By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
This past weekend felt like a direct flashback to the year 2000. There’s a presidential race going on, Green Day released an album, and the XFL was back in business. That’s right, over the weekend we were treated to a four-game slate which showed us that while this league isn’t quite the over-the-top circus of its predecessor, it has some very entertaining elements. New kickoff rules, fully-transparent replay reviews, and a running clock are just some of what contribute to an energetic and refreshing watching experience. Overall though, it boils down to the football.
So in case you missed any of the action, get to know the eight teams with my XFL Power Rankings after week one:
1. Houston Roughnecks (1-0)
Just one week in, it looks like the XFL is going to be all about offense, and Houston put up a league-best five touchdowns in the opener. Their opponent, the Los Angeles Wildcats, actually has one of the best defenses on paper in the league. But with a big-armed quarterback in Philip Walker (who threw for four touchdowns) and a group of speedy wide receivers running June Jones’ offense, they were going to be a tough unit to stop on Saturday, as it’s expected they will be all season.
For the “he could be a Patriot” crowd, their slot receiver is a kid named Nick Holley. Holly played quarterback, running back, and wide receiver at Kent State and is trying to use the XFL to make an NFL roster after his third ACL tear. He gave the epic answer below after the game. Oh, and he kind of looks like Danny Woodhead. Somewhere, Bill Belichick is drooling.
2. DC Defenders (1-0)
This DC team has weapons (by XFL standards), and they know how to use them. Pep Hamilton has the Defenders offense running an RPO-heavy, trick play featuring system. Cardale Jones at QB is must watch, and their wide receiver group consists of NFL names you’ll actually remember like Eli Rogers and Malachi Dupre. Rashad Ross is a pure burner and was one of the best pass catchers in last year’s AAF.
The defense looked strong as well despite allowing the most points by a winning team (19). They were able to intercept Seattle QB Brandon Silvers twice (although is that really an accomplishment?), and blocked a punt which they recovered for a score. They also might have had the best tweet of the whole weekend:
3. New York Guardians (1-0)
New York’s defense twice picked off and forced the benching of former Georgia star Aaron Murray, who entered the season as arguably the best quarterback and face of the XFL. They also allowed just three points total on four red zone trips by the Tampa Bay Vipers. The offense was slow to start, and ended up 1/10 on third down, but they played relatively mistake-free and G.A. Mangus’ system looks like a great fit for the fast-paced nature of the league. Running back Darius Victor looks like he could be a difference-maker once he gets some more reps under his belt.
4. Los Angeles Wildcats (0-1)
Sure it may seem weird to put a losing team ahead of a team that won, but Los Angeles turned in an impressive effort, especially when you consider they started a backup quarterback. Princeton product Chad Kanoff, who went to Princeton, turned in a solid effort for a guy who was traded to the Wildcats late in camp. Guess he picked the playbook up quick, being a Princeton man and all that. By the way, did I mention he went to Princeton? Just wanted to make sure to get that fact out there for anyone who missed the 5 million times it was repeated on the broadcast.
Anyway, when Josh Johnson comes back next week, expect him to look to slot receiver Nelson Spruce early and often. Spruce was one of the stars of Week 1. The 6-foot-1 slot receiver caught 11 balls on 15 targets for 103 yards. His bigger frame and impressive catch radius out of the slot will make him a schematically tough challenge for defenses the rest of the way. On defense, Shawn Oakman looks like the dominant force he was at Baylor despite not playing major competitive football for four years. If Oakman plays all season like he did on Saturday, the Wildcats will end up with one of the best defensive fronts in the league, and he’ll be getting calls from the NFL.
5. St. Louis Battlehawks (1-0)
The Battlehawks were…fine. Not great, but they won. Jordan Ta’amu has the chance to be one of the more electrifying quarterbacks in the league, and he certainly was a roller coaster on Sunday. He completed 20-of-27 passes, which was the second-highest completion percentage in the league, behind only the quarterback he beat (Philip Nelson). He also posted 77 yards on the ground on only nine carries, part of the best team rushing effort in the league in Week 1. However, a pair of bad sacks and general miscommunications yielded only 15 points.
