Grading UFL to NFL Player Probability: DC Defenders | Malik Fisher

Grading UFL To NFL Player Probability: DC Defenders

The 2024 DC Defenders didn’t have the revenge tour they were hoping for to right the wrong of the 2023 XFL Championship loss. A major reason for this was losing 3 players to the NFL in wide receivers Lucky Jackson, Chris Blair, and punter Daniel Whelan. Today we’ll look at who could be the next Defender to make the jump to the NFL in 2024. In this article I will grade every player on their chance of getting to the NFL this offseason and try to create a system and expectations for players that they can exceed or underperform. Let’s get right into it.

Methodology

For the record, this section is the same for every article so feel free to skip it if you have already seen it. The first piece to explain is the tier system. There are 5 tiers a player could land in, tiers 1-5. Tier 1 is NFL bound, basically I’m almost 100% sure that this player will go to the NFL (by signing an NFL contract at some point in the 2024 NFL season), Tier 2 is decent chance, I’m more sure than not that this player will go to the NFL which is about 75% chance, Tier 3 is maybe, flip a coin 50% chance, Tier 4 is outside possibility, which is about 25% chance, and Tier 5 is all the players that have flaws that make me think there isn’t a chance they make it to the NFL. I haven’t included the Tier 5 players but any player not listed is in that tier.

This is also only counting players that ended the season rostered by a UFL team. For example, the Browns signed Matt Landers who was on the Brahmas before being cut midseason, he doesn’t count and won’t be listed. This is also a good time to also mention that any reported workouts that might be released before this publishes won’t affect the grades.

The reasons that players end up in a given tier is an unscientific combination of 3 factors: quality of play in the UFL, recency of NFL experience, and age. If you check off all three of these boxes you are going to rate highly but you don’t need all three if you are playing out of this world or aren’t playing well but are young with NFL experience. I’m relying heavily on PFF grades to get an opinion on every player but I have watched every game and my personal opinion can influence that too. Lastly, age is a factor that is going to hurt a lot of good players in the UFL and keep players that if they were younger would have been Tier 1s and Tier 2s but there is a sharp fall off when a player reaches 28 that will affect how players are graded. If you have any other questions about how I came to specific grades or put the whole thing together, you can reach out to me at ThornPFN on twitter or in the PFN discord to ask me whatever I missed here.

QB and Weapons

Tier 1: None
Tier 2: WR Ty Scott
Tier 3: RB Darius Hagans, WR Kelvin Harmon, WR KeKe Coutee, WR Chris Rowland, TE Kaden Smith
Tier 4: QB Jordan Ta’amu, RB Cam’Ron Harris, WR Vyncint Smith, WR Brandon Smith, TE Briley Moore

Last year, I would’ve had 4 Tier 1 players in the skill positions. Unfortunately, the 2024 DC Defenders will have none of those top flight players. The most intriguing player in this group was Ty Scott who was a 2023 undrafted player and rose out of a group of veteran receivers to be a bright spot in this passing attack. His age puts him above the veteran receivers in Harmon, Coutee, and Rowland that are all in Tier 3 for age or lack of recent NFL experience more than quality of play. They are joined with 2 players I like from this team in RB Darius Hagans and TE Kaden Smith who were both quality offseason moves that have a chance to get some NFL looks even with them both starting the season on the inactive list. The Tier 4s are populated by QB Jordan Ta’amu, Cam’Ron Harris, and Brandon Smith mostly because of playing time despite having underwhelming seasons and Vyncint Smith and Briley Moore who both didn’t play a ton but had good enough play to not be written off completely. The only real snub from this list is Alex Ellis who had a good year but is taken down by being 31 years old.

