Ranking UFL position groups based on initial 50-man rosters (defensive edition)

This is part two of my rankings of each UFL team’s position groups. The set of rankings below focuses on the defense and special teams. The offensive rankings can be found here,

Chris Odom, Houston Gamblers (Twitter

Defensive Line

  1. Houston Roughnecks – Houston’s line looks totally different than last year. They added 2022 USFL sack leader Chris Odom as well as Adam Rodriguez, who compiled 15 sacks over two seasons. Carlo Kemp will add pressure of the edge, while Glen Logan and Olive Sagapolu will clog up the middle.
  2. Birmingham Stallions – Two recent additions in Taco Charlton and Jonathan Garvin could play significant snaps for the Stallions at defensive end this season. In the interior, look for Marvin Wilson, Carlos Davis, and Jordan Thompson to slow down opponents’ running games.
  3. Michigan Panthers – Breeland Speaks had nine sacks for the Panthers last year and will look to continue terrorizing QBs this season. Kenny Willekes is an intriguing offseason addition and may man the other side of the line across from Speaks. Daniel Wise and Walter Palmore will fill the tackle roles.
  4. St. Louis Battlehawks – Three players on St. Louis’s line spent time in NFL training camps last summer in Austin Faoliu, Antwuan Jackson and Kobe Smith. I don’t see a lot of pass-rush prowess here, but there is potential.
  5. San Antonio Brahmas – Delontae Scott returns, but without his brother Mike. Caeveon Patton comes over from the Orlando Guardians; perhaps he’ll have an easier time getting to the quarterback with more talent around him. Wyatt Ray could also provide pass rush juice on the outside.
  6. Arlington Renegades – Bob Stoops grabbed another Oklahoma alum in La’Ron Stokes, who played for the Vegas Vipers in 2023. They have several returning players along the line back from a strong defensive group. But other teams improved at this spot in the merger; did Arlington do enough to retain its role as defensive bully?
  7. Memphis Showboats – The Showboats are stout in the middle with team captain John Atkins as well as P.J. Hall and Daylon Mack. Tyshun Render comes over after a two-year stint with the New Jersey Generals. Josiah Bronson is new to spring football after being with the Miami Dolphins the last two seasons.
  8. D.C. Defenders – Retirements (Jacub Panasiuk, Caraun Reid) and other departures thinned the depth along the defensive line. T.J. Barnes retired, then un-retired to join the Defenders. Joe Wallace is the top returning pass-rusher with just 2.5 sacks last season.
Houston Roughnecks linebacker Tavante Becket in a sideline interview after intercepting for a touchdown. (ESPN)


  1. San Antonio Brahmas – Two of the best linebackers in the XFL last year unite in San Antonio this year in Jordan Williams and Tavante Beckett. They’ll pair with OLBs Tim Ward, Zach McCloud, Garrett Nelson and others. This is a deep group.
  2. Memphis Showboats – There’s a lot of production among this collection of players. Vontae Diggs, late of New Orleans, had three interceptions in 2023. Greg Reaves, Max Roberts and Jeff McCulloch have shown they can also get to the quarterback.
  3. Arlington Renegades – Vic Beasley and Willie Taylor are your edge rushers here, while Donald Payne continues to prove ageless in patrolling the middle. Trade acquisition Tuzar Skipper will fit in somewhere, as will Will Clarke, a DE/OLB hybrid.
  4. Birmingham Stallions – If Scooby Wright comes back from injury 100%, they could easily leapfrog Arlington. A big offseason addition was the return of DeMarquis Gates from the Chicago Bears. Kyahva Tezino was with the Pittsburgh Maulers last year, turning his 93-tackle season into an NFL opportunity with the San Francisco 49ers.
  5. D.C. Defenders – Several players return from last year’s unit. Davin Bellamy led the team in sacks with 5.5. Francis Bernard was the leading tackler. They added sack-master Trent Harris from Houston and rookie Momo Sanogo as a developmental prospect. Many of these players will likely have critical special teams roles.
  6. St. Louis Battlehawks – Like D.C., St. Louis returns a significant number of players from 2023. Mike Rose, Carson Wells, and Travis Feeney were big-time contributors who are back. The major addition is 2023 XFL Defensive Player of the Year Pita Taumoepenu. We’ll have to see how he’s utilized in coordinator Donnie Abraham’s defensive scheme.
  7. Houston Roughnecks – Head Coach Curtis Johnson has been effusive in his praise of LB Reuben Foster during training camp. He’s expected to be a leader on this defense. Gabe Sewell was a 10-game starter for Philadelphia last season. Ronheen Bingham could provide the pass rush.
  8. Michigan Panthers – Michigan kept only a few linebackers, opting to go heavy at defensive back. It’s basically Frank Ginda and some question marks. Noah Dawkins may start on the outside. DeGabriel Floyd is an intriguing true rookie but the learning curve will be steep.
DB Michael Joseph, 2023 D.C. Defenders
DB Michael Joseph, 2023 D.C. Defenders

