A lack of NFL football, or football in general, is a terrible thing. While the NFL season just ended, football is already back thanks to the XFL! And since DraftKings is offering $100K up top in it’s largest Week 1 XFL contest, we will need to figure out the top tournament plays to take home that grand prize.
Some notes before we get started:
Teams will be using the NFL rules set, with a few exceptions (rules details found here):
Teams will have three options for extra points after touchdowns. Teams can attempt an offensive play from the 2-yard line for 1 point, the 5-yard line for 2 points, or the 10-yard line for 3 points. It’s important to note that, unlike the USFL, the XFL requires teams to run an offensive play, even for a 1-point conversion. There will be no post-touchdown extra-point kicks.
The clock will stop following first downs after the two-minute warning in both halves of play.
On kickoffs, teams will begin just 5 yards apart and will begin moving once the returner has caught the kickoff. This makes more sense with a visual aid.
After scoring, teams can elect to perform the kickoff mentioned above, a traditional onside kick, or a 4th-and-15 conversion from their own 25-yard line (the final option is only available in the 4th quarter).
Teams can double forward pass, so long as the first forward pass does not cross the line of scrimmage.
Overtime consists of alternating two-point conversion attempts from the opponents' 5-yard line. Both teams will get three opportunities, alternating after each attempt.
DraftKings Scoring and Roster Requirements
DraftKings’ scoring is the exact same as the NFL with a minor exception: 3-point conversions (after a TD) count as 3.0 fantasy points for a successful pass, rush, or reception into the end zone. 1-point conversions (after a TD) will also count for 1 point for a successful pass, rush, or reception into the end zone.
Roster requirements, however, are significantly different from what we’ve grown accustomed to in the NFL. XFL roster requirements are as follows: 1 QB
This is a blessing. In the 2020 XFL, no RB averaged more than 14.0 FPG, and only 4 RBs managed double-digit FPG as every backfield wound up in some form of an RBBC. Contrast that to WR, which had 3 players average more than 19.0 FPG and 13 total players average more than 10.0 FPG.
TE was even worse than RB, as just one XFL TE (current Chargers TE Donald Parham) averaged more than 6.3 FPG.
Relatively speaking, we should be mostly avoiding TE, while prioritizing WR over RB in our flex – at least until we have a better idea of team rotations and usage. Granted, there are still some intriguing Week 1 value spots for TEs and RBs, which I will make a point of highlighting below.
A final note on roster construction: I wouldn’t get very aggressive stacking QBs with their pass catchers, especially in Week 1. Single stacks are fine, but double stacks (given the much tighter roster requirements relative to NFL) are just too aggressive. Week 1 will be full of DFS landmines (similar to some preseason slates) which further limits my desire to stack. I’ll even be trotting out some teams with no QB stack, just trying to maximize my projection by playing the best plays.
Teams are haphazardly releasing their Week 1 depth charts. I’m including links to every depth chart released here:
Championship Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
St. Louis Battlehawks +400
Seattle Sea Dragons +450
Arlington Renegades +500
Vegas Vipers +550
Houston Roughnecks +600
San Antonio Brahmas +650
DC Defenders +650
Orlando Guardians +900
Final Thoughts on Ownership and Unique Lineup Construction:
I wouldn’t worry too much about being unique. Week 1 of these spring leagues is a mystery box (for DFS purposes) so playing the best plays from the TL:DR is the easiest way to submit +EV lineups. That said, I do think there are a couple of ways you can slightly pivot off the chalk to get very unique.
- Industry projections are forcing most optimized teams into 2 WR/3 RB builds. By just rostering one additional WR in your flex, you avoid by far the most common build-type.
- Stacking your QB with a secondary WR instead of the chalkiest option. The most obvious option here is the Seattle Sea Dragons. Ben DiNucci is a strong play, but his presumed WR1 (Josh Gordon) will be one of the highest owned plays of the slate, meaning the combination of Gordon and DiNucci should be a very common one. If you sacrifice a few projected points, you can swap Gordon out for Juwan Green or Jahcour Pearson and gain a massive uniqueness advantage – even if you only play chalk in the rest of the lineup. Not something I’ll go crazy doing, but worth consdidering if submitting multiple teams into the large $15 GPP.
In the TL:DR, I’ll list out the top plays in order of value (according to me). This isn’t super strict. And in some cases it’s sort of arbitrary. It also doesn’t matter nearly as much as my readers think it does. What does matter is maximizing the correlations within your lineups (granted, that’s not as important in Week 1), and making sure you include at least a few players on each tournament team who should be on the lower end of ownership. Get creative!
