Due to a major ice storm, a tornado and other various weather factors, this edition of The Squared Root was delayed by a day.
The XFL is right on the horizon, as we are less than 24 hours away from the opening kickoff of the 2020 XFL season! I have ran through my QB, RB and WR rankings for each team already with the TE position left to rank. Tight end is an ugly position, it could be a mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses or it could be extremely lackluster position for the offense. The scarcity of talent at the top means teams with that talent rostered gives them a distinct advantage over the other teams due to the sharp drop off that generally takes place. The tight end position in the Alliance of American Football proved to be a muddled mess. The “clear cut” starters were out worked and out played by the “backups”; some teams used two or three tight ends over the course of the season and I expect not much different in the XFL. With that said, I have still ranked the teams at the tight end position, as tight ends could possibly end up being the x-factor in this league.
1. Tampa Bay Vipers
Unlike the other positions I have detailed, having the top ranked positional player on your team does land you with the number one overall spot in my rankings. Due to the lack of tight end position featuring an abundance of talent, having the major advantage over the other teams is important. The inaugural XFL draft proved that theory as several teams went as far as drafting three tight ends in the first phase of the draft. The Vipers landed, arguably, the best tight end in the XFL player pool in Nick Truesdall. An AAF alum, who was sadly rarely used by his team, Truesdall is a legit threat to stretch the middle of the field. His talent doesn’t relegate him to traditional tight end duties, as he’s well rounded, but his biggest threat is in the slot or split out wide. Truesdall should be able to expose weaker linebacker groups and safeties that struggle in the open field or pass coverage. They double downed on the position and added DeAndre Goolsby to the their roster, as well. Goolsby had mediocre success with the AAF’s Orlando Apollos eventually earning his way into the starting lineup. The Vipers could be one of the few teams to use double tight end sets because of these two tight ends. Colin Thompson completes the rest of the roster. Overall, having two of the top tight ends in the league makes the Vipers the easy and clear cut number one team in this category.
2. Seattle Dragons
Having an abundance of something doesn’t always mean the quality is excellent. In the Dragons’ case, they have the rare distinction of having five, yes FIVE, tight ends on their roster but talented and potential difference makers, as well. The group is led by Colin Jeter, a name that isn’t as easy recognizable to most fans. Jeter will need to showcase his ability to catch the ball, run block, especially run block with their backfield, and pass protect. The group behind him is a talented bunch, as well, with some veteran presence. Evan Rodriguez had some mild success with the San Antonio Commanders of the AAF, which gives him an advantage over the remaining group because he’s proven he can succeed at this level. Ben Johnson and Cameron Clear are an interesting dynamic; currently, Johnson sits number two on the depth chart but doesn’t possess the same pass catching ability as that of Rodriguez or Clear. Clear was in the AAF, as well, while Johnson was not on a roster. Clear had some injury issues and never fulled recovered, but did appear in a few games with little to no success. Cameron Hamlett is the biggest unknown in the this group but could provide something to the roster that just hasn’t gained exposure on the national level. The Dragons have the most balanced TE group in the league, as each of their top three or four guys offered a strength where the others might lack. I don’t suspect that the Dragons will roster all five tight ends all season and wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two of them waived or cut during the season.
3. D.C. Defenders
The Defenders were one of the teams that spent three picks in the first phase on tight ends. Of those three tight ends, only one guy remains on the roster. This developmental continues to show just how volatile the tight end position is at this level. Khari Lee, the Defenders’ first tight end selection, is the lone survivor from the three selected. Lee is big target with pass catching capabilities and solid blocking skills. Lee doesn’t have the ability to stretch the field, which is the case, with the top tight ends but has ability to dominate over the middle of the field against smaller linebackers and safeties. With the other offensive weapons the Defenders have at their disposal, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if the tight end position gets lost in the shuffle. Following Lee is Derrick Hayward and Donnie Ernsberger, two unknown talents who might not be able to breakthrough and showcase their talent. Overall, the Defenders are the first team to really showcase that talent drop off at the tight end position as Lee is a talented player, but lacks the ability to potentially dominate like the other top guys.
