DC Defenders 2023 XFL Offseason Outlook

DC Defenders Final 2024 Projected UFL Roster After Camp

The DC Defenders kick off the 2024 regular season visiting the San Antonio Brahmas on March 31st at the Alamodome.

DC enters the second season under Reggie Barlow, but the first in the recently merged UFL. The Defenders posted a 9-1 regular season record under Barlow in season one, but ultimately fell to the Arlington Renegades in the XFL Championship, 35-26.

With the first roster cuts due by March 10th, each UFL team must cut down from 75 to 58 players. Teams then have until March 23rd to get down to the final 50-man roster, one week before the season kicks off.

Today, we evaluate the Defenders current roster, and conduct a mock analysis of my projected final roster for DC.

Here is the final projection:

Quarterbacks (3)

Keep: Jordan Ta’amu, Jalan McClendon, Deondre Francois
Cut: None

The Defenders entered training camp with only three quarterbacks on the roster, and fans should expect them to leave 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 the expected starter, expect McClendon and Francois to continue competing for QB2 until the final roster is announced.

Running Backs (3)

Keep: Abram Smith, Cam’Ron Harris, Tabyus Taylor
Cut: Pooka Williams, Darius Hagans

Abram Smith is the clear-cut starter for DC this season. Smith displayed the ability to be a consistent three-down back for the Defenders last season, leading the XFL in rushing yards and touchdowns. Behind him, Cam’Ron Harris was added late last season and became a spark plug, especially in the playoffs against Seattle. In this scenario, Pooka is stuck on the outside looking in. With the speed and special teams experience of new additions to the roster, Williams and Hagans are the players cut here.

Wide Receivers (6)

Keep: Brandon Smith, Chris Rowland, Kelvin Harmon, Jazz Ferguson, Keke Coutee, Ty Scott
Cut: CJ Johnson, Trea Shropshire, John Hightower, Mike Harley Jr., Vyncint Smith, *Preston Williams

There’s a good chance seven wide receivers make the initial roster. Josh Hammond’s recent retirement causes 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 and Jazz Ferguson stand out as big targets 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 projected roster for DC. Former Dolphins WR Preston Williams’ recent release comes at a surprise, personally.

Tight Ends (3)

Keep: Briley Moore, Alex Ellis, Kaden Smith, Shaun Beyer (IR)
Cut: Ben Bresnahan

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 Wolfthroughout last season. The recent addition of TE Kaden Smith has the potential to be an impactful under the radar signing for DC. Smith must of course make the team first, but the in-camp move signals more to be desired at the tight end position. Beyer is an intriguing prospect as a primary blocking TE, but the IR will keep him out at least five games.

Offensive Line (8)

Keep: Liam Fornadel, Michael Maietti, Lamont Gaillard, D’Marcus Hayes, Chidi Okeke, George Moore, Adonis Boone, Jack Plumb
Cut: Tommy Champion, Jean Delance, Greg Long, Sadarius Hutcherson, Matt Carrick

Arguably DC’s biggest question mark entering 2024, the offensive line, is set to have at least three 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 excludes him from any roster discussion. As reported, George Moore has worked primarily inside at guard during camp, but his positional flexibility should keep him on the team. Plumb and Boone are young, but mammoth offensive linemen that could be worth keeping around for developmental reasons.

Defensive Line (5)

Keep: TJ Barnes, Boogie Roberts, Joe Wallace, Donovan Jeter, Niles Scott
Cut: Tariqious Tisdale, Dennis Johnson, *Fadol Brown

The recent release of Fadol Brown makes the interior defensive line decision much simpler for roster projection sakes. Barnes, Roberts, and Wallace are all locks to make this roster, at least in my eyes. The real conversation starts after those three guys, with Jeter, Scott, Tisdale, and Johnson. With DL coach Jeremy Watkins returning, it makes sense to bring back some familiarity with Niles Scott. Jeter matches up more with what DC likes to do along the defensive line, as a run stuffing nose tackle.

