It’s been exactly two years since the XFL suspended play on March 12th, 2020, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Strangely enough, it feels like a lifetime ago, and League play never resumed after the first suspension. The XFL eventually went into bankruptcy was rescued by Dany Garcia, Dwayne Johnson, and RedBird Capital but didn’t return to the field in 2021 or this year.
Despite being dealt a tough hand, many of the players, coaches, and personnel who worked for the XFL in 2020 have successfully rebounded and moved on to other leagues and ventures since that time. Some have even returned to work with the league that’s headed towards a 2023 kickoff. While some are still waiting on the sidelines, looking for another opportunity, perhaps with the new XFL arriving on the scene.
The XFL Then Versus Now
The XFL is returning under new leadership and will be kicking off its next season in February of 2023. Right now, it’s the calm before the storm, but there are a lot of waves developing in the waters.
With time passing comes the inevitability of change. The XFL we knew back in 2020 is going to be vastly different. And the seeds for that have already been planted, with the league announcing a partnership with the NFL, and in recent days, reports have linked Virginia State head coach Reggie Barlow as the XFL’s first head coaching hire. Sources close to Virginia State have confirmed Barlow’s move to the XFL. However, the reports that Barlow will be heading a team in San Antonio are not yet confirmed by the league. No matter, the San Antonio possibility is evidence that an altered XFL universe is headed our way.
As reported here at XFLNewsHub since last year, there will be a lot of changes around the margins, with the XFL going in new directions than the last iteration did. For further evidence of this, one of the XFL’s co-owners, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, went on CNBC late last year and told everyone that the XFL would be announcing new teams, cities, and broadcast partnerships in 2022. It’s all coming.
The new XFL football ops team has been hitting the scouting trail in the last several weeks, with their presence felt at college all-star games, like the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, for example. Most recently, the XFL’s football ops department was at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
Doug Whaley, Marc Ross, and others are currently hitting the pro-day circuit looking for players who could be a part of the XFL’s player base in 2023. The league is expected to have tryouts this summer. And while it’s possible that some of the coaches and players who participated in the league in 2020 could be back. The likelihood is that the XFL will see many changes in 2023 off and on the field. There will be a lot of new players from the upcoming college class, and undoubtedly from a crop of players who have missed the cut in the NFL the last two summers and this upcoming fall.
Tracking Former XFL Players
Supporters of the XFL in 2020 have been holding a candle for the league since it was halted prematurely. And many of its reporters and writers have followed the path that the late great Josh Davis set here at XFLNewsHub, by tracking the movement and careers of players and coaches who participated in the XFL and other leagues.
For a league that only played five weeks of games, the XFL produced quality football. There are 147 former XFL players on the NFL, CFL, and now USFL rosters, after the latest spring pro football league drafted 360 players in the last few weeks.
Not only do these leagues provide excellent opportunities for players and coaches, but leagues like the XFL can help spark changes that lead to the betterment of all aspects of the football landscape. From innovating on the field to off. You saw that in 2020, with how the XFL was an inclusive league for coaches, officials, team presidents, and employees. Many of whom have moved on to the NFL in prominent roles. Before Maia Chaka made history as the first black woman to be a line judge during an NFL game, she did that in the XFL.
The success of players who have participated in non-NFL leagues in the last few years, like the AAF and XFL, is direct evidence of the viability of an alternate non-NFL league. When you hear or read someone, write “Spring Football Works.” It is lists like these that support that argument.
Here’s a list of the 147 former XFL players currently on the rosters of NFL, CFL, and USFL teams.
Former XFL Players On NFL Rosters (27)
Buffalo Bills: WR, Tanner Gentry, (New York Guardians)
Cleveland Browns: FB, Johnny Stanton (LA Wildcats), OL, Michael Dunn, (Seattle Dragons)
Washington Commanders: QB, Taylor Heinicke (St. Louis BattleHawks), OL, Jon Toth (DC Defenders), DL, Bunmi Rotimi (New York Guardians)
Los Angeles Chargers: TE, Donald Parham Jr. (Dallas Renegades), OL, Storm Norton (Los Angeles Wildcats)Dallas Cowboys: P, Hunter Niswander, (DC Defenders)
Miami Dolphins: DB, Elijah Campbell, (DC Defenders)
Philadelphia Eagles: TE, Tyree Jackson, (DC Defenders)
Atlanta Falcons: OL, Willie Beavers, (Dallas Renegades)New York Giants: WR, Austin Proehl, (Seattle Dragons)
Jacksonville Jaguars: K, Matthew Wright, (Tampa Bay Vipers)
New York Jets: RB, Austin Walter, (Dallas Renegades), OL, Isaiah Williams, (Tampa Bay Vipers)
Detroit Lions: RB, Godwin Igwebuike, (Seattle Dragons), LS, Scott Daly, (New York Guardians), DB, Saivion Smith, (Houston Roughnecks)
Carolina Panthers: QB, PJ Walker, (Houston Roughnecks), TE, Colin Thompson, (Tampa Bay Vipers), S, Kenny Robinson, (St. Louis BattleHawks)
Baltimore Ravens: QB, Josh Johnson, (LA Wildcats), LS, Nick Moore, (Tampa Bay Vipers), DT: Kahlil McKenzie, (LA Wildcats)
Pittsburgh Steelers: LS, Christian Kuntz, (Dallas Renegades), LB, Tegray Scales, (Dallas Renegades)
The fact that these many players are still on NFL rosters two years later is a testament to the value of Spring Pro Football. Especially regarding the XFL, the league only played for five weeks, and many players’ developmental cycles were cut short.
