On Friday, June 16th, the XFL held their first-ever rookie draft, selecting 80 players who were passed up by the NFL. These players needed to be eligible for the 2023 NFL draft, and could not be under contract with another pro team. Ultimately, these additions in the early phase of the offseason proved to be extremely diverse and beneficial, especially for the Houston Roughnecks. Houston selected a total of ten players, four on offense and six on defense.
There was a particular focus within the trenches, as five of the ten players selected were linemen. Additionally, the Roughnecks added two free agents to the roster a day before the draft, which are also covered in this article. In a corresponding move, the team released tackle Ryan Pope, who appeared in two games last season. Without further ado, let’s take a look at these new additions, and what they bring to the table heading into 2024.
Free Agent Signings
Andrew Whitaker, DB, Washington (MO)
Whitaker returns to the Roughnecks after being a part of final cuts in February. He was initially selected by the team during the open rounds of the 2022 XFL draft, and will once again be competing for a roster spot through the offseason and into training camp. Since being let go by Houston, Whitaker has participated in a minicamp with the Seattle Seahawks.
Dieuly Aristilde Jr, WR, Bethel (TN)
Aristilde had a unique college career which saw him land at three different schools. He started at Eastern Michigan, spending three seasons with the Eagles before transferring to Alabama State. Eventually, he found himself at NAIA Bethel University, where he caught 32 passes for 768 yards and 6 touchdowns during his lone year with the program (2021). From there, Aristilde signed a contract with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL, where he appeared in a single game during the 2022 season. Afterwards, he was drafted by the Orlando Guardians, but did not make it onto the final roster. Just like Whitaker, Aristilde will get a second chance in the XFL.
Rookie Draft Picks
Jayson Ademilola, DL, Notre Dame
Ademilola was incredibly effective in college football when it came to finding the quarterback, as he recorded the second-most pressures of any Fighting Irish player last season. In total, Ademilola appeared in 43 games during his time at Notre Dame, starting over half of them. His 20 career tackles for loss stood out on the stat sheet, and helped him sign a UDFA deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars in April.
Austin Ajiake, LB, Nevada-Las Vegas
Simply put, Ajiake was a tackling machine during his college career, finishing first amongst Mountain West Conference defenders in this category for the 2022 season (132 total, 59 solo). Outside of the Mountain West, those 132 tackles were good enough for fifth-most in the nation. After adding on 11 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and 2 interceptions, Ajiake had caught the eye of several NFL scouts. He attended both the Shrine Bowl and the Hula Bowl, later signing a UDFA deal with the Carolina Panthers.
Michael Ayers, LB, Ashland
Ayers was a highly productive linebacker at the Division II level, becoming the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (GMAC) Player of the Year in 2022. Most notably, he recorded nine pass deflections last season while being outside of the secondary, making him a true hidden gem. Ayers also recorded double-digit tackles for loss (10.5), and the Seattle Seahawks later signed him to a UDFA deal.
Quinton Barrow, OL, Grand Valley State
Barrow was already being evaluated by NFL scouts prior to his senior season, and even made it on to the Senior Bowl watchlist for 2023. He was arguably the best lineman across Division II football, lining up at left tackle and allowing the GVSU Laker offense to average over 400 total yards per game. Barrow would go on to participate in the Shrine Bowl, and sign a UDFA deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Momar Fall, DL, Colorado State-Pueblo
Fall had a breakout senior campaign at Division II CSU-Pueblo, recording 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. Prior to 2022, he only recorded half a sack and three tackles for loss throughout his entire collegiate career. Most recently, Fall participated in rookie minicamp with the Denver Broncos, but was not signed by the team.
Ahofitu Maka, OL, Texas-San Antonio
Maka was an anchor on the UTSA offensive line, starting in 51 games over the course of four seasons (2019-2022). Lining up at center, the Honolulu native was given First-Team All-Conference USA honors during his final year with the program, along with being named a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy. Maka was invited to rookie minicamp with the New York Giants for his efforts.
Alijah McGhee, DB, Minnesota State-Mankato
McGhee is the fourth Division II selection on this list, and is another player who seemingly fell under the radar. He finished third on his team in 2022 with 63 total tackles (45 solo), and also added two interceptions. Perhaps what was most impressive, though, were his seven tackles for loss in the span of nine games. Prior to his time at Minnesota State, McGhee played two seasons at Kentucky Wesleyan, recording 14 total pass breakups. He was most recently with the Atlanta Falcons in their rookie minicamp.
Marcus Minor, OL, Pittsburgh
Minor was a First-Team All-ACC selection in 2022, finishing off a two-year stretch at Pitt where he started 26 of 27 games. Prior to his time with the Panthers, Minor was a serviceable lineman at Maryland, primarily lining up at left guard. He joined the Baltimore Ravens for their rookie minicamp last month.
Marvin Pierre, LB, Kent State
Pierre fell just short of 100 total tackles in 2022, finishing the year with 96 (56 solo). He wrapped up his two-year career at Kent State with 149 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Prior to his time with the Golden Flashes, Pierre played for the Murray State Racers. He was signed by the Arizona Cardinals as a UDFA.
Lindsey Scott Jr, QB, Incarnate Word
Scott is easily the headliner of this draft class, as he recently completed one of the best seasons by any college football player at any position. In 2022, Scott set a new FCS record for passing touchdowns with 60, and also added 11 touchdowns on the ground to bring his total to 71. Prior to his time at UIW, Scott had a long and rather arduous journey through several different levels of the college game, starting at LSU all the way back in 2016. After one year with the Tigers as a redshirt freshman, he transferred to East Mississippi Community College (EMCC) in 2017, where he threw for 3,481 yards and 29 touchdowns. From there, he signed with Missouri, but was only a part of the scout team and later used another redshirt for injury. In 2019, he once again transferred to Nicholls State, putting him back home in Louisiana. Scott finally began to see some action, throwing for over 2,000 yards and scoring 25 total touchdowns in 2021.
While he could have ended his playing days there, Scott made one final move over to Texas for his seventh collegiate season, a move that would prove to be worthwhile. On top of his 71 total touchdowns, Scott threw for a whopping 4,686 yards and rushed for another 712. After making history, he took home the Walter Payton Award, given each year to the most outstanding player at the FCS level. Additionally, he was also named the Southland Conference Player of the Year. Having just turned 25, Scott is definitely on the older side for a rookie, but still has plenty of interest at the pro level. He was invited to minicamps hosted by the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while also being selected by the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers in their college rights draft.
Overall, the Roughnecks had a very well-rounded draft class which focused on adding depth to already strong position groups. It’s worth pointing out that five of these ten selections came from smaller schools (FCS and below), further demonstrating that the XFL’s “league of opportunity” brand is indeed living up to its meaning. The real key here, however, is waiting to see how many of the players selected make it past final roster cuts in 2024. With the league expanding offseason roster sizes from 70 to 90, there will be several more “camp bodies” in year two than there were just a few months ago. More competition means more work for the personnel department, and so far, things are trending in the right direction.
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