Analyzing The DC Defenders Letters Of Intent Signings | Preston Williams

Analyzing The DC Defenders Letters Of Intent Signings

While we continue to wait for more news regarding the finalization of the XFL-USFL merger, XFL teams have been busy making Letter of Intent signings with their draft picks, and unsigned free agents. One of those teams being the DC Defenders, the runners-up from this past XFL season.

DC quickly became one of the more popular teams in the XFL last season, thanks in part to the infamous “Beer Snake” that engulfed Audi Field, but mainly due to the impressive performance on the field, led by head coach Reggie Barlow.

As the 2024 season looms, Barlow and his staff continue working to build another competitive roster. While these LOI players are not officially signed to contracts yet, the majority of names on this list will be present for training camp in the winter.

RB Tabyus Taylor, Virginia Union

Tabyus Taylor has potential to be a key contributor for Fred Kaiss’ offense in 2024. Listed at 6 ‘0, 225 lbs, Taylor began his collegiate career at Virginia Union where he broke out in 2018 during his sophomore season with 1,546 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on 245 carries.

After three productive seasons with Virginia Union rushing for 2,800 yards, Taylor transferred to Notre Dame College. In just five games for NDC in 2020, Taylor posted stellar stat lines, finishing with 1,013 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 104 carries.

Taylor turned down his extra year of eligibility and entered the 2021 NFL Draft, where he went undrafted. Taylor will now compete and provide depth for a DC backfield that currently includes Abram Smith and Cam’Ron Harris.

WR Kelvin Harmon, NC State

With the uncertainty surrounding the Defenders WR corps heading into 2024, Kelvin Harmon has the opportunity to step in and shine for a team that lost their top two receivers to the NFL this offseason (Lucky Jackson and Chris Blair).

Harmon enters the fold with the second-most NFL experience of all the LOI players signing with DC, only behind fellow WR Preston Williams. Harmon played collegiately at NC State for three seasons before entering the NFL Draft in 2019. Harmon was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, where he spent three seasons, finishing with 30 receptions for 365 yards (12.2 YPR).

PFF’s, Nick Akridge provides a great thread in the link above analyzing Kelvin Harmon’s translation from college to NFL action.

With Harmon’s lengthy frame, expect him to be utilized on the outside in a similar role that Lucky Jackson served in 2023.

WR Preston Williams, Colorado State

On paper, Preston Williams is the flashiest name on the list of LOI players for DC.

Following a productive junior season at Colorado State where he finished with 96 receptions for 1,345 yards, and 14 touchdowns, Williams entered the 2019 NFL Draft. After going undrafted and signing with the Miami Dolphins, Williams spent three seasons with Miami, where he produced 56 receptions for 787 yards, and 7 touchdowns.

Prior to the 2022 season, Williams was waived by Miami and later signed with the Carolina Panthers, where he was unproductive in his lone season.

Williams has the wide reputation for having potential that has never been fully tapped into, yet. The XFL may be his final opportunity to show the world that he can be more than just another underdeveloped player.

WR CJ Johnson, ECU

North Carolina native, CJ Johnson, attended East Carolina University through all four years of college, becoming one of the natural leaders on the Pirates offense. Through those four years, Johnson started 38 of 46 games, hauling in 175 catches for 2,849 yards (16.3 YPR), and 21 career touchdowns. In 2022, Johnson was named Second-Team All AAC selection after setting career-highs in receptions (67), receiving yards (1,016), touchdowns (10), and receptions per game (5.2).

The QB that Johnson played with the majority of time at ECU, Holton Ahlers, also played with CJ in high school at DH Conley HS in Greenville, NC. The two built a nearly unstoppable rapport at East Carolina, each finishing it off with career years in 2022. Both signed UDFA deals with the Seattle Seahawks following the NFL Draft, but Johnson was released shortly after rookie camp.

Johnson played outside receiver his first two seasons at ECU, then started transitioning to slot part time in his junior year before becoming a full time slot receiver his senior season.

Johnson’s 6 ‘2, 225-pound frame compares well to DC’s recently departed WR Brandon Smith, who shined in multiple roles for the Defenders this past season, including the slot.

 

WR Ty Scott, Missouri State

Ty Scott is another long wideout drafted by DC that thrives in the intermediate to deep pass-game attack. Measuring in at 6 ‘3, 200 pounds, Scott was used primarily outside in college and excelled as a receiver after the catch.

Scott caught 114 passes for 1,784 yards and 13 touchdowns in his 23 games with the Bears. While Scott was mainly an outside receiver, MSU did not limit his abilities in the slightest as he was undeniably the top playmaker on the Bears offense in his final two seasons.

Ty Scott signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as an UDFA following the 2023 NFL Draft, but was waived shortly after.

