Jordan Ta’amu Named 2023 XFL Offensive Player of the Year | DC Defenders

Breaking Down The DC Defenders 2024 UFL Roster

It has been an extremely busy month for all eight UFL teams, especially the DC Defenders. Starting on February 24th, teams began reporting to Arlington, Texas for the start of 2024 UFL training camp. Teams started at 75 players, and had the mind-boggling task of cutting down to 50 players.

The Defenders have undergone a volatile last three weeks of training camp, which included major injuries and retirements. Most notably with the news of RB Abram Smith set to miss the entire 2024 season with a torn ACL. Even with the frenzy, there were still a few surprises in the final roster cut. Let’s dive in and evaluate the Defenders 2024 roster.

Quarterbacks (3)

Jordan Ta’amu
Jalan McClendon
Deondre Francois

Cuts: None

Takeaways: The Defenders entered training camp with only three quarterbacks on the roster, and they left camp with three on the roster. Since the UFL has no practice squad like the NFL, keeping three quarterbacks becomes vital to having insurance at the position. With Ta’amu firmly entering the season as the starter, it remains to be seen whether Jalan McClendon or Deondre Francois will be QB2 for DC.

One underlying question remains: With the loss of D’Eriq King this season, does OC Fred Kaiss decide to implement the dual-quarterback system with McClendon or Francois?

Only time will tell…

Running Backs (3)

Cam’Ron Harris
Pooka Williams
Darius Hagans

Cuts: Tabyus Taylor, ZaQuandre White

Takeaways: With Abram Smith out for the UFL season, the Defenders must find a way to keep the ground game steady in Fred Kaiss’ RPO-heavy offense. Cam’Ron Harris is seemingly set to start week one and handle the bulk of loads, barring any last minute swerves by HC Reggie Barlow. Harris was added late last season and became a spark plug, especially in the playoffs against Seattle. Darius Hagans from Virginia State will most likely spell Harris in situational scenarios.

Expect Pooka Williams to serve in a third-down running back type of role, specifically in passing scenarios. Pooka’s quickness, and ability to get outside in a flash makes him a valuable threat whenever he touches the field.

Wide Receivers (6)

Brandon Smith
Chris Rowland
Keke Coutee
Kelvin Harmon
Vyncint Smith
Ty Scott

Cuts: Jazz Ferguson, Preston Williams, John Hightower, Mike Harley Jr., Isaiah Coulter, CJ Johnson, Trea Shropshire

Takeaways: Josh Hammond’s recent retirement caused a bit of roster predicament for DC, considering Hammond’s ability to play inside/outside on offense and special teams capability. Look for Chris Rowland or Keke Coutee to supplant Hammond as DC’s starting slot option, and potentially kick/punt returner as well.

Brandon Smith should be a top option for Ta’amu in 2024 given their previous chemistry. The underlying question is, who can replace Lucky Jackson and/or Chris Blair this season? Kelvin Harmon stands out as a big target that Ta’amu could find comfort with quickly. Ty Scott’s physical traits and background allow him to be used in a variety of ways, keeping him on the roster for DC. Week one at San Antonio should provide much clearer answers for DC’s offense moving forward.

Tight Ends (3)

Briley Moore
Alex Ellis
Kaden Smith

Cuts: Ben Bresnahan

Takeaways: Briley Moore and Alex Ellis return from 2023, both played relevant roles last season. Ellis was a red zone machine with four touchdowns in very limited time, and Briley Moore was TE2 behind Ethan Wolf throughout last season. The recent addition of TE Kaden Smith has the potential to be an impactful under the radar signing for DC. Smith signed late into training camp, but the in-camp move signaled more to be desired at the tight end position.

Shaun Beyer from Iowa University is an intriguing prospect as a primarily blocking TE, but the IR will keep him out at least five games.

Offensive Line (8)

OG Liam Fornadel
OG Jean Delance
C Michael Maietti
C Lamont Gaillard
OT D’Marcus Hayes
OT Jahmir Johnson
OT Tommy Champion
OT Yasir Durant

Cuts: Adonis Boone, Jack Plumb, Sadarius Hutcherson, Greg Long, George Moore, Chidi Okeke, Matt Carrick

Takeaways: Arguably DC’s biggest question mark entering 2024, the offensive line is set to have at least two new starters entering the new league year. Liam Fornadel headlines a brief list of returning offensive linemen, including D’Marcus Hayes and Michael Maietti. OT Kyle Murphy’s abrupt removal from the Defenders roster early in camp excludes him from any roster discussion.

The Defenders made a couple in-camp moves to the offensive line, including dealing OLB Chauncey Rivers to Birmingham for OT Jahmir Johnson, who has made the final roster. Yasir Durant is another product of in-camp wheeling and dealing, courtesy of General Manager Von Hutchins. Durant was added after Abram Smith’s ACL injury, and has proven in short time to be a valuable asset to DC’s o-line.

