I’m a bit underwhelmed here. While Jordan Ta’amu had a fine career at Ole Miss, he did have two NFL caliber WR’s in D.K. Metcalf and AJ Brown. Both went in the second round of the 2019 draft, and are contributing early and often. Ta’amu was a big part of their success and ranked just behind Tua Tagovailoa in SEC pass yards. I do think that his production was inflated by the talent around him.
He has size, a good arm, and athleticism to boot, but struggled to make reads in college and didn’t come up big against top completion. (He threw 4 picks, completed 44% of his passes vs Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State)
I think he’s got potential but might struggle to adjust to the faster pro game. Brogan Roback did some big things at Eastern Michigan, but only completed 58% of his passes against middling talent in his conference. I hope they can find someone in the Supplemental Draft come November.
Running Backs A+
Their stable of backs here is insane. Christine Michael and Matt Jones were two of my top 10 backs in the draft pool, so landing both was a great move. Michael has a good speed/size combo and has been a consistent downhill runner his whole career.
Jones is a massive back at 6’2″ 240 and has good speed to go with it. The 26-year-old is also a receiving threat, which is impressive at his size. I could see the Defenders running a lot of 2-back sets, and getting both these players on the field at the same time would be a huge boost to the offense. Jones isn’t necessarily a fullback, but with his skill set and size, he could find himself in that role when they both hit the field.
Sherman Badie is a sneaky good 3rd down option, while Lenard Tillery and Ray Lawry were touchdown machines in college, with 45 each.
Wide Receivers: C
This is an unproven group, as L’Damian Washington leads the pack with pro experience (170 yards, 1 TD in the CFL). The group of college standouts is not without their pluses however, as they have a lot of literal length on the field. Washington, Marcus Lucas, Alonzo Russell are all 6’4″, while Carlton Agudosi is 6’6″. This gives the Battlehawks QB’s a huge advantage across the middle, in jump ball situations, and in the red zone.
I’m personally most interested in L’Damian Washington, who posted 1064 yards and 12 TD’s as a senior at Mizzou. He and Marcus Lucas (both in their mid-20s) have been wrung through the practice squad system for years in the NFL without seeing the field. There’s enough talent to keep teams interested, as they’ve seen a total of 18 practice squads and training camps combined, but they haven’t been able to crack a starting lineup.
Damoun Patterson made some waves with the Patriots recently and could work his way into the starting lineup here.
I expect them to play hungry, but with so little pro experience in this group, it’s hard to say how their college success will translate to the next level.
Tight Ends: D
The Battlehawks only took two TE’s here. Cole Hunt (6’6″ 254) played two years at TCU, and scored once, while Connor Davis (6’8″ 270) had six total receptions at Stony Brook.
They’re both big bodies, but neither did much of anything in the passing game. They could both likely end up as fine blocking TE’s, but don’t figure to contribute much as receivers.
Offensive Line: B+
Matt McCants started 42 games as UAB’s Left Tackle and did enough to warrant a 6th round draft pick by the Giants in 2012. In 7 years, he played on 4 NFL teams, and in 30 games. He was lauded as a smooth and efficient pass blocker out of college but needed more time to add to his frame and bulk up for the run game. At age 30, he’s had plenty of time to do just that. I think he’ll make a fine LT.
Kent Perkins out of Texas and Andrew McDonald will compete for the RT spot. Perkins started 33 games at RG and RT in his time with the Longhorns, and though he spent some time in the Bengals’ infamous Offensive Line, never cracked the field and is looking for a second chance. McDonald is 31, and has been on 7 NFL games, playing in two games. If there’s a competition here, Bruno Reagan from Vanderbilt could factor in as well.
Dallas Thomas is an excellent pick at Guard, and the former 3rd round NFL pick has 26 starts and 37 games on his pro resume. Though he was on an awful Miami team, he’s a seasoned vet who should flourish in a new environment.
Brian Folkerts has played all over the offensive line in his career, from both tackle spots to guard and center. The Battlehawks have him listed as a guard, however, so we could very likely see him take one of those spots. With 28 NFL games under his belt, he’s well acquainted with the pro game, and the 29-year-old should be a steady presence on the interior.
Tyler Gauthier and James Murray are listed as the team’s centers. Gauthier looks like the starting candidate, and his talents are currently in demand by the Patriots. He started 29 straight games at Miami, and though he went undrafted, shined enough potential for Bill Belichick to see. Murray did well at Holy Cross and has played in a couple of NFL games, so I wouldn’t count him out either.