It’s challenging to get onto an NFL roster, and then even more harrowing to try and break through the glass ceiling up the depth chart. The average NFL career is less than four years. Partly because of injury, but also because of the numbers game. The NFL adds hundreds of new college players every year. Thousands in a three to five-year cycle.
Some of these former XFL players have carved out long-term roles. Like Nick Moore, Christian Kuntz, and Scott Daly. Quarterbacks like Josh Johnson, Taylor Heinicke, and PJ Walker might never be superstars in the NFL. But they have proven through playing time earned that they belong. The fact that Kenny Robinson played in the XFL, and then was drafted by an NFL team, is direct evidence of the type of players the XFL had in 2020.
Former XFL Players On CFL Rosters (46)
BC Lions: RB, James Butler, (Houston Roughnecks), DE, Obum Gwacham, (Tampa Bay Vipers), OL, Kent Perkins, (St. Louis BattleHawks)
Edmonton Elks: QB, Taylor Cornelius, (Tampa Bay Vipers), DB, Jhavonte Dean, (Seattle Dragons), DB, Matt Elam, (DC Defenders), LB, Nyles Morgan, (Tampa Bay Vipers), WR, Jalen Tolliver, (Tampa Bay Vipers)
Calgary Stampeders: DB, Marcellis Branch, (Tampa Bay Vipers), OL, Derek Dennis, (New York Guardians), WR, Nick Holley, (Houston Roughnecks), DE, Jarrell Owens, (New York Guardians), DL, Tracy Sprinkle, (DC Defenders), WR, Reece Horn, (Tampa Bay Vipers), LB, Jameer Thurman, (DC Defenders)
Saskatchewan Roughriders: DB, Jeremy Clark, (Seattle Dragons), OL, Na’Ty Rodgers, (St. Louis BattleHawks)
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: DB, Deatrick Nichols, (Houston Roughnecks), DL, Casey Sayles, (St. Louis BattleHawks), DL, Ricky Walker, (Tampa Bay Vipers), DB, Jermaine Ponder, (Seattle Dragons), WR, Blake Jackson, (Houston Roughnecks), WR, Kelvin McKnight, (Dallas Renegades), K, Sergio Castillo (Houston Roughnecks)
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: WR, Steven Dunbar, (Dallas Renegades), DB, Des Lawrence, (DC Defenders)
Toronto Argonauts: DL, Shawn Oakman, (LA Wildcats), DL, Kony Ealy, (Houston Roughnecks), OL, Dejon Allen, (St. Louis BattleHawks), DB, Jalen Collins, (Tampa Bay Vipers), DB, Treston Decoud, (Dallas Renegades), DL, Dewayne Hendrix, (St. Louis BattleHawks), WR, Cam Phillips, (Houston Roughnecks), OT, Martez Ivey, (Tampa Bay Vipers), DB, Tarvarus McFadden, (Tampa Bay Vipers), WR, Daniel Braverman, (St. Louis BattleHawks)
Ottawa REDBLACKS: WR, Ryan Davis, (Tampa Bay Vipers), DB, Anthoula Kelly, (Tampa Bay Vipers), DB, Ranthony Texada, (New York Guardians), WR, Jordan Smallwood, (LA Wildcats), WR, Seantavius Jones, (Tampa Bay Vipers), QB, Taryn Christion, (LA Wildcats)
Montreal Alouettes: RB, Cameron Artis-Payne, (Dallas Renegades), LB, Reshard Cliett, (Dallas Renegades), DB, Wesley Sutton, (New York Guardians), LB, Tre Watson, (Dallas Renegades)
Making it in the CFL as an American rookie is exceedingly difficult, and pro players from the United States find that out the hard way. Not only do they have the numbers game against them because of a ratio that limits the amount of non-National players who can make a team.
