XFL players with the best chances to make NFL rosters in 2020Sporting News — (Jordan Heck)
The first season of the XFL was canceled after the midway point of the regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic, which means players will soon be able to sign contracts with NFL teams.
There was some initial confusion as to when players could sign, but that has been cleared up now. The XFL told its players on Friday that they can sign with NFL teams on March 23rd, according to reports.
On that day you can expect plenty of XFL players to start signing contracts in the NFL. During training camp and the early part of the preseason, NFL teams are allowed to have 90-man rosters. So while many names might not end up on final rosters, there should be a lot of players who at least get opportunities.
When the AAF shut down last year, more than 50 players ended up signing contracts with NFL teams. But when the 53-man roster cuts came down, only 18 players made rosters or practice squads. A few players made an impact such as Greg Ward Jr., who became a starting receiver for the Eagles near the end of the season, finishing 28-254-1 on the year
As for the XFL, let's look at 10 players who could make an impact in the NFL in 2020.
P.J. Walker, QB, Houston Roughnecks
Any XFL-to-NFL list is going to have Walker's name on it, and for good reason. He dominated the XFL, leading the league in passing yards (1,338) and touchdowns (15). He had the second-highest QB rating (104.4) and showed off his mobility with 99 rushing yards in five games.
Walker has already reportedly drawn interest from a few teams.
As the teams above suggest, it's unlikely Walker would just join an NFL team as a starting quarterback. Garrett Gilbert dominated the AAF but was relegated to third-string quarterback for the Browns last season. Walker could earn a job in the future, but don't expect him to get a starting role right away.
UPDATE: Walker has signed a 2-year deal with the Panthers.
Kenny Robinson, S, St. Louis BattleHawks
Robinson is a special case, as he was the only player in the XFL with college eligibility remaining. (We spoke with Robinson recently and covered his story in more detail here.)
As for his NFL prospects, Robinson is eligible for the NFL Draft and will likely get selected. The Atheltic's Arif Hasan told us Robinson is likely a Day 3 draft choice, and he likes Robinson's chances to be drafted, "particularly in the sixth round."
Pro Football Focus' lead draft analyst Mike Renner tweeted he'd take Robinson "in the third (round)."
Robinson finished his XFL season with two interceptions and a sack along with 17 solo tackles.
Cam Phillips, WR, Houston Roughnecks
Cam Phillips earned the XFL's "Star of the Week" award three times (out of five) as he continued to dominate defenses on a weekly basis. Outside of one bad game, Phillips produced ridiculous numbers in his five starts.
He finished with 31 receptions, 455 yards and 9 touchdowns, leading the XFL in all categories. At just 24, Phillips is a promising young wideout. With 84-, 50- and 48-yard scores on the season, he should draw interest from teams looking for a deep threat receiver.
Donald Parham, TE, Dallas Renegades
Heading into the season, it seemed as if the XFL was severely lacking in talent at tight end. That was mostly true, as not many had success, but Donald Parham came out of nowhere to impress.
Parham is an interesting player, standing tall at 6-8 but not much bulk at 237 pounds. He turned out to be a great receiving threat in Dallas, finishing fifth in the league in receptions (24), third in the league in receiving yards (307) and second in the league in receiving touchdowns (4). He was a reliable option, as 15 of his 24 receptions led to first downs.
UPDATE: Parham has signed a deal with the Chargers, according to reports.
Storm Norton, OT, Los Angeles Wildcats
Norton played in one game for the Vikings in 2018 and has bounced around some teams since 2017, but he hasn't quite been able to stay in the NFL. He was the top offensive lineman drafted in the XFL, and he proved his worth protecting Josh Johnson with the Wildcats.
At 6-8, 308 pounds, the 25-year-old Norton was one of the best offensive linemen in the new football league. Don't be surprised if you see him signing with an NFL team in the near future.
Honorable offensive line mentions: Terry Poole, Houston Roughnecks; Martez Ivey, Tampa Bay Vipers; Anthony Coyle, New York Guardians; Sebastian Tretola, Houston Roughnecks; Maurquice Shakir, Dallas Renegades.
Lance Dunbar, RB, Dallas Renegades
Fantasy football owners likely recognize Lance Dunbar's name. He played for the Cowboys from 2012-16 before signing with the Rams in 2017. He has been good but has suffered from a number of injuries.
Dunbar finally found a team willing to put him in a playing role, and he had a lot of success. He ranked third in the XFL in receptions (26) and third in yards per carry (4.87). An NFL team looking to add a receiving back should think about signing Dunbar, who's a bit up there in age (30) but showed enough promise in the XFL.