Plays ranked in order, with tier 1 in bold:
QB: Jordan Ta’amu, Ben DiNucci, AJ McCarron, Brandon Silvers, Drew Plitt, Jack Coan
RB: Max Borghi (Borghi is a borderline lock button play), Jah-Maine Martin, Kalen Ballage, Brian Hill, Morgan Ellison, Nick Holley, Brenden Knox, Abram Smith, Kareem Walker, Jacques Patrick, John Lovett
WR: Josh Gordon, Austin Proehl, Jontre Kirklin, Brandon Arconado, Jordan Smallwood, Darrius Shepard, Blake Jackson, Travis Jonsen, Geronimo Allison, Martavis Bryant, Jahcour Pearson, Juwan Green
TE: Sal Cannella, Cody Lattimer, Garrett Owens, Ethan Wolf, Jovani Haskins
With that out of the way, let’s get into the details of these games and some tournament DFS plays.
Note: Implied team totals are in parentheses. Games are listed in order of kickoff time.
Las Vegas Vipers (17.5) @ Arlington Renegades (19.75)
The Vegas Vipers will be led by head coach Rod Woodson – the same Woodson who was inducted into the 2009 Hall of Fame class as an all-time great DB. Woodson doesn't have meaningful coaching experience, at least not beyond being the Raiders' cornerbacks coach in 2017, meaning we have no indication as to the kind of offense he prefers to run.
That brings us to the Vipers’ offensive coordinator Duane Taylor, who was the offensive coordinator and WRs coach at Alabama A&M from 2018 to 2022. Taylor’s pass rate with Alabama A&M over his five seasons with the team was just barely over 50%, which doesn’t provide us much optimism for a pass-happy approach. That said, it’s notable (at least to me) that Taylor guided the Bulldogs to a 57% pass rate in 2021 with Senior QB Aqeel Glass at the helm (who won the Deacon Jones award and was a first-team FCS All-American), demonstrating a willingness to throw the ball if he trusts his personnel, or, more specifically, his QB.
And Taylor may very well have a QB he can trust, as the Vipers handed QB Brett Hundley ($9,400) the largest contract in the XFL ($200,000). From my understanding of the rules, QBs are the only position that can earn more than a $5,000 game check during the regular season, meaning Hundley’s contract is a notable financial commitment from the team – which assists in the assumption he will be their QB1 this season, granted it doesn’t look like he’s learned the offense well-enough to start over Luis Perez ($7,700) in Week 1. Perez averaged an uninspiring 9.8 FPG with the New Jersey Generals in the USFL as a conservative passer who threw 9 TDs and 1 interception. It may a take a few weeks, but Hundley should take over the starting QB job soon – perhaps as soon as Week 2.
Hundley is one of the most accomplished QBs in the XFL, as he started 9 games during the 2017 NFL season as a fill-in for Aaron Rodgers, averaging 13.2 FPG (including two games of 20.0 or more fantasy points). We also have a 311 dropback sample from Hundley’s preseason action, and his PFF grades show that he’s truly volatile as a passer (a potentially exciting note for rostering the QB in GPPs). Overall, I would expect the Vipers to maintain a league-average pass rate at worst and ideally, an above-average pass rate should the coaches develop a strong trust in Hundley. For Week 1, I’m anticipating a rotation between Perez and Hundley, with Perez playing the majority of snaps.
The team boasts an exciting corps of WRs, headlined by their Round 1 selection of Martavis Bryant ($8,900). Bryant has some exciting NFL highlights from his four seasons in the league, which included averaging 15.5 FPG during the 2015 season, and 13.0 FPG during the 2014 season. He was a legendary deep threat during his NFL days, with 42% of his 2014 targets and 29% of his 2015 targets coming at least 20 yards downfield. The 31-year-old WR may not have the legendary burst he once did (4.42 forty in Clemson’s 2014 pro day), but he still profiles as the clear-cut WR1 for the Vegas Vipers, and I’d expect him to be one of the most popular options in Week 1 DFS based on name recognition alone.
Jeff Badet ($8,500) and Geronimo Allison ($7,000) round out what I expect to be the starting WR trio for the Vipers. Badet averaged 6.2 targets per game (8th-most) and 5.4 FPG (22nd-most) in the 2020 version of the XFL, suggesting he’s a competent secondary option on the outside (where he ran 82% of his routes). Allison is a name many will recognize from his days with Green Bay, where he earned 4.7 FPG in a career-best 2019 season that included 55 targets over 16 games. Allison could be the Vipers’ ‘big slot’ given his 6’3” frame and 75% slot route rate in 2019 with Green Bay, combined with a snail-esque 4.67 forty time. I think it’s more likely Allison plays on the outside, with one of Badet (who is 5’11”) or Matthew Sexton ($3,000, also 5’11”) manning the slot in the majority of three WR sets. Sexton is a bit interesting for tournaments given his price tag, but I’ll primarily be using Allison and Bryant in Week 1.
