The XFL has 20 of its players currently on NFL rosters. However, there are many of the league’s top players who remain unsigned.
A recent development is tryouts by XFL players for NFL teams. The loosening of the restriction on free-agent workouts has opened up a backdoor for XFL players to get into the NFL. As an example, This past week, Dallas Renegades Wide Receiver Jeff Badet worked out for the Washington Football Team and landed on their practice squad.
The focus of this article will be shining a spotlight on the best XFL players available by position. There’s quite a significant number of them that are not on NFL rosters. (Over 400). The pandemic restrictions and a shortened season hurt the prospects of many XFL players getting opportunities.
Here is a list of who I believe to be the 100 best XFL players not on NFL teams. By position; The list is also a glimpse of the players potentially returning to the XFL when it resumes play.
Josh Johnson, Los Angeles Wildcats, Cardale Jones, DC Defenders, Luis Perez, New York Guardians
I firmly believe that Josh Johnson could start on any NFL team and produce. He’d be first on my personal shortlist of veteran Quarterbacks to call in case of an emergency. The 34-year old veteran has been with a staggering thirteen NFL teams. So Johnson’s accustomed to getting the call off the street. It will not shock me if it happens again this year. Johnson had a tryout for the San Francisco 49ers in August, so John Lynch may already be setting up his, in case of emergency, break open glass option.
Cardale Jones is Josh Johnson seven years ago. At 27, He’s already been on three separate NFL teams. (Bills, Chargers, Seahawks). In the XFL with DC, Cardale’s performance matched his pro career to this point. Uneven. However, there’s no denying the skill-set of Jones; there is still room for growth. Cardale Jones had a tryout for Jon Gruden and his Las Vegas Raiders in August.
Luis Perez was impressive in his short time in the XFL. He showed real growth as a leader and as a quarterback. Perez has the tools to run modern-day pro offenses.
Cameron Artis-Payne, Dallas Renegades, Matt Jones, St. Louis BattleHawks, Darius Victor, New York Guardians, James Butler, Houston Roughnecks, Jhurell Pressley, DC Defenders, De’Veon Smith, Tampa Bay Vipers, Lance Dunbar, Dallas Renegades, Tim Cook, New York Guardians
Matt Jones (27) and Cameron Artis-Payne (30) are ancient by NFL standards at the running back position. Both proved to be quality three-down backs in the XFL. Jones took on a workhorse role carrying the ball 80 times in five games for St. Louis. Artis-Payne led the XFL in yards per carry (5.1) and showed a new side to his game with 23 receptions. A similar veteran in the Renegades, Lance Dunbar, has a lengthy NFL resume, but he is on the wrong side of 30 for NFL teams.
Darius Victor and James Butler were two of the XFL’s most dynamic runners. Victor is a bowling ball tackle-breaking runner, while Butler is dynamic in space with a nose for the end zone. ( 5 TD’s in five weeks)
DeVeon Smith’s backfield mate with the Vipers is in the NFL now (Jacques Patrick-Bengals). De’Veon Smith led the XFL in rushing. Nothing pretty about Smith’s style; he just runs you over. Jhurell Pressley is very elusive, a trait he showed in both the AAF and XFL.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Cam Phillips, Houston Roughnecks, Dan Williams, Tampa Bay Vipers, Jazz Ferguson, Dallas Renegades, Tre McBride, Los Angeles Wildcats, Mekale McKay, New York Guardians, De’Mornay Pierson-El, St. Louis BattleHawks, Rashad Ross, DC Defenders, DeAndre Thompkins, DC Defenders, Jalen Tolliver, Tampa Bay Vipers, Reece Horn, Tampa Bay Vipers, Nelson Spruce, Los Angeles Wildcats, Austin Proehl, Seattle Dragons, Saeed Blacknall, Los Angeles Wildcats, L’ Damian Washington, St. Louis BattleHawks, Colby Pearson, New York Guardians, Wes Saxton, St. Louis BattleHawks, Khari Lee, DC Defenders, Connor Davis, St. Louis BattleHawks, Nick Truesdell, Tampa Bay Vipers, Brandon Barnes, Los Angeles Wildcats
Why are Cam Phillips and Dan Williams not on NFL rosters? It’s a good question with few answers. One of the reasons that I believe is that neither player provides special teams value. A trait that helps receivers land on the back end of NFL rosters.
Cam Phillips had a cup of coffee with Carolina a few weeks back, but for whatever reason, he hasn’t landed a real opportunity to stick. He might still get one, but his absence from the NFL is perplexing after what he showed in the XFL.
Daniel Williams has sure hands, great size, toughness, and tackle-breaking ability in the open field. The Jackson State star proved his worth in the XFL (2nd in the league in receiving).