Front Seven: B-
The Battlehawks found some good AAF talent here. Andrew Ankrah and Terrence Garvin played on the Edge in Orlando and combined for 4 total sacks in the AAF’s short run. Garvin also had 3 INT’s and could play either down on the line or off the ball at LB. Markus Jones out of D-II Angelo state is a sleeper here and displayed elite pass rush abilities in 4 years of play. He had 17.5 sacks and 36.5 tfl his senior year alone and had 37 total sacks in his run there.
DT Tracy Sprinkle had 5 sacks and 4 tackles for loss last spring in the AAF and has spent time with the Chiefs, Texans Panthers and Browns. The former Ohio State product is solid against the run and can initiate pressure up the middle. Also on the interior, I can see Casey Sayles and Khyri Thornton making an impact. Sayles was St. Louis’ first pick in the 3rd Phase and had 11.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss at Ohio. Thornton is a longtime NFL player and saw the field for the Packers, Patriots, Giants, and Lions.
At Linebacker, they have Nicholas Grigsby out of Pittsburgh. He had a great run in the ACC and brings serious athleticism to the field. A bit undersized at 6’0″ 220, he backs up his game with 4.51 speed and a nose for the ball. After seeing the field sparingly with the Rams, Ravens, Patriots, Lions, and Packers, he’s got experience suiting up for the pros.
They also have Steve Beauharnais, a former Rutgers standout who was compared to Desmond Bishop in his draft profile. A semifinalist for the Butkus award, and a special teamer in the NFL, he stands ready to make plays.
The Battlehawks will likely move players around here to get the best fit, as they have some versatile DB’s who can play both corner and safety. Kenny Robinson is the big name in this group, and as the first NCAA eligible player to jump ship for the XFL. At West Virginia, he did a lot of good things with 7 picks, 7 PD’s and 123 tackles. As the most electric DB in this group, the coaches will have to find a position where he can make the greatest impact.
Will Hill has played at both Safety and Linebacker in the NFL and has proven himself with 220 tackles, a sack, 4 interceptions and 3 TDs. An asset in coverage and down in the box, I could see him playing a Dimebacker role in the defense here.
Charles James and Trovon Reed bring a wealth of NFL experience to the corner position. James has been around since 2013 and has logged 43 tackles and 2 pass break-ups in limited game action. Reed has had notable success at the next level, with 3 break-ups and 2 interceptions with the 2016 Chargers, and has been on teams since 2015.
Herb Miller out of Florida International was the first pick in Phase 4, and will likely move to Safety because of his tools and skills as a tackler. He went to the Chiefs as a UDFA but a perceived lack of top-end speed held him back. A move to safety could be a good change for his career.
Tre Caldwell has good speed with a 4.34 40, and could fit in as a slot corner at 5’9″. The former Cleveland Brown also brings return abilities to the table.
Safety Dexter McCoil has a good base of NFL experience and will push for a starting job. McCoil is 6’4″ with plus athleticism, and could be used both as a box safety and TE cover man.
Joe Powell had 5 interceptions in the Arena League and could make an impact in coverage here as well.
Elliot Fry was 14/14 on field goals in the AAF last spring and garnered interest from the Bears and Ravens this offseason. His longest try was from 47, so we don’t know what he can do from extended ranges of 50+, but he should be rock solid in the intermediate/short game.
Punter Jack Fox competed with longtime Chiefs incumbent Dustin Colquitt this offseason, and though he didn’t take the job he has serious potential. With a 45.5 average, he’s got the leg talent, and also adds value as a backup kicker, having gone 38/38 on field goals at Rice.
John Wirtel has been playing long snapper since high school, and actually has 6 years of experience at Kansas. He should have the motion down.
Overall Grade: B-
While I’ve got to be convinced that the Battlehawks can mount an effective air attack, their run game should be a serious threat behind Christine Michael and Matt Jones. They have plus talent on the O-Line, who should be able to generate push upfront for their rushing attack and hold the line long enough to give Jordan Ta’amu a chance to put the ball up. I’m concerned about a lack of TE talent, but if they want to run spread it could help to prevent defenses from stacking the box.
The defense is well rounded, and though the front seven has a lack of stars, they’re solid all around and should be bought time by their top-end secondary. With so many versatile pieces in the defensive backfield, they’ll be able to mix and match coverages and find the right matchups.
It looks like they’re looking to be a ground and pound, defensive-oriented team, and we’ll have to see how that works out in the new league.
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