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XFL 2023 Rookie Draft Preview: Top 5 Wide Receivers Ready for Their Chance

This year’s class of wide receivers has been knocked for being, well, less than great. When you look at the combine results it’s easy to get the feeling that there’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba and then a bunch of dudes who had to show up and get embarrassed by him. The NFL has signed a ton of wide receivers in the wake of the draft, but even in a supposedly weak draft class, there are some very talented receivers remaining for the XFL Rookie Draft.

Wildcard) Fotis Kokosioulis, Fordham

For our wildcard, we are starting off with someone who hasn’t been horribly injured or kicked from the team or suffered a near irreparable scandal. His only crime? He’s smaller than the average NFL wide receiver and from an FCS school with little football prestige. Fotis Kokosioulis is 5’9”/180 pounds, which I might add, are nearly the same measurements as Patriots legend Wes Welker. If there is anyone to compare Fotis to, Welker isn’t that far off.

Fotis played his high school ball in Illinois, but as a running back. He racked up 1,633 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns on his way to being named to the All-State team & awarded Player of the Year by the Pioneer Press and Bugle News. He would choose to go to Northern Illinois and during his freshman year appeared in every game as a special teamer. Despite loving the school and being close to home, Fotis chose to transfer to the Bronx to attend Fordham, citing the academic respect of the university as one of the main factors.

Once at Fordham, he switched over to wide receiver and became the primary kick returner. Despite being second team on the depth chart, Fotis would end the year 3rd in receiving with 621 yards and scoring 7 touchdowns. His senior year would be more of the same, with 783 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Thanks to the off-the-wall play by Fordham quarterback Tim DeMorat, Fotis would crush all of his career bests in his super senior season. He set a school record with 103 receptions, tied the school touchdown record with 14, and led the team in yards with 1,312. These stats made him a Walter Payton Award finalist, but he would lose to Lindsey Scott, Jr. 

Despite these stellar numbers, Fotis didn’t get a single minicamp invite. In the XFL, Fotis has the potential to tear it up as a slot receiver. His 40 time of 4.61 isn’t the greatest, but his 20-yard shuttle of 7.00 seconds places him in the top 3 of this year’s NFL combine. His size may make him too much of a risk for the NFL, but if given the chance, he could easily show the 32 teams that passed him up why they were so wrong to do so.

5) Trea Shropshire, UAB

The XFL is a league for athletes that are just waiting for their chance to show their true capabilities. Jahcour Peason, Jeff Badet, and Josh Hammond all proved themselves to be top tier receivers in the XFL, despite limited opportunities in college, and Trea Shropshire has the intangible skills to follow in their footsteps.

Trea would make his name locally in Zachary, Louisiana, but despite winning two state championships, he didn’t get much FBS attention. Instead, he took the JuCo route and enrolled at Blinn College. His stats there weren’t the most spectacular (529 yards and 8 touchdowns), but after one year at Blinn, Trea got offers from Texas State, Utah State, and New Mexico State. Ultimately he would accept an offer from UAB. 

At UAB he wouldn’t top 1,000 yards in a season, he never got more than 7 touchdowns in a year, and in his senior year he would get the most receptions of his career with 41. He did lead the team in his senior year with 923 yards. In UAB’s run-focused offense those are great numbers, just not the kind that turn heads. For those stats you have to look at Trea’s average yards per catch. All three years at UAB, Trea topped 20 yards per catch and ended his career with an average of 23.6 yards. 

Following the season, Trea wouldn’t get any minicamp invites, but he was an 8th Round pick in the USFL Draft for Memphis Showboats. While the offer from the Boats stands, there isn’t much room for Trea at the moment. Between Vinny Papale, Jr., Derrick Dillon, and Ryan McDaniel, there isn’t much extra space for Trea to fit in, let alone play. However, in a wide receiver depleted team, such as St. Louis (if Gary Jennings and Hakeem Butler make it to the NFL 53-man roster), then Trea would have the ability to get in and really show what he can do.

4) Darion Chafin, Incarnate Word

This is the third time I’ve included a UIW player on these lists, but I promise I’m not a secret agent of Incarnate Word or a lobbyist for Big Roman Catholic Football. The Cardinals were absolute lightning to watch last year and Darion Chafin was an integral part of what made their team so fun to watch.

Darion would get his start in Texas high school football. When that phrase comes to mind, it’s easy to think of powerhouse high schools and clips from Friday Night Lights. His high school experience was the polar opposite. Darion would play for Burkbennett High School, a team that only recently broke out of finishing their seasons with one to three wins. In the highly competitive Texas sports world, if you’re not playing for the best, it’s near impossible to be noticed.

He would get no FBS offers to play, so he took the JuCo route with Cisco College in Oklahoma. Darion would put up a pair of 400 yard seasons, which was enough to earn him a trio of offers. He turned down Texas State and Northwestern State to return to Texas and play for Incarnate Word.

Placed within the offense friendly Cardinal program, Darion was able to exponentially raise his stats over three years. By his super senior year, he was able to gain 1,244 yards, score 18 touchdowns, and average nearly 90 yards a game. Darion wouldn’t get any minicamp invites, but his teammate Taylor Grimes, who had similar stats, did get signed to the Denver Broncos. The big difference between the two is that Darion is dealing with a foot injury that kept him from participating in UIW’s Pro Day. It doesn’t seem like the injury is major enough to make him miss time, but it does make him more of a later round pick.

