Ranking the Biggest CFB Stars Playing in the XFL

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2020

Ranking the Biggest CFB Stars Playing in the XFL

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    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    With college football and NFL fans alike looking to fill the offseason void, the XFL has proved to be an entertaining alternative.

    The eight-team league has completed three weeks of its inaugural season as it looks to build enough of a following to avoid suffering a similar fate to the short-lived Alliance of American Football.

    One of the biggest draws is the myriad of familiar faces that populate the eight rosters, from former NFL players to college stars of the not-too-distant past.

    We'll be focusing on the latter as we highlight the 10 biggest college football stars now playing in the XFL.

    Players are ranked based on the level of stardom they achieved and the name recognition they carried during their time on campus.

10. DT Will Sutton, Seattle Dragons

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    XFL Stats: 3 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 QB hits

    Will Sutton was an absolute force during his junior season at Arizona State, racking up 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks to earn consensus All-American honors and take home Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

    He opted to return for his senior season, and while his numbers inevitably dipped a bit, he still made enough of an impact to repeat as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

    The Chicago Bears selected him in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft. He started 18 games and played in 36 total in three seasons with the team, tallying 60 tackles, four tackles for loss and seven pass deflections.

    An ankle injury prematurely ended his 2016 season, and he was released the following offseason. After brief offseason stints with the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers, he suited up for the Arizona Hotshots in the short-lived AAF, logging 15 tackles, one sack and two pass deflections in eight games before the league folded.

9. S Rahim Moore, DC Defenders

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    Harry Aaron/AAF/Getty Images

    XFL Stats: 6 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble

    Back in 2009, Rahim Moore led the nation with 10 interceptions during his sophomore season at UCLA. He followed that up with only one pick during his junior year, but his ball-hawking abilities had already put him on the NFL radar.

    The Denver Broncos wound up selecting him in the second round of the 2011 draft.

    Moore spent four seasons with the Broncos, serving as the team's starting free safety in 48 games. He tallied 170 solo tackles, 19 pass deflections and eight interceptions during his time in Denver.

    He signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Houston Texas prior to the 2015 season, but he was released the following offseason after recording two pass deflections and one interception in seven games.

    The 30-year-old snagged the first interception in this new iteration of the XFL in the DC Defenders' first game of the year on Feb. 8.

8. S Matt Elam, DC Defenders

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    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    XFL Stats: 3 tackles, 1 interception

    After serving in a complementary role as a freshman, Matt Elam emerged as one of college football's most disruptive safeties during his sophomore and junior seasons at the University of Florida.

    All told, he racked up 154 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, four sacks and six interceptions during that two-year stretch. The Baltimore Ravens then selected him with the 32nd overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

    He was a starter from the get-go in the NFL, recording 77 tackles, five tackles for loss and one interception during his rookie season, but injuries derailed his career from there.

    A torn biceps cost him the entire 2015 season, and he also spent part of the 2016 season on injured reserve.

    His last NFL action came back in 2016, when he primarily played special teams. After a brief stint with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL, he's now patrolling the secondary for the DC Defenders in the XFL.

7. LB Scooby Wright, DC Defenders

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    Christian Petersen/AAF/Getty Images

    XFL Stats: 4 tackles

    A 2-star recruit out of high school, Scooby Wright managed to find his way onto the field as a true freshman at the University of Arizona. He had 43 tackles and nine tackles for loss in his debut season, which proved to be just the tip of the iceberg.

    The following season, he was one of the most dominant defenders in the nation, piling up 164 total tackles, 100 solo tackles, 31 tackles for loss and 15 sacks to earn unanimous All-American honors.

    That was good enough for a ninth-place finish in 2014 Heisman Trophy voting, the top spot among defensive players, and made him one of the best returning players in the country heading into 2015.

    Unfortunately, a foot injury limited him to only three games during his junior season. He slipped all the way to the seventh round of the 2016 NFL draft, where the Cleveland Browns selected him.

    He never saw the field for the Browns and played in 13 total games in two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, with 234 of his 248 snaps coming on special teams, before he was released.

    Wright has spent the past several seasons on practice squads, most recently with the New England Patriots, before the DC Defenders chose him in the 2020 XFL draft.

6. RB Cameron Artis-Payne, Dallas Renegades

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    XFL/Getty Images

    XFL Stats: 29 carries, 185 yards, 2 TD

    After spending the first two seasons of his college career at Allan Hancock College, Cameron Artis-Payne transferred to Auburn.

    In 2013, he rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns as the backup to Tre Mason. He then took over as the featured back during his senior year and led the SEC with 1,608 rushing yards while rumbling for 13 touchdowns.

    That standout final collegiate campaign was enough to convince the Carolina Panthers to select him in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft.

    In four seasons with the Panthers, Artis-Payne recorded 118 carries for 491 yards and five touchdowns. He re-signed with the Panthers on a one-year deal after his rookie contract expired, but he failed to make the team in 2019 and was released during the preseason.

    The 29-year-old is now the second-leading rusher in the XFL, behind only St. Louis BattleHawks star Matt Jones (224 yards), and his 6.4 yards per carry show he still has plenty left in his legs.

