When it comes to sports, we all love rankings; we rank everything from greatest of all-time to individual seasons. Rankings and sports compliment each other and it comes with the territory. The XFL season is exactly seven days away – yes, seven days – and it’s completely surreal at this point. Football fans have waited for two years since the initial announcement that the XFL was coming back. Well, that day is right on the horizon.
A little about these rankings, instead of doing the individual rankings for players like I did the quarterbacks, I decided to grade the overall group of running backs for each team. I used this same tactic for the wide receivers and tight ends, as well – those two columns coming soon! I decided on the group rankings format because between the game rules and speed of the game, I’m expecting the XFL to use a healthy dose of rotating players in at these positions to keep them fresh and generate mismatches. This made the grading system a little tougher considering the best RB, in my humble opinion, might not have been in a group of running backs that had depth, so it hurt the overall rating. Without further ado, here are my XFL team RB rankings!
Side Note: I also did my rankings based off my projected depth charts. My depth charts for the AAF weren’t that far off, but they were far enough off that my rankings for the AAF would have been drastically altered. Again, this is off of my personal projected depth charts.
1. Seattle Dragons
The Dragons boost a backfield of only three running backs; the only team to structure their roster as such. But the three running backs that are rostered are talented and explosive with plenty of professional experience. The Dragons feature Trey Williams and Kenneth Farrow, former San Antonio Commander teammates of the AAF, and former San Diego Fleet(AAF) standout in Ja’Quan Gardner. Farrow outplayed Williams in SA, but that appeared to be more scheme fit and offensive structure than it was talent. Williams possesses the more explosive potential between the two, but Farrow provides the tougher in between tackles type runs. Gardner is the wild card: an explosive runner with quick feet, good vision and the ability to create space, Gardner can blow the top off a defense if he gets into the open field. Overall, these three easily topped the top of my RB rankings.
2. Los Angeles Wildcats
The Wildcats find themselves at number two on this list because they have three very talented runners at the top of their depth chart. They’re led by former UNC standout Elijah Hood; Hood is a tough runner, who isn’t shy of contact. He’s really good between the tackles and has the ability to make people miss in close quarters. The biggest issue with Hood is probably his lack of overall speed as he isn’t the type of runner to break the big run. Insert Larry Rose here. Larry Rose showcased his talents in the AAF with the Arizona Hotshots, he showed the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make people miss in the open field. He’s shifty with the ability to create running lane with his footwork and vision. DuJuan Harris has a similar skill set to that of Rose and hung around the NFL for several years with the Packers. Harris provides a much needed veteran experience in the backfield that only strengthens the overall make up of their RBs. Martez Carter is a relative unknown but could provide a much needed level of depth and could be a pleasant surprise if he’s called upon. Overall, the top three spots, assuming I’m correct, give the Wildcats an advantage between explosiveness, grit and experience.
3. Tampa Bay Vipers
The Vipers’ situation at running back is more unique than the other seven teams. They have most versatility at the position compared the rest of the league due to the addition of former quarterback Quinton Flowers. Flowers was a star at the University of South Florida as the quarterback. Flowers also showcased his dynamic running ability while at USF and it gives the Vipers a much needed uptick in talent for the backfield. The Vipers will likely be led by Orlando Apollos standout(AAF), De’Veon Smith. Smith was able to showcase his well-rounded talent during his tenure with the Apollos showing his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and making dynamic plays when needed. He rarely was tackled on first contact and generated more yards by either his footwork or dropping the shoulder. Smith and Flowers are joined in the backfield by veteran Mack Brown and rookie Jacques Patrick. Brown hung around the NFL for a few years but never really got his chance to lead a team but his experience is valuable to all young players and isn’t something that can be replaced. Jacques Patrick had a very solid career in a supporting role at FSU to Dalvin Cook and Cam Akers. Patrick has good size and lateral quickness to make the first guy miss but lacks discipline in other areas. The potential is there, it’s just whether he can put it altogether. Overall, the wild card being Patrick and what role Brown plays, the Vipers have a versatile, and possibly, dangerous 1-2 punch at the top of the depth chart.
4. D.C. Defenders
The Defenders are the primary example of having one of the top overall running backs in the league, but the rest of the group kind of weighs down the overall grade. Jhurrell Pressley showed that he’s more than talented enough to make an impact at the professional level. Pressley was one of the most dynamic and explosive backs in the AAF and ended up finishing the short season leading the AAF overall in rushing. Behind Pressley, the Defenders drafted San Diego State University, and former NCAA leading rusher, Donnel Pumphrey. Pumphrey was drafted to the NFL to the Philadelphia Eagles but never saw real playing time. Pumphrey’s biggest knock is his lack of size and toughness. At SDSU, Pumphrey benefited from running through mack truck-sized holes so the adjustment to the professional level proved to be too much. Pumphrey has pass receiving ability and is still talented enough to make players miss and create positive plays. He’ll provide a much needed change of pace in a league where play style and speed is going to be emphasized. After those top two, the Defenders depth drops pretty drastically. LSU product Nick Brossette was late edition in the early camps but he was able to stick on the roster. Brossette will add the short yardage, goal line back abilities to the backfield but shouldn’t just be limited in that role. Brossette is a relative unknown, as is the last running back on the roster in Khalid Abdullah. Overall, the top backs provide enough talent and ability to bring the Defenders into the top half of the league by a slim margain but they take hit on the bottom half of the depth chart.