TE Josh Falo, USC

With the recent news of Ethan Wolf’s departure from the team, TE has suddenly become a need for the DC Defenders, and USC product Josh Falo may be stepping in at the perfect time.

At USC, Falo was quite underwhelming, finishing his six-year career with 24 catches, 255 receiving yards, and five touchdowns in 24 career games. Falo fell victim to preseason injuries, causing his slip down the USC depth chart on multiple occasions. Listed 6 ‘6, 255 lbs, Falo could benefit by leaning on his size and run blocking when it comes to finding an identity.

Falo will compete with Briley Moore and Alex Ellis in the Defenders TE room, headed by TE coach Cody Crills.

OL Adonis Boone, Louisville

Adonis Boone arrives in DC with the rare experience of playing both tackle and guard in college. At Louisville, Boone played left tackle up until his junior season when he made the transition to guard and saw significant improvement overall. Boone measures in at 6’5, 300 lbs, with a massive 84 inch wingspan that keeps the possibility of playing tackle open in the future.

Boone will have a vast collection of competition to look forward to as the majority of the DC offensive line is returning, along with other LOI signings arriving.

OL Matt Carrick, Michigan State

The Defenders organization is showing zero complacency when it comes to the offensive line.

After an impressive season by DC’s offensive line where they shuffled throughout due to injuries, they surprisingly seem to have most of their major contributors returning. With that being said, they are still bringing in reinforcements via the draft, starting with Matt Carrick out of Michigan State. Carrick started 27 games through his collegiate career at MSU, including nine starts at right guard in 2022. Carrick is a mammoth guard, scaling 6’5 320 lbs, and should bring interior strength to the Russ Ehrenfield led OL group.

Carrick received an invite to the Green Bay Packers rookie minicamp after going undrafted in the 2023 NFL Draft, but went unsigned following camp.

OL Greg Long, Purdue

The additional LOI signings of Greg Long and Badara Traore in December should be yet another example to fans that the Defenders coaching staff and front office is not messing around when it comes to building a strong interior.

Long enters as a tweener between tackle and guard, even with his longtime experience at left tackle for Purdue. Long’s physicality in the run game has been one of the bigger faults of his game, which is what makes him a candidate to slide inside to guard.

Only time will tell for Long and the rest of the offensive line, but it is apparent that DC are targeting experienced offensive linemen from Power Five programs.

OL Jack Plumb, Iowa

Plumb joins the Defenders as another athletic, possible swing tackle for an already stout offensive line. During Plumb’s five-year collegiate career at Iowa, he appeared in 46 games. Plumb primarily played right tackle for the Hawkeyes, starting six games his junior year, and registering 418 snaps as a senior.

Plumb received an invitation to the Green Bay Packers rookie minicamp, but was not officially signed to the team’s roster.

OL Badara Traore, LSU

As soon as Badara Traore throws on the pads for the Defenders, he will undoubtedly stand out as the largest man on the field. Standing at a staggering 6’7, 327 lbs, Traore joins the DC Defenders with a ton of momentum on his side. Not only by being the largest lineman on the field, but also because he holds the most NFL experience among the current DC offensive linemen. Out of LSU, Traore went undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft and was later signed by the Chicago Bears.

He spent the 2020 season on Chicago’s practice squad, but was later waived by the Bears before the 2021 season. Traore was claimed off waivers by Jacksonville, where he remained for the 2021 season. Traore would go through similar tribulations after being waived by Jacksonville, and signed by Arizona prior to the 2022 season. Traore was cut by the Cardinals before the start of the 2023 campaign, and now finds himself with the DC Defenders.

If Traore makes it to camp, expect him to be a name vying for a starting position come spring time.

DL Dennis Johnson, Grand Valley State

Johnson was added to the Defenders roster in early August during the XFL Player Rights Draft. Johnson was selected after he impressed during his XFL Combine visit , where he finished second among defensive linemen in max jump strength, and also finished fifth in both max strength and max speed (20.54 MPH).

During Johnson’s six-year career at GVSU, he played 38 career games and produced 42 total tackles (11 for loss), 1.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. He also earned All-GLIAC Conference honors and GVSU Defensive Lineman of the Year in his redshirt junior season (2019).

At 6 ‘2, 309 lbs, Johnson fits the Gregg Williams ideal mold of a smaller, but more athletic defensive linemen that can be moved along the line of scrimmage. Johnson compares well in size to current Defenders defensive linemen Gabe Wright (6 ‘3, 305 lbs) and Joe Wallace (6’ 1, 296 lbs).

Johnson provides needed depth for a positional group that could look completely different in 2024.