5. RB Andre Williams, Houston Roughnecks

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    XFL/Getty Images

    XFL Stats: 11 carries, 20 yards

    After rushing for 1,562 yards across his first three seasons at Boston College, Andre Williams came out of nowhere to lead the nation in rushing during the 2013 season.

    Williams led the nation both in carries (355) and rushing yards (2,177), and his 18 rushing touchdowns led the ACC. He wound up finishing fourth in Heisman voting, behind Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and Northern Illinois dual-threat signal-caller Jordan Lynch.

    The New York Giants selected him in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft, a draft in which no team selected a running back in the first round. He saw the field for all 16 games and made seven starts as a rookie, totaling 721 yards on 217 carries and scoring seven touchdowns.

    Alas, that middling 3.3 yards per carry dipped even lower to 2.9 the following season, and the Giants waived him prior to the 2016 campaign. He spent two seasons with the Chargers before a broken wrist effectively ended his 2017 season and his NFL career.

    The Houston Roughnecks wound up selecting him in the ninth round of the 2020 XFL draft.

4. WR Keenan Reynolds, Seattle Dragons

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    Will Newton/Associated Press

    XFL Stats: 9 receptions, 129 yards, 1 TD

    A four-year starter at quarterback for the Navy Midshipmen, Keenan Reynolds was one of the most dynamic players in college football while running point on their triple-option offense.

    He finished his collegiate career with 4,559 rushing yards and 88 touchdowns, while also completing 52.4 percent of his passes for 4,001 yards and 31 touchdowns against eight interceptions.

    With 1,373 rushing yards, 1,203 passing yards and 32 total touchdowns, he led Navy to an 11-2 record during his senior season, which earned him a fifth-place finish in Heisman voting.

    The Baltimore Ravens selected him in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft and converted him to wide receiver, but he didn't play a regular-season snap until 2018 as a member of the Seattle Seahawks. He was on the field for 21 offensive snaps that season, but he failed to record any stats.

    One of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football history is now gaining some valuable in-game experience at wide receiver.

3. RB Donnel Pumphrey, DC Defenders

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    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    XFL Stats: 24 carries, 97 yards

    Only Ron Dayne (7,125) and Tony Dorsett (6,526) finished their collegiate careers with more rushing yards than the 6,405 that Donnel Pumphrey racked up during his four seasons at San Diego State.

    That gaudy yardage total came with a stellar 6.0 yards per carry and 62 touchdowns, and he was also a threat in the passing game, snagging 99 receptions for 1,039 yards and five scores.

    He led the nation with 2,133 rushing yards and 2,364 yards from scrimmage as a senior, which was enough to earn him a 10th-place finish in Heisman voting.

    A lack of exposure to top-tier competition raised some obvious questions about how he would fare in the NFL, but the Philadelphia Eagles decided to roll the dice in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. However, a torn hamstring ended his rookie season before it ever started, and the Eagles waived him the following offseason.

    Still only 25 years old, Pumphrey is legitimately auditioning for NFL teams during his time in the XFL.

2. QB Landry Jones, Dallas Renegades

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    XFL/Getty Images

    XFL Stats: 87.4 QB rating, 579 passing yards, 4 TD, 4 INT

    After redshirting his freshman year, Landry Jones opened the 2009 season as the backup to reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. But when Bradford suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, Jones was thrust into action.

    He went on to pass for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns while helping guide Oklahoma to an 8-5 season.

    He eclipsed 4,000 passing yards in each of the next three seasons as one of college football's most prolific passers, and his 16,646 career passing yards trail only Case Keenum (19,217) and Timmy Chang (17,072) on the all-time list. His 123 passing touchdowns are also good for seventh all-time.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Jones in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft, and he made five starts and 19 total appearances serving as the backup to Ben Roethlisberger. He threw for 1,310 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions, compiling a 3-2 record as a starter and posting a respectable 86.2 quarterback rating.

    He could still find his way back to the NFL at some point in a backup role.

1. QB Cardale Jones, DC Defenders

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    XFL/Getty Images

    XFL Stats: 70.5 QB rating, 602 passing yards, 4 TD, 5 INT, 15 carries, 61 rushing yards

    In terms of sheer name recognition and stardom during his time at the collegiate level, no one in the XFL can rival Cardale Jones.

    The No. 3 quarterback on the Ohio State depth chart entering the 2014 season, Jones was thrust into action when injuries sidelined Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett.

    He made the first start of his collegiate career against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, before leading the Buckeyes to wins over Alabama and Oregon in the College Football Playoff en route to a national championship.

    • vs. WIS: 12-of-17, 257 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
    • vs. ALA: 18-of-35, 243 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
    • vs. ORE: 16-of-23, 242 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

    Eligible to enter the NFL draft following that shocking performance as a redshirt sophomore, he instead opted to return for his junior campaign. He won the starting job over Barrett to start the season, but was eventually overtaken, finishing with 1,459 yards and eight touchdowns.

    His intriguing physical tools and big-game success convinced the Buffalo Bills to take a chance on him in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft. He appeared in one game as a rookie, completing 6-of-11 passes for 96 yards and an interception.

    The Bills traded him to the Chargers for a seventh-round pick the following offseason, and he has not taken a regular-season snap ever since. Despite that, he's been framed as one of the faces of the XFL thanks to his name recognition and star power.


    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference unless otherwise noted.

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