Predicting the NFL Landing Spots for the Best XFL Players in 2020
The first season of the rebooted XFL was an arguable success. TV ratings were plenty fine, the product was strong across the board, it was actually funded properly, and it even unearthed some star talent.
Phillip Walker undeniably was the league’s MVP and will likely parlay his stellar play into a shot in the NFL. The next questions, of course, are where he could land in 2020 and what other XFL stars might join him.
The NFL is already knee-deep in their offseason process, as free agency is just around the corner, and before long, the 2020 NFL Draft will be here, too. But all 32 teams want to get better, and if they paid attention to the XFL, they couldn’t possibly ignore some obvious talent that can help them at the highest level.
Betting on the XFL probably is off the table for 2020, but you can at least look to the NFL season in hopes some of the league’s best players are able to make the jump.
Here’s a look at which XFL players will sign for NFL teams for the 2020 season.
Phillip Walker, QB, Roughnecks
Walker is the obvious call if you’re looking for an XFL player ready to make a jump to the NFL.
The former Temple product flashed absolute brilliance as both a thrower and scrambler, putting up a league-leading 1,338 passing yards while helping the Roughnecks to a perfect 5-0 record.
Walker is more than a numbers phenom in the XFL. He displayed exceptional pocket presence, elite awareness, and an uncanny ability to make plays down the field.
Projecting him as a starter right away in the NFL is tough (even though I think he can make it), but the way he plays makes him an ideal backup for someone like Josh Allen in Buffalo.
Josh Johnson, QB, Wildcats
The only other quarterback I really love to make the jump to the NFL out of the XFL is Josh Johnson. Despite also having dynamic rushing ability, he stuck mostly inside the pocket or utilized his athleticism to evade pass rushers.
He also let everyone know he can throw the ball plenty fine, too.
Johnson was quite comparable to Walker statistically, as he threw multiple touchdowns in every game he suited up for.
The 33-year-old is undeniably on his last legs as far as NFL chances go, but his experience and athleticism make him a solid (and cheap) option for the Chicago Bears if they don’t make a bolder move in free agency.
Cam Phillips, WR, Roughnecks
Phillips could perhaps be a product of Phillip Walker’s XFL breakout or Houston’s explosive offensive system, but the tape and numbers don’t lie.
This was arguably the best receiver the XFL had to offer in 2020, as Phillips made plays on the ball, beat coverage down the field, and used his size to finish scoring plays in the red zone.
A solid prospect with good size and strong fundamentals, Phillips has proven his worth after wrecking the XFL. He still translates to being more of a possession receiver in the NFL, but a receiver-needy team like the Green Bay Packers should give him a look.
Green Bay PackersN/A
Cavon Walker, DT, Guardians
The XFL was understandably known more for its offense, but it also had some solid defensive play, and even a few individual defenders stood out.
One was defensive lineman Cavon Walker, who paced the league with 4.5 sacks through the first five games. Walker fueled a pretty solid New York Guardians defense, but it’s worth wondering if he has the size to hack it in the NFL.
That said, his productivity in the XFL and general versatility could make him a priority free agent for a pass rush-needy team like the Miami Dolphins. Miami is starving for talent and ranked dead last in sacks in 2019.
Nelson Spruce, WR, Wildcats
Spruce missed the last two games for the Wildcats due to a knee injury, yet he finished his first season in the XFL with the seventh-most receiving yards.
This is another player who absolutely benefited from solid quarterback play and a strong system, but Spruce was also simply dominant.
The 27-year-old had bounced around the NFL after dominating at Colorado but further displayed his versatile skillset as an unstoppable force in the XFL. Spruce projects best as a slot receiver in the NFL but has the size and route-running ability to win all over the field.
New England is notorious for turning players with his talent into studs, but Spruce makes a little more sense as a sure-handed chain-mover for someone like the Ravens.
De’Veon Smith, RB, Vipers
A few running backs stand out as potential NFL talents, but De’Veon Smith may take the cake.