4. Los Angeles Wildcats
The Wildcats biggest weakness at the tight end position is depth as they only roster one tight end. Brandon Barnes is the type of player most head coaches love to have as he has the potential to create space and mismatches all over the field. Their other issue? There’s no guarantees that Barnes is actually capable of doing that. I know it seems odd to say that about a guy who I just said a lot of good things about. But, as is the case with most of these players, Barnes has yet to actually show his ability or potential on the professional level. That’s the keyword here: potential. And Barnes does possess it. Whether or not he ever fully taps into that potential will be seen this season. Look for the Wildcats to use an extra linemen for the times that Barnes is off the field; they’ll likely use that extra lineman to create quick hitting short passes, screens and runs to get to the edge of the line. The Wildcats will likely be an offense about creating space and dynamic plays for their running backs and quarterback Josh Johnson.
5. New York Guardians
Similar to the Seattle Dragons, the Guardians roster more tight ends than typical at the professional level: they roster four. They took the same approach as all of their tight ends have strengths in certain areas of the game that the others may lack. E.J. Bibbs, Keenan Brown, Jake Powell and Jake Sutherland are all players lost in the shuffle with no name recognition at all. Powell is the penciled in starter, which gives him the advantage in the pass catching category of the four. Kevin Gilbride has always used his tight ends, but he’s a traditional coach that expects his tight end to do it all. Gilbride, running a true pro-set offense, requires his tight ends to be able to make plays in the passing game but puts more emphasis on blocking. Sutherland and Bibbs could see playing time, as well, especially if Powell struggles in any area of the game that Gilbride expects precision and high level play. Like Seattle, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Guardians cut loose one of these tight ends, maybe even two, depending on how the season plays out. If there’s one thing that quarterback Matt McGloin needs is a safety net, and if he can’t get that from his tight end position, it could be a long season for Gilbride and this team.
6. Dallas Renegades
Who? That’s the question I was asking myself while reading this list of names. Head coach Bob Stoops isn’t exactly known for using his tight ends in his offensive scheme. Sean Price, the current starter, is probably the starter for his blocking abilities more than it is for pass catching ability. Price spent some time with the Birmingham Iron of the AAF, but never achieve any kind of relevant success. The Renegades wide receiving corps and running backs will be the bread and butter of this offense with the tight ends becoming more of an afterthought. There’s only two reasons why the Renegades aren’t lower on this rankings list and I’ll get into that a little more in the near future. They traded WR Joe Horn, Jr. to the Guardians for tight end Julian Allen, but it appears the late start didn’t help Allen as he wasn’t able to nail down the starting spot. Donald Parham, more of a blocking tight end, is the current backup but doesn’t really offer too much in the terms of working the middle of the field or making plays. The Renegades will rely on Landry Jones and those wide receivers to score points and move the ball. One last thing about Sean Price, he could end up playing that H-Back type role that Chris Cooley of the Washington Redskins played during his career.
7. St. Louis BattleHawks
This group of tight ends is the biggest wild card in the entire league. Wide receiver-turned-tight-end Marcus Lucas is the penciled starter as of this writing. Jonathan Hayes, a former tight ends coach, has had plenty of experience working and recognizing talent at this position. The biggest issue here is that Hayes has to concentrate on more than just the tight end position. The reason for the seven ranking is because the group could either surprise and be the best in the league or it could end up bombing out completely. Some people think Wes Saxton could be a difference maker, but I didn’t see any signs of that during his tenure with the Birmingham Iron. Cole Hunt spent time in the AAF, as well, but he failed to make an impact, as well. The fact that Coach Hayes felt the need to convert Marcus Lucas to tight end tells me a lot and that’s not a good sign for the other two players in this group. If the BattleHawks want to make an impact on offense, they better hope that Lucas is the well-rounded guy for the job that they hope he is.
8. Houston Roughnecks
By default. They don’t have a tight end on their roster. Head coach June Jones is notorious for not using the position in his air raid offense and staying true to himself, he continues that trend here in the XFL. The Roughnecks have been using their more athletic offensive linemen at the tight end position which indicates that they’re going to use him for max protection for PJ Walker. This should give them an advantage on the edge for the running game, as well. The Roughnecks could still add a tight end as the season progresses but don’t hold your breath.
Writer’s Note: Saying a tight end isn’t a “top talented” tight end isn’t a knock or to discredit the other tight ends in the league. It’s an indicating factor when you look at the NFL. There’s thirty-two tight ends in the league that start, probably more like forty or forty-five altogether that are used on a regular basis. The top tight end tier consists of four, maybe five, players depending on how you evaluate that position. Kelce, Kittle, Ertz are the definite names at the top of that list but after that it drops significantly and becomes much more muddled. There’s always talented players in those lower tiers, but having those top guys is the advantage teams look for in the position.
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