Analyzing The DC Defenders Super Draft Picks & Protected Players | Jalan McClendon

Analyzing The DC Defenders Super Draft Picks & Protected Players

The DC Defenders were one of the few teams that decided to make the most of a fruitful Super Draft player pool, drafting twelve players to the active roster. Following the entire UFL Dispersal Draft process, they were left with ten roster spots remaining to be filled by incoming free agents.

For a full breakdown of the Defenders phase one draft picks from the XFL Dispersal Draft, check out our post-draft article.

Jalan McClendon, Vegas Vipers

The DC Defenders wasted little time selecting their second quarterback of the dispersal draft process, drafting Jalan McClendon from the Vegas Vipers at sixth overall in the first round.

The former Vipers QB Jalen McClendon appears to possess the potential to fill the shoes of both Jordan Ta’amu and D’Eriq King, leaving no need for the two-quarterback system that was used at times in 2023. In just four starts, McClendon threw for 873 yards with 5 touchdowns and an interception. On the ground, McClendon added 137 yards on 30 carries.

One interesting facet of a potential QB competition between McClendon and Francois is that DC selected Francois in phase one of the dispersal drafts, with McClendon still on the board. DC’s gamble to wait for McClendon in phase two paid off, but something to keep in mind moving forward.

WR Chris Rowland, Philadelphia Stars

At 5 ‘8, 170 lbs, former Philadelphia Stars WR Chris Rowland joins a crowded DC receivers room that is filled with talent across the board. Rowland’s unique combination of size and speed presents an alternate dimension to a Defenders offense that consists mainly of bigger, more physical receivers (aside from Josh Hammond).

Expect Rowland and Hammond to compete for the starting slot receiver position come training camp. Brandon Smith is another receiver that played slot for DC in 2023, and could compete for the inside position as well. In addition, Rowland was a key contributor on special teams for the Stars, which is something that could be utilized by DC.

DT TJ Barnes, Arlington Renegades

Many around the league were dumbfounded when former Renegades DT TJ Barnes went unprotected in phase one/two of the dispersal draft process, leaving him available for any team to select. DC Defenders Director of Player Personnel, Von Hutchins, took advantage of the ultra-productive defensive tackle being available, taking him in round three of the Super Draft.

Barnes was the highest PFF graded player on the Renegades, with a 92.2 overall grade. While there’s still questions on why Arlington did not protect Barnes throughout the dispersal process, the Defenders look forward in hopes to cash-in on the 2023 XFL Champion.

OT Chidi Okeke, San Antonio Brahmas

Okeke is a massive human. At 6 ‘6, 315 lbs, Okeke started at left tackle for a struggling SA offensive line in 2023. Per PFF, Okeke ranked as one of the lowest tackles in the XFL this past season, finishing with a 48.3 overall grade. Nonetheless, Okeke comes to DC with rare starting experience and should benefit from that more than anything.

Will be interesting to see if Okeke can earn a starting job in camp.

RB Pooka Williams Jr., DC Defenders

Pooka Williams returns to DC, in what is expected to be in a similar role he played during the 2023 year. Last season, Pooka primarily played special teams as kick/punt returner, and also was included in a few packages on offense. In space, Pooka has the ability to be as dangerous as anybody.

 

Some may remember Pooka’s alleged run-in with the law this past December in Louisiana, which included some hefty charges. With nothing to report since, it is expected that Williams will play in 2024 considering draft status and time of charges.

OL Adonis Boone, DC Defenders

Boone was technically retained, as he signed his letter of intent with the Defenders during the offseason. 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.

DL Boogie Roberts, Pittsburgh Maulers

DC was miraculously able to snag former USFL Maulers DL Boogie Roberts in round nine of the UFL Super Draft. Roberts arrives as another piece of the competitive overhaul of defensive linemen in the District. In 2023, Roberts contributed 32 total tackles (8 TFL), along with 3 sacks, and a fumble recovery for Pittsburgh.

Boogie Roberts joins what is bound to be a ruthless defensive line bunch this upcoming season, after leaving Pittsburgh an icon on and off the field.

DB Nydair Rouse, DC Defenders

Rotational safety and major special teams contributor, Nydair Rouse, returns to DC to provide much needed depth and experience on the backend. It comes as no surprise that HC Reggie Barlow and his staff wanted Rouse back this season, as coaches continuously bragged about his intelligence and position flexibility throughout last season.

LB Anthony Hines, DC Defenders

Anthony Hines is another 2023 Defender that was drafted back to DC. Hines played a plethora of snaps last season as DC’s third linebacker behind Francis Bernard and Reggie Norhrup, and could do the same this year as the linebackers group looks very similar. Expect DC to sign one or two linebackers prior to training camp starting in February.

