Tales from the Underworld – Part 1: 2020 XFL Seasonal League Draft

by Ray Marzarella, February 7, 2020

Welcome to the debut of Tales from the Underworld. I’m Ray Ray Marz, your host/companion/narrator for what hopes to be a semi-regular series. This is where I will take you, the reader, inside my thought process. The plan is to tackle as many different forms of fantasy football as possible, using 15 years of playing experience in conjunction with PlayerProfiler’s advanced stats and metrics to try and figure out how to become the very best (like no one ever was).

Fair warning, expect this series to be totally unlike anything else being written here. Having been the lead article editor since this past July, I’ve had to stifle a fair amount of creativity in order to make sure we’re pushing out consistent content. No fear, it’s all just part of the grind. It’s also the reason why this year’s Tomorrow’s Newspaper series petered out by Week 8 (sorry about that, by the way). This is where I will let it all out. Humor will be added where possible, and if you can’t handle the occasional (or more) obscure pro wrestling, George Carlin, Monty Python and/or Always Sunny reference, then this series isn’t for you.

And now for something completely different:

2/6/20: XFL Seasonal League Draft

The year is 2020, where an XFL seasonal league draft can be set up, coordinated and completed in just under nine total hours (and a recap article can be written and published less than a day later). Granted the league is only six teams deep and the draft was only 10 rounds, but it still counts. What’s interesting about this draft is that despite looking like a thrown-together friends league on the surface, there’s a crazy amount of diversity among the competitors.

Three of us (myself, Dan Turner and Ed DeLauter) are writers at PlayerProfiler. One player, my old college roommate Gerald, played high school football, was a thrower for the Monmouth University track team and currently coaches the Vineland Football Midget League (12-14 years old) Raiders. Another player, Lou Montanaro, runs the New Jersey 14-and-under All Star Football program, is the Big East Region Chairman for American Youth Football and is in his 28th year of coaching. His team was picked by his friend Jerry, my uncle. Together, they’re the defending champions of the All County Exteriors (where I work my day job) fantasy football league. The final competitor is my wife, known affectionately by the woke as The Joan (she never uses Twitter, but follow her anyway). Apart from being an avid fantasy gamer, she’s a Club Coordinator for Major League Baseball Advanced Media.

Three writers, two coaches and one Joan. Combine it all with a makeshift AAF crossover fantasy server in AltFantasySports (the only known server to host XFL seasonal league drafts) and we have the recipe for one hell of a good time. With the constant server glitches and draft pick timeouts making me want to smack my face off of my face (though, miraculously, this draft still ended up being completed in exactly one hour).

The Rules

Scoring settings are pretty basic. The only changes made to the default scoring rules were making it full-point PPR and making all touchdowns six points. In lieu of head-to-head matchups, the league champion will be determined by most total points after 10 weeks. Starters include: 1QB, 1RB, 2WR, 2 Flex (only RB/WR/TE is an option but we’re agreeing to make one of the flexes a pure WR/TE slot), Team Kicker, Team DST, 2 Bench.

The Joan I are unabashed members of Hash Tag Team Kicker (did I do that right?). Despite the pleas from fantasy gamers the world over to eviscerate the position from all fantasy formats, they’re being included here to ensure that as much volatility as possible is added because this is a game and games are fun (easy to say about a league with no entry fee).

Team QB ensures that we don’t have to worry about injuries, and with only six teams there’s room for some to play the wire for matchups. Since there aren’t eight fantasy-relevant tight ends on the eight XFL teams, it’s not a mandatory position (Houston doesn’t even have one on their roster). We’re starting one running back (max of two) to ensure that wide receivers rule the day and that no one is overloading at RB so that we can keep it fair in that regard.

It’s safe to say that most of us, if not all, winged it throughout this process. The results were fascinating, and should make for an interesting next few months. Here’s the hindsight analysis of this draft.

Round One

Jazz Ferguson Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Any AltFantasySports XFL drafters are likely familiar with the struggle that we all experienced. Right away, there were issues with glitching and pick timeouts. Ferguson was autodrafted since he was the top player on the board when the 1.02 pick timed out. Though, his elite Speed Score should translate favorably to XFL fantasy production.

Since Allen, an admitted “flying blind pick” is not currently on an XFL roster, I gave Gerald the option to change the pick post-draft (Editors note: I’m not a complete asshole). His new pick, DeAndre Thompkins, is out for Week 1, but should be a top receiver for the DC Defenders upon his return.

We’ve talked about what Pressley, the AAF’s rushing yardage leader, and Michael bring to the table. For my sake, I hope Michael’s 147.4 (99th-percentile among qualified running backs in the PlayerProfiler database) SPARQ-x score finally translates to meaningful fantasy production.

Most may be surprised to see Josh Johnson and Cardale Jones selected after Houston’s Phillip Walker/Connor Cook combo. Though, with no tight ends on the roster and stone-handed Andre Williams atop the RB depth chart, expect the Roughnecks to pass enough to pay this selection off.

