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XFL Honors and Improvements for 2021

donald-parham-fantasy-football

The time has come to wash our hands of the XFL. The upstart league coughed its last breath, flu too close to the sun, and fell back to Earth at a feverish pace (editors note: -______-).

The XFL canceled the remainder of their games for the 2020 season due to the Coronavirus. Instead of the usual DFS breakdown, we’ll look at some regular-season awards and talk about where the league can improve while preparing for their 2021 comeback. First, the awards.

Least Surprising Success: Donald Parham

A lot of players found their way into the XFL because they weren’t good enough to make an impact in the NFL, but they were more than just practice squad players. They fell into a limbo of being the first player called up when their NFL team was reeling at the position and then being the first player cut when the roster space was needed. Playing for three teams in four years, Tre McBride fits this mold. Some players are simply passing the time while waiting for the NFL to call with a new gig. The Lions and Steelers reportedly reached out to the XFL in attempts to sign Josh Johnson and Landry Jones, respectively.

A few XFL standouts fell through the NFL cracks for no good reason. None more so than Donald Parham.

Donald Parham Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

The small-school tight end has better age-adjusted production than most tight ends in the NFL. The player who most closely remebles Parham is Ladarius Green, whose last pro game was in 2016. Derrick Henry has been a similarly unique athlete and it took all of the pieces to fall in place for him to break out after four years in Tennessee.

The situation Parham needed was one where he could dominate the middle of the field as a big slot. His low aDOT (8.4 as of Week 4) and incredible Catch Radius (92nd-percentile among qualified tight ends in the PlayerProfiler database) set him into a Michael Thomas or Zach Ertz type of role in the XFL.

Honorable Mention: June Jones

Houston’s head coach created an offense built on generating winning matchups consistently on high-value plays; deep passes. The Run and Shoot offense worked wonders at Hawaii and his XFL opponents were at a similar skill level to average NCAA teams.

Just Getting Started: Saeed Blacknall

The XFL was exactly halfway through its first year before calling it a season. Many situations around the league were settling in. There were others that still needed sorting out. Look no further than LA’s receiver depth. Saeed Blacknall dropped a 3-78 line on seven targets in Week 5, his best outing of the short-lived season. He owns an elite 110.5 (91st-percentile) Speed Score but never broke out while playing at a Penn State. Blacknall backed that speed up on the field with an absurd 20.1 yards per reception. He was Henry Ruggs before not having a breakout was cool.

Blacknall’s seven Week 5 targets were as many as he’d seen to that point all season because of a thigh injury. The lack of a Breakout Age indicates that he was never going to dominate his team’s targets, but he would never have been needed too. The Wildcats had that locked down with Tre McBride and Nelson Spruce. Blacknall would have rounded out their receiving corps with a downfield threat and made them one of the scariest units in the league.

Honorable Mention: Darius Victor

Darius Victor had the upper hand on the New York backfield all season. Excluding Week 2, when he left early with a concussion, he was a bell-cow back, averaging 13 carries and two targets per game. Over the past three weeks, that carry number went up to 14.3. Going from Matt McGloin, whose passer rating of 52.2 was one above league-bottom Aaron Murray, to Luis Perez (92.1) set the Guardians offense in the right direction. Given Victor’s volume, he may have rode the offensive progression to an impressive second half of the season.

Dwayne of The League: Sammie Coates

Bringing back a segment from the olden days of RotoUnderworld Radio, Sammie Coates is the XFL’s Dwayne of the Week, an award named after Dwayne Bowe and his ability to underperform expectations and his own athletic ability. Coates played in an offense predicated on deep passing. His 72nd-percentile Agility Score is the lowest percentile rank of all his workout metrics. Overall, his SPARQ-x scores of 139.0 is in the 99th-percentile. The one wrinkle was that Houston’s offense required receivers to read defenses and exploit holes in their coverage. It placed loads of responsibility on them, but rewarded those who understood what they were seeing. Coates has proven once and for all that his only asset is athleticism and that isn’t enough to make a living even in the XFL.

Honorable Mention: Cardale Jones

The only thing keeping Cardale Jones from winning this prestigious award is how low expectations should have been for him, even if they weren’t. He recorded a 51.6 (3rd-percentile) College QBR and a 22.9 (6th-percentile) Breakout Age. Plus, his 4.81 (61st-percentile) 40-Yard Dash was below-average for the league’s eight starting passers. He was a spot-starter in college. That doesn’t equate to professional success.

MVP: Phillip Walker

Phillip Walker is the obvious choice here. His team ended 5-0 and should be the honorary 2020 XFL Champions.

The Roughnecks ranked first in nearly every passing category, including Yards per attempt (7.3), Passer Rating  (104.4), Yards per game (259.8), and Touchdowns (15). Walker also had 99 rushing yards on the year, No. 18 in the league. This doesn’t include a large chunk of lost yardage due to kneels.

Honorable Mention: Cam Phillips

Cam Phillips‘ production was so highly correlated to Walkers through three weeks that it would’ve bee hard to make any separation between the duo. In Week 4, Dallas managed to shut down Phillips. Houston won, but their 27 points were still a season-low in a game. Phillips was an integral part of the offense but the Roughnecks made do without him when necessary, while the same can’t be definitively said for Walker.

Improvements for 2021

The improvements for 2021 are fairly simple. If the league is built on the idea of access for the fans, make good on that promise. Play-by-play data was unavailable. Most who applied to get access were never contacted by the league. Even simple aggregated stats for every basic category like targets, tackles, passing yards, etc. never made it onto the league’s official site. This data had to be crowd-sourced by DFS nerds and some of it was behind paywalls because it was worth having. Data wasn’t displayed on-site and the league didn’t bother to let anyone have access to it personally. The XFL wasn’t prepared for the fantasy community despite heavily marketing themselves as fantasy-friendly.

They also partnered with DFS sites but never managed to make any waves in the season-long space. AltFantasySports picked up the league on its own accord and struggled mightily to handle the number of suitors for season-long leagues. DFS is popular but it still doesn’t compare to season-long popularity.

Finally, the league was nowhere near transparent enough toward those who cared about it most. The average fan doesn’t worry about IR rules but the XFL’s most ardent supports did. The league failed to offer any clarity with a process the NFL has down to a science. Injury reporting was another issue, with players randomly being removed from the injury report mid-week. Other players were inactive due to injuries after appearing fine all week. It was commissioner Oliver Luck’s job to force teams to post accurate and complete injury information. This isn’t important for just fantasy either. It holds teams accountable to their players’ health and ensures that the labor of the league plays in a safe environment.

The XFL is Dead, Long Live the XFL

Compared to Week 1 expectations and previous failed spring leagues, the XFL was a success. The on-field product was better with many coaches and players alike deserving of spots on NFL teams after just five weeks. It held its own versus other sporting events in television ratings and bested the AAF’s numbers throughout the season.

The XFL still needs to make improvements to be a lasting spring football league but they’re within reach. Stay safe, wash your hands, avoid large gatherings, and long live the XFL.