Last season, we saw a number of exciting sack artists make the jump to, and emerge within the XFL. From NFL Vets like Super Bowl record holder Kony Ealy and Saints starter Hau’oli Kikaha to fresh faces like the Guardians’ Cavon Walker, the league’s trenchfighters were just getting warmed up.
While we hope as many of the original players return as possible, there are Defensive Linemen and Edge Rushers on the market who could make a great impact here. From vets looking for a new start to up and comers, there are some really interesting options out there.
Going into the 2020 season I was worried that O-Line units would be extremely disadvantaged against edge rushers as they had little time to gel, but they never seemed too overwhelmed or out of place to start the season.
Let’s take a look at some guys who could change all that.
Top Edge Rushing Prospects
The former 23rd overall pick has fallen into a bit of a lull in his career, due to a lingering wrist injury, and the arrival of Bradley Chubb as Von Miller’s protege’ in Denver. Though he is currently without a team, Ray is just 27 years old with a Super Bowl Ring, SEC Defensive Player of the Year Award and 14 sacks in the pros to his name.
Ray has played with some fantastic pass rushers in his career, and while some might say he was a benefactor of this, it also stands that he emerged at times in spite of the depth around him.
In college, he had 19 sacks while earning playing time along guys like Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, and in the NFL was a valuable addition to a Denver pass rush that already included Von Miller, Demarcus Ware, Shaquill Barrett, Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe.
Labelled a premiere pass-rusher out of college, his ability to get to the quarterback is proven. While his last two years in the mile high city were stunted by his wrist issues, he’s had since 2018 to get healthy, and the edge-rushing Ronin would be a monstrous addition to any defensive front in the league.
Sutton Smith is the unfortunate heir of stereotypes in scouting about “tweeners” who get thrust to the bottom of boards because of their size. Smith is just over 6 feet tall, and measured in around 235 pounds at the combine. However, scouts called him “tiny” because of presupposed ideas of the measurements players need to live up to.
There’s an obsession with length around the edge that’s not so misguided as incomplete. Sure, height can help a rusher extend around and trip up QB’s or swat passes at the line, but it’s hardly the whole picture.
Just look at Elvis Dumervil. A member of the 100-sack club with 105.5, he’s just 5’11”, 255. Or James Harrison at 6’0″, 240 pounds. He was a perennial All-Pro and won 2 Super Bowls, with 84.5 sacks to his name. Would you dare look that man in the eyes and tell him he’s too “tiny” to play football?
I could keep listing sub-6’3″ players who proved that rushers can rely on burst, leverage and technique to get it done rather than just measurables, but you get my point. It’s absurd.
This guy can the disrupt the game like nothing you’ve ever seen. He has high-level burst off the line, coupled with great pursuit speed and motor. With the NIU Huskies, he had 14 and 15 sacks his sophomore and junior years, and dominated vs the run with 30 and 26.5 tackles for loss in those campaigns.
Despite scouts going after his size at every turn, Smith was taken in the 6th by the Steelers last year, and had had stints with the Jaguars and Seahawks since. At 24 he can still pack weight onto his frame to help with bull rushes and setting the edge, and would be an absolute steal for the XFL to pick up.
A hero of the AAF, it was a shock to many football fans that he wasn’t immediately picked up by the XFL. The league had apparently reached out to him and his agent, but strangely nothing ever materialized.
I still believe the league would still be incredibly lucky to have him. After posting 35.5 sacks and 55.5 TFL at Northern Iowa, the 6’3″, 260 pound DE has played in the NFL with the Browns, Vikings and Panthers. With a relentless motor on and off the field, he’s proven extremely dedicated to his football dream. At times when the NFL didn’t come calling, he turned to The Spring League, and eventually the AAF.
With the Salt Lake Stallions, he exploded on the pro scene with 7.0 sacks and 13 TFL in just 8 games. AAF fans were right to decry his lack of invitation to the XFL 2.0, and maybe 2.1 will get it right. I know I’m shilling for all these guys here, but Schult is a no-brainer.
At Alabama, he was deadly explosive. Against SEC competition, he displayed top-end burst and closing speed, coupled with some flashy moves. He finished his time there with 20 sacks and 30 TFL, and the future appeared bright.
