XFL 2020: West Division Preview

XFL 2020: West Division Preview

After a 19-year sabbatical, the XFL brand makes a return to the professional football landscape beginning Saturday, Feb. 8. The new version of a league that once appeared to be a quirky footnote in professional football annals resembles the standard-bearer in the sport, the NFL, much more in its tone and tenor than the 2001 edition of the XFL. However, that's not to say the new version of the league won't dabble in some innovative rule changes designed to improve the consumption of the product and flow of the game. We'll delve into the most prominent of those in our forthcoming XFL DFS 101 article.

For the moment, we'll delve into a preview of each of the two conferences in the eight-team league. The West division – consisting of the Dallas Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, Los Angeles Wildcats and Seattle Dragons – is covered in this installment. Our first installment covered the East, which is comprised of the DC Defenders, New York Guardians, St. Louis Battlehawks and Tampa Bay Vipers.

Dallas Renegades

Head coach/general manager: Bob Stoops

Offensive coordinator: Hal Mumme

(Projected) Starting Quarterback:

Landry Jones- Age: 30/ Pro Experience: 7 seasons (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: Jones is dealing with a knee injury as the Week 1 approaches, but he recently reported he still has a chance to start in the season opener versus the Battlehawks. Whenever he does take over under center, the NFL veteran will automatically qualify as one of the XFL's most seasoned vets at the position. Jones last saw NFL regular-season action in 2017 with the Steelers, but he brings some big-game experience and will be working with an experienced supporting cast around him. Jones is also back working under Bob Stoops, his head coach during a four-year college career with the Sooners that saw the quarterback throw for 16,646 yards while generating a 123:52 TD:INT across 53 games.

Top Running Backs:

Cameron Artis-Payne- Age: 29/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (NFL)

Lance Dunbar- Age: 30/ Pro Experience: 6 seasons (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: If they avoid the injury bug, these two experienced backs should handle the bulk of the backfield workload for the Renegades. Artis-Payne and Dunbar make for a nice thunder-and-lightning combo that's already experienced some success at the highest level of pro football. Artis-Payne typically played in the 215-220-pound range during his NFL days and can certainly move a pile when called upon.

Meanwhile, Dunbar was a dynamic pass-catching force out of the backfield and electric player in space for the Cowboys in the middle of the previous decade before a devastating 2016 knee injury set him back considerably. Out of pro football since 2017, the now-30-year-old has been lauded by Stoops during training camp and preseason and could well be back to 100-percent health at this point. Dunbar could ultimately serve as one of the league's most dynamic change-of-pace options if he remains healthy.

Top Receivers:

Jeff Badet- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)

Flynn Nagel- Age: 23 /Pro Experience: None 

Freddie Martino- Age: 28/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (NFL)

Jazz Ferguson- Age: 23/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)

Jerrod Heard- Age: 23/ Pro Experience: None

Fantasy outlook: Martino is the elder statesman of this group and has flashed blazing speed in the past during his NFL opportunities. He's certainly still young enough to garner another look with the league in the future, and he has the talent to make good on this spring audition with a strong-armed quarterback like Jones throwing him the ball. Badet is also an intriguing asset who played college ball at both Kentucky and Oklahoma, arriving at the latter for his senior season the year after Stoops stepped down. Badet averaged 16.5 yards per grab on his 108 career college catches and has reportedly enjoyed an impressive camp/preseason. Nagel was a nifty possession receiver in four seasons at Northwestern and could turn into a favorite third-down option for Jones.

Ferguson couldn't garner any meaningful playing time at LSU and played out his final two college campaigns at Northwestern State. He finished with an impressive 66-1,117-13 line before spending time with the Seattle Seahawks' practice squad last season. The raw physical tools – in the form of a 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame – are there for Ferguson, who could particularly thrive in the red zone. Then there's Heard, who spent time under center during his college days nearby at Texas. Much like the Vipers' Quinton Flowers, Heard could be particularly effective in carrying out plays designed to take advantage of the XFL's rule of allowing two forward passes behind the line of scrimmage.

Donald Parham- Age: 22/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: It isn't often that a 6-foot-8 tight end that generates an 85-1,319-13 line gets passed over altogether in the NFL draft, but that's exactly what happened to the Stetson product last April. Parham did latch on with the Redskins practice squad for a couple of weeks early in the just-completed NFL season, but he should now have ample opportunity to showcase his skills in the XFL. Parham should particularly be lethal in the red zone given his size and power-forward body, but his sub-4.7 speed could also play very well versus linebackers down the seam.