*The following players all signed LOI’s with DC this offseason, and were drafted by the Defenders during the Super Draft:

WR CJ Johnson, DC Defenders

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).

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 current Defenders WR Brandon Smith, who shined in multiple roles for DC this past season, including the slot.

 

RB Tabyus Taylor, DC Defenders

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.

PK Enrique Yenny 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.

Protected Players

RB Abram Smith: The XFL’s far and away leading rusher in 2023 returns for another crack at the title in the UFL. With two mobile QB’s arriving in DC, Smith must be dreaming of open green grass on a nightly basis.

RB: Cam’Ron Harris: Harris was signed by DC late in the season after the abrupt departure of Ryquell Armstead. Even with little time to prove his worth, Harris came up huge in the playoffs with two touchdowns in the North Division Championship game vs. Seattle. Harris will look to serve a larger role behind Abram Smith in 2024.

WR Josh Hammond: DC’s starting slot option in 2023 returns to the team after a summer of NFL camps and tryouts, most notably with the Denver Broncos. Hammond should compete for the starting slot position again this season, with even more competition on the horizon

WR Brandon Smith: Smith was a do it all type of player for DC last season, providing value on offense at the X, Y, and Z position, while also being a pillar on special teams. Look for Smith’s offensive role to be even larger this upcoming season for Fred Kaiss’ unit.

WR Jazz Ferguson: Jazz is another player expected to be given a larger offensive role this season after being viewed primarily as a fantastic gunner on special teams. With an imposing 6’4, 227 lbs frame, it’s hard to imagine DC will keep Ferguson off the field as much in 2024.

WR Kelvin Harmon: Harmon enters the fold with the second-most NFL experience of all WR’s signed 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).

WR Preston Williams: For spring football outsiders, Preston Williams may be the most recognizable name on the list of wide receivers 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. 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 Ty Scott: 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. Ty Scott signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as an UDFA following the 2023 NFL Draft, but was later waived.

TE Briley Moore: Moore served as the TE2 for most of the 2023 season in DC, contributing 11 receptions for 80 yards, and a touchdown during the regular season.

TE Alex Ellis: Ellis was a crucial red-zone target for DC’ offense in 2023, finishing with four touchdowns on just eight receptions. With the current roster, Ellis should expect to serve an even larger role this upcoming season. Fans should still expect DC to sign another tight end, or two before camp.

OT Kyle Murphy: Starting RT Kyle Murphy was an important part of Abram Smith’s success last season in DC. After starting every game for the Defenders in 2023, expect Murphy to be the leader to start at RT again this season.

OT D’Marcus Hayes: Hayes filled in across the offensive line throughout the season due to injuries, providing most of his value at LT. Hayes should compete for a starting tackle position opposite of Kyle Murphy in 2024.

OT Tommy Champion: Champion spent time with the Roughnecks in 2023 prior to being claimed by DC last season. After no appearances for DC in 2023, camp will be crucial for Champion’s success.

OT Jack Plumb: 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.

OG Liam Fornadel: Another stonewall starter that started every game at RG for DC this past season. Fornadel was also the only Defenders OL named to the All-XFL Team.

OG Matt Carrick: 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. 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.

C Michael Maietti: Despite missing a couple games early in the 2023 season, Maietti was on his way to All-XFL honors up until his season ending injury suffered in week seven against Orlando. Maietti will compete with new, but NFL experienced, Lamont Gaillard for the starting center position.

C Lamont Gaillard: Gaillard comes to DC with valuable NFL starting experience after starting two games for the Arizona Cardinals in 2020. Watch out for Gaillard sliding to play guard as well.

DE Davin Bellamy: The team’s top pass-rusher in 2023 finished with 5.5 sacks last season, and should have an immense amount of pressure taken off of him with the recent arrivals of Trent Harris and Tim Ward from Houston.

DE Malik Fisher: Fisher was a situational pass-rusher for DC last season and per PFF, was the highest graded defensive linemen on the team. Fisher will look to contribute more statistically this season after failing to corral a sack in 2023.

DE Derrick Roberson: Roberson has been quite under-discussed up to this point, but seems to have breakout potential written all over him. In 2019, Roberson was picked up by the Tennessee Titans as an UDFA, and finished the season with three sacks (two on Drew Brees). Roberson fell out of the NFL, and was drafted by the Roughnecks last year where he remained until the merger.

