The NFL season is over but fear not, football fans, as we have the return of the XFL with some big tournaments for Week 1 XFL DFS picks! I’ve been intrigued by the league since it was announced two years ago. Then came a lot of time and planning invested in it compared to the rush job of the now-defunct AAF.
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WWE Chairman Vince McMahon is less hands-on with the league. This time, it will have less of a pro wrestling lean and more of an actual spring football alternative planned by a seasoned veteran of the sport in Oliver Luck. The league projects to last up to three years with no new income thanks to McMahon bankrolling it to the tune of $300 million, meaning the league should have a real chance to succeed or fail (unlike the aforementioned AAF with its snake oil salesman investors). It’s a good time to get in on the ground level of things with every game televised on national TV and, of course, some time on our schedules thanks to NFL season ending.
Week 1 XFL projections are tough to figure out thanks to the lack of depth chart and Vegas information out there. But I dug into every piece of content on the XFL’s sites and team handles, went on countless YouTube rabbit holes like a conspiracy theorist, and pulled AAF and NFL data where available to determine the XFL DFS picks and players that seem most viable.
But before we get into the games and players themselves, we should hit on some of the noteworthy rule changes from the NFL and why exactly they could result in a whole lot more production and variance if the teams are operating at anywhere near competency.
1) No traditional extra points, only 1-point, 2-point or 3-point conversions: Teams can either go for one point from the 2-yard line, two points from the 5-yard line or three points from the 10-yard line. This should result in more overall fantasy points for skill players, though it remains to be seen which option teams opt for. The 5-yard-line 2-point conversion projects to have a decent rate of success based on other pro play data.
2) Kicking teams can’t move on kickoffs: The odds of big returns and shorter fields for offenses is higher because the team kicking off cannot have their tacklers move until the ball is touched by the other side. Kickoff return scores are one of the most variant plays in football so it’s hard to say there will be a direct result in more special teams touchdowns. But they will definitely get the ball further down the field and have a shot to break more.
Punt returns will also gain a slight advantage from the team unable to move until the ball is kicked but it seems like slightly less of an advantage than the kickoffs. They get a boost from “coffin corner” kicks being disallowed; balls that go out inside the 35 yard line or out of the end zone are ruled a touchback and give the receiving team field position at the 35.
3) Play clock changes: The game clock will run until the last two minutes of each half but the play clock itself will be 25 seconds long. The net result is an expectation of roughly 80 plays per game run for each side. The bonus/downside is that you don’t need to think about how rushing or passing offenses affect overall play volume because both play types will end in a running clock.
4) Double passes behind the line of scrimmage allowed: How much this actually gets deployed remains to be seen but teams are able to pass the ball twice behind the line of scrimmage before moving it forward. If we want to be technical, the rule is a little overly broad and I think you could argue that if we had a Bill Belichick-type coach, he would try to throw it an NFL Blitz-like three or four times behind the line of scrimmage because it doesn’t say a “maximum of two times”. But overall, it is another wrinkle that could result in more passing upside for skill players or maybe even situations where teams roll out two quarterbacks on the field at the same time. I’d watch the Vipers in particular for this one with dual-threat weapon Quinton Flowers who played QB at South Florida.
5) Overtime: Overtime, if necessary, is more akin to a soccer penalty kick overtime than other American football iterations. Teams get the ball at the 5-yard line and get one chance to score. If they score, it counts as two points and the defensive team cannot return any turnovers. The game will end early if a team is mathematically eliminated but rounds will continue until one team leads at the conclusion of a round if they’re tied after the first five attempts for each side.
There are no over/unders for Week 1 because of it remaining to be seen how exactly the scoring will shake out in live action. But let’s get into some of the Vegas odds, including each team’s current championship odds, and the players who seem to be most relevant from the rabbit holes I dug myself into with research for some XFL DFS picks in our first edition of the XFL Slant and Go!
Seattle Dragons (+7, +1,200 to win XFL Championship) at DC Defenders (-7, +500 to win XFL championship)
Top SEA XFL DFS picks:
- Brandon Silvers will start for the Dragons and with the big spread favoring DC, one would think he’ll have a chance to throw. He averaged just under 10 yards per attempt in the AAF last year with a competent 64% completion rate. He played with the very cheap Dontez Byrd for the Memphis Express in the now-defunct league and the two have connected well thus far in scrimmages. Byrd could be a sneaky value play with a 13.1 yards per carry average in the AAF last year.
