News & Analysis

A fantasy football primer for the XFL season

Dec 22, 2018; Nashville, TN, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson (8) passes against the Tennessee Titans during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Tennessee won 25-16. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Super Bowl is in the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean football is over. The inaugural season of the XFL gives us another opportunity to play some fantasy football. Sure, Twitter haters will poke fun, but is more football (and more fantasy football) really a bad thing? To be clear, alternative pro football leagues don’t necessarily have the best track record given the AAF’s complete flameout last year, but that league did show us that fantasy football is possible outside of the NFL.

So if you’re going to start an XFL fantasy league, what settings should you use? We’re endorsing full-point PPR, but wouldn’t fault you if you went with a half-point setting. Of course, we can’t take the same approach in XFL fantasy as we do with NFL fantasy from a roster standpoint. With just eight teams, we’re faced with a dilemma if we mandate a starting quarterback. One solution is to use a superflex position instead of a quarterback-only spot, giving you more flexibility on your roster.

From there, we don’t recommend a tight end spot. If the AAF taught us anything, it’s that tight ends won’t perform well for fantasy purposes in the XFL. Instead, you may want to use flex positions for the remainder of your roster. That would give you a superflex and five or six flex spots depending on how deep you want your rosters to go.

The setup is only part of the game. It’s also very important to know about the XFL players and coaches. So let’s dive into the coaching and key fantasy players from each of the eight XFL teams.

Dallas Renegades

At +400, Dallas is one of the two favorites to win the XFL championship and their offense figures to be very fantasy-friendly. Bob Stoops will be holding the reigns for the Renegades, but Hal Mumme is calling the shots on the offensive side of the ball. Mumme is an early pioneer of the air raid offense and coached on the same staff with Mike Leach at Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta State, and Kentucky in the 1990s.

Key fantasy players: Former NFL backup Landry Jones will be the starter for the Renegades, though that may not be the case in Week 1. Jones injured his knee in the preseason, so Dallas may have to turn to Philip Nelson under center. Nelson started three games for the San Diego Fleet in the AAF last year, averaging just 148.3 passing yards and one passing score per game. While Jones was far from a starting-caliber player in the NFL, his experience along with the Dallas offense bode well for fantasy success.

The Renegades backfield features a tandem of former NFL backs in Cameron Artis-Payne and Lance Dunbar. Artis-Payne figures to be the early-down back with Dunbar used more in passing situations. At wideout, the top three names are Jazz Ferguson, Freddie Martino, and Jeff Badet. Ferguson caught a touchdown for the Seahawks in the preseason, but ultimately didn’t make the 53-man roster. Martino spent five years in the NFL, catching 13 balls and scoring one times. Badet turned heads in the 2018 predraft process with a 4.27 40-yard dash time, but has only seen preseason NFL action with the Vikings in each of the last two years.

DC Defenders

The Defenders come in as the No. 3 betting option at +450. At the helm is former college and NFL offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who gets his first head coaching job in his 23-year coaching career. Hamilton’s highest-profile job came with the Colts following Bruce Arians’ departure in 2013-2015. DC may not end up being the most pass-heavy offense in the league, but Hamilton’s stint with the Colts suggests the potential for explosive plays from this squad.

August 29, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Cardale Jones (7) during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Key fantasy players: Cardale Jones may not have been able to carve out a role in the NFL, but the former Ohio State quarterback has a very intriguing skill set for the XFL. The former NFL fourth-round pick made his name at the college level when he helped lead the Buckeyes to a win in the 2015 national championship game over a Marcus Mariota-led Oregon. That capped a rocky season where Jones was actually benched for J.T. Barrett. Despite his thin resume as a starter, Jones has the weapons to be one of the top fantasy quarterbacks in the XFL.

The DC backfield boasts the trio of Jhurrell Pressley, Donnel Pumphrey, and Nick Brossette. Pressley led the AFF in rushing yards (431) and figures to be the lead back. Pumphrey followed up a prolific career at San Diego State with a lackluster stint in the NFL with the Eagles having never played a regular-season snap. That said, his poor man’s Darren Sproles skill set could be a good fit for the XFL. Brossette spent the 2019 preseason with the Patriots, but was unable to crack the 53-man roster.

At wideout, the Defenders feature Rashad Ross, who led the AAF in receiving touchdowns (7) and graded out as the league’s No. 1 wide receiver. He’ll be joined by Eli Rogers and Malachi Dupre. Rogers enters the XFL with ample experience, having spent four seasons with the Steelers. In 2016, he caught an impressive 48 balls and found the end zone three times. Dupre has no NFL regular season catches under his belt, but he has caught nine balls over the last three preseasons with the Packers, Bills and Chargers.

