Last Wednesday, the XFL completed the next step of their draft process, which involved filling up the majority of rosters for all eight teams. Day one, or day two if you count the quarterback allocations, saw four position groups referred to as “phases” (offensive skill, defensive backs, defensive front seven, and offensive line) bring hundreds of new players to the league. For the Houston Roughnecks, a wide variety of talent was acquired, which we will break down in this article. The Roughnecks made a total of 42 picks, followed by a handful more in the specialist + open rounds the next day (which will be covered in a separate article). Without further ado, here is a closer look at who will be taking the field at TDECU stadium in 2023.
Round 1, Pick 8: Adrian Killins, RB, Central Florida
There was a time when Adrian Killins was viewed as one of the fastest players in all of college football. The former track and field star contributed greatly to some of the most successful seasons in UCF football history, particularly as a sophomore in 2017. Through four years, Killins had accumulated 2,459 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns, doing so with incredible efficiency (6.1 YPC). He also caught 70 passes for 864 yards and 8 touchdowns during his UCF career as well, proving his worth as a dual-threat option. Despite some great statistical numbers, Killins didn’t have the best measurables, and was not invited to the NFL combine. After going undrafted in 2020, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, and would have another stint with the Denver Broncos in 2021.
Round 2, Pick 9: Garrett Owens, TE, Duquesne
Despite being listed as a tight end, there is far more to Garrett Owens than what meets the eye. He really has no set position, although he was officially listed as a running back in college (standing at 6’3”, that is). On the topic of his college career, Owens didn’t play at the largest program, which is a notable theme with some of these draft picks. Starting out at Division II Mercyhurst, Owens made a name for himself through versatility, running and catching the ball with ease. He also saw action as a kick returner on special teams. Eventually, it was clear Owens was a Division I talent, so he transferred up to FCS Duquesne in 2020. After two more collegiate seasons, Owens had put together quite the resume, finishing his career with over 5,000 all-purpose yards between the two schools. It appears the NFL simply failed to give Owens a chance, and now that he is in the hands of the XFL, has a very good chance at becoming the next “hidden gem” of sorts.
Round 3, Pick 24: Cedric Byrd, WR, Hawaii
Byrd came to play for the Rainbow Warriors in 2018 after two seasons at Long Beach City College, and made an immediate impact. During his junior campaign, he fell just short of the 1,000 yard mark, but was able to eclipse it in 2019. That senior season also saw Byrd lead the Mountain West Conference in receptions while recording double-digit trips to the endzone (10). Similar to Killins, Byrd was praised for his speed during the NFL draft process, but lacked the size that a lot of teams were looking for. Now that he is reunited with his old quarterback Cole McDonald, Byrd could perhaps become the next Cam Phillips with guidance from AJ Smith.
Round 4, Pick 25: Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
Burnett was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2017, after recording over 1,000 receiving yards as a junior. He showed tremendous growth over his three years with the Trojans program, but still went undrafted in 2018. Eventually, Burnett latched on with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he caught 15 passes for 210 yards over the course of two seasons (2019-2020).
Round 5, Pick 40: Justin Smith, WR, Norfolk State
Smith was one of the top weapons across the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) last year, earning first-team honors for his efforts. Despite only having 758 yards in 2021, he hit the century mark in three of his performances and scored six touchdowns in Norfolk State’s first six games. His former teammate, De’Shaan Dixon, is currently on the Jacksonville Jaguars active roster, and it seems like Smith is next in line to build a pro career from the FCS school in Virginia.
Round 6, Pick 41: Max Borghi, RB, Washington State
Borghi was viewed by many as one of the most exciting picks in this draft, not just for the Roughnecks but the entire XFL. The former Washington State Cougar has drawn comparisons to Christian McCaffrey, a back who can be featured on every down. It came as a surprise that Borghi didn’t stick with a NFL team, given that he’s been picked up by three of them already as a rookie. Once again, Borghi is a great system fit who will likely split reps in the backfield with Killins.
Round 7, Pick 56: Jontre Kirklin, WR, LSU
Kirklin, like some of the players already mentioned on this list, can play beyond his listed position. He was buried on the depth chart at a SEC powerhouse known for producing some of the best NFL talent, but still caught the eyes of scouts as he got older. In his last collegiate game, which happened to be the Texas Bowl against Kansas State, Kirklin started at quarterback for the Tigers due to a shortage of players. LSU ended up losing 42-20, but the former high school signal-caller was still able to push the ball downfield, completing 7 of 11 passes for 138 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. A similar scenario occurred back in 2018, when Kirklin played a bit of cornerback in the Fiesta Bowl when the team became concerningly thin at the position. Ultimately, this is a guy who will step up when he is asked to, and gives an already diverse offense even more to play around with.