- Kasen Williams and Keenan Reynolds look like the projected top targets while Austin Proehl, son of former NFLer Ricky Proehl, was a 1,200-yard receiver at North Carolina in college and should be behind him. None of these guys nor tight end Connor Hamlett are burners so Byrd could be the sneakiest stack pairing. The volume is expected to go Williams’ and Reynolds’ way first and foremost but Reynolds in particular is a 5’9 receiver without much burst. Williams is a big-bodied guy by XFL standards at 6-foot-1 and 220 so he seems likely to see some valuable red zone work if the team trails as Vegas projects. UPDATE: Williams was downgraded to Out after this was published. His absence could open up Proehl even more and it likely concentrates the workload between he and Reynolds. With Alonzo Moore also questionable, I think this makes Byrd also more viable.
- The team’s primary talent is at running back with Kenneth Farrow and Trey Williams, the Dragons’ first round pick in the XFL skill player draft who averaged 5.1 yards per carry in the AAF last year. But given the likelihood of a deficit against a really talented (by XFL standards) DC squad, I wouldn’t expect a ton of these guys to make my lineups. I’d also keep an eye on Ja’Quan Gardner, who had some explosive plays during Dragons scrimmages thus far. All of these guys are comparably lackluster as pass catchers but a deficit could see the small but fleet-footed Gardner get come from behind dump-offs.
Top DC XFL DFS picks:
- Cardale Jones is one of the highest-priced QBs on the slate in an offense that could be explosive. Jones was a mediocre arm in the NFL but he’s one of the XFL’s biggest names and could be an intriguing play with a variety of options to stack him up with
- Stacks with Jones and AAF standout Rashad Ross will be pricey but probably fairly popular. Ross averaged 16.2 yards per catch with 0.88 touchdowns per game in the AAF last year and is a legit burner by XFL standards with 4.4 speed and decent 6-foot size. Eli Rogers may draw some ownership as an NFL name people will recognize (which has value in a league where NFL talent is generally going to be a cut above) but Ross seems like the higher-octane option. Ross is still picking up the offense so his price may be tough while Rogers’ role as the slot guy seems secure.
- I also wouldn’t sleep on Deandre Thompkins who runs a 4.39 40 and drew rave reviews with big plays in scrimmages. He was called the “strongest route runner” in camp and could be an interesting pivot from Rogers or Ross. Jalen Rowell also is vaguely interesting for the same reason as the team’s biggest bodied receiver besides TE Khari Lee. But Thompkins seems like less of a dart throw than his price would indicate. UPDATE: Thompkins will miss Week 1 with an injury, a situation that may open up some more routes for Tyler Palka but mostly will likely result in Ross being thrust into more action than he may have been otherwise. Malachi Dupre also projects as a top value this week with a starting role on the updated DC depth chart.
- DC has two of the best running backs in the league with AAF standout Jhurell Pressley and former NFLer Donnel Pumphrey. Pressley averaged 4.5 yards per carry in the AAF last year with 12 rushes per game, solid volume by that league’s standards. Pumphrey has 4.48 40 speed and is more of a scat back than a bruiser like Pressley. Pressley intrigues me more with DC likely to have a lead but Pumphrey has some Austin Ekeler in him.
Los Angeles Wildcats (+5.5, +650 to win XFL Championship) at Houston Roughnecks (-5.5, +900 to win XFL Championship)
Top LA XFL DFS picks:
- There were some dubious odds released for XFL MVP this week that featured Josh Johnson as the favorite. Those odds aren’t available on any reputable sports books so I’d take it with a grain of salt. But Johnson is the XFL QB with the best NFL pedigree with rushing and passing upside. He’s questionable for Week 1 and Jalan McLendon has been the starter previously, though it seems like he and Charles Kanoff are competing for that backup spot. I’d think Johnson ends up a go and he’s a top option this week, particularly with his team more likely to trail than the comparably priced Cardale Jones.
