The XFL is here and the season kicks off this Saturday, February 18, 2023. It will be held under a new ownership group featuring Dwayne, “The Rock” Johnson, his ex-wife and businesswoman Danny Garcia, and Founder of RedBird Capital, Gerry Cardinale. The league also hired a new president in former Buffalo Bills CEO Russ Brandon.
These five players were once big names in the NFL, but are now looking to resurrect their professional football careers and possibly earn another shot in the fall.
Let’s take a look at five players who took the jump from the NFL to the XFL; where they came from and where they are now.
Josh Gordon (WR) – Seattle Sea Dragons
Former NFL Teams: Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans
Josh Gordon’s leap from the NFL to the XFL is an interesting tale to tell. After two-years at Baylor, Gordon was selected in the second- round of the 2012 supplemental draft by the Cleveland Browns. He would enjoy two quality years with Cleveland before being suspended in 2015 and 2016 due to violating the NFL substance abuse policy.
Gordon would then bounce to the Patriots where his big moment was catching quarterback Tom Brady’s 500th career touchdown pass. After another round of suspensions for violating the substance abuse policy again, the former 3 star recruit was claimed off waivers by the Seattle Seahawks on Nov 1, 2019.
The former Baylor Bear would be suspended once again for violating the substance abuse policy.
His last NFL game was a MNF contest on Sep. 19, 2022 with the Tennessee Titans traveling to Orchard Park to take on the Buffalo Bills. The Bills won 41-7 and the Titans released Gordan on Oct 17.
Bottom line, Gordon is a very troubled, but talented wide receiver and this move to the XFL is one where if he can stay out of his own way and be the Josh Gordan fans know he can be, then he could get another NFL contract very soon.
AJ McCarron (QB) – St. Louis Battlehawks
Former NFL Teams: Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons
Considered to be one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all time at the University of Alabama, AJ McCarron was a two-time national champion and a great game manager for the Crimson Tide under head coach Nick Saban. His NFL career was his next step. While McCarron never developed into a franchise quarterback, he certainly made the most of the opportunities he had when his name was called.
On May 8, 2014, the Mobile, Alabama native was taken in the fifth-round by the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL draft. He probably would have gone earlier had he not come across as cocky in his draft interviews.
After spending most of his rookie year as an inactive player, McCarron was the backup signal caller to Andy Dalton in 2015. He came in during relief in Week 9 against the Cleveland Browns in a (31-10) victory. Weeks later, he threw his first td pass in a (31-7) win against the St. Louis (Now Los Angeles) Rams.
Overall, McCarron started out his career as a game manager and a pocket passer, but he surprised everybody with his 4.94 forty-yard dash time, and overtime he turned into a runner in the pros.
Now, he is in the XFL and will look to bring his veteran presence and game managing abilities to the Battlehawks Offense.
Matt Elam (S) – Orlando Guardians
Former NFL Team: Baltimore Ravens
Matt Elam tried very hard to live up to the family name of his older brother Abram and his nephew Kaiir who currently plays cornerback for the Buffalo Bills. A first-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, Elam showed promise in his rookie year. A season of missed playing time in 2014, led to a year ending torn bicep that kept him out all of 2015.
While Elam was basically a one-year- wonder in the NFL, he brings a ton of great talent with him to the Guardians. He brings great size for a safety at 5’10”, 208 pounds. He also brings an old school NFL mentality as a hard hitting safety who will knock the ball out of receivers hands faster than one can imagine.
He also brings with him a confident attitude of, “If you get in my way, I’m going to knock you out on the field.” He has already played in the first installment of the XFL in 2020 with the DC Defenders before league play was suspended due to COVID-19. He has the experience and readiness needed to be a great player in the league.
Once an NFL veteran with years of experience, Elam is still playing like a rookie who has already adjusted quickly to the league, and he still would like to perform well and earn another job with another NFL team. Look for him to be knocking a few bodies around and going after lose fumbles. Oh, and look for some picks along the way too.
Martavis Bryant (WR) – Las Vegas Vipers
Former NFL Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders
Martavis Bryant entered the league as one of Clemson’s many talented receivers to come out of that program and shine in the NFL. Bryant’s best years came in his first-four with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2015, he racked up 765 yards catching and scored six-touchdowns.
The troubled wide receiver was suspended by the NFL in 2016 for a year due to failing the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Bryant is a big receiver with plenty of speed. He runs a 4.42 yard-dash. He also plays very physical at the line of scrimmage by beating his defenders one-one. He can finish the catch by going up and leaping for those special catches.
With being the 4th round pick in the 2014 NFL draft, he still has the tools needed to earn another shot in the NFL to make an immediate impact. Look for him to recapture some of that, “Martavis Magic” he had in the Steel City.
Ben DiNucci (QB) – Seattle Sea Dragons
Former NFL Team: Dallas Cowboys
Ben DiNucci is coming into the XFL after a failed stint with the Dallas Cowboys from 2020-2021. The former Cowboy signal caller started his college career at the University of Pittsburgh as a backup to Nathan Peterman. He was named the starter after six games in the 2017 season. He eventually lost his starting job to Kenny Pickett who is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers and enjoyed a solid rookie season.
DiNucci then transferred to FCS powerhouse James Madison in Virginia. Now, James Madison is in the Sun Belt of the FBS, but for a long time and even under DiNucci, they were juggernauts at the FCS level.
Overall, DiNucci could still be a good professional quarterback, he just wasn’t quite NFL ready with the Cowboys. He brings great size at 6′ 2″, 222 pounds and has great mobility with his legs. He does have a decent arm, but he needs to work on not overthrowing his receivers. Also, he needs to cut downs on his interceptions too. Still, DiNucci is a solid pro quarterback that you can mold into a productive starter. Oh, and it helps to have a big name in former NFL wide receiver Josh Gordon to throw to as well.
I wish all of these players and all the players, teams, and coaches in the XFL a great and productive season.
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