Last Saturday, the Houston Roughnecks’ season came to an end after the team fell to the Arlington Renegades 26-11 in the South division championship game. While this was obviously not the result that Roughnecks fans were hoping for, there are still some things to look forward to over the next coming weeks and months. The XFL is a league of opportunity, and over the course of the 2023 season, it was clear that the Roughnecks had several players on the roster with NFL potential. Now, what were once distant thoughts about Roughnecks players moving up to the next level are starting to become a reality.
Before taking a deep dive, some logistics should be discussed first. No XFL player is eligible to sign a contract with a NFL team until May 15th, even if the player is on one of the six XFL teams that are not competing for the league title. May 15th falls on a Monday, and comes two days after the XFL championship game between the Arlington Renegades and DC Defenders on May 13th (Saturday). With that being said, XFL players from the six non-active teams are still allowed to participate in NFL workouts and minicamps.
What We Know So Far
As of Thursday, May 4th, there have been four Roughnecks players invited to NFL minicamps, all of them on either the offensive or defensive line. These players are listed below.
Trent Harris, EDGE, Miami (FL)
Regular Season Stats: 30 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss
It should be no surprise that edge rusher Trent Harris was viewed as a top prospect for NFL teams after his tremendous season in Houston. Harris, who initially signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2018, became the XFL sack leader in 2023. He was also tied for the league lead in tackles for loss with Jordan Williams of the Brahmas. Harris received an invite to Denver Broncos minicamp, where he will join Sea Dragons QB Ben DiNucci and Brahmas RB Jacques Patrick. Per source, Harris also has over eight other NFL teams interested in his services, and it would be surprising if he didn’t sign a contract on May 15th.
CJ Brewer, DL, Coastal Carolina
Regular Season Stats: 17 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery
Brewer was a 3x All-Sun Belt performer during his days at Coastal Carolina, and joined the Roughnecks in 2023 as a relatively fresh talent. He most recently appeared in a NFL game with the Buffalo Bills in December 2022, and it’s clear that the league wants him back just a couple months later. Brewer received an invite to Tampa Bay Buccaneers minicamp, where he will look to make an impact and demonstrate his skillset.
Jack Snyder, OG, San Jose State
Regular Season Stats: 4 sacks, 3 hits, 5 hurries
Snyder was a key part of the Roughnecks offensive line, a unit that could send up to four players to NFL camps through the Spring and Summer. Originally signing with the Los Angeles Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2022, he has already received two minicamp invites from the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens. After being unable to latch on to a NFL roster right after college, it appears Snyder has better odds of making it following his time in Houston.
Alex Mollette, OC, Marshall
Regular Season Stats: 1 sack, 3 hurries
Mollette was considered an above-average performer given his PFF grade, but likely falls into the elite category for offensive linemen (atleast at the XFL level) due to his consistency and durability. Mollette received an invite to Seattle Seahawks minicamp, but similar to Harris, is expected to attract interest from more than one team. Hopefully, the former Indianapolis Colt can find a new home in the NFL.
On top of the players listed above, there are three others (DL Jack Heflin, DL Glen Logan, and RB Brycen Alleyne) that have received attention from the NFL. While these players have yet to be invited to a camp, they are perhaps next in line. Jack Heflin, who last played for the Green Bay Packers at the end of the 2022 season, proved to be a valuable asset up front. Glen Logan, who spent training camp with the Cleveland Browns in 2022, was also a force alongside Heflin and others.
However, the most important name here comes from one of the best stories the XFL could ask for, and that is Brycen Alleyne. Alleyne played college football at Delaware State, and was drafted by the Roughnecks in November after playing for Fan Controlled Football (FCF). This was his first opportunity to play professional football in an outdoor setting, and now, he could become a “Cinderella” story of sorts with the NFL taking a look.
Interestingly, the USFL had a similar player last year in KaVontae Turpin, who won league MVP with the New Jersey Generals before signing with the Dallas Cowboys and making the Pro Bowl. Turpin had no prior NFL experience, instead splitting his time between FCF, The Spring League (TSL), and the European League of Football (ELF) in 2021. While Alleyne played a different position and did not have the same numbers as Turpin in the XFL, the two still share a unique backstory.
The NFL Hopefuls
The next set of players are those who have yet to be tied to any talks regarding the NFL, but performed well enough with the Roughnecks to get a shot. While there is a chance that not all of these players will end up in the NFL, it would allow them to come back to Houston in 2024 and potentially find themselves in an elevated role.
Tavante Beckett, LB, Marshall
Regular Season Stats: 63 total tackles, 0.5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery
Beckett was first on the team in total tackles and second in the entire XFL in that same category, only trailing Jordan Williams of the Brahmas. The Marshall product was simply all over the field, giving opposing offenses a force to be reckoned with. His most notable accomplishment of the 2023 season was scoring two defensive touchdowns, one from a fumble recovery and the other from an interception. Beckett, who last played in the NFL for the Detroit Lions in 2021 (4 games), added plenty to his resume while in Houston.
