Launching for a third time on Feb. 18, new league ownership hopes to build on some of the positive traction gained during the last iteration of the XFL when it appeared to be well on its way to becoming a self-sustaining league prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the season to come to an early end, eventually leading to bankruptcy. Now under the guidance of Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, and RedBird Capital, professional football will remain on our televisions — and more importantly, in our DFS lobbies — even after the clock hits 00:00 on the NFL season.
Passing Game Outlook
Starting in Arlington, home of the league’s headquarters, I’ll preview the fantasy seasons for each of the eight 2023 XFL teams as we familiarize ourselves with new rosters and play-calling approaches with an eye towards the substantial Week 1 contests and beyond.
A carryover from the 2020 reboot, Bob Stoops will move his Renegades from Dallas to Arlington for the 2023 season. Though he won’t be rejoined by the father of the Air Raid offense, Hal Mumme, Stoops brings in Co-Offensive Coordinators Jon Hayes and Chuck Long, who both spent time with Stoops during his 18-year career as Oklahoma’s head coach — Hayes as a Tight Ends and Special Teams coach, Long as a Quarterbacks coach and Co-Offensive Coordinator. Having last seen Stoops with the Renegades in 2020, we have a representative five-game sample to indicate we should anticipate a pass-centric offense, even without Mumme. In 2020, his unit led the league in pass rate (70.6%) and was third in plays per game (64.0). Now his offense is likely to run through QB Kyle Sloter, who boasts an impressive 70.9% completion rate with a 12:1 TD:INT ratio in 13 career NFL preseason appearances and is fresh off a one-year stint as the lead man for the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers.
While certainly not a guarantee of offensive involvement, draft capital will be important for defining early-season roles until the teams take the field, with no position more likely impacted than at wide receiver and tight end. Split up into six separate phases, Phase 1 of the XFL’s November draft included 11 rounds of offensive skill-position players only. With their first selection, Stoops and Co. reunited Sloter with one of his top USFL weapons, Sal Cannella. In 10 games last season, Cannella posted an 18.3% target share to go along with a 25.1% Air Yards share, playing as both a traditional in-line TE and out of the slot. At first glance, the 6-foot-5, 242-pound TE should be among the favorites to lead the Renegades in total targets. It should come as no surprise that Donald Parham led Stoops’ 2020 Renegades in targets (43) and receiving yards (307). Arlington used their first WR selection on Lujuan Winningham, who crossed preseason paths with Sloter with the Jaguars after signing with Jacksonville as a UDFA in 2022. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Central Arkansas product profiles as a perimeter WR and should immediately compete for opportunities. Second WR selection Brandon Arconado, ninth-rounder Jackson Anthrop, and open-phase selection Flynn Nagel will presumably battle it out for slot responsibilities. A Washington State graduate, Arconado went for 78/1109/7 in his senior season, running 98.7% of his routes from the slot. Anthrop last played for Purdue in 2021 where 91.4% of his routes came from the slot. In drafting Nagel, Stoops brings back a familiar face from the 2020 offense. In five games, Nagel led the Renegades in slot participation (98.1%) and was third on the team in targets (30). The triumvirate of Arconado, Anthrop, and Nagel will likely be in direct competition for the one position, though it may devolve into a three-man rotation. JaCorey Sullivan and Jordan Smallwood fit the archetype of receivers most likely to complete 3-WR sets on the perimeter. Sullivan, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound Central Michigan grad, was the team’s third WR selection. In his final collegiate season, Sullivan posted a 43/622/10 stat line, running 92.3% of his routes out wide. Smallwood was the Renegades’ final Phase 1 selection but does have Coach Stoops ties from his collegiate career at Oklahoma. An afterthought behind Mark Andrews, CeeDee Lamb, and Marquise Brown, Smallwood tallied just 10 receptions in his final season as a Sooner but did run 95.8% of his routes from the perimeter with a prototypical 6-foot-2, 219-pound frame. Winningham, Sullivan, and Smallwood should be considered favorites for opportunities in 3-WR sets.
Running Game Outlook
While Stoops’ pass-first approach will result in fewer total rushing opportunities, running backs were a focal point in his 2020 aerial attack. In fact, RBs Lance Dunbar (29) and Cameron Artis-Payne (27) ranked fourth and fifth on the team in targets. Now Stoops brings in a stable of capable backs via the November draft, starting with second offensive skill-position selection De’Montre Tuggle. In his final collegiate season, Tuggle served as Ohio’s RB1, racking up 114/672/5 on the ground but managing just 10 total receptions in 10 games. Based on draft capital, we can tentatively expect Tuggle to get the first crack at early-down work. Keith Ford was the team’s second RB selection and shares Oklahoma ties with Coach Stoops, who he played for in 2013-14. The 5-foot-10, 219-pound former Sooner profiles as a between-the-tackles rusher. The XFL’s leading rusher in 2020, De’Veon Smith was added in the supplemental draft and should also compete for early-down + short-yardage work. Kenneth Farrow and Jeremy Cox round out the five-man RB room, bringing with them historical pass-catching production. In four collegiate seasons with Houston, Farrow racked up 74/546/3 through the air before signing with the San Diego Chargers in 2016 where he tallied 13 receptions in regular-season action. Cox posted a similar collegiate receiving line (75/532/1) before also signing with the Chargers as a 2019 UDFA. Though both backs possess the size to be every-down contributors, it’s possible they were valued for what they offer as receivers.
UPDATE 2/14/23: XFL teams completed their final cuts on 2/10/23, trimming down to 51-man rosters for the Week 1 kickoff. Since this article was published, WRs Jackson Anthrop, Flynn Nagel and JaCorey Sullivan were released. Additionally, RBs De’Montre Tuggle and Kenneth Farrow are no longer with the team. We’re tracking each team’s roster changes here, including fantasy-relevant usage notes and player profiles.