This week is the official start to the NFL preseason, and with XFL fans excited to see the players that balled out for their favorite team get a real chance to make NFL rosters, I will Detail the 5 players that I think have the best chance on paper to make a 53-man roster. As of 8/8/2023, there are 47 XFL 2023 players on rosters and another 15 that are still in the NFL from their stints from 2020 (although I won’t cover them in this article).
This is the start of my NFL preseason coverage where you can find a USFL version of this article and weekly Stock up or Stock down articles on players from both leagues either here on XFL Newsroom or over on USFL Newsroom.
Antwuann Jackson started his professional career with a minicamp invite to the Giants camp in 2022 but nothing would come of it. As many victims of being in the largest NFL draft class ever did last year, he would turn to spring football and would be drafted by the Seattle Sea Dragons in the 9th round of the front-7 draft in November of 2022. He would be a part of a very talented front for Seattle where all 3 starters would sign NFL contracts (Niko Lalos in New Orleans, Austin Faoliu in Seattle). He would start 8 games last season and played well enough to get another camp invite in Carolina and impressed enough to get a contract. The defensive line for Carolina has Derrick Brown,, Shy Tuttle, Deshawn Williams, and Henry Anderson as locks but beyond that there is a bunch of street free agents and UDFAs bring out the rest of the roster. If Jackson can have a great preseason, there’s no reason why he couldn’t sneak into the end of that rotation as new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero starts to plant his flag in Carolina.
John Parker Romo is another victim of the 2022 draft. The Central Arkansas product was able to sign with the New Orleans Saints but obviously couldn’t overthrow veteran kicker Wil Lutz for the job. He would be selected by the San Antonio Brahmas in the specialist draft last November. He would by a long distance be the best kicker in the league last year going 17 for 19 and a long of 57 yards (2nd longest last season). This got him an opportunity with the Lions as they look to move on from their kicker from last year Michael “Money Badger” Badgley. His only competition for the moment is Riley Patterson who was the kicker in Jacksonville but was traded to Detroit after they signed long time Bronco kicker Brandon McManus. The Stakes are clear, be the better kicker and he gets the job.
3. DL Jack Heflin | New Orleans Saints
Meet the Team: Who is Saints defensive tackle Jack Heflin, and what are realistic expectations for him in 2023? https://t.co/cE4QWH16G1
Jack Heflin spent the majority of his time in the NFL with the Packers, making their 53-man roster in 2021 then being demoted to the practice squad in 2022 before being cut. He’d spend a cup of coffee with the Giants but decided to join the Houston Roughnecks during camp in January. Things would go great for Heflin as he would be a part of the all-XFL team after a 3 sack, 31 tackle season. This would lead to a third stint in the NFL with the Saints and the opportunity looks good. Right now, the saints have 4 people that will be on the 53-man roster in Khalen Saunders, Nathan Shepherd, 1st round pick Bryan Bresee, and Malcolm Roach but beyond that, not much. The competition for DT5 is Prince Emili who actual passed up an XFL opportunity to sign a futures deal with New Orleans and Jerron Cage who is a UDFA out of Ohio State. There’s clearly opportunity for Heflin.
Butler has a long story before landing in the XFL. Butler was 4th round pick for the Cardinals after having some day 2 buzz. His time there would be short as a broken hand ended his rookie season before it started, and he was cut before playing a game for Arizona. From there, He’d have short stints with Philadelphia and Carolina before going north to try the CFL but never made a roster there. From there, He DM’d Battlehawk coach Anthony Becht and joined their roster. It was a match made in heaven as Butler would finish the season with 51 receptions for 599 yards and 8 TDs. This would be his golden ticket to getting another chance in the NFL as the Steelers would sign him. The Steeler WR room has about 4 locks in Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Allen Robinson, and Calvin Austin but beyond that there is 8 receivers fighting for the next 1 to 2 spots. If Butler’s upside shows in the way it did in St. Louis he’ll be playing on Sundays for the black and gold.
Ben DiNucci would be a 7th round pick out of James Madison in 2020 for the Dallas Cowboys. He’d be thrown into a game against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football where a lot of his cult fandom comes from (not to mention the memes). He’d spend a few seasons with Dallas but finally lost out to Cooper Rush and Will Grier for the backup jobs in Dallas last year. Dinucci decided to take his talents to Seattle where he’d lead the league in passing yards (2,671) and 2nd in passing touchdowns (20). He got significantly better down the stretch as he was able to cut down on the turnovers that hurt him in the first half of the season. This led to him signing with the Denver Broncos and if the Broncos keep 3 QBs, he makes the roster. Denver already cut the only player that was competition in Jarrett Guarantano. Broncos Head Coach Sean Payton even said he’s firmly in the backup QB competition with Jarrett Stidham. The only reason DiNucci is on their Practice Squad is if they only want 2 QBs on the roster, a great preseason could force the issue.
What are your thoughts on XFL to NFL candidates this preseason? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!