The first XFL draft for the 2023 season has concluded with teams selecting their specialists and adding to the over 40 players they selected on day one. Day 2 of the Draft saw the D.C. Defenders add 10 more players, bringing their team total to 53 before training camp begins in January.
All eight XFL teams will have 66 players in training camp before rosters are pared down to 50 for the regular season. In January, the current rosters will round out in the next player draft process.
XFL 2023 Draft: D.C. Defenders Day 2 Results
Day 2 of the XFL draft kicked off with all eight teams selecting three specialists. The D.C. Defenders picked second to start the special teams phase.
Playing pro football in February and March can be tricky for outdoor teams, especially kickers and punters, who have to deal with the elements. The majority of XFL teams either play in warmer climates or indoors. Like St. Louis, San Antonio, etc. On the other hand, the Defenders will have to deal with the wind, rain, and potentially snow at beautiful Audi Field. So, the kicking and punting aspects of the team take on added importance.
D.C. Defenders select P/K Daniel Whelan, Cal-Davis
Daniel Whelan recently worked out for the league at Nick Novak’s specialists showcase in October. Obviously, the Defenders’ liked what they saw from the towering 6’6 specialist. At the showcase, Whelan kicked field goals from 60 yards with ease. Although, he’s a natural punter. It’s possible that Whelan could pull double duty for D.C.
The Irish-born Whelan grew up in Enniskerry before moving to California with his family. He put his rugby and soccer experience to good use as he transitioned to American football.
At Cal-Davis, Whelan was the fifth-ranked punter in the nation. He finished his career with 206 punts for 9,067 yards (44.0 avg.), a career-long of 67 yards, 86 downed inside the 20-yard line, and 63 punts over 50 yards…He also handled the kickoff duties over his last two seasons, kicking off 103 times for 6,334 yards (61.5 avg.) with 54 touchbacks…Whelan’s 44-yard average and 86 punts inside the 20-yard line are a program record.
Over his redshirt-senior season in 2021, Whelan was named to four preseason All-America teams and made the all-Big Sky conference team…Punted 55 times for 2,544 yards (46.25 avg.) with a long of 65 yards and had 5 touchbacks, 20 downed inside-the-twenty yard-line, and 21 over 50 yards…Also kicked off 68 times for 4,212 yards (61.9 avg.) with 37 touchbacks. Whelan signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted rookie this past Spring. But they released him this summer.
D.C. Defenders select LS Erik Lawson, East Carolina
Erik Lawson has worked the pro circuit looking for an opportunity and finally gets one. The standout from East Carolina has played in the Spring League and even dabbled briefly with the ill-conceived MLFB earlier this year.
- Erik Lawson was 305 pounds back at ECU. But has slimmed down to 246 since leaving school.
The life of a long snapper is very challenging. But anonymity is a virtue, and people only notice long snappers when something goes wrong.
Some naysayers question the level of competition for pro football leagues like the XFL. But that contention doesn’t apply to long snappers. After all, if you can do it at a high level on any football field, it doesn’t matter what league it is. For example, there are currently XFL 2020 long snappers who have been gainfully employed in the NFL since showing their wares in spring pro football. Nick Moore (Ravens), Christian Kuntz (Steelers), and Scott Daly (Lions). Lawson gets his pro shot in the XFL to try and follow that path.
D.C. Defenders select P Jacob Schum, Buffalo
Jacob Schum is a well-traveled pro punter who is accustomed to playing in cold weather environments outdoors. The 33-year-old Buffalo grad has NFL experience as a punter and holder with four different teams since 2013. He’s punted 112 times in the NFL, averaged 42.6 yards per punt, a 38.5 net average, with 34 of his punts downed inside the 20. Schum is also a former XFL player, earning those duties back in 2020 with Tampa.
It will be interesting to see what the Defenders’ do at this position. On paper, it appears that Daniel Whelan could be the team’s kicker and kickoff specialist. Unless D.C. adds a kicker in January, he may also be the punter when the smoke clears. However, having a veteran hand like Schum is a great asset.
XFL 2023 Draft: D.C. Defenders Specialists Phase Analysis
Former NFL standout linebacker and current Defenders’ linebacker coach Jamie Sharper is also the team’s special teams coordinator. Sharper, a great special teams player in his day, will undoubtedly get input from another standout in that area, head coach Reggie Barlow.
It will be interesting to see how they handle this unit. Another unknown aspect is the league’s rules. Dean Blandino is back on board with the XFL, and the expectation, based on specialists drills at Nick Novak’s showcase, it appears that the league will have similar XFL 2020 rules.
XFL 2023 Draft: Open Phase
D.C. Defenders selection: WR Zimari Manning, Tarleton State
The Defenders continue to search for diamonds in the rough, particularly regarding their receiver position. Manning, a 6’2, 200lb receiver, was a breakout performer at Tarleton State in 2019. As a senior, he caught 68 passes for 1,462 yards and 22 touchdowns. Unreal production by a receiver, regardless of the level of play. Manning ended his brief two-year Division II career at Tarleton with 34 touchdowns in 24 games.
Zimari went undrafted in 2020, but the Denver Broncos gave Manning a $12,000 signing bonus to sign on as an undrafted free agent. However, he was unable to make Denver’s roster. Manning would eventually take his talents to the Indoor Football League with the Arizona Rattlers.