Offensive Line

Tier 1: G Liam Fornadel
Tier 2: T Yasir Durant
Tier 3: G Lamont Gaillard, C Michael Maietti
Tier 4: T Jarrid Williams, T Greg Long, G David Satkowski

The offensive line for DC was not as good as it was in 2023 but later in the season they made some changes that let DC play significantly better and extended this list. The crown jewel of this group, and DC as a whole is Liam Fornadel who has had a second great season which should put the 24 year old right guard on an NFL team and gives him the distinct honor of being the only Tier 1 offensive lineman in the UFL. The list doesn’t end there as Yasir Durant looked great once he moved to left tackle during the shuffling and he was on an NFL team last year which makes him another top player. In Tier 3 there is the rest of the DC interior offensive line which has Lamont Gaillard who was brought down due to injury and Michael Maietti who cooled off in the 2nd half of the season and hasn’t had an NFL opportunity before. Tier 4 starts with a recent addition in David Satkowski who only played 22 snaps this season but graded out well and was in the Bears rookie minicamp last month which makes him a possibility. The last 2 names to mention are Greg Long and Jarrid Williams who both played right tackle down the stretch and looked solid which puts them on the list. Hopefully DC can get a few of these names back so they can hit the ground running in 2025.

Front Seven

Tier 1: None
Tier 2: EDGE Malik Fisher
Tier 3: LB Momo Sanogo
Tier 4: DL Niles Scott, DL Kevin Atkins, DL Dennis Johnson, EDGE Andre Mintze, EDGE Trent Harris, EDGE Derick Roberson, LB Mikel Jones, LB Ferrod Gardner

The DC Defenders defense didn’t produce many NFL signings last year and if that changes it’ll mostly likely be Malik Fisher who is looking for his first NFL opportunity after a breakout season this year. Fisher was a NFL Alumni Academy assigned player so he was an afterthought in the XFL last year and has grown into a legitimate NFL prospect. The next Tier has Momo Sanogo who was quietly one of the best linebackers in the league last season while also being a quality special teamer which would be his path to an NFL opportunity. Beyond that, there are a bunch of names in Tier 4 which range from guys who made it because they are young like Dennis Johnson to players that played well but are older like Derick Roberson. The biggest snub on the list is TJ Barnes who was their best defensive lineman this season but at 33 can’t in good faith be included on the list.

Secondary

Tier 1: None
Tier 2: CB Deandre Baker
Tier 3: SCB Michael Joseph
Tier 4: CB Gareon Conley, CB Isaiah Johnson, S Santos Ramirez

The Defenders went into the year with 5 former draft picks in the secondary but there was a reason they were available for the most part. The biggest exception to that rule was Deandre Baker who worked his way up from a backup role in DC to carve out a season that should put him back on the NFL radar this fall. Michael Joseph also had a great season in a new role as a slot corner but being 29, it’s hard to justify putting him any higher than where he’s at. The last Tier has some names that are probably too old to get a real shot but have played a lot and for the most part well this season with the most notable name being former 1st round pick Gareon Conley. The only real snub was Anthoula Kelly who was a starter the whole season but has never gotten an NFL shot in his long spring football career.

Specialists

Tier 1: None
Tier 2: None
Tier 3: K Matt McCrane
Tier 4: P Paxton Brooks

There are 2 of the 3 specialists listed here which starts with a great season from Matt McCrane that might put him on the kicker circuit this fall. Paxton Brooks wasn’t as good as Daniel Whelan was last year but the punter is still young and it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for him to get a shot somewhere. Trae Barry was a tight end convert to long snapper last year and hasn’t made enough strides to get a real NFL look yet.

Conclusion

Before we get to the 2025 season, we have to see what needs are going to open up for these DC Defenders. They might, more than any other team, benefit from players coming back to their team from the 2023 season with Abram Smith healthy and both their top receivers on the NFL bubble for the fall. DC last season had 9 players sign to the NFL after the 2023 season and I’m not sure they will get to that number this season. That isn’t to say that there won’t be anyone as this is a team with a lot of talent unlike some of the other teams that weren’t able to punch a playoff ticket. The top 3 players from the Defenders are guard Liam Fornadel, receiver Ty Scott, and cornerback Deandre Baker.

What are your thoughts on these DC Defenders players who could go from the UFL to NFL? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!

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