Round 8, Pick 57: Aaron Nelson, WR, Delaware Valley
Nelson is a great example of how far the XFL has gone with their scouting and evaluation department, since he played at a Division III school and didn’t put up amazing numbers. What makes Nelson stand out is his deep ball ability, averaging over 20 yards per catch in two of his four collegiate seasons. His 2019 campaign was most impressive, and even if his skillset is more specific, there should still be a role of some capacity waiting for him in Houston.
Round 9, Pick 72: Darece Roberson, WR, Wayne State
Another small-school product and deep ball threat, Roberson was most notable for his impact on special teams at Division II Wayne State. He has both a punt return and kick return touchdown to his name, the latter of which went for 96 yards. The NFL took notice, and despite not getting picked up immediately after the 2020 draft, he signed with the Arizona Cardinals in early 2021. Later, he would have a stop with the Seattle Seahawks, and most recently joined the Toronto Argonauts at the beginning of this year.
Round 10, Pick 73: B.J. Byrd, WR, Morehead State
Byrd is coming off what can only be described as a hyperproductive senior season at Morehead State, where he averaged nearly 120 receiving yards per game and was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award. He holds nearly every single receiving record at the school, and was invited to the Washington Commanders minicamp this past offseason.
Round 11, Pick 88: Brycen Alleyne, RB, Delaware State
Alleyne led the Fan Controlled Football League (FCF) in rushing yards this past season while playing for the Glacier Boyz, and can also play out of the slot as a receiver. He will be one of the smallest players on the team, and has drawn comparisons to the likes of Darren Sproles and Austin Ekeler. Alleyne is finally getting a shot to play professional football in a proper outdoor environment, and is not the only FCF player making this transition.
Round 1, Pick 5: Raleigh Texada, CB, Baylor
A Texas native who even has part of the state in his last name, Texada spent five seasons playing for the Baylor Bears, although he wasn’t a consistent starter. One of the things that stands about him is solo tackling ability, as well as high pass breakup rate. Texada went undrafted in 2022, but would eventually sign a contract with the Green Bay Packers. After getting cut, he worked out for both the Washington Commanders and Miami Dolphins, then went up to Canada for an opportunity with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Texada is now reunited with defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, who was his position coach in 2020.
Round 2, Pick 12: Ajene Harris, CB, USC
Harris was a part of the original Roughnecks team in 2020, having a couple of productive games in the pass deflection department. His career is an interesting one, having played quarterback in high school and joining the USC football team as a wide receiver. After missing a season due to injury, Harris moved over to the defensive side of the ball, where he slowly worked his way up the ranks and was able to put together a respectable resume. He was on-and-off the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad in 2019 before eventually finding his way into XFL 2.0. Most recently, Harris was selected by the Pittsburgh Maulers in this years’ USFL draft.
Round 3, Pick 21: A.J. Hendy, S, Maryland
Hendy is another player who was coached by defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, and is not the only Maryland alum that was selected in this phase of the draft. Hendy can be given the “veteran” label on this roster, as he turns 30 years old next April. Originally signed by the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2016, he saw limited action on special teams towards the end of the season before bouncing around various practice squads as the years went on. He didn’t play meaningful football again until 2020, when the New York Guardians of XFL 2.0 took a chance on him. While his stats weren’t amazing, it was enough to get him a second contract with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. The CFL canceled their 2020 season, but after staying in shape with a stint in The Spring League (TSL), he came back to Saskatchewan in 2021 and was able to see the field. He didn’t make it through training camp in 2022, but isn’t ready to walk away just yet.
Round 4, Pick 28: Devin Hafford, DB, Tarleton State
Hafford is coming off a fantastic senior season at FCS Tarleton State, where he intercepted six passes and won the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Defensive Player of the Year award. He originally burst onto the scene in 2018, grabbing four interceptions and accounting for 18 pass breakups. After a season-ending injury in 2019 and a less exciting 2020 campaign, it was now or never for Hafford in 2021, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. His efforts led to a UDFA deal with the New England Patriots, and another deal further down the line with the Pittsburgh Maulers (USFL).
