This past Friday all eight XFL teams participated in the 2023 XFL Rookie Draft, which included all players that declared for the 2023 NFL Draft and were not drafted or signed for camp.
The DC Defenders, who finished 9-1 their first year under HC Reggie Barlow, selected 10 players in this year’s draft. On paper, they did a good job at replacing players lost to the NFL, drafting 3 WRs, 3 OL, 2 LBs, 1 DB, and a punter. So far, five Defenders players have signed NFL contracts: WR Lucky Jackson (MIN), WR Chris Blair (ATL), WR Brandon Smith (ARZ), LB Ferrod Gardner (WSH), and P Daniel Whelan (GB).
Throughout the process, the message has been clear from Defenders Director of Player Personnel, Von Hutchins:
Statement from DC Defenders Director of Player Personnel, @_VHutchins regarding tomorrow’s @XFL2023 Rookie Draft:
“We’re looking to add physically dominate, skillful players with high football intelligence who understand the Standard that we’ve credited to #DefendDC”
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.
ECU WR CJ Johnson is a big slot option in the mold of Brandon Coleman. Very productive for the Pirates last season. He took a top-30 visit to the Saints on Saturday pic.twitter.com/emLkEilFm4
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 in the Bears offense the past two seasons.
Three of Jason Shelley’s five TD passes went to Ty Scott in No. 5 Missouri State’s 35-30 win over No. 14 UT Martin Thursday night.
Ty Scott signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as an UDFA following the NFL Draft, but was waived shortly after.
Fans have now seen the results of DC Defenders OC Fred Kaiss’ successful offensive scheme, which has clearly been beneficial for wide receivers. Kaiss tends to shuffle his receivers around the line of scrimmage, so take player’s alignment experience with a grain of salt.
With the current state of the wide receiver room, expect to see at least one of these guys vying for a starting position come week one. While it is unclear whether any players would return to XFL if the NFL does not pan out, the Defenders staff/organization is taking preliminary action with these draft picks to assure their top scoring offense does not skip a beat in 2024.
What are your thoughts on the DC Defenders Rookie Draft? Which players would you like to see DC target in the offseason? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!