Wide Receivers wash out of the pros reasonably quickly, once they don’t secure starting positions. To hang on, you have to provide value on special teams, and you are competing with new receivers that come into the pros every year. The majority of the receivers on this list, like Mekale McKay (Guardians), Reece Horn (Vipers), and Nelson Spruce (Wildcats), have run into the same issues that Phillips and Williams have.
Players like Rashad Ross, DeAndre Thompkins, De’Mornay Pierson-El, Tre McBride, Jazz Ferguson, Austin Proehl, L’Damian Washington, Saeed Blacknall, and Jalen Tolliver all bring individual dynamic traits to the table. Each one of them could get NFL opportunities.
Wes Saxton and Nick Truesdell fit modern-day offenses as receiving tight ends. Khari Lee was released by the Atlanta Falcons near cut down day with an injury settlement. Pro Football Focus rated Lee with the top grade of all XFL tight ends. Mostly based on his blocking prowess. Connor Davis is a diamond in the rough. A 6’8 270 plus pound traditional tight end out of Stony Brook, who has untapped potential. Davis spent some time with the Jets in August before falling victim to the numbers game. Brandon Barnes suffered a torn patella tendon in what would turn out to be the XFL’s last game in 2020. Before his season-ending injury, Barnes was displaying his great hands and receiving skills and becoming a security blanket for Josh Johnson in LA’s offense.
Kirk Barron, G/C, Seattle Dragons, Dillon Day, C, Seattle Dragons, Jordan McCray, C, Tampa Bay Vipers, Demetrius Rhaney, C, Houston Roughnecks, Marquice Shakir, C, Dallas Renegades, Sebastian Tretola, G, Houston Roughnecks, Willie Beavers, T/G, Dallas Renegades, Avery Genessy, G, Houston Roughnecks, Bruno Reagan, G, St. Louis BattleHawks, Jerald Foster, G, Tampa Bay Vipers, John Keenoy, G, Dallas Renegades, Martez Ivey, T, Tampa Bay Vipers, Terry Poole, T, Houston Roughnecks, Pace Murphy, T, Dallas Renegades
The XFL had great pivot men on their offensive lines. Marquice Shakir made the All-XFL team. PFF ranked Jordan McCray as the league’s highest-rated center. The two top-rated XFL linemen by Pro Football Focus in the league are both in the NFL now. Storm Norton 80.2 (Chargers) and Michael Dunn 79.5 (Browns).
Martez Ivey, Sebastian Tretola, and Terry Poole made the All-XFL team as well. Surprisingly, very few of these players listed received opportunities in the NFL after the XFL season concluded. Players like Keenoy and Murphy did, but it was criminal that others didn’t. Specifically, Martez Ivey. He graded out as one of the XFL’s best run and pass blockers.
- *Update: On 9/24, The Atlanta Falcons signed Dallas Renegades OL Willie Beavers to their practice squad.
Bunmi Rotimi, DL, New York Guardians, Cavon Walker, DL, New York Guardians, Johnny Maxey, DL, Houston Roughnecks, Nikita Whitlock, DL, Tampa Bay Vipers, Obum Gwacham, DE, Tampa Bay Vipers, Boogie Roberts, DT, Los Angeles Wildcats, Anthony Johnson, EDGE, DC Defenders, Will Sutton, DT, Seattle Dragons, Devin Taylor, EDGE, Los Angles Wildcats, Siupeli Anau, EDGE, DC Defenders, Cedric Reed, Los Angeles Wildcats
Cavon Walker led the XFL in sacks and was let go by the Steelers at cut down day. Walker’s partner in crime in New York, Bunmi Rotimi, surprisingly got no play from NFL teams. Despite being one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the XFL.
On the defensive front, Nikita Whitlock, Johnny Maxey, Siupeli Anau, and Devin Taylor scored the highest grades by Pro Football Focus. Veterans Will Sutton and Anthony Johnson both made the All-XFL team.
Kyle Queiro, Seattle Dragons, Jameer Thurman, DC Defenders, Steven Johnson, Seattle Dragons, Kaelin Burnett, Houston Roughnecks, Greer Martini, Dallas Renegades, Beniquez Brown, Houston Roughnecks, Ben Heeney, New York Guardians LaTroy Lewis, Houston Roughnecks, Terence Garvin, St. Louis BattleHawks, DeMarquis Gates, Houston Roughnecks
The highest graded front-seven player in the entire XFL by PFF was Kyle Queiro (85.6) of the Seattle Dragons. By my recollection, Queiro hasn’t received a single try out with an NFL team. It’s as if he didn’t exist.
Not far behind was the second highest-graded player Jameer Thurman of DC. Queiro and Thurman are what would be considered three-down linebackers. Excellent in coverage and space.
The Roughnecks were stocked with good linebackers. Edmond Robinson is currently on the Falcons practice squad. DeMarquis Gates was let go recently by the Vikings. Beniquez Brown was third in the XFL in tackles.
