The rebooted XFL has demonstrated that football talent exists beyond the vaunted NFL. And as with any league, some players consistently rise above the pack. As the 2023 XFL season reaches the homestretch, here are 10 players worthy of NFL contracts for the 2023 season.
Top 10 XFL Players Deserving of NFL Contracts
Granted, some of these guys already have competed in the NFL but didn’t have the staying power to secure long-term careers. Still, the NFL’s talent pool expands year after year. One could make a good case that the following 10 players deserve another shot in the big leagues in 2023.
Trent Harris, LB, Arlington Renegades
We start on defense with a guy who started a combined five NFL games in 2019 and 2020 despite going undrafted out of the University of Miami. In fact, in the final game of the 2019 season, Trent Harris issued Tom Brady his final sack in a Patriots uniform.
Now 27 years old, Harris has stood out as one of the XFL’s top defenders. Through seven games, he leads all players with seven sacks and is tied for No. 1 with 10 tackles for losses. I would argue that the 3-4 Renegades — whose three victories have come by a combined five points — would have fewer wins if not for Harris.
Michael Joseph, CB, DC Defenders
While we’ll see other Defenders on this list, few have been bigger surprises than the 28-year-old Michael Joseph. Five years ago, the former University of Dubuque star was the only Division III player invited to the NFL Combine. His solid 4.52 40-yard dash placed him 21st among 37 defensive backs — not too shabby.
However, it didn’t translate into NFL opportunities, as he appeared in only one game (for the Bears) in 2021.
This year, he’s thrived in the XFL, tied for the league lead with five forced turnovers and two defensive touchdowns. He’s also tied for eighth with 23 solo tackles, which is all the more impressive given how DC’s defense has faced more throws than any other team.
AJ McCarron, QB, St. Louis Battlehawks
AJ McCarron is the best XFL quarterback, period. Sure, he lacks Jordan Ta’amu’s versatility. But if St. Louis wins the title, he’ll deserve MVP honors, hands down. McCarron’s No. 2 in passing yards and completion percentage while engineering a sterling 17:4 TD:INT clip.
He’s also shown some grit on the ground, rushing for 90 yards and a score while securing four 10+ yard runs — tied for 12th-most in the league.
We’ve seen that McCarron is a capable NFL backup. In the right system, entering his age-33 season, he could be a terrific bridge starter if, for example, the Packers lose Aaron Rodgers and don’t yet fully trust Jordan Love.
Quinten Dormady, QB, Orlando Guardians
This is a bit of a sentimental pick but hopefully also a sensible one. For weeks, I lamented the Guardians’ surprising loyalty to Paxton Lynch, believing they needed to try something different to capitalize on an untapped receiving corps.
When they finally turned the ball over to Quinten Dormady, this franchise transformed. While their defense has continued to languish, their offense has become something just shy of a juggernaut. Their recent upset victory over the previously undefeated Defenders spoke volumes.
Dormady leads the XFL with 8.0 yards per pass attempt and a 70.2% completion percentage. He’s also averaging an impressive 5.0 yards per carry while securing nine total scores (compared to two interceptions). If he finishes this season strong, he could become one of the league’s top-performing quarterbacks, despite playing barely half the season.
Abram Smith, RB, DC Defenders
Of course. The first player selected in November’s “offensive skills” portion of the XFL draft is also an early MVP candidate. Abram Smith has been in a class all his own, averaging 86.3 rushing yards per game — roughly 23 yards more than the No. 2 RB. His five rushing TDs are tied for No. 1, and his four carries for 20+ yards are double that of any other player.
While the Baylor product hasn’t been as active in the passing game, we’ve seen many NFL RBs develop this part of their game over time. The fact is, Smith deserves a shot to serve as no less than the backup to an entrenched NFL starter. He’s outplayed guys with significantly more NFL experience. Put him in a system with a top-12 offensive line, and he’ll do the rest.
Devin Darrington, RB, Orlando Guardians
Devin Darrington made the most of his limited opportunities at the University of Virginia in 2021. Despite operating in a pass-heavy offense, he averaged a blistering 7.4 yards per carry on 32 attempts.
He earned a tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs, which in hindsight, might have been one of the biggest hills to climb to reach the NFL. Darrington needed more reps, and he’s earned that lately with the Guardians, nearly supplanting longtime starter Jah-Maine Martin atop the team’s backfield depth chart.
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I’m not saying Darrington is ready to join an NFL roster. But in a brief time, he’s established himself as a top-10 XFL RB with massive upside as he gets more comfortable. Given his rapid ascension, there’s a strong possibility he could make an NFL team as a No. 3 or No. 4 RB this year.
Jahcour Pearson, WR, Seattle Sea Dragons
I could document at least 10 WRs deserving of NFL tryouts. But this isn’t intended to be an all-encompassing list. So let’s focus on the three wideouts who appear to be the most NFL-ready — guys who could step in as no less than the No. 5 WR on a wideout-needy club … and with the talent to move into a starting role if the opportunity arose.
Jahcour Pearson is a no-brainer. Despite operating in arguably the XFL’s most talented receiving corps, he’s stood out as his team’s top offensive weapon while impressively reeling in 73% of his targets.
Head coach Jim Haslett recently timed Pearson at a 4.28 40-yard dash. Assuming that’s accurate, and given what we’ve seen on film, he merits a long look in the NFL this preseason.
Cody Latimer, WR, Orlando Guardians
Why would any NFL team sign the 30-year-old Cody Latimer? Because A) he’s been tearing up the XFL, and perhaps just as importantly, B) he never had a great shot at thriving in the big leagues.
Consider this: His NFL QBs consisted of (in chronological order) a mostly painfully post-prime Peyton Manning (only a few pass attempts), Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, a mostly painfully post-prime Eli Manning, and not-ready-for-prime-time rookie Daniel Jones.
On some metrics, Latimer is the XFL’s top wideout, even at his advanced age. A 77% catch rate and league-leading eight receptions for 20+ yards showcase his dependability and big-play ability. On an NFL team with a top-10 QB, he could be no worse than a serviceable No. 4 receiver.
Jeff Badet, WR, Vegas Vipers
Operating as the No. 1 WR in one of the league’s weakest passing attacks, Jeff Badet has stepped up like few in his position could. The Oklahoma grad brings many of the tools coveted by NFL squads, including straight-line speed and special-teams experience.
If Badet played in a more pass-friendly system, his numbers probably would be even better. As it stands, he’s dominated despite being his team’s weekly primary offensive threat.
Years of injuries have limited his development. But those shouldn’t be deal breakers for a franchise seeking a multi-faceted option to backfill its roster.
Parker Romo, K, San Antonio Brahmas
Last year, 13 NFL kickers connected on 85% or less of their field goal attempts on 15+ kicks. In fact, six of them connected on less than 79% of their attempts.
A lot of people knock the kicker position. But it could be argued that most Super Bowl contenders must have at least an above-average kicker — if not a “great” one. And yet, many NFL teams struggle each year with inconsistency.
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Parker Romo is a late bloomer of sorts, despite graduating from Virginia Tech only two years ago. He finally got his chance with the school in his senior season, going 34-for-34 on extra points and 18-of-22 on field goals, including 7-of-9 from 40+. That alone merited at least some attention.
These days, he cannot be ignored, having connected on 10-of-11 field goal attempts for the Brahmas, including a 57-yarder. On a defensive-minded team that’s had to claw out victories, Romo has been a largely unsung hero.