While the Tier One QB selection process is a bit of a mystery to all of us, we can only wonder how happy the Roughnecks were with Phillip Walker. While Walker is a good prospect with time spent in Indy studying behind Andrew Luck, the Roughnecks selected Connor Cook with the second overall pick in the draft. Both Quarterbacks present good qualities, and this could likely be one of the few QB battles in an XFL camp.
Phillip Walker put Temple on the map and leads the Owls in wins, yards and TD’s. He brought them to their first conference title in half a century. There’s no question that he elevated that program, but accuracy and turnovers have been an issue throughout his career.
He only cracked a 60% completion once in college and finished with 56.9% with the Owls. Some may attribute this to drops and a lack of receiving talent around him, but in 3 years of preseason action with the Colts, he only completed 52% of his passes and threw as many TD’s as INT’s (5).
Walker offers upside but needs to work on his decision making and ball placement. He could be a quality starter in the XFL, but I suspect Connor Cook will be pushing him for the spot all season.
Cook was a consistent performer for Michigan State during his tenure there and won them 2 Big-Ten Championships and a Cotton Bowl in his time there. He also won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award in 2015.
Cook has also struggled with his completion rate. He never finished above 60% on a season in college, and in 3 years of preseason action was just microscopically better than Phillip Walker at 52.2%. He is, historically less of a turnover liability, and has 2 starts (one playoff) to his credit.
I’d grade the Roughnecks lower here, but they are unique in having two potential starting grade QB’s. Based on the fact that they selected him so high, I think Connor Cook has the edge with the coaching staff in Houston. His NFL experience and ability to come up in big games with the Spartans give him a lot of upside.
Running Backs: B+
Andre Williams is one of the better RB’s in the XFL. Proven at the pro level with 1,090 yards rushing and 8 TD’s in the NFL, he’s just 27 and has low mileage. While he did only post a 3.3 average during the time with the Giants and Chargers, I think a new league will be good for him.
He’s gonna be a grinder for the Roughnecks, and at 220 pounds he can punch it up the gut with good power and speed for his size.
Akrum Wadley offers good value as a change of pace/3rd down back. Williams has never been much of a receiver, but Wadley has the right tools to be a weapon in the passing game. He put up good numbers on the ground and through the air at Iowa, and was a decent receiving option with the Titans in the 2018 preseason.
Nick Holley and Kyle Hicks provide stability and depth, and while neither has been in the pros before, they had good touchdown production in college.
Marquez Williams is a bonafide blocking Fullback. He weighs 280 pounds and should be an asset in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He also scored once on a goal-line reception at Miami, so there’s a little wrinkle to his game there.
Wide Receiver: A
Sammie Coates is hands down one of my favorite XFL players. He was a solid receiver at Auburn and has made some great plays in the NFL. With a 6’1″ frame, 4.4 speed and plenty of pro experience, I think he’s set up to be one of the best receivers in the league.
A third-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2015, he put up decent production in 4 years with the team. While his numbers weren’t staggering, it’s impressive that he saw the field at all, considering he had to compete for snaps with Antonio Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant and Darrius Heyward-Bey. To make an impact in such a deep WR corps is a statement in itself, and he thrived when on the field.
In a 2016 matchup vs the Jets, he absolutely dominated with 6 receptions for 139 yards and 2TD’s. I think we’ll see a lot more games like that in the XFL.
With all the former Sooners going to Dallas to be with Bob Stoops, the Roughnecks were lucky to pick up Jalen Saunders in Phase I. Saunders put up big production in his college days, with 3,386 yards from scrimmage and 28 TD’s.
The 5’9″ speedster spent some time around the NFL, seeing the field with the Saints and Jets as a returner. He really shined north of the border though, and after signing with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, he caught 121 passes for 1,909 yards and 6 scores. He’s proven at the next level and adds value to this team as a deep threat opposite Coates.