Round Two

Sammie Coates Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Being able to draft Coates was admittedly my biggest factor in determining whether to launch an XFL seasonal league. I’ve waxed poetic about his potential here in the past. He now finds himself in June Jones’ run and shoot offense, where his elite athleticism will matter much more than his average college production. Coming away with two players who fit that mold in my first two picks is an ideal start.

Dunbar was selected (by a Cowboys fan) before presumed Dallas starter Cameron Artis-Payne, but offers far more pass-catching upside.

Farrow is a well-above-average athlete with good size (5-9, 218-pounds), an 11.09 (83rd-percentile) Agility Score and some 20-catch college seasons on his resume. Though with Ja’Quan Gardner listed as the starter on the depth chart, and Trey Williams around to catch passes, this backfield has the makings of a full-blown committee.

Jones is arguably the most talented quarterback in this league. He would’ve been the selection at 1.02 had Lou and Jerry’s pick not timed out. That they were able to nab him with the 11th overall pick was fortunate.

McKay (size/red zone prowess) and Badet (sub-4.4 speed/Jazz Ferguson injury) should be impact players right away in their respective offenses.

Round Three

Malachi Dupre Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile w/ College Stats

Though Lance Dunbar should see some backfield work as a pass-catcher in Dallas, he has a history of knee problems and was banged up near the end of training camp, all of which raises Artis-Payne’s ceiling.

Johnson’s dual-threat rushing ability would’ve likely made him a first or second round pick if not for a thigh injury that has him questionable for Week 1.

Though tight end is not a required position, I was happy to pick Truesdell, the AAF’s TE receiving yardage leader and No. 5 overall pick in the XFL Draft, here. At 6-6, 252-pounds with an 11.30 (83rd-percentile) Agility Score, he’s the only TE that I feel comfortable starting on a weekly basis.

Three DC wide receivers were picked in this round. Cobbs is an interesting piece at 6-3, 220-pounds with an 11.02 (73rd-percentile) Agility Score, and Rogers is a familiar name that should thrive as the starting slot receiver with his elite 10.81 (92nd-percentile) agility. Dupre was a five-star recruit out of high school who was betrayed by his pre-Joe Burrow offensive situation at LSU. We shouldn’t be surprised if he’s the one who makes the biggest Week 1 impact of these DC wideouts (Editors note: if you don’t play him on DraftKings, where he’s listed at a mere $3,000, then we can no longer be friends).

Round Four

Elijah Hood Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile w/ College Stats

In a karmic twist of fate, the guy (Dan) who led the charge for the All County Exteriors fantasy league to eliminate the kicker position in 2019 had a kicker auto-selected for him here. It’s been since changed, but The Joan and I had a nice laugh about it at the time.

Hood, who has good size and a 25-catch season on his college resume, should be a workhorse for the LA Wildcats and is well worth a pick this late.

Smallwood and Spruce are the projected starting wide receivers for LA. Smallwood has elite athleticism and burst at 6-2, 219-pounds. Spruce, despite being small-ish (6-1, 206-pounds), slow and relatively unathletic, was No. 3 in AAF targets and No. 5 in receiving yards. 

If Jones isn’t too badly hampered by his knee injury, he has major upside playing under his former college head coach at Oklahoma in Bob Stoops.

Round Five

Seantavius Jones Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Reynolds is my ace in the hole. He was a college quarterback at Navy who ended his career with more rushing yards (4,559) than passing yards (4,001). Now a receiver, his 88 rushing scores are an NCAA record and the most among any player in the XFL. Injuries to Kasen Williams and Alonzo Moore should boost his Week 1 projection. The potential for him to thrash defenses with the double-forward pass rule will make him a weekly DFS play.

I’m slowly starting to realize that writing a blurb on every single selection is going to take for-freaking-ever. Time to cut down a bit.

Pierson-El (5-9, 194-pounds) finished No. 6 in AAF receiving yardage despite being a small slot receiver with below-average athleticism. Mumphery profiles similarly to teammate Pierson-El but is 6-0, 215-pounds and has a modicum of NFL experience. Jones, the pride of Valdosta State, has good size and will have built-in rapport with Aaron Murray from their time together in the AAF. 

Round Six

De’Angelo Henderson Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Nice move by Ed to grab the top two RBs on the Houston depth chart with back-to-back selections. Williams has elite size-adjusted athleticism, but Henderson has far more juice.

Pending when he returns to action for the NY Guardians, Yancey may end up being a massive steal here. The No. 3 overall pick in the XFL Draft, and a fifth-round pick for the Packers in the 2017 NFL Draft, he most favorably compares to Kenny Britt (in a good way) on PlayerProfiler.

Murray is a relatively unexciting quarterback on the surface, one who has struggled to find consistent success since leaving Georgia. Still, I’m fine selecting Team QB for a coach as perennially pass-happy as Marc Trestman.

