The freshly-rebooted XFL reached the halfway stage of its return season this weekend. Although ratings have been falling, the standard seems higher than the failed AAF, from which hardly any players made meaningful contributions in the 2019 NFL season.
We’ve been looking at which players have been standing out to assess who could be brought in to work out for NFL teams after the draft.
We start today with offensive players and will be back later this week to look at defense and special teamers.
The player making the most headlines so far has been PJ Walker. Where bigger names like Landry Jones and Cardale Jones have floundered, Walker has played consistently and made some spectacular plays with his legs.
The Seattle Seahawks have reportedly already shown some interest in Walker who has played in 12 preseason games with the Colts since going undrafted. He posted a quarterback rating of 101.2 in preseason in 2018.
Other than Walker, the top quarterbacks have been the 33-year old Josh Johnson, who started three games for Washington in 2018, and Jordan Ta’amu, who is more of a dual threat and is among the league leaders in passing and rushing.
With running back being the kind of position where you can plug in a player from just about any background into the right situation and see them produce, perhaps there’s a good chance of an XFL back seeing success at the NFL level.
29-year old Cameron Artis-Payne, who had some limited success as a rotational back with the Panthers after being drafted in the fifth round in 2015, has been one of the most impressive backs so far. In fact he’s the only back with more than 15 carries who averages over five yards per carry.
Artis-Payne’s teammate, Lance Dunbar, is another familiar name. The 30-year old played for the Cowboys from 2012 to 2016. Both Dunbar and Artis-Payne have showed their capabilities to contribute in the passing game, as Dunbar leads all backs with 26 receptions while Artis-Payne is just three behind him. Dunbar has also been a capable blocker.
The league’s leading rusher, however, is the younger DeVeon Smith, who is 25. For the Jets, it would literally be poetic to have DeVeon backing up (or replacing) Le’Veon.
Easily the league’s most productive tight end has been Donald Parham, who is still only 22. However, he’s actually been doing most of his damage out of the slot. The 6’8” target had 24 catches and four touchdowns in the first five games.
In terms of blocking specialists, Khari Lee has stood out both in the running game and as a reliable pass protector. He had just two catches in his four year NFL career, but has eight catches including two touchdowns so far in the XFL.
Wide receiver is another position where multiple players have stood out, led by Walker’s favorite target; Cam Phillips. Phillips already has nine touchdown receptions - more than twice as many as anyone else - and could end up with over a thousand yards despite the fact the season is only 10 games long.
Two former Jets have also been productive as Tre McBride posted consecutive 100-yard games after missing the first few weeks and Daniel Williams has also been among the league leaders in receiving yards.
McBride, who almost made the Jets roster in 2018, quickly established himself as Johnson’s favorite target in LA. Williams, who has a good combination of size and speed, has made a few plays down the field but he’s been particularly effective on wide receiver screens, with some of the best numbers in the league for yards after the catch.
Offensive line is one area where the Jets would welcome a viable contributor emerging. However, it’s been difficult to identify any standouts so far, which stands to reason because there’s already a shortage of reliable linemen from the pool of players that are on NFL rosters.
There are a few former draft picks such as Isaiah Battle (a 2015 fifth round supplemental pick) and Sebastian Tretola (a 2016 sixth-rounder). However, players like Avery Gennessy and Dillon Day have arguably outperformed these.
Gennessy, a former tackle who was a projected mid-rounder in 2017 before going undrafted, has been holding up well in pass protection at the guard position. Day, an athletically-limited center with a nasty streak and Nick Mangold-esque locks, has been an effective run blocker. However, he made his biggest impact by dropping an F-bomb during a live interview in the season opener.
Players in their late-twenties and early-thirties, as many of the above-named are, don’t often get another shot after dropping out of the league. However, opportunities to show that they bring more to the table than others who may also be seeking an NFL job have traditionally been few and far between.
It will be interesting to see if the league gives some of the better XFL performers a decent shot at winning a job in their league. If they do, then these players are sure to be near the top of the wishlist for teams like the Jets seeking to find a diamond in the rough on offense.