5. St. Louis BattleHawks
Similar to the Defenders, the BattleHawks are victims of the bottom half of the depth chart. Before we get into that, let’s explore the top half. The most veteran-laden roster in the XFL doesn’t disappoint here as St. Louis will be led by the most experienced RB in Christine Michael. Michael had success at the NFL level but bounced all over the place and even bounced around to four different teams in one season. Michael is quick and has the ability to generate positive yards between the tackles, but his strengths lie in the ability to get into space. Not a prolific receiver with a limited skill set, Michael relies on short yardage swing passes with a soft touch to do any kind of damage. Behind Michael, the BattleHawks have another veteran RB in Matt Jones. Jones, the former Washington Redskin starting running back, suffered from the lack of the ability to hold onto the ball; fumbles were his kryptonite. Jones didn’t see much success after that and actually saw himself lose his roster spot on the Indianapolis Colts to make room for Christine Michael a couple years back. Jones has good between the tackles ability, but needs to be better with making better decisions, limiting the turnovers and working on his overall vision. Jones also doesn’t possess a threat in the passing game. Behind those two, there’s another drop off, as the BattleHawks are rounded out with Keith Ford and Lenard Tilley. Ford and Tilley are unknown in the professional football world but could surprise if their talent is just a hidden gem waiting to be woken. Overall, the BattleHawks fall just behind the Defenders due to the Nick Brossette presence on the Defenders roster. St. Louis has one of the most talented and experienced backs on the roster, but if Michael struggles at all, it could be a long year for the BattleHawks.
6. Dallas Renegades
The most experienced running back roster doesn’t always mean the best, and it definitely doesn’t always mean it’s a good thing and the Renegades are proof of that. The top two spots on the depth chart appear to be locked down by Lance Dunbar and Cameron Artis-Payne – the pure definition of mediocrity. Dunbar, the former Dallas Cowboy, was nothing more than a role player during his tenure in the NFL. At one point, the Rams signed him to be their starter, but due to injury, they moved on – rather quickly. Injuries have absolutely derailed Dunbar’s career and the North Texas alum could be on the declining side of his career. If Dunbar is healthy, he does provide a pass catching ability that his counterpart Cameron Artis-Payne does not. Artis-Payne, a former SEC leading rusher, is proof that just because you’re an SEC product doesn’t guarantee success at the next level. The Panthers went even as far as barely using Cameron when he was the starter because they simply didn’t trust him. Maybe the XFL’s college style play will benefit Dunbar and Artis-Payne? It’s a storyline that will be intently followed during the season. After those two, there’s two unknowns. Actually, there’s two running backs that an overwhelmingly large majority probably have never heard of in Austin Walter and Marquis Young. Overall, the Renegades probably missed an opportunity to provide Landry Jones and the talented wide receiver group with a dynamic and playmaking RB, but it’s likely by design considering Bob Stoops.
7. Houston Roughnecks
Head coach June Jones runs the air raid system, which rarely features the running back. In that style of offense, the running back benefits from the passing game, short game, screens and the ability to hit the big play down field. If a defense packs the box, the running backs in an air raid system struggle because it’s not designed to rely on the running game to get the offense clicking. The running back roster is a head-scratcher to me because the top two running backs aren’t the type of running backs that generally fit into the air raid systems. The group is led by Andre Williams, a Boston College product who had a very good college career but was passed over for Paul Perkins and a bunch of other random running back on the New York Giants, and De’Angelo Henderson. Henderson, out of Coastal Carolina, has a little Maurice Jones-Drew type ability in him: the difference? Henderson doesn’t possess MJD’s breakaway speed and big play ability. Henderson is small and compact which helps hides him behind taller and bigger offensive linemen but the rest of his game is raw and needs to develop. If there’s anything I learned in the air raid offense, players like Henderson rarely develop their overall game because they aren’t asked to do everything. Maybe Jones will ask his top two backs to only use their strengths in order to get the maximum results from them. The bottom half the chart is a who’s who of running backs. The same situation as Dallas, the Houston Roughnecks see themselves with two players a majority of fans have probably never heard of in Nick Holley and James Butler. Overall, scheme fit is the biggest issue with their overall makeup and the lack of a true dynamic or home run hitter hurts the Roughnecks on every level in the backfield. Hopefully, Holley or Butler can reach their max potential and shock the football world with hidden talents that only June Jones saw and the rest of us were unaware existed.
8. New York Guardians
Where to start with the Guardians? Head coach Kevin Gilbride has taken huge risk with the four running back in the backfield; four relative question marks. Tim Cook III and Justin Stockton were in the AAF, but neither were featured or memorable to the point that the causal AAF fan can tell you anything about their production. Cook and Stockton were both built up as talented but never saw the field in major playing capacity to see what that talent truly possess. After those two, Matthew Colburn II and Daruis Victor finish out the RB group. This group is so unknown that those roles could be reversed and Colburn and Victor could be at the top of the depth chart. Or maybe it’s Cook/Colburn? Or Victor/Stockton? Or any other combination that I haven’t mentioned yet? Do you see my point? This entire roster is a huge question mark and wild card. By the end of the year, who knows? Maybe they’re the best group of the eight teams, but at this point and time, there’s not a single known commodity on this RB depth chart. In a conference that see Jhurrell Pressley(Defenders), De’Veon Smith(Vipers) and Chirstine Michael(BattleHawks), the Guardians really fell behind with their running back roster. When you add their questionable starting QB to the mix, that backfield could struggle and turn the Guardians season into a nightmare real fast. But hey, I’m just a so-called “analyst” and could very easily be wrong on every word I type in this column. For you Guardian fans, I’m sure you hope I’m wrong and if I’m being honest, I hope I’m wrong, too, in some capacity. Overall, it’s a mixed bag of unknowns and unheard-ofs – which puts the Guardians at the bottom of my rankings list for the second time in as many writings.
Facebook: Michael Washington
Host of AFN Live and Analyst on XFL Now