Defensively, the Battlehawks were able to get stops when they weren’t committing penalties. Once this team settles down they have a chance to make some noise, but they could just as likely end up the Raiders of the XFL. Also, shotgunning *hard seltzer* after a Week 1 win? Soft.
6. Dallas Renegades (0-1)
Dallas didn’t look great in their loss to St. Louis, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since they were without their starting quarterback Landry Jones, who is probably the best or second-best QB in the league (depending on how much weight you want to put on Aaron Murray’s lackluster performance). Philip Nelson did manage to complete a league-high 79 percent of his 42 passes, but that’s because he was taking mostly checkdowns in an offense that’s set up for the deep ball. Once Bob Stoops’ squad gets Jones back, things should look a lot different. The Dallas defense seems to be embracing a bend don’t break strategy, allowing just 15 points despite giving up 374 yards.
Dallas looks disciplined, which as we’ve learned from this week and last year’s AAF is no small feat early in a start-up league, but without Landry Jones providing a major upgrade they seem like a team that will lose a lot of close games. If the Battlehawks are the Raiders of the XFL, then this Renegades team could end up being the Chargers. Also, major shoutout to the scruffy Barry Scheck-looking coach carrying around a beach towel. That’s Dallas offensive coordinator and godfather of the air raid offense Hal Mumme, and I love everything about him.
7. Seattle Dragons (0-1)
The XFL got a lot of things right in Week 1, but one mistake they made was scheduling Brandon Silvers in the opening game. Despite what this one guy thinks, Silvers didn’t seem up to the task against the DC defense. His three touchdowns look good on paper, but if it wasn’t for Austin Proehl making a number of nice plays things could have gotten ugly fast.
If Seattle is going to be relevant in this league, they’ll need to rely on their running back trio of Kenneth Farrow, Trey Williams, and Ja’Quan Gardner. Farrow specifically stood out in Week 1 both as a ball carrier and pass-catcher. It was easy to see why he’s somebody the Patriots would be interested in (he spent most of 2018 on their practice squad). Seeing former Navy QB and all-time NCAA touchdown leader Keenan Reynolds play football again was also pretty cool, even if he did struggle at wide receiver. By the way, there’s no shot this clip will get overused as a meme:
8. Tampa Bay Vipers (0-1)
Maybe this is jumping the gun a little given Vegas had Tampa’s win total at over/under 7.5 before the season started, but the Vipers looked bad with a capital B on Sunday. Led by the supposed face of the league Aaron Murray, the offense turned the ball over three times and went 0-for-4 in the red zone. The offensive line was a mess. Tampa QBs got sacked five times and their running backs had little room to maneuver. The one bright spot offensively was Quinton Flowers, who is a speedster that can play quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. The Vipers offense seemed to have their moments when he was in the game, but head coach Marc Trestman went away from Flowers’ package on key downs, which was one of many odd decisions he made on the day.
Defensively Tampa held New York to 1-for-10 on third down, but committed a number of stupid penalties including the first XFL ejection after defensive tackle Rickie Walker straight up punched a guy in the face in the second quarter. While all of these teams have only had about a month to practice together, the Vipers were the lone team that really looked like it. There’s plenty of time left, but they have a long way to climb. Also, their uniforms are awful and their Twitter game sucks. Sorry, I call it like I see it.
Barth’s Week Two Game To Watch: NY Guardians (1-0) @ DC Defenders (1-0), Saturday 2 p.m.
Since it’s tough to commit to 12 hours of non-NFL football every weekend, I’ll end each week’s power rankings with what I think will be the best game for the next week. Week 2 starts on a very high note, with Cardale Jones and the Defenders’ octane offense hosting what looks to be far and away the best defensive unit in the XFL in the New York Guardians. We’ll see if this week’s result between New York and Tampa was a fluke (for either side), or if MetLife Stadium finally had a title-contending football team to cheer for.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.