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XFL 2023 Rookie Draft Preview: 5 Buried Treasure Tight Ends

When looking for the tight end of the future one has to look beyond whether someone can catch. You have to check blocking ability, strength, and, most importantly, how good are they at basketball. In all seriousness, it’s not an easy task, but these five tight ends have the best opportunity to contribute quickly to an XFL roster.

Wildcard) Kemore Gamble, Central Florida

Let’s start with a player that was hyped up on his athleticism, only to be called a bust after being given an unreasonable bar to clear. Kemore Gamble’s story kicks off at a regional football event held by the University of Miami in 2016. Prior to the event, he was one of many tight ends playing high school football in Miami. However, The U was so impressed by his sheer athleticism that they offered him a scholarship on the spot. Kemore accepted and despite his generally fine stats, he began getting a deluge of offers from other football powerhouses. Initially, he turned them all down, but after some coaching changes he re-entered recruitment. Alabama and Tennessee made heavy pushes, but Florida would come out the winner.

At Florida, Kemore would be the backup for generational talent Kyle Pitts. This would give him time to grow into the position and see what was expected of him. The thing though is that when Pitts left, Kemore had been hyped into being able to play just as well, if not better. He would gain 414 yards and get 4 touchdowns, but since those weren’t Kyle Pitts numbers, then Gamble was labeled a bust.

Using his extra year of Covid eligibility, Kemore transferred to Central Florida. This transfer would be raved about as transformative to UCF, but he would lose the starting spot to Alec Holler. Kemore would only start two games and ended the season with 7 receptions, 118 receiving yards, and 1 touchdown.

Losing out on the starting spot at Central Florida might be a sign that Kemore’s path forward is done, but the faith in his skills are still there. He would get an invite to the Hula Bowl all-star game and was brought into the Giants minicamp. If his Pro Day stats are any sign, he is still a very fast and strong athlete. He would be a decent fit as a non-flashy, blocking tight end. With the proper coaching he could build on the athleticism that impressed the University of Miami in the first place. If his Twitter is any indication, if the XFL came calling, he’d immediately say yes.

5) Cole Hissong, Wooster

Division III is a pretty deep dive to go on to find a future XFL tight end. If someone is going that deep, the player either has to be a humongous pass catching machine or have something extra to offer that increases their value. Cole Hissong fits more of the latter.

In high school, Cole would be a middle linebacker first and a wide receiver second. He would win an Ohio all-state honorable mention, but not that many programs would come calling. He would attend the College of Wooster and switch over to tight end. Cole started his freshman year and got 9 receptions for 140 yards and 1 touchdown. He also got more playing time in another brand new position. From his freshman to his junior year, Cole was the team’s starting long snapper. 

In 2021, Cole would devote his full focus to tight end and put together a pair of seasons for the Scots that would total 1,353 yards, 105 receptions, and 12 touchdowns. This would get him an invite to the Podyum Bowl, but wouldn’t result in any camp invites from the NFL. Part of the reason is probably because at 6’2” and 215 pounds, he is a bit small for a prototypical tight end.

For the XFL, he could be a decent pick to show that he can translate his D3 tight end skills to a higher level and prove that even a small tight end can be a decent blocker when need be. As a late or final round pick, at bare minimum you’d be getting someone with long snapper experience without spending the extra slot on another player.

4) James Bostic III, Ohio

Changing positions can be a very common thing for players making the leap from high school to college. What works as a tight end in one place might necessitate a switch to D-line or wide receiver in another. For James Bostic III, changing positions has become a regular part of his football journey.

When he began playing football James was a running back, like his father. James Bostic, Jr., had been a running back at Auburn, was drafted in the 3rd round, enjoyed a four year NFL career, and played his last season in the original XFL for the Birmingham Thunderbolts. In his junior year of high school, James the III made the switch over to tight end. In his senior year, he would catch 26 receptions, gain 415 yards, and score 7 touchdowns. He would get offers from Florida A&M and North Carolina State, but would decide to play at Vanderbilt. Instead of playing as a tight end, he would make the change to wide receiver.

James’ four years at Vandy weren’t very impressive. In total we would net 12 catches, gain 124 yards, and wouldn’t score a single touchdown. Thanks to redshirting his freshman year and the extra year of Covid eligibility, James decided to enter the transfer portal and play another two years. He would get a bit of familial push to go to Auburn, but after visiting the Ohio campus, James had made up his mind.

His first graduate year as a Bobcat would mirror his time at Vanderbilt, but his second year would finally result in the breakout he’d been fighting for. He would become a starter and hit career bests with 33 catches, 607 yards, and the sole touchdown of his college career. 