3) Jaylen Hall, Western Kentucky

One of the more frustrating aspects of a receiver is someone who can make acrobatic, highlight plays, but if a coin flip on easy balls. With Jaylen Hall, that is never the case. You want a one-handed touchdown? Sure. An acrobatic touchdown while smothered in defense? You got it. As for the easy stuff, of course he’s going to get those.

Out of high school, Jaylen would receive offers from Eastern Michigan and UMass, but fully committed to the Western Michigan Broncos. During his tenure in Kalamazoo Jaylen would take advantage of his growing opportunities, maturing from a back-up receiver to a reliable starter. In his last year, he totaled 752 yards, 46 receptions, and 3 touchdowns. Decent numbers for a contributor, but if he wanted to get the NFL’s attention, he’d need to improve on that. 

This last year, he joined Western Kentucky to be part of their transfer heavy overhaul. Jaylen ended up with a career best 68 receptions and 869 yards. Which, again, good, but not the gaudy stats that make scouts salivate. That said, he was noted for his reliability, his agility (his Pro Day 20-yard shuttle would have ranked 7th at the NFL combine), and how quickly he was able to get to his top speed.

The downside is that if a defender was between him and the end-zone, the defender had a good chance to get him down after the catch. However, a catch is a catch, and the assurance of a consistent receiver would be well worth a mid-round draft pick.

2) JuanCarlos Santana, Tulsa

This was a tough one. Tulsa had not just one, but two senior year receivers that were snubbed by the NFL and deserving of a spring league shot. Keylon Stokes certainly has the stats on his side, but after watching clips and scouring Pro Day results, I’m calling an audible and throwing in with JuanCarlos Santana.

JC would get his start playing for the Texas powerhouse Katy High School. His coaches had wanted him to play safety, but he insisted that wide receiver was where he was meant to be. Which is a hell of a risk to take on a defensive juggernaut that runs a very basic, run-heavy offense. By his senior year, JC would get an offer from Syracuse, but after a sudden regime change, that offer was rescinded.

His goal shifted to getting an offer from Houston, but by the end of the season, he would be ignored by his first choice. So, he did the next best thing. He joined Tulsa to guarantee he could play against Houston every year and make the Cougars pay for not bringing him on. To be fair, he also liked that the school was more academic than party focused, but that’s less fun to mention.

His first couple of years on the team were spent learning the spread offense. As he learned and studied he’d hop into the lineup as needed and by 2020 he was a full time starter. By that point he had become adept at both the perimeter & the slot and settled into his role as a utility receiver. He would consistently improve his stats and his final season saw him catch 53 receptions, gain 859 passing yards, and score 7 touchdowns.

JuanCarlos would put up decent Pro Day numbers, but his game film is where you can really see him set himself apart. His mix of speed and agility allow him to break from defenders and on the occasion that they stick, JC is a fierce competitor for the ball. He seems to revel in fighting for jump balls and gains some sort of NFL Street power up whenever Tulsa is down by a touchdown. He might not be a statistical wonder, but his tenacity and commitment to the game make him a valuable 2nd or 3rd round pick.

1) Kris Thornton, James Madison

Whenever a team makes the leap from FCS to FBS, it can be a roll of the dice. For James Madison University, they spent 2022 looking like they were always meant to be in the top division. Not only did they go 8-3, but they were co-champions of the Sun Belt Conference East Division. Much of that success can be placed on the shoulders of quarterback Todd Centeio and his primary target, Kris Thornton.

Initially, Kris would attend the Virginia Military Institute. He wasn’t the starter, but in the last game of his freshman season against #8 Wofford, Kris would break out with 12 receptions, 108 yards, and 2 touchdowns. This game alone would ensure that he co-led the team with receiving touchdowns (2) and pushed him to the front with 340 total receiving yards. The next season he was made a starter and, depending on which source you prefer, he either got 915 yards (according to VMI) or 1,003 yards (according to JMU). 

Kris would take this season’s results and use it to transfer James Madison. He’d actually grown up watching JMU games, seeing as his parents were both alumni and his dad played wide receiver for the Dukes. Most importantly though, James Madison was just a better football school. Kris would say:

“Leaving VMI for JMU definitely elevated my stock…It’s nothing against VMI. But here we were in the playoffs and contending for national championships and we moved up to the FBS. It put more eyes on me to play at the next level.”

With those new eyes on him, Kris would spend his final two seasons attaining the first back-to-back 1,000 yard receiving seasons in James Madison history. In 2021 he set the team record for most receptions in a season (83) and was 4th nationally in touchdowns (13). His senior year numbers were slightly lower, but were good enough to get him on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. He would be snubbed from getting an NFL Combine invite, but his Pro Day numbers included a 41” vertical jump and a 6.84 3-cone drill. He’s got speed, agility, and a great leap. He is also 5’8” and 180 pounds. Just like XFL receiving yard leader Jahcour Pearson. Kris’ style of play feels like a perfect match to Jahcour as well, which is easily worth a 1st round pick.

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