Houston Roughnecks

The Roughnecks come in as the sixth betting option with odds currently set at +1200. Former NFL quarterback and long-time college coach June Jones will serve as the Roughnecks’ head coach. Jones also spent time in the NFL coaching ranks with stints as the offensive coordinator and head coach for the Atlanta Falcons and briefly as the interim head coach of the San Diego Chargers. Jones runs a pass-heavy run-and-shoot offense.

Key fantasy players: Long-time dynasty players will likely remember the name Connor Cook. The former Michigan State signal-caller threw for over 9,000 yards at the college level. The Raiders selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, but Cook wasn’t able to carve out a role as a backup in Oakland. Over the past two seasons, he’s bounced around the league on practice squads with the Panthers and Bengals and was signed to a reserve/future contract with the Lions. Cook’s NFL track record isn’t appealing, but he’s in a system that will favor the pass.

Houston enters the season with a stable of former NFL backs in De’Angelo Henderson and Andre Williams. Henderson had a cult following among some in dynasty circles, but he only managed nine career regular season rushing attempts and two catches in the NFL. While Williams touched the ball significantly more over his NFL career with 350 combined carries and catches, Henderson is the more appealing fantasy back given his explosive ability. At wideout, the Roughnecks biggest name is Sammie Coates. The former Steelers wideout wasn’t able to translate his off-the-charts athleticism to NFL success, but he figures to see ample work in the Houston offense.

Los Angeles Wildcats

Tied with the Defenders as the third betting option at +450, the Wildcats have defensive-minded Winston Moss at the helm. That means we need to look to the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator, Norm Chow. The 73-year-old coach spent a bulk of his coaching career at BYU, where the Cougars pass-heavy offense featured the likes of Ty Detmer, Robbie Bosco, Jim McMahon, and some guy named Steve Young. Chow also served as Pete Carroll’s offensive coordinator at USC from 2001-2004 with both Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart winning the Heisman during that stretch.

Key fantasy players: Josh Johnson is certainly one of the most interesting players in the XFL. The 33-year-old spent time in the NFL at various points over the last 11 years, but his dual-threat skill set is very much in line with the current trends in the league. While his career passing stats certainly don’t impress, Johnson did average a healthy 6.0 yards per carry and showed in his 2018 stint with Washington that he can still move. Just like with NFL fantasy, running quarterbacks are going to have more value in XFL fantasy. Johnson is one of the better fantasy options heading into the 2020 season.

Former North Carolina running back Elijah Hood leads the LA backfield. While he never managed to touch the ball in the NFL regular season, Hood is a big bodied back who managed to score 29 rushing touchdowns at the college level. Nelson Spruce heads up the wide receiver corps along with Tre McBride and Adonis Jennings. Spruce was one of the better AAF receivers, grading out sixth at the position and finishing second in the league with 38 catches. Former small-schooler McBride posted 10 career catches in the NFL, but hasn’t played a regular-season snap since 2017. Jennings wasn’t able to make it out of the preseason with the Packers in 2018, but the 6-foot-3 wideout showed big-play ability with the Temple Owls at the college level.

New York Guardians

Co-favorites with the Renegades (+400), the Gaurdians will turn to a familiar name in New York with Kevin Gilbride at head coach. The Giants won two Super Bowls with Gilbride calling the shots at offensive coordinator. Like June Jones, Gilbride runs a run-and-shoot offense.

Key fantasy players: As of now, it looks like Matt McGloin will open the season as the starter, but the Guardians also have Luis Perez in the mix. McGloin played four seasons with the Raiders, but hasn’t been able to catch on with another NFL roster over the last three years. Perez has some buzz at this time last year as the starter for Birmingham in the AAF. Don’t rule out the possibility that he assumes starting duties at some point.

Speaking of the AAF, the Guardians backfield features Tim Cook and Justin Stockton. Both backs played for Arizona Hotshots last year with Cook ranking ninth in rushing yards (274) and Stockton 11th (233). Given their respective sizes – Cook checks in at 6-foot-1, 243 pounds, and Stockton is just 5-foot-10, 192 pounds – the Guardians have a potential thunder and lightning combination à la Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber. The top name at wideout also played in the AAF: Mekale McKay. Sixth among wideouts in PFF grades, McKay averaged 17 yards per catch and scored four touchdowns with the San Antonio Commanders.

Seattle Dragons

At just +1400, the oddsmakers are giving Seattle just a 6.7% chance of winning the inaugural XFL championship. Former Washington Redskins head coach Jim Zorn will serve in the same role with the Dragons. He teams up with offensive coordinator Mike Riley, whom we last saw in the AAF as the head coach of the San Antonio Commanders.

