Article and Image by Pat Pryor @patpryorgraphic
Despite an unfortunate end to the XFL’s first season, many players have been given opportunities to take their talents to the next level. The XFL has allowed players to leave their contracts in favor of NFL money, and as of March 27, 14 players have inked their names to NFL teams. Here’s what you need to know about the XFL talent headed to the “big league”, and what the future looks like for them.
P.J Walker, Houston Roughnecks to Carolina Panthers
The Panthers made a top-notch pickup with the signing of Teddy Bridgewater. To follow this, they would sign the XFL’s MVP front runner and a top player in PJ Walker. He’ll be fighting Will Grier, a 2019 third-round pick, for the number 2 spot. However, Walker has proved himself quite the threat, and Grier has started his career with no touchdowns, 4 interceptions, a fumble, and 5 sacks, in less than 2 games. With Walker throwing for 14 touchdowns and 1338 yards in an undefeated 5 game series, he could have the leg up on Grier in training camp. After spending two years on the Colts practice squad, he should get his chance on the Panthers game day squad this year. Providing a reliable backup to a QB who hasn’t started a full 16 game season since 2015 is exactly the type of role that one would want to call upon Walker for. Given just the right circumstances, there’s a small chance we could see Walker take the number 1 spot on the depth chart, but it’s quite the longshot.
Jordan Ta’amu, St. Louis Battlehawks to Kansas City Chiefs
The Battlehawks lost what many considered to be the 2nd best quarterback in the league. He threw for 5 touchdowns and rushed for one, which isn’t groundbreaking, but he led the league with a fantastic 72% completion percentage. Completing nearly three quarters of his passes Ta’amu ran the offense of the only East team with a positive touchdown differential. Ta’amu will compete with 2019 UDFA Kyle Shurmur, and veteran backup Chad Henne to play behind the reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes. Shurmur was on the practice squad in 2019, and Ta’amu can certainly overtake him if he plays to the top of his ability that he showed in the XFL. The tougher challenge will be Chad Henne. Henne has 12 years under his belt, but hasn’t played since 2018, and hasn’t started since 2014. With Matt Moore, Patrick Mahomes replacement during injury last year, remaining unsigned, Ta’amu is the option with the most experience recently and could be right behind the 2018 MVP.
Deatrick Nichols, Houston Roughnecks to New Orleans Saints
A defensive leader on the league's only undefeated team, Nichols heads to New Orleans to join Sean Payton’s crew. With Marson Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins heading the secondary, Nichols won’t be topping either former Pro-Bowler for a starting spot. However, he could overtake Justin Hardee and become the fourth cornerback on the team. Patrick Robinson will be his top competition for the number 4 spot. The 2010 first-round pick didn’t pan out and went to three other teams, but eventually came back to New Orleans. Nichols lacks experience, where Robinson has almost ten years in the NFL. Nichols had three interceptions, six pass breakups, and 24 tackles, but it’ll be hard to overtake someone with proven experience covering NFL wide receivers. He’ll likely be a very reliable fourth cornerback.
Dravon Askew-Henry, New York Guardians to New York Giants
Staying in the same stadium will be a plus for Askew-Henry, as he isn’t the most highly-touted signing to the NFL. He went off in the Guardians' final game against the Renegades with 5 passes defended. However, he only had one more on the season, and 9 tackles through the five games. He’s a cousin of NFL legendary cornerback Darelle Revis. Despite this, he’ll start low on the depth chart and doesn’t have a lot of experience to move him up. He’ll have to perform at the top of his game to get snaps in Joe Judge’s system.
Donald Parham, Dallas Renegades to LA Chargers
2nd in targets, 4th in catches, 3rd in yards, and 2nd in touchdowns Donald Parham made quite the name for himself in Texas. He’s behind Cam Phillips in all of these stats, who will inevitably be signed by an NFL team. He’s first amongst tight ends in all of those categories and was at the top of the game when the league ended the season. He has quite the hill to climb, however, as he will be fighting for a backup role behind proven starter Hunter Henry. He’ll be competing with Virgil Green, who’s been a second option for the Broncos and Chargers since 2011. Andrew Vollert, undrafted in 2018 tore his ACL but spent the year around the system last year. He’ll also need to top Stephen Anderson, a UDFA from 2016 who also has experience with LA. Parham will be 5th on the depth chart, and the only one without NFL experience. Parham can get playing time next season, but it will not likely be as a Charger, he simply has too many obstacles in front of him.
Cavon Walker, New York Guardians to Pittsburgh Steelers
Walker led the front seven of a Guardians defense that was second in touchdowns allowed. He led the entire XFL with 4.5 sacks, along with 9 QB hits and 5 TFLs. He’ll be behind 2016 second-round pick Stephon Tuitt, and Chris Wormley, whom the Steelers gave up a fifth for just last week. His best bet for snaps would be to outplay Wormley in training camp and play as a reliable backup to get a longer contract after his ends this year. Tuitt is coming back from a torn pec and will need someone like Walker to be able to jump in.