But adjusting to playing the CFL brand of pro football is not easy, and it takes time and patience. It is mainly for players like offensive linemen, quarterbacks, receivers, and defensive backs, who have to re-train themselves to play a different football style because of Canadian rules—for example, the separation of players at the line of scrimmage and the waggle.
There were several players on the above list that not only made CFL rosters in 2021 but excelled in their new surroundings. Players like Deatrick Nichols, a standout in the XFL with Houston. Nichols was one of Canada’s best defensive backs for the world champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2021. His game-saving pass deflection in the end zone at the end of the Grey Cup helped lead the Bombers to their second championship in a row.
Nichols was named to the CFL-All-Star team at defensive halfback. Joining him on the exclusive list was former Wildcats DL Shawn Oakman. Nichols and Oakman were two of the 27 All-Stars on offense, defense, and special teams selected by 50 voters comprising members of the Football reporters of Canada and CFL head coaches.
Players on this list, like Jameer Thurman and the now-retired Dexter McCoil (not listed here), were already standouts playing in Canada before returning to the CFL after playing in the XFL. But new league arrivals like WR Steven Dunbar for Hamilton, and LB Nyles Morgan for Edmonton, had fantastic rookie years for their respective teams. They are now staples moving forward for those franchises.
Four former XFL quarterbacks are currently on NFL rosters, but the former XFL QB who made the trek up north to the CFL was former Tampa signal-caller Taylor Cornelius. ‘Corn Dog’ had his moments in Canada, displaying his arm strength and mobility for Edmonton in 2021. But he struggled to adjust to the Canadian game like most American QBs typically do. Time will tell if he can get better.
There were other under the radar former XFL players who played well in Canada in 2021. Mainly on the Argos, Dejon Allen started every game for Toronto at left tackle. It wasn’t always pretty, but the East division-leading Argonauts got quality production from the rookie Allen. That’s a difficult transition for any American offensive linemen to make.
Other players like DB’s Treston Decoud, and Jalen Collins, made seamless transitions and played top-level football on defense. CFL personnel were watching the XFL and the ones that did successfully found players who could make a difference on their teams. Ignorance gets you nowhere fast.
Former XFL Players On USFL Rosters (74)
Birmingham Stallions: C, Jordan McCray, (Tampa Bay Vipers), OL, Marques Tucker, (Houston Roughnecks), LB, DeMarquis Gates, (Houston Roughnecks), LB, Scooby Wright, (DC Defenders)
Michigan Panthers: DL, Cavon Walker, (New York Guardians), WR, Jeff Badet, (Dallas Renegades), LB, Taiwan Jones, (LA Wildcats), LB, Frank Ginda, (New York Guardians), WR, Ray Bolden, (Houston Roughnecks), G, Maea Teuhema, (New York Guardians), TE, Connor Davis, (St. Louis BattleHawks)
Houston Gamblers: CB, Jamar Summers, (New York Guardians), C, Tejan Koroma, (Houston Roughnecks), WR, Teo Redding, (New York Guardians), CB, Micah Abernathy, (Dallas Renegades), OL, Avery Gennessy, (Houston Roughnecks), OL, John Yarbrough, (Tampa Bay Vipers), LB, Beniquez Brown, (Houston Roughnecks), LB, Reggie Northrup, (Tampa Bay Vipers), G, Terronne Prescod, (DC Defenders), TE, Brandon Barnes, (LA Wildcats), TE, Julian Allen, (Dallas Renegades), P, Drew Galitz, (Dallas Renegades), S, Andrew Soroh, (New York Guardians), DB Will Likely, (DC Defenders)
New Jersey Generals: RB, Darius Victor, (New York Guardians), RB, Trey Williams, (Seattle Dragons), WR, Alonzo Moore, (Seattle Dragons), OL, Robert Myers, (Seattle Dragons), OL, Brandon Haskin, (Seattle Dragons), DB Trae Elston, (Houston Roughnecks), OT, Terry Poole, (Houston Roughnecks), DB, David Rivers, (St. Louis BattleHawks), DB, Dravon Askew-Henry, (New York Guardians), DT, Toby Johnson, (New York Guardians), DT, Kalani Vakameilalo, (DC Defenders), LB, D’Juan Hines, (New York Guardians), TE, Nick Truesdell, (Tampa Bay Vipers), P, Brock Miller (Seattle Dragons), DB, Dejuan Neal, (New York Guardians)
New Orleans Breakers: TE, E.J. Bibbs, (New York Guardians), OT, Marquis Lucas, (Tampa Bay Vipers), CB, Derrick Jones, (Seattle Dragons), LB, James Folston Jr., (Dallas Renegades), RB, Larry Rose, (LA Wildcats), K, Austin MacGinnis, (Dallas Renegades)
