While the XFL is a phenomenal league on its own, we all know that every football player dreams of one day making it to the NFL. The XFL’s 2020 season has seen more of its stars make it to the NFL than any spring or developmental football league in recent memory, maybe ever. Over 30 players made it to NFL rosters, with 28 around the league as of press time.
Some of the XFL’s best and brightest have made their way to the 2020 regular season, and while making the roster out of thousands of available players is a feat of its own, they’re beginning to crack lineups and prove that that spring football works. In fact, two big playmakers are poised to make their impacts in coming weeks as opportunities arise.
QB PJ Walker – Carolina Panthers
3/8 Passing, 15 Yards
The XFL’s most visible star was easily Roughnecks passer PJ Walker, and he’s actually competing to make his first start this weekend in Carolina. Paired up with his college coach in Matt Rhule, Walker has stepped in for Teddy Bridgewater in limited action already this year. Now with Bridgewater resting his knees, PJ has been neck and neck with Will Grier to take over under center.
He’s only attempted 8 passes in spot duty this year, but its clear that Matt Rhule trusts his arm. Typically when a backup enters the game the offense leans on the run game predictably, but on PJ’s first play he took a deep corner shot to Robby Anderson in the endzone. They didn’t connect, but in the final drives of that game they schemed up some big vertical routes.
With veteran experience and a great connection with his coach, I (with full acknowledgement of my bias) believe that Walker has the edge over Grier, who has yet to find success in the pros.
In his first real shot in the pros, Walker demonstrated a precise arm, great mobility and elite pocket awareness, and those who followed the Houston Roughnecks know that the Detroit Lions could be in for a surprise if he makes the start.
RB Austin Walter – San Francisco 49ers
3 Rush Yards, 61 Return Yards
The Dallas Renegades’ speedy running back/return specialist holds the XFL record for longest TD with after an electric 97 yard return for a score. He’s fielded some kickoffs for the Niners already this year, and is now actually the last man standing in their backfield.
San Francisco has had terrible luck at running back this year with Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Jeff Wilson Sr., Jerick McKinnon and JaMycal Hasty going down with injury. They might have a chance to coax one of these back into the lineup after their Week 11 BYE, but as it stands Walter is the only healthy RB in this room.
The chance to run in a legendary Shanahan rushing attack has to be a very attractive prospect for the young player, and he offers great value as a rusher and receiver. We’ll keep track of the 49ers stable moving forward, but it could be his time to shine.
TE Donald Parham – Los Angeles Chargers
3 Rec, 54 Yards, 2 TD’s
Word is finally spreading about Donald Parham, and in just a handful of snaps he’s already made a huge impact on this team. 3 Receptions for 2 TD’s is unheard of, and he is set to be a near-unstoppable red-zone threat in this league.
How do you cover a guy who’s 6’8″ in the end zone? The simple answer is nobody knows. He’s just scratching the surface of his football potential, and I’ve been high on him since the XFL Draft a year ago. I gave their Tight End group a B- as a whole though, so maybe I wasn’t high enough.
He’s hounding for snaps behind Hunter Henry, and I believe Justin Herbert will come to rely on him more and more as time goes on.
TE Colin Thompson – Carolina Panthers
1 Rec, 7 Yards, 1 TD
The Panthers were early buyers of XFL talent, and their investment in Thompson has already paid dividends. With just one reception, he’s already scored his first TD in this league.
Another Matt Rhule player from Temple, he started earning his snaps as a blocking TE and finally scored on his first NFL catch in Week 10. With his college QB likely taking the helm this Sunday, he could emerge as a safety valve for PJ Walker in this offense.
LB Edmond Robinson – Atlanta Falcons
7 Tackles, 1 QBH
Robinson was a key piece in the Roughnecks defense in 2020, racking up 22 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 QBH and a forced fumble/recovery in just 5 games. He was a dynamic disruptor in the front seven, and has worked his way into the lineup in Atlanta.
He’s making an impact on special teams, but has also been able to generate some pass rush on limited snaps. His success as a 3-4 edge rusher in Houston could translate into the NFL as he continues to grow on this roster.
S Kenny Robinson – Carolina Panthers
As the XFL’s first college-eligible player, Kenny Robinson has been a trailblazer for what this league can be. After putting up some great film and helping lock down the back end of the BattleHawks defense, he was a 7th Round Pick by Carolina.
He made the practice squad, and after being elevated to the active roster he has become a steady presence on special teams. As the Panthers have locked down both starting safety spots with Tre Boston and Justin Burris, Robinson will carve out a role for himself here on special teams as he develops.
He’s also just 21 years old, and with the physical tools and instincts he possesses, the limit is sky high.
K Sergio Castillo – New York Jets
6/7 FG, 4/4 XP
The XFL is proving fertile ground for aspirant kickers to flash their skills, and it makes perfect sense. Theirs is a solitary game, and so the product they put on the field in the XFL is exactly what NFL teams can expect to see at this level. The level of competition is no factor here, so teams know what they’re getting with XFL kickers.
Sergio Castillo was rocksteady for the Renegades, and the New York Jets ended up calling his number when the need arose. He’s already shown off a booming leg, hitting a 55 yard field goal, and is solidifying his hold on the job.
P Hunter Niswander – Dallas Cowboys
2 Punts, 79 Yards
The DC Defenders had a rock solid punter in Niswander during the 2020 season, and he averaged 44.6 yards/punt in the XFL. The Cowboys lost Chris Jones to core muscle surgery on November 7th, and signed Niswander to fill in. He’s had just 2 punts in his first NFL game, and is set to prove that the XFL is also a good place for teams to find special teams talent at Punter.
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