Overlooked due to modest production at Michigan, Smith showcased his every-down capabilities by leading the XFL in rushing yardage (365 yards on 4.1 yards per carry average).
There are still questions about Smith’s versatility and upside, but in dominating the XFL, he proved he’s worth a second look.
Not that many teams in the NFL have a glaring need in their offensive back-field, but Smith wouldn’t be a bad pickup for the Texans, who could see Carlos Hyde walk in free agency.
Deatrick Nichols, CB, Roughnecks
Back to the defensive side of the ball we go, as Deatrick Nichols picked off more passes (three) than anyone in the XFL in 2020.
That’s a strong number through just five contests, while Nichols also showed up elsewhere with 24 total tackles, one sack, and three tackles for loss.
Nichols proved in 2020 that he can be a bit of a ball hawk and also can be used in a variety of ways. This is the same thing NFL teams saw from him coming out of South Florida, but his ability to see his skillset translate to meaningful professional games could give him another shot.
Numerous NFL teams could use talent infusion in their secondaries, with few needing it more than the Minnesota Vikings at the moment.
Martez Carter, RB, Wildcats
One other running back I loved in the XFL was Carter, who only really showcased his talent in one game but did so in a big way with three touchdowns.
Carter also displayed nice pass-catching ability, solid overall athleticism, and fantastic versatility. He struggled to stay healthy over just a five-game stretch, but his talent and one huge game could get the 27-year-old one last look from the NFL.
As stated, key running back slots are largely full in the NFL, but Carter’s versatility could earn him a spot in a committee. Kansas City is one interesting team that has a free spot with LeSean McCoy headed out of town this off-season.
Kansas City ChiefsN/A
Nick Holley, WR, Roughnecks
This one might be lazy, but Nick Holley just screams “Patriots player” to me. This guy is a straight-up warrior, as he’s battled back from a litany of leg injuries, yet here the 25-year-old is, still trying to make it as a professional football player.
I quickly pointed out earlier in the year that Holley was among the best XFL players people didn’t know about, as he was a stud athlete at Kent State and offered NFL potential.
Holley really was never able to prove that until 2020, where he broke out with 21 catches, 267 yards, and two scores with the Roughnecks.
The calling card for Holley is his fantastic overall athleticism, as well as his insane versatility. If the Patriots don’t pick him up as Julian Edelman’s long-term replacement, they’re doing something wrong.
New England PatriotsN/A
Donald Parham, TE, Renegades
Few tight ends stood out in the XFL, but the one that was impossible to ignore was Dallas Renegades pass-catcher Donald Parham.
Parham could have honestly had an even better 2020 XFL season, but Landry Jones missed two games with a knee injury and spent a good portion of the time throwing the ball to the other team.
Despite that, Parham has the third-most receiving yards in the league (307) and scored four times off of 24 catches. A stud at Stetson, Parham has insane size, and his ability to shine in the XFL will have him on every tight end-needy team’s radar.
With Jason Witten seemingly finally done in Dallas, don’t be shocked if the Cowboys pick up a hometown product.
Tre McBride, WR, Wildcats
Finally, let’s talk about Tre McBride, who had previously flashed his athleticism and playmaking ability in small doses in the NFL but only now got a chance to show what he really can do.
Thanks to a Nelson Spruce injury, McBride took on a massive role with the Wildcats and ended his time in the XFL with the fifth-most receiving yards (272). He did that in just three full games, while also scoring four touchdowns off of 16 catches.
The sample size isn’t huge, but McBride can get open and do some damage with the ball in his hands. He deserves one more NFL opportunity, and a wide receiver spot with the Philadelphia Eagles could open up.
It’s impossible to predict all of these XFL player landing spots perfectly. Heck, maybe I don’t get any right. After all, some just won’t get the NFL shot they deserve, and others — if they do go to the next level — may go somewhere nobody sees coming.
The point is all of these XFL stars deserve one more look, and you could argue for a handful of others that should be discussed, as well.
You probably won’t be able to bet on where XFL players play in 2020, but you should be interested in where these guys land and how they could impact their new teams.