Khalil Lewis is a rocksteady possession prospect who can play outside or in the slot. I like him at WR3, and he improved his numbers every year with the Cincinnati Bearcats, culminating in 782 yards and 9 TD’s as a senior.
Devin Gray played alongside Lewis at Cincinnati and brings some speed to the equation. He posted a 4.42 40 yard dash at his pro day and caught on with the Falcons. While the 24-year-old has yet to make regular-season time in the pros, he’s done very well in the preseason, picking up some big chunk plays for Atlanta.
Deontez Alexander is a 6’3″ red zone threat who scored 33 touchdowns in just two years at Franklin College. It’s a D-III school, but he can ball.
Tight End: F
The Roughnecks shockingly took zero tight ends in the draft, which is surprising considering that proven pros like Fred Davis (2,043 yards, 13 TD) and Clay Harbor (1,170 yards, 8 TD) were available and undrafted.
June Jones does operate a Run and Shoot offense that doesn’t heavily utilize tight ends, but this early in the game you’d think coaches would be looking for flexibility at all positions.
Offensive Line: B+
Avery Gennesy played with Last Chance U’s own East Mississippi Lions and transferred to Texas A&M. After a year as a redshirt, he started every single game for the Aggies at LT. He was good enough to earn First Team All-SEC honors and kept eventual first-round pick German Ifedi on the right side of the line at A&M.
Terry Poole doesn’t have the quickness to play on the left but could be suited to play at RT. With good power and moves upfront, he could be a big part of the run game here.
Cornelius Edison is listed at OT but played exclusively at Guard and Center in both college and the NFL. At center, he’s played 6 games in the NFL and has done enough to stick around for 5 years with the Bears, Falcons, and Vikings. He can play all over but is perhaps best suited at Guard.
Demetrius Rhaney is listed at Center but has experience all over the interior line. With 33 games of NFL experience under his belt, he’s just 27 years old and likely projects as a guard considering the talent around him at center.
Patrick Lewis is a veteran center who’s notched 13 starts in the NFL. He played well with the Seahawks in lieu of an injured Max Unger, but after his return never caught back on. With his quality starting experience, he’s one of the XFL’s preeminent Centers and should glue this line together.
The interior could very likely end up looking different than what we have here, but at a first glance there’s a great mix of versatile talent for June Jones to work with.
Front Seven: A+
Kony Ealy is an incredible pickup, and he’ll be a stud in the XFL. He already holds several Super Bowl records for a valiant performance in Carolina’s loss to Denver in SB50. Ealy has 15 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions, and has flashed great pass moves and versatility in the NFL. At just 27, the former 2nd round pick is in his prime and should terrorize opposing lines.
Taylor Reed has been around the NFL with the Cowboys and Patriots, but he’s played his best football in the CFL. He’s been great as a pass rusher there, racking up 17 sacks and 316 tackles in 6 seasons. He was a component of Calgary’s 2016 Grey Cup team and is only 28 with plenty left in his prime.
He ran a 4.61 40 back in predraft and has incredible speed off the edge with a 6’0″, 241-pound frame.
Trenton Thompson was the Roughnecks’ first pick in Phase III, and the DT was a disruptive force at Georgia. His best year was in 2016 when he made 9.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. He spent time with the Browns in 2018 and played in the AAF, IFL, and CFL.
He displays good moves, a powerful motor and has the strength to hold his ground. He even performed well playing against elite talent, notable vs Quention Nelson and Mike McGlinchey at Notre Dame.
Corey Crawford was a fantastic run stuffer at Clemson and notched 25.5 tackles for loss along with 5 sacks across the line. He’ll make quite the pair with Thompson in the trenches.
Cashaud Lyons has to be applauded for his persistence in football. He’s been on just about every team in the NFL, and just to prove a point, I’ll list them all. He’s spent time with the Buccaneers, Steelers, Titans, Rams, Lions, Bears, Broncos, Vikings, and Redskins. He also went north to the Tiger-Cats this offseason, and though the 26-year-old has yet to crack the field in regular season play, clearly coaching staff sees something in him.