LB Mohamed “Momo” Sanogo, Louisville

Sanogo would likely be with an NFL team right now if he was two inches taller. Listed at 6’1 235 lbs, his speed combined with his run-stopping instincts were the foundation of a successful collegiate career at Ole Miss before transferring to Louisville for his final season of eligibility. This past season at Louisville, Sanogo finished with 89 tackles (9.5 for loss), 4.5 sacks, and 3 fumble recoveries.

Sanogo will compete and add depth to a Defenders linebacking corps that currently includes Francis Bernard, Reggie Northrup, and Anthony Hines.

LB Kaleb Oliver, Western Kentucky

Oliver is an interesting case, he falls under the hybrid-type linebacker as he played safety during his time at Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky. Between the two schools, Oliver played a total of 58 career games, racking up 173 total tackles (11 for loss), 4 sacks, and 4 interceptions. Oliver truly has a knack for being around the ball.

His style of play carries striking similarities to current Defenders defensive back DJ Swearinger, who joined the team during this past season. Swearinger was used all over the field for DC Gregg Williams and it’s easy to see Oliver doing the same in 2024.

CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State

Former Ohio State standout cornerback, Gareon Conley, was widely regarded as one of the top defensive players entering the 2017 NFL Draft. Unfortunately in the days leading up to the draft, Conley was accused of sexual assault, causing his slide down to the Raiders selection at 24th overall in the first round.

Even with his draft slide, Conley was still given ample opportunity with the Raiders, and took advantage in a big way during his 2018 rookie campaign. In 14 starts, Conley posted 37 tackles, 15 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions.

Conley was traded during the following season to the Houston Texans, where he was never truly able to replicate his play in Oakland.

Conley now finds himself in DC with a Gregg Williams led defense that will allow him to take risks, if he can put himself into the right position to do so.

DB Jahlil Brown, Central Connecticut State

Jahlil Brown arrives in DC with hopes to aid a disappointing secondary that allowed the most passing yards in the XFL in 2023 (266.1 YPG). Brown played four seasons at CCSU, producing 179 tackles (6 for loss), 9 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The small school product is coming off a season in 2022 where he was named an All-Northeast Conference Second Team member.

Brown shares similar position flexibility with others in the DC secondary, but must find a way to separate himself as a contributor to clinch a roster spot.

DB Bentlee Sanders, Nevada

Home-grown Tampa native, Bentlee Sanders is deeply rooted in the Bay area as he attended USF his first four years of college before transferring to Nevada for his final two years of eligibility. Sanders saw most of his action at safety in college, but also played nickel cornerback as well. Sanders’ versatility on the backend will be a valuable asset, as Defenders DC Gregg Williams tends to rotate his defensive backs often during games.

At 5’9 179 lbs, Sanders has a style of play that lets him appear much larger than his size. Even on a bottoming Nevada team in 2022, Sanders shined with 80 tackles, 5 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles.

This is a personal favorite pick. While undersized, Sanders brings a playmaker mentality to the defensive backs room that may be missed if CB Michael Joseph decides to depart.

PK Enrique Romero

Romero enters the XFL as an interesting case, not only because he has the ability to kick and punt, but he has never played football inside the U.S..

Collegiately, Romero played for Borregos Salvajes Toluca in Mexico, where he holds the all time record in punting yards. Romero played four seasons at Borregos before being drafted eighth overall in the 2019 LFA Draft. Following his rookie season, Romero earned LFA All-Star honors before being drafted to the Montreal Alouettes practice squad as a part of the 2019 LFA-CFL Draft.

While Romero’s story has the potential to make headlines, he must first compete with Matthew McCrane and fellow newcomer, Paxton Brooks, to earn a spot on the roster.

P Paxton Brooks, Tennessee

This one is pretty simple; Defenders standout punter Daniel Whelan signed with the Green Bay Packers following the 2023 XFL season. Defenders DPP Von Hutchins decided to waste no time filling that hole, adding Volunteers punter Paxton Brooks. Brooks had a very successful collegiate career, averaging 42.33 yards per punt, which ranks eighth in UT history. To add to that, 32 of his punts went for 50+ yards and 58 of his punts were pinned inside the 20.

Brooks received an invite to the Indianapolis Colts rookie minicamp after going undrafted in the NFL Draft, but the XFL seems like the most likely path for Brooks at this time.

Final Thoughts

With the news concerning the XFL-USFL merger on the horizon, it is inevitable that we will see some changes to this current rendition of the XFL. Even with the unknown looming, DC continues to make moves to improve their already impressive roster.

While uncertainty for players like Jordan Ta’amu, Lucky Jackson, and Chris Blair still remain, RB Abram Smith, WR Josh Hammond, and WR Brandon Smith have all signed LOIs. Confirming their intent to play in 2024.

What are your thoughts on these LOI signings for DC? Which prospects should the team pursue? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!