‘Super Zimario’ impressed XFL team personnel during the showcase process in his receiver drills, leading to the Defenders adding him to their talented receiver room.
After turning heads and having a spark in college. Manning has fallen under the radar but is back up again with another shot to shine.
D.C. Defenders select DB Reggie Stubblefield, Kansas State
Reggie Stubblefield is a lanky defensive back at 6’1, 205, who was a late transfer to Kansas State after spending five seasons at Prairie View A&M.
In his lone season with the Jayhawks, Stubblefield earned Honorable Mention from Big-12 coaches for his play at safety, and linebacker after transitioning from the cornerback position.
Stubblefield’s late ascent wasn’t enough to get him drafted, but he did turn heads earlier this year while with the Kansas City Chiefs in camp. He will definitely receive a more extensive look at playing pro football in D.C. Stuublefield can be a versatile depth piece in the Defenders defense.
D.C. Defenders select DL Jessie Aniebonam, Maryland
Jessie Aniebonam returns to the DMV. The 6’3, 260lb edge rusher from Maryland is a former Houston Texan who has experience in the 34 defense. Aniebonam is one of 285 players drafted into the XFL with NFL experience, and he also has XFL experience as a member of the Dallas Renegades in 2020.
D.C. Defenders select WR Manasseh Bailey, Morgan State
Bailey is another player from the Maryland area drafted by the Defenders. The 25-year-old Morgan State standout is a well-traveled receiver who has spent time on NFL, CFL, and USFL rosters since 2020. The 6’1, 200lb pass-catcher has been on practice squads and been a depth piece but hasn’t had the opportunity to move up the chart. Bailey is a physical receiver who transitioned from being a linebacker early on in college. Because of that experience, he can provide excellent value to special teams in coverage. Perhaps that versatility will finally give him a chance to stick.
D.C. Defenders select RB Artavis Pierce, Oregon State
The Defenders continue to add talented players to their backfield, adding Oregon State’s Artavis Pierce into the mix. Pierce has spent the last two seasons in the NFL with the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns. Mostly on their practice rosters, he has seen some action in games as a returner and runner. Pierce averaged 5.7 yards per rush in his limited duty with a touchdown with Chicago.
The 5’11, 210lb tailback with 4.4 timed speed was a very productive player in college, averaging 5.8 yards per rush. He was tenth all-time on the school’s rushing list with the Beavers, despite sharing carries in a committee backfield at Oregon State. Pierce also showed good receiving chops in college, registering 74 career receptions.
The Defenders have a loaded backfield with Abram Smith, Ryquell Armstead, and Pooka Williams. Pierce is an excellent addition to this group.
D.C. Defenders select WR Simmie Cobbs Jr., Indiana
Simmie Cobbs is back with the DC Defenders again. The 6’3, 220lb pass catcher returns to the DMV, a place he has a lot of familiarity, having not only played there in the XFL but also with Washington in the NFL.
The first-team All-Big 12 player provides the Defenders’ offense more size at the position and a red zone presence to go along with jumbo-sized receiver Jazz Ferguson.
D.C. Defenders select DB, K.J. Sails, South Florida
The final pick in the Defenders’ open phase is DB/PR K.J. Sails. An athletic and intelligent 5’11 defensive back who turned some heads coming out of school. Enough for him to sign on with the LA Chargers in 2021 as an undrafted free agent. Sails has also spent some time in the CFL.
After transferring from North Carolina, sails spent the final two seasons of his college career in South Florida. For the Bulls, he started 20 games at cornerback, breaking up 11 passes and posting three interceptions. Sails also showed value on special teams for South Florida, averaging nearly 10 yards per punt return. The latter area can be the deciding factor in earning a roster spot out of camp.
XFL 2023 Draft: D.C. Defenders Draft Recap
Although the open phase area was too ambiguous for some, it carried added intrigue because teams had already stocked up significantly at every position on day one. The open phase had no restrictions. Teams could have selected up to 11 more players. D.C. selected seven.
As it pertains to the Defenders. With presumed quarterback in waiting, D’Eriq King currently in the NFL on the Carolina Panthers practice squad. D.C. was the only XFL team entering day two of the draft with one QB assigned to their roster. Eric Dungey.
But surprisingly, the Defenders did not select a quarterback in the open phase of the draft. This is a clear sign that the team has confidence in King eventually taking his crown in D.C.later. But also shows that the Defenders have designs on adding a QB or two in January.
Some XFL teams already have four quarterbacks on their roster. But a new crop of available signal-callers could change the equation. The Defenders will presumably have two running-styled quarterbacks, and it will be interesting to see if the next QB or two carries the same player profiles as Dungey and King.
Overall, the Defenders’ DPP Von Hutchins and coaching staff did a great job assembling their roster in this first wave of additions. It’s been a team effort for months trying to build a roster from scratch. What stands out the most from the 53 players selected is D.C.’s young playmakers on offense. Abram Smith, Pooka Williams, and Jequezz Ezzard should be highlight-reel players.
That’s the great thing about leagues like the XFL. The detractors will claim that these players are the unwanted lot who aren’t good enough. The players in these leagues will get a fair shot to prove them wrong. As evidenced by the XFL in 2020 and the recent history of spring pro football. Many of them will.
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