Defensive Backs

  1. Birmingham Stallions – The bulk of Birmingham’s secondary recently had stints in the NFL. That includes Ike Brown, Nevelle Clark, Mark Gilbert, Madre Harper, Kenny Robinson and AJ Thomas. How they gel together, since many of them are new to the Stallions, will be important.
  2. D.C. Defenders – This was a strength of the defense last season. Michael Joseph had four interceptions, two of which were returned for TDs. Santos Ramirez is a Gregg Williams favorite. They added a couple of former NFL first-round draft picks in Deandre Baker and Gareon Conley.
  3. Michigan Panthers – Lots of starting experience in this group. The team snagged Nate Brooks from Birmingham, Adonis Alexander from New Orleans, and Bryce Torenden and Keith Gipson from Pittsburgh, all of whom bring extensive playing time from last year. Corrion Ballard and Sean Mahone are a couple of the top returners.
  4. St. Louis Battlehawks – A late addition, CB Channing Stribling had seven interceptions with the Philadelphia Stars in 2022. The team re-tooled this position room in the off-season, taking advantage of the dispersal draft by adding the likes of Keylon Kennedy (Vegas), Chris Payton-Jones (Seattle), Qwynnterrio Cole (Seattle) and Kameron Kelly (San Antonio).
  5. Arlington Renegades – Ajene Harris was brought in by Arlington after he led the XFL in interceptions in 2023. Following a spell with the New York Guardians in 2020, Jamar Summers was a mid-season addition by the Vegas Vipers last year and gained immediate playing time. He’s now a Renegade. This is a veteran group buttressed by players like Tenny Adewusi and Duron Lowe.
  6. Memphis Showboats – Most of the defensive backs return from last year, benefiting from experience in defensive coordinator Carnell Lake’s system. The newbies are key figures like Jarey Elder (50 tackles and two interceptions for New Orleans) and Christian McFarland (55 tackles in nine games started for Birmingham).
  7. San Antonio Brahmas – There are some recognizable names among this group, but we’ll see how they transition to the UFL. Those new to spring football include Teez Tabor, Darius Phillips and BoPete Keyes. Phillips may be utilized more in the return game than at defensive back. The team’s defensive coordinator, Will Reed, is also making a big jump, from Southern Arkansas to the pros. That will be something to watch as well.
  8. Houston Roughnecks – There is a lack of alternative football league production here. Corn Elder and Jimmy Moreland will bring some needed NFL experience to the position. Jamari Brown, Ja’Von Hicks, and Jai Nunn-Liddell are all young and raw.
Arlington Renegades kicker #1 Taylor Russolino works out his leg while #0 Marquette King holds.
Arlington Renegades kicker #1 Taylor Russolino works out his leg while #0 Marquette King holds. (Twitter)


    1. Arlington Renegades – The only team that returns all three of its specialists from 2023. Marquette King, Taylor Russolino and Antonio Ortiz are still at the top of their games.
    2. Memphis Showboats – Matt Coghlin missed just one field goal out of 19 attempts last season. He and Matt White join Head Coach John DeFilippo in transferring over from New Orleans. White was one of the best punters in the USFL last year. Turner Bernard is a steady snapper.
    3. Birmingham Stallions – Colby Wadman returns to the Stallions after getting a number of NFL tryouts in the offseason. They brought over Chris Blewitt from Pittsburgh to kick field goals.
    4. D.C. Defenders – The only XFL 2023 player to make an NFL opening week roster, P Daniel Whelan, was replaced by Paxton Brooks out of Tennessee. This will be Brooks’s first pro rodeo. Matt McCrane hit just 75% of his field goals but has a history of reliability.
    5. San Antonio Brahmas – The big question here is the legitimacy of Donald De La Haye at kicker. If he can continue to show he deserves this spot, San Antonio is going to have a strong special teams unit once again. But that’s a big “if.”
    6. Houston Roughnecks – J.J. Molson takes over the kicker role in Houston. He hit on less than 70% of his field goals in college. Long snapper Logan Klusman and punter Huner Niswander are solid if unspectacular.
    7. St. Louis Battlehawks – Two Syracuse alums are part of the kicking battery in punter Sterling Hofrichter and kicker Andre Szmyt. Szmyt is highly regarded but young. Hofrichter averaged just 40.6 yards per punt in 2023.
    8. Michigan Panthers – Kickoff specialist Jake Bates gets a shot at field goals. It’s not completely unheard of as he was in camp with the Houston Texans last year. Lefty Brock Miller is the punter.
Doing the math. (The Hangover)

Final Tally

(Including offensive rankings found here)

  1. Birmingham Stallions (18 points)
  2. San Antonio Brahmas (31 points)
  3. St. Louis Battlehawks (37 points)
  4. (tie) Memphis Showboats (37 points)
  5. (tie) Michigan Panthers (37 points)
  6. D.C. Defenders (38 points)
  7. Arlington Renegades (41 points)
  8. Houston Roughnecks (45 points)

Looking back at last year’s rankings, I correctly predicted the top two teams in the XFL, as well as the worst team. This year’s exercise was significantly more difficult as the teams all feel much closer in talent than last year. In fact, the spread between the top-ranked and last-ranked team in 2023 was 31 points; this year, it’s just 27. That may not seem like a lot, but it is evidence that, hopefully, this year’s games will be even more competitive from week-to-week.

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