Williams went in the 3rd round to the vaunted Ravens defense. He flashed at times, showing that ludicrous speed that launched him to success at Bama, but could dissapear as well, and he finished his time in Baltimore with just 2 sacks to his name.
He signed on with the Packers, but was just cut last week, and presents some incredibly attractive tools as a free agent. It’s possible that he could get swooped up, but he just cleared waivers and is on the market. It’s unlikely he’ll get another shot to start in the NFL just yet in his career, but he could do very well here.
Bringing explosiveness and speed like his to the XFL would immediately put every single OT in the league on notice, and the 26 year old could put his name back on the map.
Rolland-Jones had 42 sacks in college, and was the NCAA’s all-time record holder until this last season (supplanted by Jaylon Ferguson). In 4 years at Arkansas State he brought down oppossing passers more than Von Miller, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack did in the same time frame. So how does the NCAA’s second most productive pass rusher in history end up without a team?
He went largely unnoticed in the Sun Belt Conference despite his massive production, and a middling Combine performance didn’t help. He ended up having stints with the Bengals and Rams as a UDFA, but didn’t catch on at either stop, and found himself playing Arena ball for the Baltimore Brigade last year.
I think there’s potential to be tapped here. While he may not have faced top-end talent week in and week out in the Sun Belt, he played well against big schools. Rolland-Jones notched sacks vs Tennessee, Mizzou, USC, UCF, and Auburn throughout his career. No small feat.
He may not have all the numbers that win you favor in the NFL, but the I don’t think his football story is over. I watched his tape vs UCF, and while he may not have the top-flight closing speed and burst that scouts look for, I saw a very technical and intriguing prospect.
He attacks with a strong punch to drive tackles back, can drive forward when locked up, and shows good agility bending around the end and stunting inside.
Still with me? Let’s look at a few interior D-Linemen next.
Interior Line Prospects
The Ole Miss DT shot up draft boards as he impressed scouts with his physical tools and high ceiling as an interior disruptor. Though his production wasn’t off the charts, with 6 sacks, 81 tackles and 16 TFL in 3 years there, his potential as an athlete was tantalizing. At 6’4″, 300 pounds he was even used on offense, scoring twice on goal line runs, and even caught a 31-yard TD pass, showing impressive speed for his size.
All this landed him as a 1st round pick with the Cardinals. In his first couple years he worked in as a rotational lineman, and even returned a fumble 21 yards for a score, but in 2018 he truly began to show his potential. In just 6 starts, he had 4.5 sacks, and appeared to be rising in the Arizona defense.
However a torn ACL ended his season, and he was waived after failing a physical at camp in 2019. He caught on with the Dolphins, but was cut just a week after being activated of PUP.
This past summer, he expressed interest in returning to the game, and it’s not hard to see why. He was just starting to live up to his potential when an injury forced him down and out, and he just wants a second shot at the age of 25. The NFL hasn’t come calling, but perhaps the XFL will.
The 30 year old pass rusher was dominant at Florida State, and earned his way to a 2nd Round pick with the 49ers. However, he found himself buried behind guys like Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, and then DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Ronald Blair and Arik Armstead in a notoriously deep niners D-Line rotation.
He couldn’t break through there, but still had 5.5 sacks as a rotational piece. They tried to move him from DE to OLB, and while he had some success cutting weight and moving outside, it’s a tough transition for young players to make, and this could have effected his development.
After short stays in Oakland, then Miami, he’s now looking for a new team. Carradine would be a blue-chip acquisition for the league, bringing a steady veteran presence and pass rush skills to boot.
The Illinois product has been a rock-steady DT throughout his career, and looking at his resume its very surprising he isn’t with an NFL team this season.
In 7 seasons with Tampa Bay, Detroit, Miami, Jacksonville and Philly, he’s brought down the passer 10.5 times, registered 35 QB hits and made 195 stops. Not bad for a former 4th round pick. Spence has proven himself time and again to be a valuable defensive piece, and that would only be multiplied in the XFL.
He’s just 28 years old, and could be one of the league’s premiere interior pass rushers should he make the jump. At 6’1″, 300 pounds he has the ideal build to leverage opposing linemen, and still anchor vs the run. I wouldn’t be shocked if an injury-riddled NFL team comes calling this season, but if the XFL can make this happen, he’d be an instant star here.
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