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Former XFL Players Making An Early Impact On CFL Teams

There are currently 48 former XFL players on CFL rosters. The number of XFL players who have made CFL teams is not surprising for anyone who followed the league in 2020. After all, there are also 42 former XFL players currently on NFL rosters. The quality of play in the XFL for the uninitiated was stellar, in case you weren’t paying attention, particularly for a first-year league that had eight brand new teams built from scratch. And that ultimately, only got to play with each other for five games.

However, what is surprising is how many XFL players are contributing and starting for CFL teams and playing at a high level.

It’s always tricky for American rookies to make the transition to the Canadian game. Not only because of the vast differences from the college/pro game in the United States versus the Canadian style of Pro Football. But because the numbers game works against American players because of the ratio. CFL teams can only carry 20 American players, and there are limits to how many of them are allowed to start. Each CFL team must have seven National starting players. (Canadians).

This particular offseason was much more challenging for American newcomers looking to make CFL rosters. For two additional reasons, dealing with the pandemic regulations and, more significantly, the elimination of preseason games. Without exhibition games to display your talents, impressing a new team became increasingly more difficult.

Let’s take a look at the XFL players who have already made a strong impression on their new CFL teams in the first two weeks of their 2021 season. Each CFL team has several XFL players on their roster.

Some players like Jameer Thurman and Dexter McCoil, who starred in the XFL with the DC Defenders and BattleHawks, respectively, have returned to familiar territory in the CFL, where they have already been standouts in the past. But let’s take an in-depth look at some of the new CFL players who have stood out for specific teams in the first two weeks of the CFL season.

XFL Players On The Toronto Argonauts

Former LA Wildcats DL Shawn Oakman #90 leads his new team, the Toronto Argonauts, out the tunnel.

The Toronto Argonauts have 11 former XFL players on their roster. In week two, Toronto had five different XFL players in their starting lineup. On offense, it’s two former St. Louis BattleHawks in WR Daniel Braverman and LT Dejon Allen.

Daniel Braverman currently leads Toronto with 13 receptions in two games. For only 92 yards receiving, but Braverman is currently tied for second in the CFL in catches. Braverman has also been returning kicks and punts for the Boatmen.

Dejon Allen has started the first two games for Toronto, but he was injured in his last game and could be replaced by former Houston Roughneck Terry Poole. The former blindside protector was the third highest-graded linemen in the XFL by Pro Football Focus. The adjustment for American offensive linemen into the CFL is not easy because of the difference in scrimmage rules with teams one yard apart. Still, Toronto traded away one of their better players in Alden Darby for Poole. So they clearly have faith in Poole’s ability to make the transition.

The XFL players who have arguably made the biggest impact for Toronto are CB Treston Decoud (Renegades) and defensive linemen Shawn Oakman (Wildcats) and Kony Ealy (Roughnecks). Decoud has been starting as a CFL rookie at cornerback. It’s a tough spot for American newcomers to adjust to because of the field dimensions and the momentum that receivers build up in motion towards the snap.

Shawn Oakman and Kony Ealy have also had to adjust to the CFL’s unique rules, playing a yard off the line of scrimmage. In fact, Shawn Oakman was penalized for being in the neutral zone this past Friday in Winnipeg on a third and short play. Ealy has played well; unfortunately, he had a hand injury during his most recent game and his status moving forward is in question. Oakman has really stood out. He is starting inside at DT and had five tackles against the Blue Bombers in week two, helping the Argos hold Winnipeg’s vaunted run game in check to only 53 yards.

WR Cam Phillips is currently on the Argos practice roster; one of the most notable XFL alumni is waiting for a call-up to the main roster. The former Houston Roughneck standout spent July with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before latching on with Toronto at the end of training camp. A recent injury to Juwan Brescasion may open the door for Phillips to make his CFL regular-season debut.

The Argonauts have also recently signed former Seattle Dragons running back Trey Williams. Like Phillips, Williams spent July with another CFL team (Calgary). Before long, the versatile Texas A&M alum could also find his way onto the main roster.

XFL Standouts Becoming Standouts With The CFL Champion Blue Bombers

For those who have been following Deatrick Nichols’s career since his college days at USF. Shockingly, he hasn’t made it in the NFL. But as most people who follow the CFL and alternative pro football leagues know. Good players always slip through the cracks. All for various reasons. Some through circumstance, injury, politics, or simply because of the numbers game.