The Joan selected Pumphrey not because she’s a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan, or because he should be the clear-cut passing down back, but simply because she wanted to roster a Mumphery and a Pumphrey. You love to see it.

Round Seven

Tre McBride Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

For me to not come away with longtime Underworld darling McBride is unforgivable. I mean, just look at the freaking athletic profile. Though he’s questionable for Week 1 with a thigh injury, it’s easy to see him climbing to the top of this LA wide receiver depth chart soon enough.

A glitch in the system saw Yancey drafted a second time. He was replaced post-draft with Lewis, who has been making plays and generating buzz in Houston’s preseason scrimmages.

Though me may be the third tight end on the initial Seattle depth chart, Rodriguez did play under Dragons offensive coordinator Mike Riley in the AAF.

In hindsight, I should’ve waited on Team QB and selected McBride in Round Six. Still, I wanted a piece of this Dallas offense. Martino, who has some NFL experience, owns a 10.95 (81st-percentile) Agility Score, 51.2-percent (96th-percentile) College Dominator Rating and 19.0 (91st-percentile) Breakout Age (granted North Greenville may or may not be a real school). He has a chance to play himself into a bigger role if Jazz Ferguson is limited enough by his injuries. 

Round Eight

Reece Horn Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Horn is a 6-2, 217-pound receiver with interest-piquing 11.03 (73rd-percentile) agility. He projects to be the No. 1 receiver for the Tampa Bay Vipers, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at his $3,400 DraftKings price.

We’ve touched on why Cook could be Derrick Henry-lite for the NY Guardians, though also worth noting is his 11.45 (45th-percentile) Agility Score as a 242-pounder. The AltFantasySports server insisted he be selected twice, so he must be good.

Holley, replacing free agent and timeout pick Ross, is a running back by trade but was listed among the wide receivers on Houston’s initial depth chart. From 2013-2017, he played quarterback, running back and wide receiver at Kent State. This versatility will make him a weekly DFS sleeper. He’s currently listed by DraftKings as a running back. You know what to do.

Round Nine

  • 9.01 (Dan): Dontez Byrd, WR, SEA
    9.02 (Lou/Jerry): NY Team QB (Matt McGloin)
    9.03 (Gerald): LA Team Kicker
    9.04 (The Joan): DAL Team Kicker
    9.05 (Ray): DAL DST
    9.06 (Ed): STL Team QB (Jordan Ta’amu)

Round Ten

  • 10.01 (Ed): DC Team Kicker
  • 10.02 (Ray): HOU Team Kicker
  • 10.03 (The Joan): HOU DST
  • 10.04 (Gerald): NY DST
  • 10.05 (Lou/Jerry): SEA Team Kicker
  • 10.06 (Dan): TB DST

Jordan Ta’amu Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile w/ College Stats

Ta’amu is the most notable pick of the final two rounds. He was the college quarterback for A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and Dawson Knox at Ole Miss and beat out NFL veteran Taylor Heinicke for the starting QB job on a St. Louis Battlehawks team projected to win a league-low 3.5 games. This may mean he will be in line for even more passing volume than expected. He’s who I should’ve targeted later on in this draft.

As for my kicker and defense selections, I went with Houston’s Team Kicker (5.5 Week 1 home favorites against LA) and Dallas’ DST (8.5 Week 1 home favorites against St. Louis).

How in the hell did I not end up with anyone from DC? That seems suboptimal.

In Closing

40 minutes into this process, I was lamenting it as one of the worst experiences I ever had with an online draft. When you’re the only server offering XFL drafts, hiccups should be expected. Still, we persevered, made it through and will now battle to determine which of us will be the champion of this 2020 XFL seasonal league.

There are a lot of interesting players that weren’t drafted (Matt Jones, Trey Williams, Mack Brown, Joe Horn, Teo Redding, etc). Speaking for only myself though, I wouldn’t change much. Except for the whole Aaron Murray over Tre McBride thing. That kind of sucked.

Thank you all for sticking with me to this point. Join me next time as I look to tackle a new challenge. Whether it be a dynasty start-up, best ball draft, patron league of some sort, or whatever I feel like creating content about for your viewing pleasure.

Standings after Week 1:

  • The Joan – 92 points <Looks like someone chose the right QB combo with their first-round pick>
  • Ed – 89 points <You know you’re having a good week when your defense nearly outscores the receivers you took with your first four picks. Now I really wish I had held out for Jordan Ta’amu>
  • Gerald – 87 points
  • Dan – 60 points
  • Lou/Jerry – 55 points
  • Ray – 51 points <3.5 combined points from my top two picks, including -1.10 from Christine Michael, makes me a sad panda. I’ve already dumped him for Matt Jones while adding Cam Phillips off waivers to replace Freddie Martino. Aaron Murray, as it turns out, is cheeks. At least I have Nelson Spruce, I guess>