The backfield profiles as fairly straightforward, with John Lovett ($7,200) and Rod Smith ($7,300) likely leading the way on the ground, as Lovett was the team’s No. 2 pick (after Bryant) in the skill position draft and Smith is listed as the official starter on the depth chart. Lovett rushed for nearly 2,000 yards over his college career (4.9 YPC) while scoring 17 TDs. He was used more sparingly in the passing game, recording just 37 career receptions and never earning more than 15 targets in a season. Smith should be a familiar name given his time with the Cowboys, but he did average a disappointing 3.6 YPC on 102 career NFL attempts over five seasons while providing little value through the air (30 career receptions).
So, the backfield receiving role should fall in the lap of DeAndre Torrey ($5,200), who was a WR in college that racked up 437 receiving yards and 4 TDs on 55 catches for North Texas. All three players are solid plays in Week 1, but I find myself the most excited about Torrey long-term, given Brett Hundley posted the 10th-highest RB target rate (28%) of 86 qualifying NFL QBs from 2017-2021 (regular season only) – while Luis Perez has been similarly conservative in prior spring leagues. If Hundley (or Perez) is a check-down king in the XFL, Torrey could be an awesome fantasy asset.
Bob Stoops (yes, the former Oklahoma coach) was the head coach of the newly-located Dallas Renegades during the 2020 XFL season, so we can have great confidence in his previous tendencies. Stoops lost air-raid legend (and former Renegades OC) Hal Mumme to retirement, but I doubt that will notably impact his passing tendencies. Stoops’ Renegades posted a league-leading 71% pass rate in 2020, while absolutely feeding their RB duo with targets. RBs Lance Dunbar and Cameron Artis-Payne combined for 56 targets in five games under Stoops in 2020, which is just one target less than the next five most-targeted RBs combined. If we treat Dunbar and Artis-Payne as WRs, they would’ve finished 9th and 13th in the 2020 XFL in targets. Put more simply: Stoops is going to feed his RBs with more targets than any coach in the league, assuming his previous tendencies hold.
Important note: An official XFL article stated that QB Drew Plitt ($7,300) “gets the first bite of the apple this weekend in the opener.” Given Kyle Sloter’s pedigree, I would be surprised if Sloter doesn’t rotate in at some point in Week 1. This is a QB situation to avoid (outside of the largest GPP) until we get more clarity.
Plitt had three consecutive seasons of at least 2,000 passing yards at Ball State – posting close-to-average PFF grades. He threw just 8 passes in the 2022 preseason for the Bengals, so we don’t have much data on him outside of college. Regardless, beating out a decent spring football QB like Sloter for the Week 1 starting job suggests we should at least be optimistic he can be an effective XFL QB.
Kyle Sloter ($10,300) was most recently a mid-tier USFL QB after serving as Minnesota’s backup QB for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. In 163 preseason dropbacks from 2017 to 2019, Sloter posted a quite impressive 119.4 passer rating – never recording a PFF passing grade below 75.0 in each individual preseason. Encouraging, sure, but Sloter averaged just 10.7 FPG in the USFL, ranking 2nd in interceptions (11), while scoring more than 20.0 DraftKings points just once. So, maybe he kind of sucks. But I’ll have some optimism about virtually any QB starting in this system given the Renegades project for one of the highest pass rates in the XFL.
The Renegades are also the only team who project to have a TE who should compete with the league’s WRs as a high-end fantasy contributor in Sal Cannella ($5,400). Cannella was the Renegades' Round 1 selection in the skill position draft, and he was a force in the USFL – ranking 2nd on the New Orleans Breakers in targets (57), and 1st in deep targets (14). Coincidently, the last TE Bob Stoops coached in the XFL was spring football legend (and current Los Angeles Charger) Donald Parham. Parham ranked 2nd among all pass catchers in the 2020 iteration of the XFL in targets (43), 2nd in receiving TDs (4), and 4th in FPG (15.7). Cannela’s overall aptitude, combined with his XFL draft capital and Stoops’ clear desire to be strong at the position makes him one of the top-value pass catchers of the Week 1 slate.
Lujuan Winningham ($6,300) was the Renegades' first draft selection at WR. He should immediately compete for a starting opportunity on the outside given his 6’3” frame and the 2,334 receiving yards and 26 TDs he recorded over his four years at Central Arkansas. Brandon Arconado ($4,700) is the favorite to handle slot duties, as he recorded a 98% slot route rate across his college career, finishing his final season at Washington State with 91 targets for 942 yards and 6 TDs. If Arconado can carve out a full-time role in the slot, he’s a clear value at just $4,700, given Stoops’ 2020 slot man (Flynn Nagel) earned the 8th-most targets among XFL pass catchers, averaging 10.7 FPG.