- Nelson Spruce was a high volume receiver in the AAF with 8.3 targets per game and 11.2 yards per reception. But Tre McBride is a strong prospect with 4.4 speed whom Los Angeles acquired for Rashad Ross earlier in the XFL offseason. Spruce has a high price and the AAF volume may put people on him but I’m intrigued by McBride relative to his price. The same goes for Saeed Blacknall who also comes with 4.4 speed and has caught touchdowns in Los Angeles scrimmages.
- Elijah Hood is a big back at 6-feet and 232 pounds and he projects to be the workhorse back for Los Angeles. It seems tough to expect him to be heavily involved from a game script perspective given Houston’s high-octane passing offense and the spread but he’s an interesting contrarian pivot to a high-owned Johnson.
Top HOU XFL DFS picks:
- Phillip Walker seems like he’ll be the starter despite a camp battle with a bigger name in Connor Cook. Walker has a ton of upside at his price in June Jones’ expected run-and-shoot offense. I’d want to see confirmation that Walker is the starter but he’s likely the best value on the slate if he is (while Cook is obviously intriguing if he beats out Walker). UPDATE: Walker is officially the starter and he might be my favorite QB play on the week. He’s a dual threat option with a real big arm. Watch this highlight reel and you’ll get it.
- Sammie Coates runs a 4.4 40, played in the NFL, and has been in camp with Houston as long as anyone. He’s a very strong play this week in stacks and as a one-off. Kahlil Lewis is another small, slow-ish receiver but he currently projects to be No. 2 on their depth chart. He was in Seahawks camp recently has been involved in scrimmages thus far. I’d favor him over Cam Phillips, who should also be decently involved. There’s room for a lot of production thanks to the offense.
- Nick Holley is a big back who should lead the Roughnecks’ rushing attack but De’Angelo Henderson seems like a sleeping giant. He has a 4.48 40 and was a 95th percentile college dominator according to Player Profiler. He’s also the best pass catcher on the roster and seems like he could be played in lineups with Houston stacks. UPDATE: Holley is slotted as a WR in Houston’s most recent depth chart with Andre Williams now listed as a starter. Holley was a QB/RB/WR in college at Kent State so he could be used for some double pass shenigans while Williams is a 5’11, 230 pounder who should have a shot at quality goal line work but, overall, grades out as a bit of a plodder. Williams’ value price does make him an intriguing play even though the pass game is the meal ticket here.
Tampa Bay Vipers (-2.5, +450 to win XFL Championship) at New York Guardians (+2.5, +400 to win XFL Championship)
Top TB XFL DFS picks:
- Aaron Murray is the Vipers’ starting QB and he was decent last year with 10.2 yards per attempt and a 65% completion rate in the AAF. He should stack best with a very cheap Reece Horn, who had 5.3 targets per game in the AAF last year and had the fourth-most receiving yards in the league. Horn seems more interesting as a one-off, as does TE Nick Truesdell who’s one of very few XFL tight ends who seems to be hugely involved in their offense.
- The pricing for the receiverdepth chart overall seems the most screwy for the Vipers. Seantavius Jones was a second- round XFL skill player draft pick but he seems to be lower on the depth chart than Horn. Jones was solid in the AAF with 12.4 yards per catch and 6.25 targets per game. Donteea Dye also seems further down the depth chart with guys like Jalen Tolliver and Daniel Williams projecting to have more secure roles. Horn and Williams are currently No. 1 and No. 2 on depth charts out there and they make for very cheap stacks with Murray that would leave a lot of money on the table.
- It seems like it should be a running back by committee with DeVeon Smith leading the way. Jacques Patrick and Mack Brown, a former NFL preseason standout, also should get some work. Quinton Flowers is the most intriguing play besides Smith, though. As I mentioned above, he’s a former college QB from USF and he could be used for some double pass trickery. Flowers has some burst but he may be more of a whimsical play than one with real upside.
Top NY XFL DFS picks:
- It’s a weird sentence to type but Matt McGloin seems like he’s been slinging it so far. His price is fair but he has a few really compelling weapons and a decent NFL pedigree. I’ll have some McGloin stacks this week as a home underdog for sure.