Houston Roughnecks

Head coach/general manager: June Jones

Offensive coordinator: Chris Miller

(Projected) Starting Quarterback:

Connor Cook- Age: 26/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: Cook spent time with the Raiders back in 2016 after being drafted in the 4th round by the club and actually started one game as a rookie, putting together a serviceable performance during which he threw for 150 yards, a touchdown and an interception. That's been it for Cook at the NFL level, however, but he'll now have a shot at running what should be a fast-paced attack overseen by Run-and-Shoot disciple June Jones and one his former proteges in former Falcons and Rams signal-caller Chris Miller.

Cook showed some nice upside during his three seasons as a starter at Michigan State (2012-14), finishing his college career with 9,194 passing yards and a 71:22 TD:INT across 43 games. He won't have an overly experienced pass-catching corps at his disposal to start (save for Sammie Coates), but he should be given plenty of opportunity to put the ball up.

Top Running Backs:

De'Angelo Henderson- Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)

Andre Williams- Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (NFL)

Nick Holley- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: None

James Butler- Age: 24/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: Henderson and Williams give this group some solid NFL gravitas by XFL standards, with both having been draft picks of the Broncos and Giants, respectively. Williams in particular showed plenty of promise as a rookie in 2017, rushing for 721 yards and seven touchdowns while adding another 130 yards on 18 receptions. His opportunities have been relatively sparse since then, but he and Henderson should both get plenty of chances to showcase their wares.

Butler is also a player to keep an eye on if either one of his experienced teammates falls short of expectations early. The 24-year-old was a two-time 1,300-yard rusher at Nevada in his college days and racked up 31 total touchdowns over 47 career games. Meanwhile, Holley had a solid but unspectacular tenure at Kent State and also showed some upside as a receiver out of the backfield during his time with the Golden Flashes.

Top Receivers:

Sammie Coates- Age: 26/ Pro Experience: 5 seasons (NFL)

Sam Mobley- Pro Experience: None

Kahlil Lewis- Age: 22/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)

Ryheem Malone- Age: 23/ Pro Experience: None

Jalen Saunders- Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (CFL)/1 season (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: Coates should head up this group early, and he has the benefit of 44 NFL games under his belt. The one-time third-round pick will be joined by a diverse group that is short on experience but has some solid upside. Lewis and Mobley each recorded a touchdown grab from Cook and Phillip Walker, respectively, in the scrimmage against the Wildcats, while Malone enjoyed a strong college career Louisiana that saw him total a combined 88 receptions, 1,501 yards and eight touchdowns over his last two seasons. All of these wideouts could see plenty of work in a wide-open offense that appears poised to primarily operate without a tight end. Meanwhile, Saunders will open the season on injured reserve but could contribute once he's activated.

Top Tight End:

None listed

Los Angeles Wildcats

Head coach/general manager: Winston Moss

Offensive coordinator: Norm Chow

Season-opening Starting Quarterback:

Josh Johnson- Age: 33/ Pro Experience: 12 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (UFL)

Fantasy outlook: Of all the well-traveled vets in the XFL, Johnson could well be the grayest of the greybeards. A fifth-round pick of the Buccaneers way back in 2008, Johnson has very little mileage on his arm despite having put in varying degrees of time in each of 12 seasons in the NFL, giving him a nice combination of experience and a still live arm. Johnson always displayed a nice touch on the deep ball during his modest opportunities, which could pay off with a talented group of receivers. Johnson can also take off on occasion, averaging 5.9 yards per carry during his time in the NFL.

Top Running Backs:

Elijah Hood- Age: 23/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)

Larry Rose III- Age: 24/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)/ 1 season (CFL)

DuJuan Harris- Age: 31/ Pro Experience: 8 seasons (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: This group won't lack for pro football experience, as even Rose has spent time with three different leagues overall. It remains to be seen how much Harris has left as the senior member of the room, but Hood and Rose are young pups that could parlay their XFL tenures into another shot at the NFL. Rose particularly bears keeping an eye on after a college career at New Mexico State in which he was equally adept as runner and receiver and finished with 5,715 total scrimmage yards and 42 touchdowns across 44 games.

