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Runners up to the 2023 champion Renegades, D.C. may have been the XFL’s most complete team in 2023 and will return the coaching nucleus that got them there last season in HC Reggie Barlow and OC Fred Kaiss

Kaiss did things differently than other XFL coordinators last season, boasting the league’s most run-heavy offense that helped set up one of the league’s most efficient passing attacks, albeit on relatively low volume. While Kaiss was a relative unknown to fantasy players prior to the 2023 season, we did have a four-year sample to lean on dating back to his time as Alabama State’s signal-caller, where he posted a meager 38.8% pass rate during his tenure. Those tendencies continued in the XFL, where his 47.9% situation-neutral pass rate was nearly 6% lower than the next-lowest offense last season. Though Kaiss’ run-first tendencies may not inspire much creative confidence in a football environment that rewards high-volume pass attacks, his passing attack boasted the league’s third-highest aDOT (9.5) and highest YPA (8.2). He also, whether intentionally or not, showed a solid understanding of optimal decision-making in the PAT department, going for two points from the 5-yard line after 96.7% of the team’s touchdowns, converting at the league’s second-highest clip, adding 1.03 points per PAT. Despite having a few positional holes to fill, I expect D.C.’s offense to be very similar in 2024.

Returning to orchestrate Kaiss’ offense is 2023, starter Jordan Ta’amu, who will enter his fourth season in spring football, was originally under center for the St. Louis Battlehawks in 2020 before joining Todd Haley’s Tampa Bay Bandits in 2022 then eventually finding a home in D.C. He seemingly found his footing in the Defenders’ offense, posting a 62.6% completion rate, 8.3 YPA, and an impressive 14:3 TD:INT ratio last season. Making up for a lack of volume with efficiency, Ta’amu also proved to be more than a capable runner in his three spring football seasons, tallying 167/883/5 on the ground, including 67/301/3 last season, where he also saw 17.1% of the team’s RZ opportunities. In 2023, Ta’amu was forced to cede some opportunities to backup D’Eriq King, who got 22.1% of the team’s total snaps and 13.6% of the dropbacks. King is no longer with the team, but D.C. did bring in capable rushing QBs in Jalan McClendon and Deondre Francois to shoulder some of that rushing workload should the offensive staff choose to go that direction again. Until proven otherwise, we should once again expect Ta’amu to handle a hair less than 100% of the total QB opportunities, particularly given the draft capital D.C. used to bolster their QB room this offseason, selecting Francois in the fifth round of Phase 2 and McClendon in Round 1 of the super dispersal draft.

Ta’amu will have a new cast of offensive weapons in 2024 after the team lost three of their top pass catchers from last season. The triumvirate of Lucky Jackson, Josh Hammond, and Chris Blair accounted for 69.4% of the team’s targets, 68.3% of the receptions, and 75.3% of the total receiving yards last season and are no longer with the team as D.C. enters 2024. The Defenders used two dispersal draft selections on receivers Chris Rowland and C.J. Johnson before signing a handful of others to join 2023 holdovers Brandon Smith and Jazz Ferguson. The most noteworthy offseason acquisition in the pass-catching corps was former Houston Texans receiver Keke Coutee, who started in 10 NFL games, posting a 85/966/4 receiving line during his six-year career. During his most productive season in Houston, Coutee ran 74.0% of his routes from the slot and 24.2% on the perimeter. He’s capable of playing both positions in the UFL but can tentatively be penciled in as the team’s Week 1 starting slot receiver. With 12 receivers currently on the roster prior to the first wave of cuts, D.C.’s pass-catching hierarchy should become more clear as we approach opening weekend.

While the concentration of talent in this league, particularly at a position as prone to injury as running back, will result in fewer legitimate workhorses, I think we’ll see one in D.C.’s backfield with the return of last year’s XFL rushing leader Abram Smith, who went for 192/925/10, accumulating 412 more yards than the next-closest RB. In fact, according to PFF, Smith led the league in Forced Missed Tackles (43), Explosive Rushing Attempts (23), and was fifth in Break Away Percentage (37.7%). He played on 73.7% of the team’s snaps and handled 51.3% of the team’s designed rushing attempts while also running a route on 48.7% of dropbacks en route to a 6.3% target share. He was tied for the league lead in total red-zone opportunities (31), accounting for a 25.2% share of the team’s total opportunities in scoring position. The team used a Round 6 selection in Phase 3 of the dispersal draft on RB Pooka Williams and an 11th-round pick on Tabyus Taylor, though neither are guaranteed Week 1 roster spots, let alone threats to Smith’s workload. Darius Hagans was signed in January and figures to serve as the primary backup, as the 6-foot, 210-pound RB racked up 484/2,449/21 rushing in his four-year collegiate career before signing with the Steelers as a UDFA in 2023. Cam’Ron Harris rounds out the running back room, as he returns to the team following a brief 2023 stint where he appeared in just one game, handling five total rushing attempts.