Important Note: Rannel Hall is listed as a starting WR for Arlington. But he’s not in the player pool. This hurts the playing time projection of both Lujuan Winningham and Jordan Smallwood, but I still consider both playable in GPPs.
Jordan Smallwood ($5,400) profiles as the final starter on the outside. He averaged 9.5 FPG (15th-best among pass catchers) and 5.2 targets per game with the Los Angeles Wildcats of the 2020 XFL – where he was PFF’s 6th-highest graded WR across five games of action. Sean Modster ($9,100) and Tyler Vaughns ($3,000) round out the expected WR group, with Modster likely pressing Arconado for slot snaps and Vaughns competing with Smallwood and Winningham on the outside.
This backfield is difficult to decipher, but as I noted above, it should be the premier pass-catching backfield in the XFL. Adrian Killins ($7,400) was the Round 1 selection of the Houston Roughnecks before he was traded to Arlington. At just 5’8” and 178 pounds, he should be the team’s primary RB in passing situations and on 3rd down. For a team like Arlington, that’s easily one of the most valuable roles in the XFL – assuming our role projection for Killins is correct.
Killins is joined by De’Veon Smith ($4,400) and Keith Ford ($6,800) in the backfield. Smith was the XFL’s leading rusher during the 2020 season, averaging a league-leading 19.4 touches per game and 9.9 FPG (5th among RBs). Smith profiles as a more able-bodied pass game option than Ford, as he averaged 22.0 targets per season in his final two years at Michigan, while ranking 2nd in the 2020 XFL in routes (103) and 3rd in targets (13) among RBs. Smith is hilariously most known for his tragic USFL pizza fiasco, which can only be explained here. Things should be more fruitful for Smith in the XFL, as he could certainly be considered the favorite to lead the Arlington backfield in rushing. Ford rounds out the RB group, and I don’t think he can be viewed as more than an early-down grinder. Ford has familiarity with Stoops after they spent the 2014 season together at Oklahoma. But, Ford’s 3.7 YPC on 47 preseason carries combined with a near-nonexistent receiving history pushes me to believe he will only be competing for the between-the-tackles work typically reserved for the largest (Ford is 5’10”, 220) and least agile (33.7 career college elusive rating) of running backs. That said, Ford is listed as a co-starter with Smith, so I expect that duo to split early-down duties, with Killins soaking up most of the juicy PPR points.
Orlando Guardians (16.5) @ Houston Roughnecks (19.0)
The Guardians are led (somewhat concerningly) by a HC (Terrell Buckley) and OC (Robert Ford) who have both never risen beyond the positional coaching ranks in their respective careers. So, that means deciphering what this offense will look like is going to be very difficult.
And it isn’t made any easier by the QB situation, which figures to be one of, if not the grossest in the XFL. Curious about what I mean by that? Well, just take a look at the 3 co-starters at QB listed on the team’s official depth chart:
That’s not good for fantasy purposes. Paxton Lynch ($8,900) was one of the worst passers in the USFL, granted he brought enough to the table as a rushing threat to average 12.9 FPG across his four regular season games – a decent fantasy line by spring football QB standards. Lynch will be fighting off Deondre Francois ($8,300) – who appears to be a comparable rushing threat and a potentially worse passer. Francois never posted a PFF passing grade over 68.3 during his time at Florida State, turning in a 40/24 TD-to-INT ratio and finishing his college career with an 86.5 passer rating. He did manage 5.0 career YPC and 7 rushing TDs on 99 career attempts, but outside of that rushing prowess, I don’t have much hope Francois can be a dangerous passer in the XFL.
Rounding out the QB room is Quinten Dormady ($6,400), who I wouldn’t expect to see the field barring truly abhorrent play from Lynch and Francois. Dormady started his college career at Tennessee, where he managed just 98.6 passing YPG and 7 passing TDs in the 13 games he appeared in for the Volunteers. He finished his career at Central Michigan, where his 59.7 PFF passing grade suggests he was an average (at best) passer in the group of 5. Not encouraging.
I don’t expect this to be a productive passing attack, but we still need to discuss the pass catchers. The WR room is led by Charleston Rambo ($8,700) and Stephen Guidry ($6,900). Rambo was a target hog in his final season of college ball at Miami, averaging 9.9 targets per game and 19.8 FPG while running 89% of his routes on the outside. Guidry’s numbers weren’t nearly as encouraging, but he still managed 698 yards on 92 targets in his final two collegiate seasons. I would consider Rambo the clear alpha in this receiving corps for the time being.
Beyond that duo, I’m not sure we can consider these other WRs fantasy relevant, given the QB situation and that the team listed just two starting WR spots on their depth chart. But for what it’s worth, Eli Rogers ($4,100), JaVonta Payton ($3,000), Dontez Byrd ($4,600), and Andrew Jamiel ($5,500) all figure to rotate in at WR.
