnered with the XFL.

Round 8, Pick 61: Warren Thomas, DL, Midland 

Coming from a NAIA program in Nebraska, Thomas is an extremely raw prospect, but was identified due to his versatility on the defensive line. He primarily played defensive end in college, but projects better at the linebacker spot as a pro. Thomas signed with the Vegas Knight Hawks of the Indoor Football League (IFL) at the beginning of 2022, and later played for the Sioux Falls Storm. Similar to Quansah, the IFL/XFL partnership is likely a leading reason for him ending up on the Roughnecks roster, although he can still be considered a hidden gem. 

Round 9, Pick 68: Trevor Allen, RB, Northern Iowa

Allen was a true veteran by the time his college career had finished, playing in 50 games for the UNI Panthers. Although his stats never particularly stood out, he showed steady improvement over time, rushing for a total of 1,254 yards and 11 touchdowns over his last two seasons. He also demonstrated the ability to catch out of the backfield, which will be extremely helpful in the Roughnecks offense. Simply put, Allen is more of a workhorse than anything else, and will likely be put into a more supportive or reserve role if he makes it past training camp.

Round 10, Pick 77: Mike Boykin, DE, North Alabama

Boykin was a highly-recruited prospect coming out of high school, receiving several Power 5 offers with his four-star ranking. He originally committed to Louisville, but due to injuries and some other events, he found himself at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. From there, he worked his way up to the Division I FCS ranks, playing at Tennessee State before moving on to North Alabama. Given his stature, many viewed him as a sleeper during the 2021 NFL draft process, and it appears he’s continued to be slept on until now.

Round 11, Pick 84: Andrew Whitaker, DB, Washington (MO)

Whitaker was a versatile defensive back at Washington University in St. Louis (Division III), where Roughnecks DPP Marc Lillibridge happened to be coaching before beginning his role with the XFL. His specialty is solo tackling, recording 115 total over his four-year college career. Although Whitaker will likely be playing on special teams as a pro, this is a great depth piece to have in the event of injuries, especially given that one of the premier staff members has plenty of experience watching/working with him. 

Specialists

Round 1, Pick 5: Hunter Duplessis, K, Texas-San Antonio

Even if he wasn’t insane from an accuracy and distance perspective, Duplessis was still an elite kicker by college standards. In 2021, he connected on 24 of 30 field goals and made an outstanding 63 extra points thanks to UTSA’s explosive offense. This helped him break the all-time single-season scoring record (individual) for the Roadrunners with 135 total points (sixth-best across the FBS).  Duplessis was also a standout in the classroom, earning several academic awards and further proving the point that education is a valuable asset for athletes. 

Round 2, Pick 12: Brian Khoury, LS, Carnegie Mellon

Khoury’s journey has been an interesting one, having played defensive end at Division III Carnegie Mellon. The Iowa native then converted to long snapper in hopes of playing professionally. He was a member of the XFL in 2020, serving as the snapper for the DC Defenders. Khoury has continued to work out for several NFL teams since then, and appeared in a preseason game for the New England Patriots in 2021. 

Round 3, Pick 21: Race Porter, P, Washington

Porter holds the single-season punting record for the University of Washington Huskies, averaging close to 50 yards per touch in 2021. During that same season, he also had 20 punts land inside the 20 yard line after only having 12 in the previous three years combined. Porter participated in the Seattle Seahawks’ rookie minicamp prior to the 2022 NFL season, and could become a nightmare for opposing special teams units to handle in the XFL. 

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

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