After six years at wide receiver, James is switching back to tight end. With him weighing in at 6’3”/230 pounds, the change makes sense. Some growing pains are to be expected, but James’ Pro Day numbers were excellent. Highlights include a 39” vertical, a 4.56 40-yard dash, and an 11’1” broad jump (that would have been the best at the NFL combine). Similar combine numbers got Zack Kuntz of Old Dominion drafted in the 7th Round of the NFL draft and a mid-round pick would be a great landing spot for James in the XFL.

3) Jamal Turner, Toledo

It’s a tale as old as time. A young athlete is a gifted power forward in basketball and an excellent tight end in football. He could be either. Alas, college isn’t usually fond of giving out scholarships to students who wish to go the multi-sport route. So student-athletes have to choose one or the other. For Jamal Turner, his story wasn’t that different. Despite leading his team to a state basketball championship, he would only get a single offer to play at Alabama State. For football, he wouldn’t get any offers until Toledo reached out late in the year. Since Toledo is an FBS school, the choice between sports became very easy.

At Toledo, Jamal would spend his first four years as a blocking tight end for the university’s run-focused offense. He would occasionally get some passes, but after 36 games he only caught 17 receptions for 199 yards and one touchdown. In his super senior year, there would be a change in culture, and suddenly he would become a bigger part of the offense. By the end of his last year, he would get 29 catches, 378 yards, and scored 8 touchdowns. 

The main knock against Jamal is that he doesn’t have a ton of speed or agility, but when the ball comes his way he fights like hell to get it. With a 6’6”/245 pound frame, he is a formidable blocker for both the rush & the pass. Most recently, Sports Illustrated compared him to Ravens tight end Isaiah Likely. In the XFL he would be a valuable addition to a team that needs help on the line as well as being a pass lifeline for the quarterback.

2) Lachlan Pitts, William & Mary

When it comes to athletes changing their position to tight end, Lachlan Pitts might be the most surprising. While attending Langley High School in Virginia, Lachlan was an ironman player that played tight end and defensive end. While he played well as a tight end, defense is where he truly excelled. In his senior year he led the team in sacks, quarterback pressures, and tackles for loss. However, Langley finished 2-8 that season, so playing both sides of the ball was probably more a necessity than a sign of Lachlan’s defensive prowess. 

In his junior year, he would commit to playing tight end for the University of Richmond. When head coach Danny Rocco left Richmond for Delaware, Lachlan re-committed to William & Mary. He would spend the first three years as a second-string blocker. By 2021 he’d get his chance to start and, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch put it, “…[ruined his] perfectly good reputation as [just] a blocking TE.” He would rack up 28 catches, 543 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 19.4 yards per catch. On top of that, he was still on blocking duties, which consisted of him manhandling, tossing, and pancaking dudes. He would accept minicamp invites with the Bears and Vikings, but is currently unsigned. It would be interesting to see if his blocking style can work at the professional level, but as a sheer receiver, he reminds me a lot of Sal Cannella.

1) Marshon Ford, Louisville

Things are never easy for walk-ons, especially in more competitive FBS divisions. Back in 2013, Michael Felder of Bleacher Report looked into the walk-on procedure at USC and found an extremely rigorous process developed to push out the mediocre and unserious. This left behind a handful to be pushed even further. Then, maybe, one uninvited walk-on would make the team. Marshon Ford would go through similar rigors at Louisville and ended up one of the favorite targets of star quarterback Malik Cunningham.

After playing high school ball in the eastern suburbs of Louisville, Marshon would walk-on and redshirt his freshman year. He would play a few games following that, but recorded no stats. He would probably be relegated to backup duties for the next couple of years, if it wasn’t for someone else’s horrific actions. 

On October 9th, university officials were informed that starting tight end Kemari Averett had been accused of allegedly raping his former girlfriend. The university started an investigation, but that was interrupted when he was arrested a week later for holding a gun to his girlfriend’s head and threatening to kill her. He was then kicked off of campus and removed from the football team.

Which makes Marshon the starting tight end. Not only did Louisville now have an infinitely nicer person at the position, but over his four starting seasons, Marshon would be a steady and reliable receiver. In 2021 he would lead the team in receptions and receiving yards (49 recs, 550 yards) and finish 2nd in those stats in 2022 (33 recs, 434 yards). 

With Marshon you’re definitely getting more of a ‘Y’ tight end. He has an incredible instinct for the sideline. He toe-taps with skill and rushes out of bounds when time is short. Most impressively, when the pocket collapses he is always there as an option. His highlight film is loaded with moments of Malik Cunningham escaping the pocket just to find Marshon seconds before getting hit. Marshon might not be the cure to helping an ailing line, but is easily worth an early draft pick to give a quarterback a consistent emergency option when the pocket falls apart.

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