TE is interesting here, if only because former NFL WR Cody Latimer ($3,000) is the Guardians’ starting H back and is dirt cheap. Latimer won Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos and hauled in 70 receptions on 120 targets over a six-year NFL career. He figures to be a versatile weapon after his switch to TE, and I’d consider him one of the top-value plays of Week 1.
This backfield, thankfully, appears very straightforward. The Guardians' top RB – Jah-Maine Martin ($7,100) – figures to be the closest thing we can project to a workhorse in Week 1. Devin Darrington ($3,500) was recently placed on the Reserve list, while newly-added Kelvin Taylor (who is not in the player pool) should see the occasional rotational rep to keep Martin fresh. Martin was an efficient runner at North Carolina A&T, averaging 6.2 career YPC on 313 rush attempts in his final three college seasons. He profiles as a standard early-down, bruising RB given his 5’10”, 220-pound frame. I consider Martin a high-priority play in Week 1.
Led by NFL defensive coordinating legend Wade Phillips, it’s understandable to view Houston as a defense-centric team given Phillips’ background. But 33-year-old OC AJ Smith provides some reasons to be optimistic about an aggressive offensive approach. It’s difficult to find info about Smith online, but he was the youngest offensive coordinator in the state of Louisiana at age 21, turning a team (West St. Mary High) that had previously gone 3-27 over their last three seasons into one of the best offenses in the state. In 2011, Smith’s run-and-shoot offense featured the state’s leading WR (by both yards and catches), and the offense broke multiple national single-game records. Finding exact stats or run/pass splits for Smith’s offenses is close to impossible, but he has seemed to shatter records everywhere he’s OCed, granted he’s never called plays at a level comparable to the XFL. The bottom line, though, is that this should be one of the most high-powered passing attacks in the XFL.
QB remains unclear for the Roughnecks, but it looks like Brandon Silvers ($8,200) will be the Week 1 starter. Silvers was the starting QB for Seattle during the 2020 XFL season, where he averaged 10.8 FPG (9th-best among XFL QBs), and posted a brutal 43.0 PFF passing grade. That makes me lean towards Cole McDonald ($6,000) winning the job outright at some point, as his final two collegiate seasons at Hawaii are the stuff of Group of 5 legend. McDonald posted a 69/24 TD to INT ratio, averaging 296.7 passing YPG and an impressive 26.4 FPG. Silvers is listed as the Week 1 starter, but McDonald is the guy I’m more excited about long-term. I think we see both QBs earn snaps in Week 1.
The Houston WR room is crowded, but the team’s depth chart can help us sort through the deep group. Jontre Kirklin ($3,100), Travell Harris ($6,600), and Deontay Burnett ($7,900) are all listed as starters; granted, I think we see a serious rotation at the position. Burnett could rotate into the slot, as he’s just 6’0”, 185, and posted an 84% slot route share in his final season with USC, where he logged 109 targets and averaged 18.6 FPG. Cedric Byrd ($5,300) should also see some serious playing time, as Byrd was the Roughnecks' first WR drafted and has some familiarity with backup QB Cole McDonald after he ran 99% of his routes from the slot at Hawai’i. He could be a versatile weapon who rotates between WR and RB, given his ‘HB’ designation on the team’s depth chart. The remaining WRs – Davion Davis ($3,000), Justin Smith ($5,100), Aaron Nelson ($3,000), and Ben Putman ($3,000) – all figure to earn routes in some capacity, granted it’s nearly impossible to know what that capacity will be ahead of Week 1. I’d consider all four of Kirklin, Harris, Burnett, and Byrd in play for Week 1.
TE is really interesting for Houston, because there’s only one on the roster. Garrett Owens ($3,900) is a former college RB who stands 6’3” and profiles as a do-it-all weapon for Houston. Owens earned 28 targets and a strong 87.8 PFF receiving grade in his final college season, while tacking on another 626 yards (4.8 YPC) and 5 rushing TDs on 130 carries. Wade Phillips referenced Owens as a versatile weapon, and I think we can tentatively call him the ~No. 3 pass catcher in this offense if we assume his TE designation leads to a more robust route share than his WR counterparts.
The RB room is cloudy, but the good news is that the majority of this backfield is dirt-cheap, with Max Borghi ($4,500), Brycen Alleyne ($3,000), Nick Holley ($3,000), and Dejoun Lee ($6,400) all presenting relatively palatable price tags.
Borghi logged 166 career targets during his time at Washington State, a truly massive receiving workload for any college RB. That college receiving workload is largely why he’s considered the favorite to lead this backfield in receiving, and he has the frame (5’9”, 210) to be trusted with carries in between the tackles as well. He’s a premier target and top value at the RB position for Week 1.
