Just when you thought it was time to pretend to enjoy basketball for the next three months: We have more football!
The XFL gets started this Saturday afternoon and features eight teams that resemble throwback Backyard Sports create-a-team options:
- DC Defenders
- New York Guardians
- St. Louis BattleHawks
- Tampa Bay Vipers
- Dallas Renegades
- Houston Roughnecks
- Los Angeles Wildcats
- Seattle Dragons
The eight teams will play a 10-week regular season followed by a two-week postseason with two semifinal playoff games and a championship game on April 26.
Haters will point to the fact that the NFL and Division I college football is superior to the XFL product. Well, it's a good thing that the XFL is instead merely competing with regular season NBA and NHL for the majority of their shortened season.
It’s going to be tough to put too much stock into team-by-team outlooks before we see the squads on the field. Still, there’s an edge to be had in the meantime thanks to the league’s existing information on a variety of topics:
- New rules
- Scrimmage Results/Practice Notes
What follows is a breakdown of the league's new rules followed by a look at these key factors for every team in this glorious new football league. At the end we’ll quickly preview Week 1, make some picks against the spread and break down the DFS slate on DraftKings.
The league features a number of new rules that seem to be designed around promoting: safer kickoffs, more-interesting play-call decisions, disincentivizing punting, and generally increasing the pace of play as well as chances for good offense via forward-thinking innovations:
Kickoffs will be kicked from the 25-yard line, but the kick-coverage team actually lines up at the return-side 35-yard line. The return team lines up on the return-side 30-yard line, eliminating the typical 30-yard collision while incentivizing returns. Surprise onside kicks are not an option. The kicking team must declare their intention to do so prior to the kickoff. Onside kicks will be done using traditional NFL rules.
No more extra points! After a touchdown the team has the option of running a play from the two, five or 10-yard line. These would be worth one, two or three points, respectively. The defense will be awarded the number of points the offense was attempting to score on its PAT if they manage to create a turnover and return the ball to the house.
The punt team can't release past the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked. Kicks out of bounds inside the 35-yard line, or into the end zone, resulting in a "Major" touchback, which puts the ball all the way out to the 35-yard line. This promotes 1) returners to not fair catch due to the lack of incoming defenders and 2) coaches to not punt in an effort to flip field position thanks to the new “Major” touchback rule.
Double forward pass
A team can complete a forward pass *behind* the line of scrimmage and then throw a second forward pass before crossing the line. The XFL’s rationale: “The Double Forward Pass updates the rules to make double passes less risky because the first pass may fall incomplete rather than becoming a fumbled lateral.” I'm in.
Overtime consists of five "Rounds". These are one-play "drives" that start at the opponent's five-yard line. The team with the most points (2 per successful conversion) after five rounds is declared the winner. The defensive team can’t score. If the defensive team commits a penalty, the offensive team will be allowed to re-attempt from the one-yard line. No ties; the rounds will continue after five rounds until one team is leading at the conclusion of a round.
There will be a 25-second play clock, but doesn’t stop on incompletions.
There is an extra team that won't be playing any games, but will be coached so the players accordingly should be readily available to join one of the big-eight teams if needed. It's essentially a practice squad for all eight teams to pick from. Per the XFL, "The 40 players on Team 9 will be absorbed by the eight teams after Week 5, allowing rosters to increase from 52 to 57 players to help run effective practices. (Gameday active rosters are 46.) At that point Team 9 will be reloaded."
There's a "Comeback period" that stops the clock after every play with under two minutes to go in the half. It also prevents a team from kneeling out the clock unless their opponent has no timeouts and there is less than one minute left.
Some other quick hitting rule changes include:
- Teams have two timeouts per half instead of three
- No challenges, but every play is subject to review
- One foot inbounds for a catch instead of two
- Short 10-minute halftimes
Finally, there’s one more key rule change that deserves your attention: Simplified Illegal Man Downfield.
The creation of run-pass options (RPO’s) have created difficulties for officials in determining when there's an illegal man downfield. College football essentially allows blockers to maintain contact up to three yards beyond the neutral zone, while the NFL's threshold is one yard beyond the line of scrimmage.
The XFL’s ruling: “No ineligible player shall be or have been more than three yards beyond the line of scrimmage until a passer throws a legal forward pass that crosses the line of scrimmage.” The bang-bang nature of RPO plays in general means that offensive lines in the XFL should be able to more or less run block to their heart’s desire without worrying about drawing a flag.
Team Breakdowns and Power Rankings
1. Dallas Renegades
- Win total: 6
- Championship odds: +300
- Head coach: Bob Stoops
- Offensive coordinator: Hal Mumme
- Defensive coordinator: Chris Woods
Stoops retired after a memorable 17 year run as the head coach at Oklahoma. ‘Big Game Bob’ certainly deserves some credit for setting up the program for boat loads of success by pinpointing Lincoln Riley as the head coach of the future.
Mumme might just be the single-most exciting offensive mind in the XFL. He’s one of the founders of the air raid offense, which he originated in high school and at various smaller colleges throughout the country. It seems Mumme certainly hasn't come around to the run game in his later years; none of his RBs reached even 100 carries over the course of the 2018 season with him as the Jackson State OC.