The player who stood out the most in the XFL from a leadership standpoint was Dragons linebacker, Steven Johnson. The former NFL starter, Johnson led the league in tackles. Johnson’s age (32) is working against him, but as a former walk-on and undrafted player from Kansas, he has always defied the odds and earned respect the hard way.
Elijah Campbell, DC Defenders, Josh Hawkins, Dallas Renegades, Ajene Harris, Houston Roughnecks, Deatrick Nichols, Houston Roughnecks, Ranthony Texada, New York Guardians, Tarvarus McFadden, Tampa Bay Vipers, Jamar Summers, New York Guardians, Jeremy Clark, Seattle Dragons, Mike Stevens, Los Angeles Wildcats, Channing Stribling, Seattle Dragons, Arrion Springs, Los Angeles Wildcats
Elijah Campbell was the league’s highest-graded corner by Pro Football Focus at 88.8. Unfortunately, the speedy shutdown corner got no play in free agency. The versatile Tarvarus McFadden was voted to the All-XFL team but was also overlooked by NFL franchises.
The New York Guardians boasted some of the best defensive backs in the entire league. Cornerbacks Jamar Summers and Ranthony Texada were fantastic. Summers has had two great springs in a row with the AAF and the XFL, yet he’s been bypassed. Texada is short at 5’8, but he’s a dynamic cover cornerback who is a superb tackler. Something you don’t typically see from players his size. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed Texada to play in the CFL, but their season was canceled due to COVID.
Dravon Askew-Henry, New York Guardians, Will Hill, St. Louis BattleHawks, Derron Smith, Dallas Renegades, Dexter McCoil, St. Louis BattleHawks, Cody Brown, Houston Roughnecks, Rahim Moore, DC Defenders, Jack Tocho, Los Angeles Wildcats, Andrew Soroh, New York Guardians, Tyree Kinnel, DC Defenders, Ahmad Dixon, Los Angeles Wildcats, A.J. Hendy, New York Guardians, Marcellis Branch, Tampa Bay Vipers
Three of the safeties listed signed on with NFL teams after the XFL season ended. Tyree Kinnel, Andrew Soroh, and Dravon Askew-Henry. The latter was arguably the most versatile defensive back in the XFL.
Despite having a strong summer, Dravon Askew-Henry was surprisingly let go by the Giants. He could resurface on New York’s practice squad at some point. The cousin of future Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis has range as a deep safety and can play nickel at cornerback.
The player with the highest grade in the entire XFL, regardless of position, was veteran safety Rahim Moore at 90.0. Moore, like veteran Will Hill in St. Louis, showed outstanding leadership being a mentor to young defensive backs.
Kickers: Austin MacGinnis, Dallas Renegades, Taylor Russolino, St. Louis BattleHawks, Ty Rausa, DC Defenders, Matt McCrane, New York Guardians, Sergio Castillo, Houston Roughnecks
The theme for opening week in the NFL was how poor the kicking was. No such problem in the XFL. Particularly with kickers like Austin MacGinnis and Matt McCrane, who never missed any kicks in five weeks of play. Most notably with McCrane is that he did it outdoors in February and March. Another standout was Taylor Russolino; the strong-legged kicker was 9 of 10, with a long of 58 yards.
- Update: On Tuesday, 9/22, The Cleveland Browns signed New York Guardians kicker Matthew McCrane to their practice squad.
Punters: Hunter Niswander, DC Defenders, Marquette King, St. Louis BattleHawks, Justin Vogel, New York Guardians
Marquette King and Justin Vogel are both former Pro Bowl NFL punters, and they showed that in the XFL. King has made it clear that he has his sights set on the NFL only. Hunter Niswander made the All-XFL team for DC.
Kick Returners: Justin Stockton, New York Guardians, Austin Walter, Dallas Renegades, Flynn Nagel, Dallas Renegades, Martez Carter, Los Angeles Wildcats
- *Update: On Wednesday, 9/23, The San Francisco 49ers signed Dallas Renegades RB/KR Andrew Walter to their practice squad.
Long Snappers: Christian Kuntz, Dallas Renegades, Scott Daly, New York Guardians
Long snappers making the top 100? Yes.
First off, one of the 18 XFL players that have made the NFL is LS Nick Moore (Vipers-Ravens). The Baltimore Ravens have protected Moore on their practice squad two weeks in a row to prevent opposing NFL teams from poaching him. It speaks to John Harbaugh’s special teams’ background, but also Moore’s ability.
There are two telltale signs in estimating the value of a long snapper. Firstly, never hearing his name called during a game. And lastly is the success of the team’s punter and kicker. In the case of Christian Kuntz and Scott Daly, their teams kicks and punts went off without a hitch. Kuntz was with the Steelers this summer and could very quickly be back at some point.
Throughout this NFL season, it will be interesting to see how many of these XFL players join rosters. Some could follow the recent example of WR Jeff Badet. In any case, many of them, minus Marquette King, would welcome a return back to the XFL when the league returns to play.
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