Alleyne is a 5’6”, 165-pound former college WR who led the Fan Controlled Football league in rushing yards (349). He profiles as a clear-cut 3rd down RB and pass-game-only option. Targets should come for Alleyne, but I’m doubtful he will see many carries or have strong TD equity due to his size.
Holley is similar, granted at a much larger stature of 5’11”, 197. Holley is a former college QB and WR who most recently played WR in the CFL, recording 10 receptions on 14 targets and seeing 3 kickoff returns during the 2021 season. He will likely play a WR/RB hybrid role (similar to Byrd) as he’s regarded as the team’s starting HB on the official depth chart.
Lee is similarly small, at 5’7”, 185. His 44 career college receptions suggest he’s also viable as a receiver, meaning we could see a notable rotation in this backfield. Realistically, I’m only targeting Borghi and Holley in this backfield until further notice.
St. Louis Battlehawks (19.5) @ San Antonio Brahmas (17.0)
How did Battlehawks HC Anthony Becht get his current job? That’s not a rhetorical question, because I’m actually not sure. Becht was a Round 1 selection at TE in the 2000 NFL Draft, and had a fruitful 11-year career at the position. But outside of being the TE coach of the San Diego Fleet in 2019 for the now-defunct AAF, Becht has zero coaching experience. That’s not ideal from a fantasy perspective, as we have no clue what his coaching tendencies could be.
Bruce Gradkowski was tapped by Becht to coordinate the Battlehawks offense, and there isn’t data as to his play-calling tendencies. But, he is more experienced than Becht, having recently been the HC of St. Francis de Sales High School. I’m tentatively optimistic that Gradkowski will employ a pass-first approach, as he is a current PFF analyst and has spent significant time analyzing the game inside the PFF offices (I’ve seen this first-hand). That said, with how inexperienced this coaching staff is, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Battlehawks fielded an incompetent offense. We will just need to wait and see.
The good news with St. Louis is that there is currently zero ambiguity as to their QB situation – AJ McCarron ($10,500) is the starter. McCarron logged NFL action in five different seasons from 2015 to 2020, but is mostly known for winning a pair of BCS national championships with the Crimson Tide in 2011 and 2012. He won’t have any juice as a rusher (4.94 forty time), but he is incredibly experienced and should be one of the most efficient passers in the XFL.
The WR room is crowded and a bit difficult to analyze, but NFL veteran Marcell Ateman ($9,200) should lead the way. Ateman was a Round 7 selection by the Raiders, who logged 20 career receptions for 270 career yards and a TD over three seasons before being released. In college, Ateman had an incredible senior season at Oklahoma State, earning 1,053 yards and 8 TDs on 84 targets. His 6’4” frame and 4.6 forty time should limit him to an exclusively outside role.
Darrius Shepherd ($4,500) should be a familiar name to those who followed last year's iteration of the USFL. Shepard averaged 8.2 FPG in the USFL and recorded a 16% target share for the league’s most run-heavy offense. He’s likely a slot WR in the XFL (despite playing mostly outside in the USFL) based on his 81% slot route rate in college and 5’10” 185-pound frame.
Austin Proehl ($3,000) and Hakeem Butler ($4,200) round out the notable WRs. Proehl was a 2020 XFLer, running 95% of his routes from the slot while averaging the 9th-most FPG (11.3) of any XFL pass catcher. Butler is a player many will remember from the 2019 draft, where he was a Round 4 pick by the Arizona Cardinals. At 6’5” and 225 pounds, Butler profiles as a poor man’s DK Metcalf – who should exclusively play outside. All four of the WRs I’ve mentioned are in play for Week 1 DFS, but Proehl (due to price) and Ateman (due to pedigree) are my primary targets here.
TE looks like a mess. Jovani Haskins ($3,000) is listed as the starter on the depth chart, but both Jordan Thomas ($5,200) and Jake Sutherland ($2,900) figure to rotate in. I’m fully fading this TE room in Week 1, but Thomas is the only guy I’m optimistic about long-term. He logged an 85th percentile speed score and was a Round 6 pick by the Houston Texans in 2018. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on how the Battlehawks rotate their TEs in Week 1.
The backfield is similarly messy. Former NFLer Brian Hill ($5,800) is listed as the starter, but both Kareem Walker ($3,700) and Mataeo Durant ($7,700) figure to rotate in. Hill earned 209 carries over five NFL seasons from 2017 to 2021, averaging 4.0 YPC and scoring three TDs. He didn’t show much as a receiver, but his NFL pedigree suggests he should be the favorite to lead this backfield in carries. Durant is certainly interesting, as he had an efficient rushing career at Duke (5.2 career YPC), which culminated in a 1,249-yard, 9-TD senior season. Durant also showed some receiving ability over his Duke career, posting a 66.9 PFF receiving grade in his final two seasons on 43 targets. Walker averaged just 3.4 YPC across his college career, which leads me to believe he will fall into the RB3 role, while Hill handles most early-down work, and Durant earns the pass game role alongside some carries.