Key fantasy players: We also last saw Brandon Silvers in the AAF with the Memphis Express. Silvers started two games, throwing for 268 and 269 yards respectively with a combined three passing scores. Given the Dragons’ long odds, Silvers isn’t the ideal fantasy target.

Kenneth Farrow heads up the backfield along with former Texas A&M back Trey Williams. Both players have spent time in the NFL and played in the AAF. Farrow finished third in rushing yards last season, posting 372 for the San Antonio Commanders. The fact that he’s paired up with Riley again puts him in the driver’s seat for lead back duties. Williams was also on the Commanders, and posted 205 rushing yards on 40 carries. We also need to keep an eye on Ja’Quan Gardner, who ran for 311 yards with the San Diego Fleet last year.

At wide receiver, the Dragons stayed close to home with Kasen Williams and Keenan Reynolds. The duo were both with the Seahawks at various points over the last four seasons. Reynolds managed to play 23 regular season snaps with Seattle in 2018 and saw action with the team this past preseason. Williams garnered some preseason hype with Seattle in 2017, and went on to catch nine balls with the Browns that season. We should also see Dontez Byrd in the mix. The former Tennessee Tech wideout spend the 2018 preseason with the Falcons.

St. Louis BattleHawks

Along with the Dragons, the BattleHawks are the other long shot on the board. Head coach Jonathan Hayes spent 15 years with the Bengals as their tight ends coach from 2003-2015. Despite his experience on the offensive side of the ball, offensive coordinator Chuck Long will call the plays. After six years in the NFL as a player, Long moved to the college coaching ranks and last was with Kansas as their offensive coordinator from 2010-2011. A former college teammate of Hayes, Long also coached under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma.

Key fantasy players: Ole Miss fans will certainly recognize the name Jordan Ta’amu, who was under center for the Rebels in 2017 and 2018. That means he was throwing the ball to the likes of D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown. Despite that impressive cast, Ta’amu only managed a combined 30 passing scores in his two seasons as a starter. It’s tough to get behind him as a quality fantasy option in the XFL.

Dec 24, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Christine Michael (32) reacts against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the most hyped up running back in fantasy football history, Christine Michael makes his return to the football field after a one-year hiatus. Now 29 years old, Michael almost certainly won’t have the juice he once did. That said, he’s still a very intriguing option and could be to the XFL what Trent Richardson was to the AAF. The BattleHawks backfield will also feature perennial hype candidate Matt Jones. No, not the quarterback turned wideout who played for the Jags. We’re talking about the former Florida running back who played for Washington and Indy from 2015-2017.

De’Mornay Pierson-El, Keith Mumphrey, and L’Damian Washington are the names to know at wide receiver. Pierson-El had a solid AAF campaign with Salt Lake, grading out as the No. 4 receiver in the league. Mumphrey had a brief stint with the Texans in 2015 and 2016, but hasn’t played a down of football since. Washington spent time on multiple NFL practice squads along with playing in the CFL in 2018. Last year, he caught 15 balls for 250 yards for the Birmingham Iron.

Tampa Bay Vipers

Tied for the No. 3 betting option, the Vipers will be coached by Marc Trestman. Long-time fantasy players may remember Trestman for his time as the head coach of the Bears in 2013 and 2014. While his tenure with the team wasn’t a successful one, the team featured a pass-heavy approach that produced 100-catch seasons for Brandon Marshall (2013) and Matt Forte (2014). Alshon Jeffery also racked up a combined 174 catches over those two seasons.

Key fantasy players: The Vipers will enter the season with Aaron Murray under center. Murray took over for Matt Simms in the AAF last year, and did post a 300-yard performance in Week 5. That said, Murray didn’t play particularly well and threw for just three passing scores in six games. Tampa Bay will also use hybrid Quinton Flowers in what sounds like a Taysom Hill role. Flowers’ presence certainly puts a damper on Murray’s fantasy outlook.

Given Trestman’s history with pass-catching backs, there’s a lot of potential for fantasy production in the Tampa backfield. De’Veon Smith figures to be the lead early-down back, but he only had five catches in AAF last season. Instead of Smith, there’s a good chance we see Jacques Patrick in the pass catching role. Patrick caught 47 balls in his four years at Florida State. At wideout, the Vipers feature Seantavius Jones, who was teammates with Murray in the AAF, and Reece Horn. Jones ranked fifth in the AAF with 49 targets and Horn graded out as the No. 3 receiver in the AAF last year.

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