Top Receivers:

Tre McBride- Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 5 seasons (NFL)

Kermit Whitfield- Age: 26/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)

Saeed Blacknall- Age: 23/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (NFL)

Nelson Spruce- Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Jalen Greene- Age: 23/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: This group could eventually prove one of the league's most explosive, not to mention polished. McBride spent time with both the Titans and Bears after compiling over 800 receiving yards (along with a combined 19 touchdowns) in each of his last three college seasons at William & Mary. Spruce was one of the AAF's best wideouts during his its one season, while Whitfield, Blacknall and Green offer some promise as secondary targets.

Top Tight End:

Brandon Barnes- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: Barnes showed well in limited college opportunities at Alabama State, averaging 14.3 yards or more in each of his last three campaigns. At 6-foot-5 and nearly 260 pounds, Barnes could prove to be a matchup problem against some linebackers and should benefit from the savvy of veteran offensive coordinator Norm Chow and Johnson.

Seattle Dragons

Head coach/general manager: Jim Zorn

Offensive coordinator: Mike Riley

Season-opening Starting Quarterback:

Brandon Silvers- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Fantasy outlook: Silvers was just named the starting quarterback Jan. 28, which should still give him more than enough first-team reps ahead of the opener. The Troy product was impressive during limited opportunity with the AAF's Memphis Express last spring, completing 64.0 percent of his passes for 799 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Silvers' body of work in college – 10.677 passing  yards, 71:29 TD:INT – is also noteworthy, especially considering he'll be helming an offense overseen by a former quarterback in Zorn and a coordinator in Riley with a long history of developing quarterbacks and passer-friendly offenses.

Top Running Backs:

Kenneth Farrow- Age: 26/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Ja'Quan Gardner- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Trey Williams- Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Fantasy outlook: What could turn out to be one of the XFL's most impressive backfields could see a pretty even workload split between Farrow and Gardner, with Williams picking up change-of-pace carries. Both Farrow and Gardner impressed in the AAF last spring, combining from 683 rushing yards and seven touchdowns while toiling for the San Antonio Commanders and San Diego Fleet, respectively. Each back can also contribute in a pass-catching capacity, while Williams finished his college career at Texas A & M averaging 6.6 yards per rush in a part-time role across 204 career carries.

Top Receivers:

Keenan Reynolds- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (NFL)

Kasen Williams- Age: 27/ Pro Experience: 4 seasons (NFL)

Austin Proehl- Age: 24/ Pro Experience: 2 seasons (NFL)

Dontez Byrd- Age: 24/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Sergio Bailey- Age: 25/ Pro Experience: 1 season (NFL)

Fantasy outlook: Reynolds could be the gem here before the season is done, as he brings an outstanding track record of playmaking from his college days (88 total TDs) and has also impressed in the preseason with the Seattle Seahawks the last two seasons. Williams is the only member of the group with some regular-season NFL chops, having posted a 9-84 line with the Browns back in 2017. The former Husky has solid size at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, which should make him a target anywhere on the field. Proehl has the hands and routes to be an above-average possession option, while Byrd posted a 152-1,936-13 line over just two college seasons at Tennessee Tech and followed it up with 10 receptions for 131 yards and one score with the Memphis Express in the AAF last season. And don't sleep on Bailey, who hasn't yet had a regular-season NFL opportunity but impressed at Eastern Michigan with 114 receptions, 1,746 and 16 touchdowns over a pair of college campaigns.

Top Tight End:

Evan Rodriguez- Age: 31/ Pro Experience: 3 seasons (NFL)/ 1 season (AAF)

Fantasy outlook: Rodriguez's totaled 12 receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns for the San Antonio Commanders in the AAF last season and should be the top option at tight end to open the campaign. He has the advantage of having already worked under Mike Riley's offense during that stint, with the current Dragons offensive coordinator having served as the Commanders' head coach. However, Rodriguez will need to be wary of position mate Connor Hamlett in particular, as the 27-year-old boasts an impressive 6-foot-7 frame and showed solid pass-catching chops at Oregon State during his college career.

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Juan Carlos Blanco
Winner of the FSWA 2016 Newcomer of the Year Award, Juan Carlos Blanco has been playing fantasy sports for over 20 years and covers NBA, MLB, NFL, CFL and Arena Football for Rotowire.com, including serving as the beat writer for teams in multiple sports. He has previously written for KFFL.com and remains an avid season-long and daily fantasy player in multiple sports as well.
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