Legendary NFL WR Hines Ward is the HC of the San Antonio Brahmas. Ward’s coaching experience doesn’t go far beyond positional coaching, but he was the AAF’s Head of Football Development, so he has a clear affinity (and familiarity) with spring football. Ward has tapped Jaime Elizondo to be his OC – a coach who led the offense of the Tampa Bay Vipers in the 2020 XFL, along with multiple CFL offenses. The Vipers had a run-centric offense, posting a 50% pass rate. Interestingly, the Vipers absolutely fed their top-2 RBs during the 2020 season, with both De’Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick ranking top-4 among RBs in touches per game, and top-6 in FPG. Elizondo’s most recent CFL offense (the 2021 Edmonton Elks) posted a 62% pass rate on their way to a 3-11 record. I would project Elizondo and the Brahmas to take a more run-centric approach in this iteration of the XFL.
Introducing… QB1 💪🏾 #XFL2023
Jack Coan ($8,500) is one of the few clear-cut starters in the league. His final two college seasons provide some optimism, as he posted a 37/10 TD to INT ratio while averaging 8.4 YPA and earning a PFF passing grade of at least 80.0 in both seasons. He adds absolutely nothing as a runner (2.2 career college YPC) but simply being a consistent passer is a viable path to success in spring football, and Coan certainly has that potential.
The WR corps is led by XFL holdover Jalen Tolliver ($7,400) – who ranked 10th among XFL WRs and TEs in receptions (21), 5th in targets (35), and 8th in FPG (11.3). He has the advantage of racking up those stats with the Tampa Bay Vipers – the same team Elizondo coached in the 2020 XFL. I would expect him to be the Brahmas' leading pass catcher on the outside given his 6’3” 210-pound frame and general familiarity with the offense.
Things are a bit unclear after Tolliver, but it looks like Travis Jonsen ($3,200) and Landen Akers ($8,200) are the next men up in the WR room. Akers played in the slot for 83% of his routes in his final college season, but his concerningly low college target volume (33 targets in his final two seasons) is certainly an issue, especially given his price tag. I’ll be fading Akers for that reason. Jonsen is listed as a starter, and he recorded 76 targets and 537 yards in his final college season at Montana State in 2019; and subsequently spent the next three seasons on NFL practice squads before being released in 2022 due to a DUI. I view Jonsen as a decent value play, and my overall favorite play in this WR group.
TJ Vasher ($5,200) looks to be the WR4, and he had a productive career at Texas Tech, earning at least 40 targets in his final four seasons while amassing nearly 2,000 receiving yards. He profiles as a pure outside WR given his 6’6” build. Fred Brown ($3,000) and Darece Roberson ($3,000) also figure to rotate in.
RB should be a two-man show, at least based on Elizondo’s previous RB tendencies (noted above). Team captain Jacques Patrick ($7,800) will lead the way after earning the 4th-most touches per game (13.0), the 3rd-most rushing yards (254), and the 6th-most FPG (9.5) of XFL RBs. He finished the season with the league’s 3rd-best PFF rushing grade (85.6) and the 2nd-most forced missed tackles. I would expect big things out of Patrick in the new version of the XFL.
Former NFL RB Kalen Ballage ($4,800) figures to earn the remaining backfield touches, outside of a few spell looks for RB3 Jon Hilliman ($3,400). Ballage spent time with the Dolphins, Chargers, and Steelers while amassing 212 carries at the NFL level, granted that resulted in a vomit-inducing 3.1 career YPC. Ballage should earn ample early-down work for the Brahmas, but I would expect the entirety of the pass-game role to fall to Patrick – with Hilliman occasionally rotating in.
Seattle Sea Dragons (17.5) @ DC Defenders (18.5)
Former New Orleans Saints HC Jim Haslett will be leading the Sea Dragons, and he tapped June Jones to coordinate his offense. Jones is a run-and-shoot coach who coordinated the explosive Houston Roughnecks passing attack in the 2020 XFL. Houston led the 2020 XFL in pass rate (66%), and had three different WRs rank in the top-13 in FPG, while WR Cam Phillips led the XFL in FPG with 26.1. This is going to be a prolific passing attack, which is further proven when you look at the Sea Dragons' depth chart, which showcases four starting WRs.
Ben DiNucci ($9,800) is the confirmed QB1, and we can have confidence he will see 100% of dropbacks barring abhorrent play. DiNucci was sub-par in his 93 career NFL preseason dropbacks, throwing for just 5.7 YPA, 4 TDs, and 4 interceptions. But DiNucci has shown great promise at lower levels of football, as he threw for 2,817 yards, 24 TDs, and 4 interceptions in his final college season at James Madison – earning a 90.9 PFF passing grade. DiNucci might be terrible, but he should see as much or more passing volume than any XFL QB. Combined with his job security, he shapes up as one of the stronger DFS plays at QB this week.
