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Passing Game Outlook

Beyond an 11-year playing career that spanned from 2000-2011, Battlehawks HC Anthony Becht is a complete unknown in coaching circles. In fact, Becht’s only coaching experience was in 2019 as tight ends coach with the AAF’s San Diego Fleet. Tabbed to be Becht’s offensive coordinator, Bruce Gradkowski is equally unknown amongst the coaching ranks, having last served as head coach of St. Francis de Sales High School. With no historical play-calling data to help us draw conclusions about Gradkowski’s tendencies, we’re left flying blind on what the Battlehawks’ Week 1 offense may look like. Though there’s a wider range of outcomes on projected run-pass splits, I’m expecting QB1 A.J. McCarron to lead an offense that trends toward a league-average dropback rate. Finishing his college career in Alabama in 2013, McCarron threw for 9,019 yards, completing 66.9% of his passes for a 77:15 TD:INT ratio. He managed to hang around NFL locker rooms, appearing in 17 regular-season games and completing 62.6% of his passes. The 32-year-old vet is one of the league’s most experienced QBs, and while his upside may be capped, he can be trusted to deliver the ball to his top playmakers.

Speaking of playmakers, St. Louis used their first offensive skill-position selection on four-year NFL veteran Marcell Ateman. Ateman finished his college career at Oklahoma State in 2017, racking up a 59/1156/8 receiving line before being selected in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver would stay in the NFL for four seasons, posting 26/307/1 in 12 preseason appearances. Running 97.0% of his senior-season routes from the perimeter, Ateman profiles as a WR1 in Gradkowski’s offense. The team used its next pick on former Cleveland Browns WR Ja’Marcus Bradley.  Like Ateman, Bradley profiles as an outside receiver, where he ran 87.1% of his routes during his final collegiate season at Louisiana. During that season, he led the team in targets (69), posting an impressive 30.5% TPRR. Showing some versatility during his brief stint in Cleveland, Bradley did run 68.9% of his 2022 NFL preseason routes from the slot, albeit in a limited 54-route sample. The offense adds pass-catching upside at the TE position with its third-round selection of former Louisville WR Jaylen Smith. Listed as a TE, the 6-foot-2, 227-pound converted WR could line up in-line, in the slot, or out wide as he did for the majority of his college career. A familiar face to minor league football grinders, Darrius Shepherd is taking his talents to the XFL after winning a USFL championship last season with the New Jersey Generals. Shepherd posted a modest 27/323/1 receiving line in 12 games with the Generals but has flashed target-earning upside dating back to his NFL preseason days in Green Bay. Likely filling the more traditional TE role, 6-foot-5, 280-pound Jordan Thomas was the team’s seventh-round selection. Thomas appeared in 10 NFL preseason games dating back to 2018, securing just nine receptions. A potential top candidate to fill the team’s slot role, Austin Proehl returns to the XFL after posting a 16/225/3 receiving line in five games with the Seattle Dragons in 2020. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver ran 94.9% of his routes inside for Seattle. Despite being the team’s final selection in the Phase 1 offensive skill portion of the draft, he may have a Week 1 role.


Running Game Outlook

The Battlehawks used their fourth overall selection to draft do-it-all RB Mataeo Durant, who played his college ball at Duke racking up 255/1241/9 on the ground his senior season to go along with 27/256/2 through the air. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound back was signed as a 2022 UDFA by the Steelers, where he would appear in two preseason games. He’ll be joined by former Falcon Brian Hill, who was selected two rounds later. A punishing runner, the 6-foot-1, 219-pound Hill’s professional career started with the Falcons in 2017 when they made him their fifth-round pick. Bouncing from Atlanta to Cincinnati to Tennessee and San Francisco, Hill racked up 209/982/3 on the ground in regular-season NFL action. Fully capable of handling a big workload, I expect him to be involved alongside Durant early on. Abdul Adams was the team’s only other RB selection but no longer appears on the team’s active roster. They added Leddie Brown and Kareem Walker to round out their four-man RB corps. Brown looks like a potential pass-catching threat alongside Durant and Hill. During his final two seasons at West Virginia, he racked up 67 receptions, even lining up in the slot (5.2%) or out wide (10.4%) for some of his routes. This appears to be a well-rounded group that could benefit from playing three or four backs.