What To Expect From The XFL

What To Expect From The XFL

By James Wilson

January 22, 2020

The XFL is back in 2020 and one thing is clear, it will be different. The only question that remains is: will it be successful?

Lessons Learned

The original XFL began in 2001 ran by the endlessly eccentric Vince McMahon. I am not a wrestling fan, but I absolutely love that McMahon has perfectly mixed athletics and entertainment. The WWE is a largely artificial league with added drama and feats of athleticism that are absolutely spectacular. It's like a mix between a sports league and reality television. This idea has made McMahon worth 2.6 Billion. So one thing is clear. The mix of athletics and scripted entertainment is definitely worth something. But will it work for football? Why did it not work the first time?

The Old XFL was a league that was meant to be crazy and exciting. A great example would be “The Scramble” which was such a huge source of injuries in the XFL that it should not even be mentioned in XFL 2020. The scramble had to players run towards the ball and try and grab it before the other player, whoever got the ball first gave their team the choice to receive or defer. This was a barbaric way to decide, but this is exactly why it was awesome. However, ultimately the XFL has decided to remove plays that would cause unnecessary injury.

Ultimately the XFL has two goals; playing fast and playing safe. Oliver Luck summed it up by saying “What we’ve designed this game to be is an up-tempo, fast-paced game. We’ve got a 25-second play clock. We’ve got an official who does nothing but spot the ball so that we can play fast.”

Setting the Foundations

XFL 2020 plans on being a serious spring league with experimental rules and innovative changes to the game. So why are people being reluctant to take in this league?

For those who are completely unaware, XFL 2020 will feature eight teams in its inaugural season. Seattle Dragons, Los Angeles Wildcats, Dallas Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, St Louis Battlehawks, Tampa Bay Vipers, New York Guardians and D.C Defenders.

These markets are all reasonably great choices when you make inferences as to why some were chosen. LA and New York have got to have teams for any league to survive. But would you be surprised to know that the Guardians will be playing in Metlife Stadium? Also the Wildcats will be playing in Dignity Health Sports park which among other teams is host of the Los Angeles Chargers. In fact in the XFL, half of all the teams will be playing in NFL stadiums. The Dragons in Century Link Field and the Vipers in Raymond James Stadium. Other teams will be playing in MLS or College Stadiums. (although the Roughnecks are playing in TDECU and not BBVA stadium, home to the Dynamo of the MLS)

For a league just starting out, they chose the perfect markets. Unlike the AAF the XFL is not bringing pro football to most of their markets, they are filling a void for football superfans in pre existing markets. 

Engineering an Improved Game

Some of the innovations the XFL features are a new and improved kickoff, the option for up to 3 point extra plays following a touchdown, and allowing two forward passes.

The improved kick off system puts the two teams 5 yards away, not ten. Also, both teams cannot move until the ball is caught. The reason is the XFL wants to get two things out of kickoffs, chances for bigger returns and reduced risk of injuries. They believe this is the best alternative to fair catches.

The extra points after touchdowns is one of the most exciting features in XFL 2020. After a touchdown, teams have the option to run a play from the 2, 5 or 10 yard line. Upon completion this will net the team 1, 2 or 3 extra points. They are doing this because the extra point after a touchdown is almost a guarantee. Also they want to allow games to stay close. This way teams that are trailing are more equipped to take risks to catch up.

The Double Forward pass is a wonderful innovation to the game. Teams are allowed to make an extra forward pass as long as the first pass did not cross the line of scrimmage. This will open up trick plays and make offenses more dynamic and less predictable. 

Faces of the XFL

Probably the biggest question of the XFL is who will be the superstars of this league.The AAF had Garret Gilbert, the greatest player in that league, he threw for over 2100 yards on 60% completion in just 8 games. His passes were good for 8.3 yards per attempt.

Many have their eyes on Landrey Jones, who could end up being the star quarterback in this league. He spent 5 years in the NFL playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, having 5 game starts across 19 games played. Although it is a small sample size, he had a completion percentage of 82.1% in his most recent year. This was good for a QBR of 70.3. (For reference, Deshaun Watston had a QBR of 69.4 in the 2019 season)

However Landrey was injured during practice and may miss a good portion of play time this season.

Another player that I believe will have a huge impact for their team is Cardale Jones. Jones spent his time in college playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Jones displayed confidence in the XFL preseason game between Seattle and D.C. It is clear that Jones will be a top quarterback in this league. I believe he has the weapons on offense and the know how to make himself useful. 

What is confusing is that Jonas Gray has yet to find a home in the XFL. Jonas played with the New England Patriots in 2014. On November 16, 2014, Gray had a game that made him look like a pro bowler. He had 199 yards on 38 carries and nabbed 4 touchdowns off of the Indianapolis defense. Just 5 days later Jonas Gray overslept because his phone died and his alarm did not go off. This caused him to miss practice and this upset Bill Bellicheck. Gray later found himself no longer with the Patriots by the end of the season. 

I am absolutely baffled that he struggled to bounce back in the NFL and even more bewildered that he did not get drafted into the XFL. Most likely his age is something that makes XFL teams wince, but it's still surprising that he did not make a single roster. The Chicago Tribune had Gray on the list of the Top 25 players in the XFL draft. So why is he not gearing up to play this season?

The Future Unknowns

TV Deals, player performance, and general interest are all things that can make or break this league. It has the ability and the resources to do great things. The only question is can they execute just as well as they have been doing so far?

The XFL will certainly be an interesting attempt at Spring football. With only one preseason game in the books it is hard to start to see how the league will actually play. There will be growing pains, there will be confusing moments. However, if Spring football is important to the fans, they will stick around and let this league become the first successful competitor to the NFL.