2023 XFL Arlington Renegades Season Summary

Arlington Renegades head coach Bob Stoops just prior to a game between the Houston Roughnecks and the Arlington Renegades at Choctaw Stadium on April 23rd, 2023 in Arlington, TX. (© Kevin Jairaj/XFL)
Arlington Renegades head coach Bob Stoops just prior to a game between the Houston Roughnecks and the Arlington Renegades at Choctaw Stadium on April 23rd, 2023 in Arlington, TX. (© Kevin Jairaj/XFL)

This is the final part of an eight-part look at each XFL’s team’s 2023 season. 

Part One: Orlando GuardiansPart Two: Vegas VipersPart Three: San Antonio BrahmasPart Four: St. Louis Battlehawks | Part Five: Houston RoughnecksPart Six: Seattle Sea DragonsPart Seven: DC Defenders

What went right

Well, the Renegades won the XFL Championship for one. They were able to upset the heavily-favored DC Defenders, and do so convincingly. The team appears to have found their quarterback for the present and future in Luis Perez, whom they acquired in a late-season trade from the Vegas Vipers. Perez got more comfortable in the offense the longer he was in it, culminating in his stellar performance in the title game. The defense, expected to be the strength of the team, lived up to that billing: They led the XFL in takeaways with 22. Even when their offense was misfiring, Arlington’s defense kept them competitive. Credit also to the experienced staff of Head Coach Bob Stoops, which included co-offensive coordinator and play caller Jonathan Hayes, and defensive coordinator Jay Hayes.

What went wrong

To say Arlington backed into the playoffs is somewhat of an understatement: Had John Parker Romo made a 53-yard field goal in week ten against DC, the Renegades would’ve been watching the postseason from their couches. Despite the trade for Perez, Arlington still closed out the second half of the season with a 1-4 record, proving that Perez didn’t pay immediate dividends. Quarterback play over the first six games was a real struggle as both Kyle Sloter and Drew Plitt flamed out as starters. Sloter was eventually released and Plitt was placed on injured reserve. The offensive struggles weren’t limited to the pass game: While RB De’Veon Smith scored seven touchdowns, he averaged a paltry 3.2 yards per carry. It got so bad for the offense that Stoops faced questions from the media about replacing Jon Hayes as play-caller.

Offensive MVP

He played just five games for the Renegades, but there’s no doubt they wouldn’t have won the XFL Championship without QB Luis Perez. Perez completed more than 70% of his passes in both playoff contests and threw six touchdowns to zero interceptions in those games. He also won the XFL Championship Game MVP. You could see him improving, getting more comfortable in the offense game by game. Perez’s performance opened up the entire offense: Even though he averaged just 3.2 yards per carry on the season, once Perez took over at QB, De’Veon Smith averaged 3.7 yards per carry in four games (including the playoffs).

Defensive MVP

Arlington placed just one defensive player on the league’s All-XFL Team, proof perhaps that their performance was a true team effort. To that end, it was difficult to find one player who played at an MVP-caliber pace above all others. Therefore, I’ll give it to the team’s interception leader, and the league leader in interception return yardage, S Joe Powell. Powell was also fifth on the team in tackles after playing for the St. Louis Battlehawks in 2020. There, he made his name by being the first to return a kickoff for a touchdown under the XFL’s new kick return rules.

Special Teams MVP

The emphasis in the XFL has been on making kick and punt returns more exciting by tweaking the rules to encourage returns. An added benefit from this is players on coverage teams get to show their skills as well in tracking down those returners. One of the stand-out coverage players this year was LB Colin Schooler, who, per Pro Football Focus, led the XFL in special teams tackles with 15. Schooler played on every kickoff coverage and punt coverage snap during the regular season. He was also a regular on the kick return team as well. His energy playing on these units was evident in watching the games and that willingness to play on teams is not something every player has.

Most likely to succeed (in getting NFL opportunities)

LB Willie Taylor (who I spoke to and wrote about before the season here) is the first and so far only Renegade to sign with an NFL team: He’ll be going to training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars. A host of other Renegades could also be signed over the next month or two. Arlington is a more veteran team than most in the XFL, filled with guys whose time to find a spot in the NFL may have passed. That said, I would expect G Mike Horton, TE Sal Cannella, and WR JaVonta Payton to be among those on NFL radars on offense, while on defense, LB Donald Payne could find his way back into the NFL. QB Luis Perez, like his Championship Game counterpart, may be one of those for whom the NFL door has unfortunately closed.

QB concern level for 2024 (1-5)

Perez finished 2023 on a high note. With a full offseason and training camp in the offense, his comfort level should rise even more. There are few, if any, quarterbacks more cerebral than Perez in the XFL, which helps him overcome some athletic shortcomings. He’ll be 29 years old for the 2024 season, right in his prime. If Arlington can bring back some of the key pieces on the offensive line and some of the weapons around Perez, or even add to it, the Renegades offense could be a lot more dangerous in ’24. The only question with Perez is that he struggled with Vegas before the trade; how much stock do you put into a very small sample size of his play with the Renegades versus his entire body of work? To his credit, he also shined in the USFL in 2022.

Behind him, Arlington utilized in-season pickup Kelly Bryant in some D’Eriq King-like ways. What happens with Plitt in 2024 will be interesting, as it’s hard to see Arlington opening up a competition at starter with the way Perez led them to the championship. Plitt could be a solid number two or a trade candidate, if he returns to the XFL at all. We’ll call this a 1.5

Head coach hot seat rating (1-5)

College Football Hall of Famer Bob Stoops was the only head coach to return to his 2020 stomping grounds in the XFL in 2023, even if the team relocated in name only. Stoops was able to navigate his team through some early-season difficulties and do just enough to squeak into the playoffs. He resisted the urge to heed the calls for Jon Hayes’s job – he and Hayes date back to their days as teammates at the University of Iowa. They also coached together at Oklahoma.

Stoops deserves plaudits for having his team ready to play in their two playoff games when they could’ve just been happy to be there. No doubt he used complaints from fans and analysts that Arlington was undeserving of a postseason spot as bulletin board material. Like Wade Phillips, Stoops is too big of a name to ever be on a real hot seat in a league like this. The XFL certainly benefits greatly from his presence. The hot seat rating for Stoops, therefore, is a 1.

Offseason needs for 2024

Offensively, Arlington could use depth at a lot of positions, including tight end, offensive line, and wide receiver. Those depth needs could turn into starter needs if the first-stringers end up in the NFL. RB De’Veon Smith was a nice story after his very public release from the USFL last year, but the Renegades need more out of their backfield than three yards per carry. Leddie Brown proved a nice backup, but I’m not sure if he’s a guy they want to count on for 15-20 carries per game. On defense, the retirement of DE TJ Barnes means they’ll need to replace a starter there in the team’s 3-4 alignment. Arlington’s starting safeties will both be 30+ during the 2024 season, one of the many places the Renegades could use some youthful legs.