Edmond Robinson made plays all over the field for the Newberry Wolves. With 137 tackles, 18.5 tfl, 2.5 sacks, a pick, and 11 Pass deflections in two years, it’s safe to say he succeeded wherever his coaches needed him on assignment. A 7th round pick by the Vikings in 2015, he’s seen some playing time around the NFL, and most recently made an impact with the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF, where he was a starting LB.
Great 3 down player who’s got the size (6’4″) to cover tight ends and the instincts to make plays wherever he’s lined up.
I really like Davis Tull. Wow. He has everything. Production? He had 60 tackles for loss and 37 sacks at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Measurables? He’s 6’3″ and ran a 4.57 40.
Experience? He was drafted in the 5th by New Orleans and has been in the pros since 2015.
Davis Tull is going to be a big part of this defense. He might be my favorite ILB prospect I’ve seen, and as of this article, I have done roster grades for every single XFL team in the league.
Carl Bradford was an excellent pass rusher at ASU, and in two years as a starter made 20 sacks, 10 passes defended and an interception. With the ability to play at LB and Edge rusher, I think he’ll make a fine piece for the defense wherever he ends up.
Deji Olatoye is a veteran corner with 6 years of pro experience. He’s been around the league, producing where he can, and has 4 pass deflections and a pick to show for it. A 6’1″ DB with 4.46 speed, he’s got the measurables and the chops to succeed in this defense.
Robert Nelson has also been around since 2014 and represents a solid CB2 option across from Olatoye. With 2 pass deflection and a pick in limited NFL playing time, he’s flashed the skills that earned him All-Pac 12 Honors in college.
Brendan Langley is an uber-athletic prospect who never got the time to develop in the pros. A 3rd round pick by the Broncos, he got one chance to play in Vance Joseph’s woeful defensive scheme, and after an attempt to convert to WR, he found himself out of the NFL.
He’s got a 6-foot frame and ran a 4.43 so it’s not a surprise that they wanted to keep his athletic abilities around. However, he played great at corner at Lamar, making 6 interceptions and 13 pass deflections his senior year. Outside of a defense that left DB’s as sitting ducks (according to All-Pro Chris Harris), Langley has the potential to become great in the XFL.
Marqueston Huff is a proven Safety who was a good rotational player with the Tennessee Titans. He has 4 PD’s and an INT in the NFL and has the ability to play both at S and CB. I think the 27-year-old will lock down the Free Safety position and contribute plus coverage ability on the back end.
Trae Elston has also seen limited NFL experience, and he has the size to take over as SS.
Huff and Elston give the Roughnecks a pair of 6-foot safeties who can fly downfield with ~4.4 speed. Only time can say how well these two will perform locking down the back end, but they have a mix of speed, size, and experience that should give defenses pause.
Austin Rehkow will likely take over both kicking and punting duties. He performed at both positions at Idaho, punting at a 44.0-yard average and kicking 70 of 92 field goals. He had a rough start as a placekicker, with 58.8% and 57.9% his freshman and sophomore years, but improved over time. Something clicked as a junior, and he went on to complete 85.2 and 89.7 his last two years at Idaho.
Colton Taylor has played as a long snapper with Virginia Tech and the Salt Lake Stallions.
Overall Grade: B+
I’m intrigued to see which QB comes out on top, but whoever takes the helm will have good pieces to work with. A solid running back stable, coupled with top tier WR talent and a plus O-Line round out the group, and they may not come to need TE’s to succeed.
The defense will be spectacular. With a trio of potential edge rushers to work in rotation, I think Kony Ealy will shine from this group and become a star in the XFL. Their line has good penetration potential, and the linebackers are great. The secondary has no real weaknesses, and I think this could be one of the top defensive units in the league.
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