Defensive Line (9)

DL Joe Wallace
DL TJ Barnes
DL Niles Scott
DL Malik Fisher
DL Dennis Johnson
EDGE Davin Bellamy
EDGE Trent Harris
EDGE Andre Mintze
EDGE Derrick Roberson

Cuts: Boogie Roberts, Donovan Jeter, Fadol Brown, Tariqious Tisdale, Tim Ward

Takeaways: The defensive line comes into this season as one of the more refurbished groups for DC. Trent Harris headlines a group of new faces to the nation’s capital, which also includes DL TJ Barnes, DL Dennis Johnson, and EDGE Derrick Roberson.

Harris was selected in round one of the XFL Dispersal Draft by the DC Defenders, after posting a stellar season with the Roughnecks in 2023, leading the XFL with 9.5 sacks. Harris was selected alongside his former teammate in Houston, Tim Ward, but after arriving to camp late Ward was later released by the team. Ward has now signed with the San Antonio Brahmas, a potential revenge game for Ward in week one?

The Defenders released defensive tackle Boogie Roberts in phase one of cuts, a move that frankly is only a slight surprise, considering Roberts’ late round availability during the dispersal drafts. Roberts played for the Pittsburgh Maulers in 2023, producing 32 tackles, 8 TFL, and 3 sacks. His release comes at the expense of extreme depth along the defensive line, which will also be moving forward without DT Donovan Jeter. The interior defensive line continued to strengthen throughout the offseason for DC, setting up difficult decisions for Defenders brass.

Linebackers (5)

Francis Bernard
Reggie Northrup
Anthony Hines
Ferrod Gardner
Mohamed Sanogo

Cuts: Jordan Evans

Takeaways: The linebackers are the most intact group from last season to this season for DC. Bernard, Northrup, Hines, and Gardner all return from 2023, with Mohamed Sanogo from Louisville as the newcomer. Interestingly enough, Hines and Gardner were not protected players heading into this year, compared to Jordan Evans who was, and is now released. Both were selected late in the dispersal draft process, but impressed DC Gregg Williams enough in camp to return.

Bernard and Northrup are expected to lead this LB group again this year. Bernard should be considered a sleeper candidate for UFL Defensive Player of the Year, considering the type of impact he made when on the field for DC last season. Fans may remember, Bernard was suspended and missed two games last season after the end of game altercation with the St. Louis Battlehawks. When Bernard returned from suspension, his presence alone was obvious and became vital to DC’s success.

Cornerbacks (6)

Michael Joseph
Anthoula Kelly
Nydair Rouse
Gareon Conley
Deandre Baker
Isaiah Johnson

Cuts: Adam Sparks, Elijah Blades

Takeaways: Michael Joseph returns to the Defenders after surprisingly not being added by an NFL team this past offseason. Joseph hauled in four interceptions in just nine games last season, returning two of them for touchdowns.

Joseph is joined by Anthoula Kelly, Nydair Rouse, and Isaiah Johnson as returning CBs from 2023. Kelly played the most amongst the three last season, providing exceptional positional value, playing nickel and outside corner for DC.

Gareon Conley and Deandre Baker are both former NFL first round draft picks who will have numerous sets of eyes on them this season. Conley and Baker have already passed the first test in making DC’s 50-man roster, next test will be seeing substantial playing time on defense. With four cornerbacks returning to the roster, it’ll be interesting to see how the week one depth chart shakes out.

Following the first wave of roster cuts in camp, CB DeJuan Neal was placed on the UFL’s Suspended List. Neal’s rights are retained by DC, but he is not currently on the active roster.

Safeties (4)

Deontay Anderson
DJ Swearinger
Montae Nicholson
Santos Ramirez

Cuts: Kentrell Brice

Takeaways: Gregg Williams clearly enjoyed his defensive group from last season, specifically on the backend, as their trend of keeping the core together continues with the safeties.

Swearinger, Nicholson, and Ramirez all return from last season after playing significant roles in Williams’ dynamic scheme. All three safeties rotated around the secondary, which is something former Vipers safety Deontay Anderson will be asked to do. For the most part, Nicholson and Swearinger will be asked to play closer to the line of scrimmage, while Ramirez and Anderson will control the back-half of the field as free safety.

Special Teams (3)

K Matthew McCrane
P Paxton Brooks
LS Trae Berry

Takeaways: Not too much to say for the specialists. Matthew McCrane was set to have a kicking competition with K Enrique Yenny, but Yenny was removed from the roster after not appearing at training camp for personal reasons. Paxton Brooks is set to replace former DC Defenders, now Green Bay Packers punter, Daniel Whelan.

Final Thoughts

In general, the Defenders appear to be well suited for another run at the championship in 2024. While the competition remains to be seen, the Defenders return with 28 players from last year’s 9-1 team, which fell just short in the XFL Championship vs. Arlington. Those 28 players are absolutely salivating at the idea of earning gold under Coach Barlow, along with the rest of DC’s 50-man roster.

It certainly was not easy to make the decisions to finalize this roster. The team had to cut down from 75 to 50 players, which occurred on March 10th and March 21st.

For a full breakdown of Reggie Barlow’s 2024 coaching staff, click here.

What are your thoughts on the DC Defenders roster for the 2024 UFL season? Which players will make a difference this year? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!