- Mekale McKay is a big bodied 6-foot-4 guy who was a top AAF target last year with 6.6 per game and 17.1 yards per catch. Some have said he has shades of Plaxico Burress in former Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s offense. McKay is a top XFL DFS play this week with a seemingly secure role. But Teo Redding is one of the top value plays of the week as the expected No. 2 WR with a lot of hype on him from the team. Redding has been involved in early scrimmages and has solid size at 6-foot-1 with 4.5 speed. He and likely slot man Colby Pearson are somewhat sneaky plays but Redding’s price for a team expected to play from behind is one I imagine I’ll have a lot of. UPDATE: Redding has been bumped down the depth chart for Austin Duke but it does seem like both should get work. Redding’s margins are a little more narrow and Duke was a 77th percentile college dominator at Charlotte so I don’t hate splitting some ownership between the two.
- Tim Cook is the expected top RB after winning the job over Darius Victor. Cook was a solid RB in the AAF with 4.9 yards per carry and 0.38 tcouchdowns per game, but it seems like there will be enough of a committee here with Victor and likely passing-down back Justin Stockton for Cook to have massive upside. Cook’s a big back at 6 feet tall and 242 pounds, but if New York plays from behind, he could easily get game scripted out.
St. Louis BattleHawks (+7.5, +1000 to win XFL Championship) at Dallas Renegades (-7.5, +350 to win XFL Championship)
Top STL XFL DFS picks:
- Jordan Ta’amu won the starting job over NFL vet Taylor Heinicke and he could be valuable with the big spread favoring Dallas’s Air Raid offense at home. Ta’amu has decent size and he’s also a competent rusher with 342 rushing yards when he started a year at Ole Miss in college.
- De’Mornay Pierson-El is the likely top receiver after a solid AAF stint with 11.5 yards per catch and 4.5 catches per game. Pierson-El isn’t a burner but he could easily rack up a lot of targets if St. Louis trails. Alonzo Russell also seems like a potential play with his low price and 6-foot-4 size that he and L’Damian Washington both have. The highest priced WR for St. Louis is former NFLer Keith Mumphrey and all three of the WRs above project higher on the depth chart than he does currently.
- Christine Michael is one of the big names in the AAF and he may be in a sub-optimal spot with the big spread favoring Dallas in Week 1. Michael also has to contend with fellow former NFLer Matt Jones in the backfield and I’d be less inclined to go to either this week. Michael should be highly owned because of his name and the fantasy community’s fixation with him but the game script here will favor the pass game.
Top DAL XFL DFS picks:
- Landry Jones is another big name but he’s questionable to play in Week 1. Jones is a former NFL prospect (and this ESPN feature article on his career is worth a read), but if he sits, Philip Nelson is just as good of a play thanks to Dallas’s pass-forward offense. I’ll have exposure to whichever Renegades QB gets in. Nelson stunk in the AAF last year with a 58% completion rate but the Dallas offense and spread mean he could be better this time around. Nelson also brings a decent rushing floor with 20.5 rushing yards per game.
- Jeff Badet should be a popular play with a 4.39 40 and a prominent role in this highly touted Dallas offense with head coach Bob Stoops. Badet seems worth exposure as a guy with a secure role. Jazz Ferguson is another popular name who is now questionable after he hurt his hand this week. Badet should be popular but could pay dividends while Ferguson is at a very appealing price if he can go. Ferguson would likely yield to Freddie Martino, recently acquired from Tampa, if he’s unable to go. Flynn Nagel also projects to see some slot work even if Ferguson is in but he’s deathly slow with a 4.7 40 time. He could be an interesting PPR play if the more explosive Ferguson is unable to go.
- I’m comparably intrigued by Cameron Artis-Payne, another former NFLer who would be the ground-and-pound play if Dallas builds a lead. Lance Dunbar is also in the backfield but should have more of a pass-catcher role. Artis-Payne is cheap for a RB on a 7.5-point favorite at home and he’s been promoted heavily by the team as a downhill runner who can make people miss.
Follow me on Twitter @ChrisSpags for more XFL content to come, including our new XFL Strategy Show, and I’ll see you guys next week for more!