The XFL 2023 campaign kicked off this past weekend and it did not disappoint. Three of the four games this weekend ended with final scores that were less than 5 points apart; one of those games ended on an improbable comeback, while another ended with a late turnover extremely deep in the leading team’s territory. It was exciting and definitely opened a lot of eyes around the football community that this version of the XFL is here to stay.
Traditional power rankings are fun because you get to diagnosis entire teams. In my experience, a lot of power rankings tend to slant in favor of quarterbacks and the “skilled” position units. But, being a former offensive lineman, primarily Center, I enjoy watching games from the inside out: after all, the trenches is where games are won and lost, and it was really evident this weekend. While all eight teams struggled in some capacity during their respective games, some OL units were stronger than others. Offensive lines are extremely important in spring leagues because they’re such an unknown and can make or break a team’s chances at winning a championship.
The overall number one team on most power rankings lists, the Roughnecks come in at number one here, but for a different reason. While I’m not ready to write the Roughnecks into the “best looking team in the league” after week one, their OL was the most dominant. It was clear from the start of the game that the Guardians weren’t going to be able to get pressure on Brandon Silvers. The run game was a bit underwhelming, and Houston needs to clean that up moving forward, but this unit has a lot to be proud of and should use this game as a foundation to build on. If the Roughnecks continue to improve on this dominating performance, they will definitely be a tough team to beat on the way to the Championship.
The Renegades coming in at #2 is more because someone has to be number two on this list. It wasn’t a perfect performance, and the offense was very sluggish for a good portion of the game. They came on much stronger towards the end of the game and the Renegades were able to pull out a close victory. The most impressive part of this OL unit was the fact they were able to keep the veteran-laden DL of the Vegas Vipers relatively quiet. We didn’t really see Vic Beasley, the preseason favorite to lead the league in sacks, in the backfield making plays on Drew Plitt. Plitt struggling at the beginning of the game was more due to lack of experience than anything and that’s something he needs to correct because the OL was one of the stronger units all weekend. Run blocking is going to be key moving forward for this team, but no team did a really fantastic job at it, so they have room to improve.
The team that Arlington beat comes in at number three on this list. Some people scratch their heads as to why a team that lost is on this list, but the Vipers actually had a really solid day upfront. The two Luis Perez picks weren’t because of the OL and I certainly will not hold that against them. Like every other unit, their run blocking was suspect, and their tackles struggled at times against pressure, but overall, we didn’t really hear much about Arlington defenders wreaking havoc in the backfield. Facing a strong DL unit next week, the Vipers may get put to the test as DC comes to town, but for week one, I can slot them into three without questioning whether or not I made a mistake. The team is loaded with experience throughout the roster and as long as they can avoid injuries, they should be one of the stronger units all year.
After a rough start to the game on Sunday night, the Defenders put it together and had a strong second half performance. The Defenders definitely need to sure up their pass blocking schemes, especially in the middle if they’re going to contend for a championship. The run blocking was stronger at the beginning of the game as Ryquell Armstead and Abram Smith had some room to run with Armstead ending at over five yards a rush. D’Eriq King generated a spark behind that same run blocking scheme in the fourth quarter leading the Defenders to victory. If the Defenders can improve their pass blocking, this unit could become the strongest unit in the league.
Seattle Sea Dragons
In my initial rankings, I had the Sea Dragons ranked fourth on this list. But after the fourth quarter performance from them last night, I had to drop them a spot because it was brutal. The Defenders were all over DiNucci late and turned on the pass rush which caused a lot of problems for the offense. The Sea Dragons were able to make a late push to win the game, but DC defensive coordinator Gregg Williams turned up the pressure the closer that Seattle got to scoring and it eventually led to a late turnover. The Sea Dragons kept the Defenders relatively quiet for a chunk of the game but against the blitz they struggled. Their run block and pass blocking doesn’t handle pressure up the middle and their tackles had a tough time against a strong edge rusher. Seattle has a chance at being a high-powered offense, but they need to clean up some major errors on the OL.
St. Louis BattleHawks
This is where there’s a huge drop off for me. If there was a way I could rank multiple teams in the same spot, I would right here, starting with St. Louis. The BattleHawks had one of the worst performances of any OL unit in the league this weekend. So, it doesn’t come a shock when you realize that they were in the lowest scoring game of the weekend. I’ll give credit to San Antonio defense for being able to control the line and cause issues for the St. Louis offense. AJ McCarron didn’t look very good, despite having the most experience of any QB and I attribute a large percentage of that to the fact that the OL didn’t provide him with any protection: a sentiment shared by Coach Anthony Becht as this was the only team to make wholesale changes on the OL after halftime. The run game had a tough time getting going and the Brahmas’ linebackers were constantly making plays in the backfield. Despite the comeback victory, St. Louis has a lot of work to do with this unit.
San Antonio Brahmas
Probably the only saving grace for the BattleHawks was the fact that they were playing San Antonio. The Brahmas OL was a mess right from the opening snap on offense. QB Jack Coan was under pressure on a pretty consistent basis and that was evident on his throws as he was missing high to all of his WRs. The Brahmas, unfortunately, also suffered the most injuries along the OL this weekend, as well. The tackles had a tough time with the BattleHawk edge rushers. The one shining point for San Antonio was the run blocking of the middle of the line. It led to Kalen Ballage being the league’s leading rusher after week one, other than that the Brahmas have a ton of maintenance to do to get this OL right for the rest of the season.
While I’m sure that the Guardians are pulling up the caboose on traditional power rankings, they pull in eighth here because their OL was just downright brutal. They were consistently allowing pressure on the QB and the running game was essentially nonexistent. The opening drive looked really good which led to a passing touchdown but after that, everything fell apart and the Guardians couldn’t get anything going on offense. They tied for the league low in team scoring and their starting QB eventually got benched. As much as I’m not a fan of Paxton Lynch, it’s not exactly his fault in the grand scheme of the offense. The Guardians were the preseason bottom ranked team in power rankings, and they looked the part this weekend. They need to find a way to get better and improve in every aspect of the offense, but primarily this offensive line.
Overall, all eight teams had struggles and didn’t look the best at times; none of the teams put together a full game of high-quality OL play. Early in the season, this doesn’t surprise me as the defense is usually ahead of the offense. As these offenses continue to gel and practice together, it could lead to big things amongst the top four teams on this list. After all, they already have a tremendous head start on the bottom of these rankings.
Also check episode 2 of Spring Football Reports on the Shady Sports Network YouTube channel! Featuring our new segment by Michael Washington “That Don’t Impress Me Much”