Edge Rushers (5)

Keep: Davin Bellamy, Tim Ward, Trent Harris, Andre Mintze, Derrick Roberson
Cut: Malik Fisher, Chauncey Rivers

DC made it a clear priority this offseason to bolster their defensive line/pass rush, largely with the additions of Trent Harris and Tim Ward (both formerly with Houston). Both will free up Davin Bellamy, who finished last season with 5.5 sacks. Fisher and Rivers are brutal cuts here. Rivers is another former Roughnecks edge rusher from last season, but struggled to see time behind Harris and Ward. Roberson’s NFL experience in Tennessee gives him the upper hand in this situation.

Linebackers (4)

Keep: Francis Bernard, Reggie Northrup, Jordan Evans, Mohamed Sanogo
Cut: Anthony Hines, Ferrod Gardner

While DC would love to keep five linebackers, it’s not likely with a 50-man roster. This decision came down to protecting players early in the league merger process, Sanogo and Evans remained prioritized as a member of DC’s roster throughout. Bernard and Northrup started throughout last season and should be locks to make the roster. Hines and Gardner were both members of DC’s team last season, but were brought back later in the offseason during the dispersal drafts.

Cornerbacks (5)

Keep: Michael Joseph, DeJuan Neal, Gareon Conley, Anthoula Kelly, Deandre Baker
Cut: Isaiah Johnson, Nydair Rouse, Adam Sparks, Elijah Blades

The DC Defenders should feel extremely comfortable entering the season with just about any iteration of this cornerback group. Michael Joseph leads an impressive group of returning cornerbacks that also includes Neal, Kelly, Johnson and Rouse. The arrival of two former NFL first round picks (Conley and Baker) in the prime of their career yields a difficult path for other non-returning CBs. Both make the roster in my projection. Sparks is the most difficult cut here, but if he is released, do not rule out a return.

Safeties (5)

Keep: Santos Ramirez, Kentrell Brice, Deontay Anderson, Montae Nicholson, DJ Swearinger, Sam Kidd (IR)
Cut: None

Keeping five safeties is a tall task, but with the way DC Gregg Williams uses defensive backs, five safeties would not be a surprise. Williams tends to rotate his safeties and even nickel cornerbacks heavily throughout the game, thus keeping five would allow for more flexibility and options at the position. Deontay Anderson has reportedly had an impressive camp so far, so expect him to remain. Ramirez, Brice, Swearinger, and Nicholson all played important roles for DC last season, whether on defense or special teams.

Special Teams (3)

Keep: K Matthew McCrane, P Paxton Brooks, LS Trae Berry
Cut: None

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 last week after not appearing at camp for personal reasons. Paxton Brooks is set to replace former DC Defenders, now Green Bay Packers punter Daniel Whelan.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the DC Defenders have a loaded roster and will be forced to make grueling cuts as training camp continues. While GM Von Hutchins should be extremely proud of the roster he’s built, making those decisions and informing those players can be a tough job as well. Some of the more tricky cuts that stand out in this projection are John Hightower, Pooka Williams, and Adam Sparks. All three can absolutely make this roster.

Keep in mind, any player listed on IR must miss a minimum of five games. If a player is placed on season-ending IR or ends the season on IR, they become automatically eligible for a training camp invite next season.

What are your thoughts on the DC Defenders roster as we near the first round of cuts? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!

  1. It was probably worth a look at Preston Williams. He has been a viable NFL receiver, but when someone falls out so quick, you have to wonder what happened, whether it be injury or the player has lost his edge. Not only is the UFL a place for young players to show what they can do, but also for veterans to be able to look in the mirror one more time to see of they can still do it. I have seen Vyncint Smith play a couple of years back while with Jets. He had the talent of a 3rd, 4th receiver with the Jets, but as it has always been with the Jets, they always have bunch of receivers who are all depth pieces. Against this talent Vyncint Smith will thrive as long as he is healthy and hungry of course. I feel he will excel in the UFL, much the way Jackie Flowers was able to excel in the old USFL. He should make this team and become an integral part of their lineup.

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