Round 5, Pick 37: Alexander Myres, CB, Houston
Staying with the theme of keeping Texas players home, there was a time not too long ago when Alexander Myres was playing on the same field in college that he’ll be playing on as a pro. Although Myers was decent with the Cougars, his rise to the top actually began at Ouachita Baptist, a Division II school in Arkansas. He wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of high school, so Ouachita proved to be the best option for him and his family. Myres made the most of this opportunity, and was one of the best players across Division II football in 2015, allowing him to make the significant jump up to the Division I FBS level. By the time his college career was over, Myres had really beat the odds, managing to sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2019. Since then, he has bounced around with four teams, the most recent stop being in Indianapolis. Myres has 5 career NFL tackles to his name, and will look to have an expanded role in the XFL.
Round 6, Pick 44: Kevin Toliver, CB, LSU
Toliver has a decent amount of NFL playing time under his belt, and after going undrafted in 2018, managed to carve out a four-year career with three different teams (Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens). Toliver’s three years at LSU didn’t exactly blow anyone away, but he rebounded nicely after missing a good portion of his sophomore season due to injury. He brings valuable experience to a secondary that is looking to incorporate a wide variety of skillsets.
Round 7, Pick 53: Jordan Mosley, S, Maryland
Mosley is the second Maryland alum to appear on this list after A.J. Hendy. If you haven’t already guessed, he’s another product of Brian Stewart’s work. Mosley showed steady growth over his four seasons with the Terrapins, and became a starter as a junior. The most notable leap in production took place between his junior and senior year, which scouts always love to see. Mosley signed with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent during the offseason, and will now turn to the XFL to continue developing.
Round 8, Pick 60: Brandon Easterling, S, Dayton
Easterling is one of the more complete defensive backs featured on this list. As a senior in 2021, he was a preseason All-American (FCS), and would go on to lead his team in tackles. Just like Mosley, Easterling was also picked up by the Giants during the undrafted free agency process, and they are now reunited down South.
Round 9, Pick 69: Michael Lawson, DB, Western Illinois
Lawson was most notable during his senior season at Western Illinois for tying the FCS lead in forced fumbles (6). He also fell just short of 100 total tackles. Really, Lawson was all over the field, getting some action on special teams as well. He transferred in from Lamar University after a great 2019 campaign, a school which happens to be just down the road from Houston in Beaumont, Texas. Similar to Easterling, Lawson can impact every category on the stat sheet, and almost has linebacker-type instincts despite not being sized as such. Don’t be surprised to hear the commentators calling his name out a lot once the season is underway.
Round 10, Pick 76: David Tolentino, CB, Grand View
Tolentino played at Grand View University in Iowa, a NAIA program that has surprisingly produced some NFL players as of late. Linebacker Nate Wieland signed with the New England Patriots this offseason, and wide receiver Anthony Turner signed with the Green Bay Packers. It’s safe to say a lot of scouts have been around Grand View for one reason or another, and that’s why someone like Tolentino ends up in this position. Despite not registering many tackles last year as a senior, he had a relatively high turnover rate (or at least turnover-worthy plays) whenever the ball was near him. Given that he also averaged nearly thirty yards on kick returns, Tolentino would be a great addition to the special teams unit.
Round 11, Pick 85: John Brannon, CB, Western Carolina
Brannon put together a solid career at FCS Western Carolina, and would go on to sign with the Los Angeles Chargers after the 2020 NFL draft. He has since spent time with both the Carolina Panthers and Cincinnati Bengals, meaning his last pro game was Super Bowl LVI (although he was not active). Brannon has some appealing measurables, standing at 6’2” and weighing in at just under 200 pounds. While nothing really stands out about his production up to this point, he is certainly a project worth investing in.
Defensive Front Seven
Round 1, Pick 4: Deandre Johnson, LB, Miami (FL)
Listed as a defensive end at Miami, Johnson led all defenders in tackles for loss during his senior season last year. He had spent the previous four years with the Tennessee Volunteers, with his best performance there consisting of a 2.5-sack outing against South Carolina in 2020. Johnson happens to be a Miami native, and signed with his hometown Dolphins as an undrafted free agent over the offseason. Now, he begins the next stage of his career in Texas.
Round 2, Pick 13: John Daka, LB, James Madison
Daka, who hails from the African nation of Zambia, originally had a slow start to his career at JMU. However, during his last two seasons, he exploded onto the scene. Over that span, Daka recorded a whopping 45 tackles for loss, 26.5 sacks, and 6 forced fumbles. Surprisingly, he never found the right spot at the next level, being on four different rosters over the course of two years (2020-2021). There’s no doubt that Daka is a legitimate NFL talent, and the XFL simply got a steal here.