I expect a heavy rotation at WR, but Josh Gordon ($9,000) should be the WR1 (a tremendously valuable role in this offense). The 31-year-old Gordon has been plagued by substance abuse issues throughout his career, but he’s proven time and time again that he can absolutely ball. Gordon’s 2013 NFL season, in which he recorded 1,646 yards and averaged 22.5 FPG, clearly demonstrates that. While he is no longer a dominant NFL WR (just 15 targets over the last two seasons), he absolutely has the physical tools to recreate that 2013 season on an XFL field. Ja’Cour Pearson ($6,100), Blake Jackson ($3,800), and Juwan Green ($7,100) round out the starters – and that trio can all be considered fine plays, but the priority is paying up for Gordon until the assumption that he is the team’s WR1 is more formally challenged.
TJ Hammonds ($7,500) is listed as a WR on the team depth chart, but XFL media, to this point, is referencing him as a member of the backfield. Hammonds earned just 76 carries across his college career, but was hyper-efficient with a 7.0 career YPC and 2.00 YPRR on 22 career targets. I expect Hammonds to lead this backfield in receiving, which should make him one of the top fantasy RBs in the XFL. Brenden Knox ($5,500) should see a decent bit of early-down, between-the-tackles work as he stands at 6’0”, 223 and earned an efficient 5.2 YPC on nearly 500 carries across his college career at Marshall. Those two should dominate usage, with Morgan Ellison ($3,600) occasionally spelling Knox for early down work.
Defenders HC Reggie Barlow has nearly 15 years of Division II and FCS coaching experience where he served as the HC of Alabama State (2007 to 2014) and Virginia State (2016 to 2021). Barlow brought former Alabama State OC Fred Kaiss to be his offensive coordinator. I’ve found three seasons of data from Kaiss’ time with Alabama State, and their pass rate of 38% in 2012, 37% in 2013, and 40% in 2014 makes me think we are looking at arguably the most run-centric offense in the XFL.
Spring football legend Jordan Ta’amu ($9,600) will lead the way at QB, and he’s one of the top XFL QBs for fantasy purposes. Ta’amu was the QB4 in the 2020 XFL by FPG (17.5), and he averaged 16.7 FPG in the USFL, leading the league in passing yards (2,011) while adding another 370 yards on the ground. He’s a legitimate duel threat who should be one of the most productive QBs in the league, especially within a run-centric offense.
The Defenders' pass catchers are headlined by a starting trio of Jequez Ezzard ($7,300), Josh Hammond ($6,200), and Lucky Jackson ($4,900). Ezzard was the Defenders' first WR selected in the XFL draft, and he had a productive 70-target senior season at Sam Houston State in 2021, finishing the year with 602 yards and 6 TDs. Hammond never earned more than 40 targets in a season during his college career at Florida, but he did manage 6 TDs and over 650 receiving yards in his final two seasons, running 93% of those routes from the slot. Jackson was tremendously productive at Western Kentucky, earning 104 targets, 988 yards, and 3 TDs in his final season, running 83% of his routes on the outside. Jackson is the top value, but all three are vaguely in play – granted I’m largely trying to roster WRs on other teams given the projected run-centric approach.
Combine that approach with the risk of WRs Josh Malone ($3,000), Pooka Williams ($4,300), and Chad Hansen ($3,700) rotating in, and this is one of the least appealing receiving corps for fantasy purposes.
TE Ethan Wolf ($2,500) is at least a little interesting, if only to save on salary. Wolf is listed as the starting TE, and had consistent volume during his college stint at Tennessee, seeing at least 25 targets and earning at least 200 receiving yards in each season. That said, he is a 250-pound TE who ran a nearly 5.0-second forty at his pro day, so he likely carries minimal upside outside of TD equity.
At least from a rushing perspective, the Defenders are poised to have one of the league’s most productive backfields. All signs point to Abram Smith ($7,900) as the lead RB. Smith was a bell cow for Baylor in 2021, earning 216 carries, 1,363 rushing yards, and 12 TDs on top of 11 receptions. His 86.3 PFF rushing grade and 6.2 YPC from his final college season suggest he should be able to rush efficiently in the NFL. Ryquell Armstead ($4,100) should rotate in behind Smith, and many will recognize him from the time he spent with the Jaguars from 2019 to 2021. On 50 career carries, Armstead averaged just 3.8 YPC in the NFL, but he did add another 17 receptions, suggesting he may be able to carve out a bit of a passing game role here, granted I’m doubtful much of one will exist. It’s more likely Smith and Armstead split early-down work in some capacity, while RB/WR Pooka Williams fills in for most backfield pass game work.