Deatrick Nichols, CB, Houston Roughnecks
We have a pair of offensive stars from Houston already on the list, but the team was undefeated because it also had a good defense. Nichols played an important role with his league-leading three interceptions. He also added six pass deflections, three tackles for loss, one sack and one QB hit. Nichols was also one of just eight XFL players to have both an interception and a sack.
The 25-year-old corner didn't get much attention from NFL teams due to his 5-10, 185-pound frame. He did play in two NFL games for the Cardinals but was used on special teams. His size is a legit concern, but his production in the XFL could make some teams think about signing him as a nickel corner.
UPDATE: Nichols has signed a deal with the Saints, according to reports.
Cavon Walker, DT, New York Guardians
The Guardians' defense kept them in most games, and leading the way up front was Walker. He is somewhat undersized at 284 pounds, but he kept finding his way in the backfield of opponents. He led the league with 4.5 sacks, recording at least half a sack in each game but one. He also added five tackles for loss and nine quarterback hits.
If Walker does sign in the NFL, it'll be interesting to see if he stays at DT or moves to defensive end. Either way, he was disruptive enough to earn a camp tryout.
UPDATE: Walker has agreed to a deal with the Steelers.
Jordan Ta'amu, QB, St. Louis BattleHawks
Ta'amu was one of our favorite quarterbacks to watch in the XFL. He was an efficient passer who finished with the highest completion percentage in the league (72.4). He also was extremely productive with the third-most passing yards (1,050) and the third-highest QB rating (101.3).
But Ta'amu isn't just a great passer; he is a great runner, as well. He led all XFL quarterbacks in rushing with 217 yards, which was seventh among all players. His 5.29 yards per carry also led the league. Ta'amu is just 22 with limited playing experience, but after a strong showing in five XFL games, he should earn a camp tryout with an NFL team this season.
UPDATE: Ta'amu has signed a deal with the Chiefs.
DeMarquis Gates, LB, Houston Roughnecks
Gates, a standout linebacker in the AAF, signed with the Redskins following the AAF fold but didn't stick on Washington's roster. He found a home in the XFL, where he was a star for the Roughnecks, filling up stats in box scores.
He had 32 total tackles, two sacks, one interception and three fumble recoveries. Don't be surprised if he earns another camp tryout following another successful run in a spring football league.
UPDATE: Gates has signed a deal with the Vikings, according to reports.
As mentioned, the AAF had more 50 players sign NFL contracts in the offseason, so one can expect more than the 10 XFL players mentioned above getting attention from NFL teams. Below are some others that deserve attention.
RB De'Veon Smith: He is a strong runner who led the XFL in rushing (365). He's only 25, so he should get some interest.
RB Matt Jones: He finished second in the league in rushing (314 yards). He wasn't overly impressive, with just 3.9 yards per carry and one touchdown, but he already has NFL experience (1,341 yards), so he could find a home somewhere.
QB Josh Johnson: Johnson was very impressive, leading the XFL in QB rating (106.8) and was one of just three quarterbacks with 1,000-plus yards. But he'll be 34 by the time the NFL season comes around. He could land as a reliable backup somewhere.
WR Dan Williams: He ranked second in the XFL in receiving yards (338) and first in yards per catch (14.70) among receivers with 20-plus receptions.
WR Tre McBride: He played in only three games due to injury but shined with a pair of 100-yard games. Despite playing in two fewer games than most receivers, he was still fifth in receiving yards (271). Plus, his 16.94 yards per catch on 16 receptions is notable.
WR Nelson Spruce: He caught 20 of his 28 targets and averaged 89 yards per game, finishing with two touchdowns in three starts. He's a reliable option who may have led the league in some receiving categories had he not gotten hurt.
LB Steven Johnson: He led the league in total tackles (49) as well as tackles for loss (6). He was a star in the AAF, as well.
DT Anthony Johnson: He finished with 2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and four quarterback hits.
S Will Hill: He finished with two interceptions, two passes deflected, three quarterback hits and 33 combined tackles.
P Marquette King: King was a second-team All-Pro punter in the NFL in 2016 before he fell out of the league. He looked good in the XFL, leading the league in punt yard average (45.7).
K Austin MacGinnis: He went 10-for-10 on his kick attempts in the XFL. He had the most field goal attempts of all kickers in the league and was just one of two kickers to be perfect on the year. He also led the league in kickoff average (65.0) and touchbacks (4). He was the only kicker in the league with more than two touchbacks.
K Matthew McCrane: He went 8-for-8 with his kick attempts. He was 3-for-3 from 40-49 yards out and 2-for-2 from 50-plus with a long of 53.