Five weeks into its second season–and nearly two full decades after its first season–the football world has a better understanding of what the new XFL is. More importantly, the players who make up its rosters have come into focus. Some XFL players are NFL cast-offs, others are NFL hopefuls, and at least one gave up college eligibility to chase his professional dreams.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard has never been one to shy away from the road less traveled. In assembling his roster, he has drafted players from blue blood programs like Ohio State and Southern California as well as Division II’s Albany State and Tarleton State. So would a standout XFL player be on his radar? Almost certainly. If he can play, Ballard will want him.
The most obvious connection here is with Houston Roughnecks quarterback Phillip “P.J.” Walker, who signed with Ballard’s Colts as an undrafted free agent out of Temple in the spring of 2017. Walker spent the next three seasons on the fringes of the practice squad, remaining with the organization off and on but never taking a regular season snap. However, he has been one of the XFL’s best players to this point, and his Houston squad is the only remaining unbeaten team, at 5-0. Whether Walker’s play earns him a ticket back to the NFL remains to be seen, but he is at least a known commodity.
For the purposes of this article, we will explore three XFL players who have yet to appear in the NFL regular season but may find themselves there in the 2020 season. All three would fill a position of need for the Colts, and they would not carry the same price tag as a veteran NFL player or even a high draft pick.
Jordan Ta’Amu, St. Louis BattleHawks quarterback
Ta’Amu started for two seasons at the University of Mississippi after beginning his career in junior college. In Oxford, he threw 30 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and added another 10 scores on the ground. As perhaps the most pleasant surprise in the XFL thus far, Ta’Amu is completing 72 percent of his passes and has led his team to a 3-2 record, tied for first place in the East. He spent a few weeks in 2019 on the Houston Texans’ practice squad, but his resurgence this spring could have NFL teams pounding at his door. Indianapolis would be wise to take a closer look.
The Colts’ struggles at quarterback last season are no secret, nor is management’s desire to upgrade the position. If Ta’Amu can push incumbent starter Jacoby Brissett for training camp reps, then he is worth a contract. If he can do anything beyond that, he is worth his weight in gold.
Kenny Robinson, St. Louis BattleHawks safety
Robinson is the player mentioned above, who opted to play in the XFL rather than transfer from West Virginia to another school, as was his original intention. By giving up his amateur eligibility, Robinson set an interesting precedent. If he is drafted, more college players may choose to follow his lead. The NBA has seen a similar uptick after instituting its stipulation that draftees must be one year removed from high school. Some teenage stars have played in Europe, Asia, and Australia as a precursor to the NBA.
While Malik Hooker and Khari Willis are entrenched as starters at safety for the Colts, Hooker is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He also has yet to live up to his promise as a first round pick. Robinson’s versatility has flashed in five games as a Battlehawk: his two interceptions, two pass breakups, two tackles for loss, and one sack would certainly look good in Matt Eberflus’ scheme this fall.
Donald Parham, Dallas Renegades tight end
Parham stands out from the crowd in more than one way. The former Stetson Hatter stands 6’8” and weighs 250 pounds, but he is also third in the league in receiving yards and tied for second in touchdown catches. Parham briefly spent time with the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins, and he could find himself in line for a big raise if his play continues to improve in Dallas. If any XFL players deserve a second shot at the big time, Parham is surely among them.
Eric Ebron went from the Pro Bowl to the cut list in just over one year, and his replacement in Frank Reich’s offense is vital. Jack Doyle provides the traditional tight end responsibilities of blocking and catching intermediate routes. Parham’s height alone makes him a red zone threat, but he could stretch defenses down the field in much the same way that Ebron did in 2018.
Who knows what the future holds for the XFL beyond the 2020 season, but its impact could prove to be far greater if it serves as a farm system for the NFL. Surely, general managers and scouts leaguewide have taken notice, and which XFL players move up after the league finishes its season in April will be a hotly discussed topic.
Expect Chris Ballard and the Colts to be in the market for at least one XFL player this spring.