DeMarquis Gates, Houston Roughnecks to Minnesota Vikings
It’s no surprise the league’s best team has had 5 players headed to NFL teams, and the number 4 in XFL tackles heads for Minnesota. Gates was all over the field as a linebacker. 25 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits, 3 TFLs, an interception, three passes defended, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries, he simply killed it. The Vikings are getting an absolute stud that can dominate a field. In the AAF, he led the league with 52 tackles with the Memphis Express. He went undrafted in 2018 after leading Ole Miss in tackles for three years. All-Pro Eric Kendricks will have the starting role in hand, so Gates will be going for the number 2 spot. Cameron Smith currently holds that position. A former Trojan, Smith spent time with the practice squad last season and was promoted to the active roster in November. With only 8 tackles, Smith knows Gates can overtake him. DeMarquis has proven experience in a winning team, and he’s got a good shot of being the top backup.
Khari Lee, DC Defenders to Atlanta Falcons
Lee spent over a year with the Buffalo Bills, giving him experience in an NFL roster. With the XFL he had 8 catches on 8 targets, 91 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Despite being a reliable target for the Defenders, Lee has a tough journey ahead of him. Recently acquired Hayden Hurst will be the number one, in a system many expect him to do well in. Jaeden Graham has 2 years of experience with the Falcons and will be Lee’s top challenge. Carson Meier has experience with the system but has yet to really see the field. While Lee played well in some games in the XFL, it’s hard to see him overtaking a two year Falcon with NFL playing time. This being said, there’s no reason to think Atlanta wouldn’t keep three tight ends on the roster, and Lee can be a good third option if he beats out Meier.
Jarron Jones, New York Guardians to Pittsburgh Steelers
If an XFL player gets a call from Pittsburgh, they know to answer. Jones was the second of five players to be signed from the XFL to the Steelers. Jones has spent time with 7 NFL teams, most of them as a defensive tackle. Despite a large dominant frame, he won’t go for a starting spot, but will instead compete with 2018 third-rounder Chukwuma Okorafor to play behind Alejandro Villanueva. Villanueva hasn’t missed a game since he earned the starting spot, so Jones likely won’t be seeing much playing time but will provide good depth.
Tyree Kinnel, DC Defenders to Pittsburgh Steelers
Kinnel, a former Bengal, is another XFL player headed to Pittsburgh. He had 17 tackles with the Defenders as a safety, including 9 in their last game against the Saint Louis Battlehawks. In reality, he’s a depth addition but can be a reliable one. The Steelers have very established starters at safety but the second and third spots are less established. Kinnel could very well fight past practice squad player Tray Mathews and 6-year backup Jordan Dangerfield. He’d have to play at the top of his game all the way through training camp, and will likely go no further than the third spot.
Nick Moore, Tampa Bay Vipers to Baltimore Ravens
The only player of the 1-4 Vipers headed to the next level, Moore got a lot of action as a long snapper. He played under former Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman in Tampa. However, he likely is a temporary addition as the Ravens have ten-year veteran, 3-time Pro-Bowler and Super Bowl champion Morgan Cox as their starting long snapper.
Christian Kuntz, Dallas Renegades to Pittsburgh Steelers
Kuntz is mainly a long snapper but has spent time with the Patriots and Broncos playing linebacker as well. He has Steeler experience, playing with them in the 2019 preseason. He’ll be in competition with veteran Kameron Canaday but does bring a dual-threat addition to the table with his linebacker ability. Adding depth in two positions can be beneficial and it isn’t impossible to see him making the final roster.
Edmond Robinson, Houston Roughnecks to Pittsburgh Steelers
With 22 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits, 3 TFLs, and a forced fumble and recovery, Robinson is one of the more underrated XFL pickups. He got consistent tackles and was in the backfield enough to make a difference. He has several years of NFL experience and 13 tackles with the Jets and Vikings. He’ll be joining Christian Kuntz in competing for a spot as a linebacker in Pittsburgh, and can definitely put up a fight with his experience and XFL play.
Dewayne Hendrix, Saint Louis Battlehawks to Pittsburgh Steelers
Hendrix played college football at Pitt, and spent time with the Dolphins, Bears, and Jaguars during the preseason and playing on practice squads. He was not a standout on the Battlehawks, amassing 4 tackles, a sack, and one QB hit. He would have to play through several good competitors, including the aforementioned Cavon Walker to end up on the final roster. The Steelers signed five XFL players, but won’t have five come Week 1.