Woods has worked at multiple Ivy League schools and hooked up with Stoops as a defensive specialist at Oklahoma.
Landry Jones (knee) said his “worst-case scenario” is a Week 2 return. Jones has spent time with the Steelers, Jaguars and Raiders since being drafted in the fourth round back in 2013. He started four games with the Steelers from 2015-2017:
- 2017, Week 7: 16-of-29 for 209 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 1 fumble
- 2016, Week 7: 29-of-47 for 281 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
- 2016, Week 17: 24-of-37 for 277 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
- 2017, Week 17: 23-of-27 for 239 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 fumble
Keep in mind these Steelers offenses were loaded with the likes of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster among other studs. Also Jones’ two good performances came against the infamous Hue Jackson-led Browns.
Either way, few XFL teams have the benefit of starting a QB that has actually started an NFL game before, so we’ll see what happens. It makes sense that the Renegades have the best preseason odds to win the championship.
Here’s the potential x-factor with Jones: He was both aggressive and efficient throwing downfield during his brief time running the Steelers Offense. Overall, Jones completed 11-of-26 deep ball attempts (42%) while posting a hefty 15.3% deep-ball rate (PFF). For reference, only Matthew Stafford (19.6%), Russell Wilson (16.5%), Aaron Rodgers (16.3%) and Jameis Winston (15.8%) threw downfield at a higher frequency during the 2019 regular season.
A quick Twitter search of backup Eric Dungey reveals that the former Syracuse QB still has plenty of fans around continental America. Still, Phillip Nelson seems to have the backup job locked up after starting in the team's final scrimmage and reportedly playing pretty well. Nelson had to deal with Mike Martz's prehistoric offense in the AAF, but did show a willingness to throw deep when called upon and ultimately went viral for completing a prayer thrown over his head during a sack.
Projected skill-position depth chart and training camp/scrimmage notes
RB: Cameron Artis-Payne, Lance Dunbar, Marquis Young, Austin Walter
WR: Jazz Ferguson, Jeff Badet, Flynn Nagel, Joshua Crockett, Freddie Martino, Jerrod Heard
TE: Donald Parham, Julian Allen, Sean Price
- Athletically-gifted WR Jazz Ferguson reeled in a 33-yard TD from Nelson for the final scrimmage's first score.
- WR Jeff Badet is also expected to be plenty involved after being selected fourth overall in the XFL draft.
- OC Hal Mumme noted WR Flynn Nagel impressed.
- The front offense traded for Tampa Bay WR Freddie Martino.
- Recently-acquired TE Julian Allen noted, "Tight ends are like receivers in this offense, which I love."
- This could be particularly good news for expected starting TE Donald Parham, who was actively involved in the passing game and received extremely positive reviews throughout the offseason.
- Sounds like RB Cameron Artis-Payne could be the early-down back in a committee of sorts with former Cowboys scat back Lance Dunbar.
- Note that Dunbar is apparently banged up at the moment and should be considered questionable for Week 1.
2. Los Angeles Wildcats
- Win total: 4
- Championship odds: +500
- Head coach: Winston Moss
- Offensive coordinator: Norm Chow
- Defensive coordinator: Pepper Johnson
Moss was a second-round pick following his successful collegiate career at Miami and went on to play for the Raiders and Seahawks. Most recently he served as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach under Mike McCarthy in Green Bay from 2007-2018.
Chow, 73 years of age, was most recently spotted as a high school QB assistant in 2016 following his departure from Hawaii following four years as their head coach. One thing we do know: Chow loves to pass.
Johnson played 13 years in the league and later served as an assistant coach with the Patriots, Bills, Jets and most recently AAF Memphis Express.
Josh Johnson is arguably the best QB in the entire XFL. He’s been in-and-out of the NFL since 2009, most recently starting three games for the Redskins in 2018 that showed off his rushing ability. Johnson will turn 34 in May, but certainly appears to be hip with the latest fashion trend of wearing the swaggiest visor possible.
Johnson averaged a robust 9.1 intended air yards per pass in 2018; he’s not afraid to chuck the ball downfield. Don’t sleep on the Wildcats and Norm Chow’s pass-happy attack in 2020.
Chad Kanoff is a former Princeton QB who appears to have the leg up on former-Baylor backup Jalen McClendon. An injury to Johnson would be terrible news for this offense.
Projected skill-position depth chart and training camp/scrimmage notes
RB: Elijah Hood, Dujuan Harris, Larry Rose, Martez Carter
WR: Nelson Spruce, Jordan Smallwood, Adonis Jennings, Tre McBride, Jalen Greene, Saeed Blacknall, De’Quan Hampton, Kermit Whitfield
TE: Brandon Barnes, De'Quan Hampton
- Note that the above depth chart was confirmed by the Wildcats.
- Tre McBride and Nelson Spruce appeared to be two of the offense's top targets during the final scrimmage.
- Adonis Jennings also appears to be playing plenty of snaps.
- Elijah Hood was selected with the eighth overall pick and should see plenty of work, although Dujuan Harris in particular could certainly get some run too.
- Throwback meme/Baylor DE Shawn Oakman made the team.
- K Nick Novak is giving things another go.
Continue to the next page for more team preview