Round 3, Pick 20: Tavante Beckett, LB, Marshall
Beckett landed at Marshall after legal issues forced him to depart his old school (Virginia Tech), but this may have worked out for him better in the long run anyways. He had an instant impact when he took the field for the Thundering Herd, and as a redshirt senior in 2020, won the Conference USA (C-USA) Defensive Player of the Year Award. Interestingly, Beckett’s old teammate Omari Cobb, who also dominated in 2019, was selected by the San Antonio Brahmas in the same phase of the draft.
Round 4, Pick 29: Elijah Qualls, NT, Washington
Qualls is reaching veteran status at this point in his career, and has been with a fair share of “alt football” leagues. A sixth-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, Qualls won Super Bowl LII as a rookie, but has not played a meaningful down in the NFL since. He was a member of the DC Defenders squad in XFL 2.0, and won another championship the following year as a member of The Spring League (TSL) Linemen. Qualls most recently signed with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League (CFL) in April.
Round 5, Pick 36: Austin Edwards, DE, Ferris State
Edwards was an All-American during his time at Division II powerhouse Ferris State, helping the program make several deep playoff runs. He won the Gene Upshaw Award in 2019, given to the best lineman (offensive or defensive) at the Division II level. As a result, Edwards was automatically invited to the Shrine Bowl, where he was able to demonstrate his talent alongside several Power 5 prospects. He went on to sign with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2020, and moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021.
Round 6, Pick 45: Chauncey Rivers, OLB, Mississippi State
Anyone who watches the Netflix series Last Chance U may remember the name Chauncey Rivers, as he was featured on the show during his time at East Mississippi Community College (EMCC). Rivers went the junior college route after being dismissed from the Georgia Bulldogs football program, having been arrested for marijuana possession on more than one occasion. Of course, the perception of marijuana use has widely changed over the years, especially in the football world. Rivers was able to turn things around, and became one of the top defensive ends at the junior college level. This allowed him to go back to the SEC as a member of the other Bulldogs team (Mississippi State). Over the course of two seasons, which excludes the redshirt, Rivers produced enough to earn Second Team All-SEC honors as a senior. Like many on this list, he went undrafted in the NFL, but eventually inked a contract with the Baltimore Ravens. Rivers was most recently with the Green Bay Packers, where he appeared on the active roster before tearing his ACL a few weeks into the 2021 season.
Round 7, Pick 52: Tariqious Tisdale, DE/DT, Mississippi
Tisdale was a productive defensive lineman at Ole Miss during his first two seasons, but battled through injuries as the years went on, only appearing in 11 total games across 2020 and 2021. Despite his collegiate career progressively slowing down, Tisdale was still considered an NFL prospect because of his intimidating size, and signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2022. He turned some heads at camp, but didn’t last into the regular season. Hopefully, Tisdale can match the production seen back in 2018 and 2019 as he continues his pro career.
Round 8, Pick 61: Ellis Brooks, LB, Penn State
Brooks had variable production across four years with the Nittany Lions, but after reaching 100 tackles last season as a senior, scouts started paying more attention. He signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent this year, but was off the team rather quickly. Brooks has been described as a vocal leader, and although he has experience covering several offensive positions in both run and pass situations, he was considered impatient and overly aggressive at times. If Brooks can tweak these small issues in his game, he could be yet another player that finds himself bouncing around the field with a high snap count.
Round 9, Pick 68: Diego Fagot, LB, Navy
After reaching the 100-tackle milestone as a sophomore in 2019, Navy linebacker Diego Fagot continued to impress in the American Athletic Conference (AAC). He possesses solid measurables at his position (6’3”, 240 lbs) and recorded double-digit tackles for loss as a senior in 2021. Fagot’s time as an NFL player was short lived, being let go by the Baltimore Ravens before final roster cuts just a few months ago.
Round 10, Pick 77: C.J. Brewer, DT, Coastal Carolina
Brewer left the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers program as a true veteran, having played in 58 games over the span of five seasons. The last three years showed why Brewer was a top player in the Sun Belt, as he recorded a combined 28 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, earning All-Conference honors along the way. What’s most interesting (and perhaps outstanding as well) is that Brewer also logged 230 total career tackles, which is almost unheard of for an interior lineman. It was this kind of production that landed him with one of the top defensive units in the NFL: the Buffalo Bills. After initially being assigned to the practice squad to begin the season, Brewer was elevated to the active roster for a week 2 game against the Tennessee Titans. Although he would ultimately be released by the Bills just over a month ago, Brewer has fresh experience with a team in Super Bowl contention, and that could go a long way in a league where talent is sometimes considered hard to come by.