Emmanuel Ellerbee, LB, Rice
Regular Season Stats: 62 total tackles, 2 sacks, 5 tackles for loss
Ellerbee finished second on the Roughnecks and tied for third in the XFL for total tackles, being the definition of a team leader along the way. Ellerbee has already spent time with four different NFL teams going back to 2018, and after a great showing in his hometown, would be hard to leave out of a training camp.
John Daka, EDGE, James Madison
Regular Season Stats: 26 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles
Daka was one of several gems for Houston on the defensive side of the ball, and played at what was arguably the most talented position across the XFL (edge rusher). Daka had plenty of outstanding stat lines during his time at JMU, and was finally able to recreate some of those numbers at the pro level. Most notably, he was tied for second in the league in forced fumbles behind DPOY Pita Taumoepenu. Just like Ellerbee, Daka has also been with four different NFL teams since leaving college in 2020, but has yet to make an appearance outside of the preseason.
Tim Ward, EDGE, Old Dominion
Regular Season Stats: 22 total tackles, 5 sacks, 8 tackles for loss
Prior to his injury, Tim Ward and Trent Harris created the best pass-rush tandem across the entire XFL. Despite only playing in 6 of a possible 10 regular season games, he was also an early DPOY candidate, and another post-draft signee who made his presence known. Previously, Ward had spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, and Green Bay Packers going back to 2019.
Ajene Harris, CB, USC
Regular Season Stats: 31 total tackles, 5 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Harris, who was also with the Roughnecks in 2020, led the XFL in interceptions for the 2023 season. The former USC Trojan has not touched the NFL since signing with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2019. Even if this is his last chance at making it back, Harris looked much better and played a more critical role during his second Spring football stint.
Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
Regular Season Stats: 27 catches, 378 yards, 6 touchdowns
Burnett is another USC alum who was a crucial part of Houston’s success on offense. He was second on the team in receiving yards, only four yards behind Travell Harris, and tied for second-most receiving touchdowns in the league behind Hakeem Butler of the BattleHawks. Despite having three years of NFL experience under his belt (2018-2020), Burnett just turned 25 last October, meaning he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.
Jontre Kirklin, WR, LSU
Regular Season Stats: 15 catches/253 yards/4 receiving touchdowns, 1 pass completion/49 yards/1 passing touchdown
Had Kirklin not suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in week 5, he would have been the team’s leading receiver and one of the best offensive players in the XFL. When Kirklin was on the field, it was hard for him not to make a statement, with every game showcasing just how important his contributions were. The offense struggled without him in the second half of the season, and things could look much different for the Roughnecks right now if he was still healthy. It will take some time for Kirklin to bounce back, and while he might miss out on NFL preseason reps, he should be considered a practice squad candidate during the regular season.
Max Borghi, RB, Washington State
Regular Season Stats: 78 carries/310 yards/6 rushing touchdowns, 21 catches/139 yards, 5 kickoff returns/123 yards
Although Borghi may have averaged less than 4 yards per carry over the course of the season, he was still able to showcase his swift and agile running style. A couple of his runs were certainly highlight-reel worthy, and his ability to catch passes out of the backfield was extremely helpful in a throw-first system. After spending time with three different NFL teams in 2022 alone, Borghi will hopefully find a more permanent and comfortable landing spot assuming he gets the call up.
Sage Doxtater, OT, New Mexico State
Regular Season Stats: 3 sacks, 2 hits, 3 hurries
Doxtater was another player who dealt with injuries this season, but could still have punched his ticket back to the big league. The former NMSU Aggie previously joined the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2022, and was also a CFL draft pick by the Toronto Argonauts a year prior (went back to school, did not sign a contract). To put it simply, there was a significant difference in pressure between when Doxtater was and wasn’t on the field.
Dareuan Parker, OG, Mississippi State
Regular Season Stats: 2 hits, 4 hurries
Parker was part of my midseason All-Roughnecks team, and for good reason. While I should have included more offensive linemen (hint: this will be resolved with the final team), Parker carried over his dominance from college into the XFL. Surprisingly, he was not on a NFL roster in 2022, as his last pro opportunity prior to the Roughnecks was with the Chicago Bears (UDFA signing) in 2021.
This section is dedicated to every player on the Roughnecks who was not previously discussed, since the league’s goal (and one they achieved) is to get NFL caliber players who aren’t in the NFL for one reason or another. However, this should also be used as a place to highlight the special teamers, most notably punter Race Porter, long snapper Brian Khoury, and both kickers who saw action in 2023 (Hunter Duplessis and Austin Jones).
It’s no secret that specialists coming from Spring football leagues have the highest chance of making an active roster in the NFL for a number of reasons. Even if the positions on special teams are often overlooked, experience in that department can sometimes be the difference between whether or not a player secures a roster spot, going well beyond the three major roles (kicker, punter, snapper). Because of his kick return ability, a guy like Dejoun Lee could sneak into a training camp even if his contributions appeared minimal. The same goes for Will Likely on punts.
The bottom line is that every player from this team deserves the best, and even if the NFL is known to be an unfair business with quick turnarounds, it’s safe to say the XFL has given these players an incredibly valuable experience. No matter where these men end up next, they will always have “Houston Roughneck” under their career history.
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