In the XFL, Nichols got a chance to start and shine with the Houston Roughnecks and that’s exactly what he did, leading the league in interceptions. The standout performance by Nichols led to him signing on with the New Orleans Saints immediately after the XFL season ended prematurely due to COVID. Nichols would be let go by the Saints and then signed by Miami before being released by the Dolphins at final cuts last summer.

Deatrick Nichols has found a new home in the CFL with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and he is off to a flying start. The CFL rookie. Nichols has earned a starting position as a boundary halfback in the Bombers secondary, and in two games, he has been lights out shutting down receivers. Nichols has 5 tackles, 1 interception, and a fumble recovery.

Including Nichols, Winnipeg has four former XFL players on their roster. But another player who has emerged and helped the Bombers replace CFL star DT Drake Nevis is former St. Louis BattleHawks DT Casey Sayles. The former Ohio alum has done a great job against the run and already has three tackles for loss and a sack in two games.

It didn’t take long for these two defenders to make an impact in Canada. I guess that before the season ends. You will be hearing a lot more about them, especially if Winnipeg hoists another Grey Cup.

XFL Players On The BC Lions

Former Houston Roughnecks and Current BC Lions RB James Butler

The BC Lions have four former XFL players on their roster. (3 active, 1 practice squad). This past Thursday, all three of the Lions’ former XFL players started and contributed heavily to their victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

After starring with the Houston Roughnecks as one of the league’s most versatile all-around halfbacks, it’s no surprise that James Butler has produced in both areas for the Leos in his short time with them. In two games with BC, Butler has 9 receptions and a receiving touchdown, to go along with 61 yards on the ground. It hasn’t been flashy, but Butler, who was not expected to start from day one, has more than held up his end of the bargain. Butler has also contributed with 26 yards per kick return. Leading the way for Butler in week two at right tackle was former BattleHawks player Kent Perkins. The young veteran got his first CFL start on Thursday and did a great job keeping a clean pocket for Michael Reilly.

Former Tampa Bay Vipers edge rusher Obum Gwacham has made an immediate impact this season for BC with six tackles and two sacks in two games.

New York Guardians In The CFL

The New York Guardians have four defensive players on CFL rosters. DE Jarrell Owens on the Calgary Stampeders and CB Nydair Rouse with BC. But two teammates in that New York secondary stood out in week two of the CFL season.

The versatile Wesley Sutton made a start for Montreal in week 2 at the defensive corner position. In his first career game with the Alouettes, Sutton had two pass breakups and four tackles.

Defensive back AJ Hendy has come in as an American rookie and has immediately impacted the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Maryland alum has made his presence felt on special teams, in coverage and last night had his first career CFL interception.

Final Thoughts

Several other XFL players are getting playing time or in a position to have their roles expanded on CFL teams as the season progresses.

Not sure what is going to happen in Edmonton with former Vipers OC Jamie Elizondo at 0-2. But it’s noticeable that his Elks offense is struggling at the moment, and backing up Trevor Harris is former Vipers quarterback Taylor Cornelius.

Former LA Wildcats WR Jordan Smallwood has only started one game for the Ottawa REDBLACKS. (1 catch for 9 yards) But his role could expand moving forward. Ottawa has Smallwood in their starting lineup.

The red-hot Montreal Alouettes offense doesn’t need them at the moment but waiting in the wings on their roster is former Dallas Renegades RB Cameron Artis-Payne and DC Defenders, WR Rashad Ross. The latter is recovering from an injury, but once Montreal inserts him into the lineup. We could see CFL superstar quarterback Vernon Adams launching some downfield passes Rashad’s way.

The reason why some fans from both borders watch leagues like the CFL, XFL, and others is their love for football and their fascination with the players that play in these leagues. Leagues and entities like the AAF, XFL, HUB Football, The Spring League help keep these players playing dreams alive. The CFL’s return has opened up a new doorway for many of those players.

I am a credentialed reporter and writer. Over time, I have covered and followed the NFL, NCAA, and multiple football leagues intensely. Like the USFL, CFL, WLAF, NFL Europe, AAF, UFL, and of course, the XFL. You can follow me on Twitter @byMikeMitchell

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