Philadelphia Stars: RB, Darnell Holland, (Team 9), RB, Matthew Colburn, (New York Guardians), LS, Ryan Navarro, (LA Wildcats), CB, Bradley Sylve, (LA Wildcats), S, Jack Tocho, (LA Wildcats), S, Cody Brown, (Houston Roughnecks), CB, Channing Stribling, (Seattle Dragons), S, Ahmad Dixon, (LA Wildcats), OL, Lene Maiava, (LA Wildcats)
Pittsburgh Maulers: RB, DeVeon Smith, (Tampa Bay Vipers), OL, Isaiah Battle, (Seattle Dragons), CB, Ajene Harris, (Houston Roughnecks), DL, Boogie Roberts, (LA Wildcats), LB/S, Tyson Graham, (Seattle Dragons), FB, Winston Dimel, (LA Wildcats)
Tampa Bay Bandits: QB, Jordan Ta’amu, (St. Louis BattleHawks), OT, Jarron Jones, (New York Guardians), WR, Keith Mumphrey, (St. Louis BattleHawks), K, Tyler Rausa, (DC Defenders), WR, Eli Rogers, (DC Defenders), C, Bruno Reagan, (St. Louis BattleHawks), OL, Fred Lauina, (LA Wildcats), OL, Damien Mama, (New York Guardians), TE, DeQuan Hampton, (LA Wildcats), OT, Juwan Bushell-Beatty, (Houston Roughnecks), DT, Reggie Howards, (LA Wildcats), LB, Emmanuel Beal, (Tampa Bay Vipers), CB, Rannell Hall, (Tampa Bay Vipers)
Fans of the XFL will be excited to see Jordan Ta’amu finally getting a chance to get back on the field and play after he led the XFL in completion percentage and was one of the league’s best young players. Since then, Jordan Ta’amu hasn’t been able to get any in-game reps, and he has spent time on and off three NFL team rosters since 2020. The USFL is providing Ta’amu an opportunity to get another chance to develop and showcase his skills.
The two-year gap between when the XFL played, and the likelihood of the league returning, created a scenario where several former players in the league either bypassed being selected in the USFL or are waiting for another NFL opportunity. When a USFL season ends in July, the time frame doesn’t leave a large enough window for players to latch on to the NFL when mini-camps and training camps start in the summer. It’s a consideration for players like Vipers RB Jacques Patrick, who is currently on the workout circuit and has been on three different NFL teams’ rosters the last two seasons.
There are 15 former New York Guardians’ players on USFL rosters. The Generals selected Five Guardian defensive players, not surprising, considering that former New York assistant Chris Dishman is New Jersey’s defensive coordinator. Familiarity helps in football. Former Dragons OC and current Generals HC Mike Riley drafted five former Seattle players. It’s also no surprise that former Team 9 head coach Bart Andrus has nine former XFL players on his roster. Houston Gamblers DC, Tim Lewis, who coached with the BattleHawks, and in the AAF with Birmingham, has several defensive players from both leagues. Two of his best players when he was the head coach with the Iron, Jamar Summers and Beniquez Brown, are back with Lewis in Birmingham.
The one thing that I would stress in non-NFL leagues is to watch out for specialists. The argument about ‘level of play’ in these leagues doesn’t hold water for kickers, punters, and long snappers, and they are dealing with the exact dimensions and elements that specialists in the NFL encounter.
Spring Pro Football can be an excellent breeding ground and test area for special teams players. Three of the XFL’s long snappers in 2020 are firmly entrenched handling those roles in the NFL. Two of the best kickers in the NFL in 2020 and 2021 were Younghoe Koo and Nick Folk. Koo is a pro bowl player now and made his name thanks to his stellar kicking in the AAF. After being ignored by NFL teams, Nick Folk resurrected his career kicking in the Alliance. He’s back on top of his game with the New England Patriots.
They might not get the attention, but keep an eye out for LS Ryan Navarro and kicking specialists like Austin MacGinnis, Ty Rausa, Brock Miller, and Drew Galitz. Next season, these players could all be on NFL rosters, and the USFL providing a platform will aid them.
One of the reasons that die-hard football fans support the existence of alternate spring pro football leagues is because of the players. Less than two percent of all college football players end up in the NFL, and that number is directly from the NCAA. There are thousands of football players who don’t get an opportunity to extend their careers when they come out of school. So the very existence of pro football leagues like the CFL, USFL, and XFL is necessary. The XFL in 2020 opened doors and kept pathways open for players, coaches, and football personnel. That’s what these leagues are all about.