Round 11, Pick 84: Jaquan Artis, DE, Lenoir-Rhyne
Lenoir-Rhyne, a Division II school in North Carolina, is responsible for putting players such as Kyle Dugger and Dareke Young into the NFL. Artis, who is the program’s all-time sack leader, has also been making a name for himself as a pro, he is just doing it at a different and less-recognized level. A few months ago, Artis won the Indoor Football League (IFL) championship with the Northern Arizona Wranglers, taking home the game’s MVP award. He also won the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) and Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY) awards for the whole league, giving him a trophy shelf worth being proud of. The XFL recently announced a partnership with the IFL, and given the way Artis dominated, is essentially the “poster boy” that demonstrates the caliber of player a small league can produce. Hopefully, he can continue to set a standard away from the arena, and encourage the XFL to bring more IFL players over.
Round 1, Pick 1: Jack Snyder, OT, San Jose State
Snyder is the definition of reliable, being the all-time record holder in both games played (57) and games started (52) at SJSU. Most of his playing time has come on the left side of the line, although he can move over to the right when needed. He was signed by the Los Angeles Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2022, where he was listed as a guard through camp.
Round 2, Pick 16: Desmond Noel, OG, Florida Atlantic
Noel arrived at FAU in 2019 after spending time at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, and quickly developed into a starter. He also saw most of his playing time on the left side of the line, and earned a spot in training camp with his hometown Cincinnati Bengals this past offseason. Even though the Bengals needed more help with their line than arguably any other team in the NFL, Noel was still unable to crack the roster, and has now landed in the XFL.
Round 3, Pick 17: Shamarious Gilmore, OG, Georgia State
Gilmore was viewed by many scouts as one of the most experienced players in all of college football, having played in 60 games with 59 starts (both obvious school records). He was an anchor on the GSU offensive line, helping the team put together some of the best rushing seasons in program history. Thanks to his consistency, Gilmore was a five-time All-Conference player, one of only two players in Sun Belt history to be given that honor. He went on to sign with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent, but got lost in a sea of other talented linemen such as Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas. Gilmore will now look to lead the way for what should be one of the most productive and dynamic offenses in the XFL.
Round 4, Pick 32: Sam Cooper, OG, Merrimack
Cooper was considered a NFL draft sleeper back in 2021 after putting up some great numbers at his pro day. The former Maine transfer was born in Nigeria and never had his sights set on American football, until he moved to Pennsylvania and started to discover more of what the sport had to offer. Cooper was signed by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent, and after being cut, received workouts from several teams. In December of last year, Cooper found a second home with the Houston Texans, which ended up being a short-lived stint. This time, the opportunity in Houston looks a bit different, but has a higher chance of success.
Round 5, Pick 33: Tommy Champion, OT/OG, Mississippi State
Champion is a former junior college standout who went on to become known for his versatility. Despite not always being a starter for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, he was incredibly effective when on the field, particularly in the pass blocking department. Not only can Champion play at both guard and tackle, but he is also a “swing” on both the right and left sides of the line. Champion was picked up by the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 2020, staying on the practice squad for the entire season and returning to training camp in 2021. He most recently signed a contract with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (CFL) at the end of last year.
Round 6, Pick 48: Kary Kutsch, OG/OC, Colorado
Kutsch has had a slow but steady rise to the top, originally playing at Butte Community College and receiving interest from a handful of FCS programs. He eventually found his way to Colorado, and by the time he was a senior, was a regular starter and All-Pac-12 honorable mention. This year, Kutsch received invites to both the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks minicamps.
Round 7, Pick 49: Dareuan Parker, OG, Mississippi State
The third Mississippi State player to appear on this list and second offensive lineman, Parker had some high PFF grades as a swing guard. During his senior season in 2020, he was arguably the Bulldogs’ best offensive player, but only earned third-team All-SEC honors. This was the same year that Parker logged the most pass-blocking snaps at the FBS level, leaving no doubts in regard to his availability. He was signed by the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2021.
Round 8, Pick 64: Dylan Pasquali, OT, Ferris State
Pasquali, just like the other Ferris State alum on this list (Austin Edwards), is also a Gene Upshaw Award winner. He received the honor last year, which helped play a role in his invitation to Tampa Bay Buccaneers minicamp back in May.
Round 9, Pick 65: Alex Mollette, OG/OC, Marshall
Wrapping up the draft recap is Alex Mollette, who was a standout blocker on another run-heavy team. Back in 2020, Mollette earned the distinction of being the only offensive lineman in the FBS who played over 400 snaps without allowing a single pressure, and Marshall’s offensive line as a whole was fourth-best in the nation according to PFF. He was signed by the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2022.
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