The XFL picked a sweet spot to command the football world’s attention, positioning its launch during the first weekend after the Super Bowl.
In the league’s revamped return, which features interesting twists away from traditional NFL rules, the XFL lured in plenty of talent from across all levels of football.
Some of that talent might end up in the NFL. Whether it’s a guy who didn’t break through or someone who’s looking for a second chance, the new league gives a spotlight to skilled players who could spin that into an NFL chance.
The following players are ranked based on their projected XFL production, positional importance and past performance in the NFL or otherwise.
Even if it’s with an eye toward depth, former top draft talent will always get another look if they play well elsewhere.
So likely goes the story of Jay Bromley, a 2014 third-round pick of the New York Giants. The defensive lineman out of Syracuse spent four seasons with Big Blue before he latched on with the New Orleans Saints. But he only got in two games before he hit injured reserve with a torn biceps.
After a brief shot with the San Francisco 49ers last August, the 27-year-old Bromley will get a chance with the DC Defenders and might put it all together while disrupting what should otherwise be a high-flying passing league.
Christine Michael is a familiar name in NFL circles because he always seemed poised for a breakout.
That breakout never happened, as the running back had just a 4.3-yard-per-carry average with seven touchdowns after the Seattle Seahawks drafted him in 2013’s second round. Instead of taking over as the eventual workhorse there, Michael shuffled through four teams and had another stint with the Seahawks.
But he is still just 29 years old and presumably has plenty left after just 256 career NFL carries. If he shows out well among other fringe NFL players, he’ll look like one of the XFL’s top stars.
Granted, running back isn’t the most important position on the field anymore. But if he’s standing out that much, the NFL won’t have a choice but to notice.
Safety Derron Smith has always flashed upside no matter where he’s been, yet it was never enough to break into a solid NFL role.
Smith, a sixth-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2015 out of Fresno State, bounced around some practice squads and NFL rosters before he went to the Alliance of American Football in December 2018. There, the 28-year-old stood out as one of the league’s best players and led the San Antonio Commanders in tackling.
Smith’s rangy play on the back end of the Dallas Renegades secondary is once again prone to make him a big-stat player who helps alter the outcome of games.
The NFL doesn’t care where quality pass-rushers come from—it just wants as much pressure on quarterbacks as possible.
That could be an in for Kony Ealy, a 2014 second-round pick out of Missouri who never saw his immense traits translate to big NFL playing time or production. It got to the point that the Carolina Panthers shipped him to New England after his third season, only for the Patriots to waive him outright months later. Stints with a handful of other teams followed.
Now, Ealy is one of the XFL’s more recognizable players as a 6’4″, 275-pound edge-rusher who was a top-60 pick not too long ago, and the 28-year-old has another shot to shine with the Houston Roughnecks.
Will Sutton, 28, entered the NFL as a 2014 draft pick of the Chicago Bears and appeared in 36 games before he hurt his ankle in 2016 and was later cut. The former Arizona State Sun Devil then didn’t make the final rosters of the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers in consecutive summers.
With that avenue seemingly closed, Sutton went to the AAF and played well for a short time with the Arizona Hotshots before the league went belly up.
It’s on to the XFL for the defensive lineman, who won’t have many players in his way on the depth chart, nor will he get stuck in a scheme-transitioning defense like he did near the end of his Chicago tenure. If he flashes with the Seattle Dragons, an NFL team could come calling.
Cardale Jones is a big name who didn’t get much of an NFL shot.
The former Ohio State quarterback was a 2016 fourth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills but never had a chance to supplant either veteran there (EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor). He then went to the Los Angeles Chargers and never had a shot to play thanks to Philip Rivers.
The 27-year-old heads to the XFL and will work with some quality offensive minds, spearheaded by former NFL coach Pep Hamilton, who serves as the DC Defenders’ general manager and head coach.
As a 6’5″, 250-pound passer with interesting upside, Jones is in a great position to put out some good film.
Rashad Ross is one of the targets Jones will have the benefit of throwing to with the DC Defenders.
He went undrafted in 2013 out of Arizona State and bounced around various NFL locales before getting some shine as a returner and part-time receiver for the Washington Redskins in 2014 and 2015. He later joined the AAF in 2018 and led the league with seven touchdown catches.
While Ross had a brief chance with the Carolina Panthers in 2019, he didn’t stick.
Clearly, he just needs to find the right NFL spot. He’s 30, but as he showcased in the AAF and likely will again in the XFL, he has the right mix of traits necessary to make an NFL contribution.
Antonio Callaway could be one of the XFL’s best players if he stays on the field.
A fourth-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2018 out of Florida, the receiver likely would’ve come off the board much sooner were it not for a misdemeanor marijuana-related citation, a sexual assault allegation (he was later cleared) and his involvement in a credit-card scam.
The elite talent flashed some of his immense upside as a rookie on limited chances, going for 586 yards and five scores.
Facing a 10-game NFL suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, the 23-year-old Callaway will also have to overcome a leg injury to get on the field with the Tampa Bay Vipers and put up big numbers in a league that seems prone to them.
If Callaway can do that and remain available, there’s a good chance at least one team will want to roll the dice on a player who has the upside of being a No. 1 NFL target.
Quarterbacks will always get a second NFL look, considering the laundry list of names often brought in for tryouts or to serve as backups.
Connor Cook, a 2016 fourth-round pick by the Raiders, shouldn’t be any exception.
The former Michigan State star only got in one game during his brief NFL career, completing 14 of his 21 attempts with one touchdown and an interception. But a Power Five quarterback and bowl-game veteran—as well as a viable NFL backup—shouldn’t have problems putting up noteworthy XFL film with the Houston Roughnecks.
If he does, the 27-year-old is probably looking at plenty of NFL training camp invites.
Landry Jones might be the biggest name in the XFL.
At one time, the quarterback looked like he might take over for Ben Roethlisberger as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starter after he arrived via the fourth round in 2013.
Things played out differently, with the Steelers cutting Jones in September 2018 and going with Mason Rudolph as the primary backup. Rather than latch on with another NFL franchise, the 30-year-old Jones landed with the Dallas Renegades.
A prestigious collegiate quarterback at Oklahoma and successful NFL backup, Jones is probably the safest bet to put up big numbers in the XFL, considering he might have gotten another shot regardless.