DT Joe Wallace: Wallace was a vital piece to DC’s defensive line, playing the majority of defensive snaps through the season and finishing with 21 tackles (6 TFL), and 2.5 sacks. Impressive numbers for a DT.

DT Niles Scott: Scott is an interesting case, as he was drafted by DC in 2022 but was never active for the Defenders, and only activated from IR last May. Scott has no experience in spring football yet, after playing four seasons at Division III Frostburg State University, and going undrafted following the 2018 NFL Draft.

DT Fadol Brown: Brown remained a rotational defensive lineman throughout last season, filling in where he was needed. Brown should remain in that rotation barring anything significant.

DT Dennis Johnson: 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).

EDGE Andre Mintze: Perhaps the most underutilized player on the defensive side of the ball for DC in 2023, Andre Mintze returns to the nation’s capital in what should be a more substantial role. The efficient pass-rusher finished last season with 4.5 sacks, which ranked second on the team.

LB Francis Bernard: With a full season under his belt, Bernard has the full capability to earn All-UFL honors in 2024. After leading the team in tackles (51) in just eight games played, DC fans should be pumped for the return of Bernard.

LB Reggie Northrup: Northrup is a multi-seasoned vet when it comes to spring football and the life that comes with it. At age 30, Northrup enters an important year for his career moving forward.

LB Mohamed “Momo” Sanogo: 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. In 2022 at Louisville, Sanogo finished with 89 tackles (9.5 for loss), 4.5 sacks, and 3 fumble recoveries.

CB Michael Joseph: One could argue that the most surprising part of the DC Defenders offseason was All-XFL CB Michael Joseph not getting signed by an NFL team. It might be tough for Joseph to replicate his four interceptions with two touchdowns from last season, but at this point you’d be a fool to bet against him in 2024.

CB DeJuan Neal: Neal started opposite of Michael Joseph during the XFL season, displaying his reactiveness and physical style of play of countless plays. Even after an impressive 2023 campaign, Neal must compete among a group of hyenas vying for roster spots.

CB Isaiah Johnson: Johnson was signed at the same time as DJ Swearinger last season, but unfortunately did not make the same type of impact as Swearinger. The former Raiders draft pick will contend with a few familiar faces for a spot on DC’s roster.

CB Anthoula Kelly: Kelly is similar to teammate Malik Fisher, where they both saw a ton of snaps and graded very well on PFF, but did not show up in the statistical categories. We know stats do not always tell a full story though, so look out for Kelly to remain a key cog in DC’s defense in 2024.

CB Gareon Conley: Former Ohio State standout cornerback, Gareon Conley, was widely regarded as one of the top defensive players entering the 2017 NFL Draft. Even with his draft day 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.

S Kentrell Brice: Brice was a true leader on the backend for the Defenders defense throughout last season, and started in every game he was active for DC. Brice will undoubtedly be competing for the starting free safety job this February, most likely with new arrival Deontay Anderson from Vegas.

S Santos Ramirez: Ramirez was a welcome surprise for most Defenders fans that were unfamiliar with the name heading into last season. Ramirez started all twelve games for DC and finished with 47 tackles (2 TFL), and 2 interceptions. Ramirez will have to defend his starting position against a hungry room of defensive backs.

S Montae Nicholson: Nicholson arrived at the midpoint of the season and was on the field immediately for Gregg Williams’ defense. His length and range are what make him a strong starting candidate for safety this upcoming season.

S DJ Swearinger: Swearinger is certainly a fan-favorite among Beer Snake faithful, but it will be interesting to see how Swearinger responds to the bountiful competition that DC Director of Player Personnel, Von Hutchins, has brought in.

K Matthew McCrane: McCrane finished 12/16 last season, with his longest being from 50 yards. With Romero coming in, expect a kicking battle that comes down to the wire.

P Paxton Brooks: 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 earlier this offseason via LOI. 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.

LS Trae Berry: Berry conducted a very consistent operation in 2023 and will look to do the same in 2024.

Final Thoughts

With key personnel like Reggie Barlow, Von Hutchins, and Fred Kaiss returning for their second season as Defenders staff, one word fans should expect to be used frequently is continuity, or consistency. Last year, DC maintained a level of consistency with a 9-1 record that was never truly broken until the XFL Championship game vs. Arlington. A game where they couldn’t settle into and struggled to be competitive.

Quarterback remains to be a position of need with only two on the current roster. DC’s slow-play approach to the position this offseason gives me the hunch they were under the impression that Ta’amu would be back on the roster by now, and he obviously is not. With just over a month until training camp, expect another QB to be added.

What are your thoughts on the DC Defenders current UFL roster? Which free agents should the team pursue? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!

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