Over the weekend, the 2023 season for the XFL got underway. This is the second season for the developmental league, which was originally rebooted back in 2020.
At the time, the AAF had just failed to complete its season after ratings nosedived and the XFL didn’t finish their inaugural season either as operations had to be suspended halfway through the year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The USFL was also rebooted recently and they did finally manage to conclude a full season in 2022. This year, we have the XFL launching this month and a USFL season as well in April.
For a team like the Jets is it worth keeping close tabs on these minor leagues? While hit rates can be low, it’s certainly a potential source of cheap talent.
Two of the success stories of the 2020 XFL season were quarterback PJ Walker and tight end Donald Parham. Walker has started seven games for the Panthers since returning to the NFL, winning four, while Parham has seven touchdown catches. KaVontae Turpin was a pro bowl return man for Dallas last year having starred in the USFL and pro bowl kicker Younghoe Koo is among the success stories from the AAF.
The Jets have yet to have any success stories from these offseason leagues, although they did bring in several guys so Joe Douglas clearly does view this as a potentially viable talent pipeline.
Quarterback Brandon Silvers, defensive back Mark Myers and tight end Nick Truesdell all signed for the Jets after having played in the AAF and Rashard Davis signed after playing in the USFL, but despite some flashes in training camp none of these were realistically close to making the team.
In terms of ex-Jets, the likes of quarterbacks John Wolford and Josh Johnson, kicker Taylor Bertolet, defensive lineman Domenique Davis and running back/safety Godwin Igwebuike all made it back to the NFL and saw regular season action in 2022 after having played in one of these leagues.
This year’s XFL contains familiar names such as Josh Gordon, AJ McCarron and Vic Beasley, as well as a plethora of one-time Jets - some of whom already had a major impact in the first weekend. Wide receiver Deontay Burnett had eight catches for 90 yards including a deep touchdown, TJ Barnes had a game-ending sack on a two-point conversion and pass rushers Tim Ward and Aaron Adeoye combined for 3.5 sacks.
Burnett, Barnes and Ward all saw regular season action with the Jets in previous years, although for the 32-year old Barnes, who reportedly slimmed down from 415 pounds to 360 to get back into the XFL, his last action with the team was all the way back in 2015.
Ward, who played in 11 games and was on the field for over 250 plays with the Jets in 2021, was overshadowed by his teammate Trent Harris in Saturday’s game. Harris, who has two sacks in 19 career games at the NFL level, racked up four sacks to surely generate some NFL interest. Wide receiver Jeff Badet also made a case for himself with two touchdown catches and McCarron shook off a poor performance to lead an exciting late-game comeback.
Other former Jets in action include a former fourth round pick in wide receiver Chad Hansen and two other players who saw regular season action with the team in 2021: Defensive lineman Freedom Akinmoladun and offensive lineman Isaiah Williams. Others include wide receiver Josh Malone and running back Kalen Ballage who saw action for the team in 2020 and linebacker Edmond Robinson, who played for them in 2017.
We’ll be keeping an eye on the XFL this season and no doubt Douglas and his scouting department will be doing the same. Whether or not the Jets find any useful contributors or any ex-Jets find their way back into the league remains to be seen but you can never rule it out.