St. Louis Battlehawks Reloading With the 2023 XFL Rookie Draft

St. Louis Battlehawks

The St. Louis Battlehawks were one of the better teams in the 2023 XFL Season. Led by first time head coach and former NFL Tight End Anthony Becht, former NFL QB Bruce Gradkowski turned offensive coordinator, and former NFL DE Donnie Abraham, now the defensive coordinator. All three men are firm believers in practicing what you preach, and this staff has plenty of first hand experience to pull from. The list of former NFL players on staff doesn’t stop there with QB Tory Woodbury, WR Ricky Proehl, and DT La’Roi Glover also on staff. With all this experience, it should come as no surprise that this staff found so much success in year one.

Following this successful season (7-3), many players saw NFL interest including several wide receivers which led many to believe the Battlehawks would look for a few more receivers to round out the roster. This would come to fruition when they double tapped the position, while also adding another tight end, and running back. What I found interesting is they selected just three linemen and only one on the offensive side. Becht being a former tight end I expected more of an emphasis on the offensive line. Especially after losing talent to the NFL here as well.

Battlehawks Gamble on Kemore Draft Yet Another Tight End

Kemore Gamble

6’4 236 pounds

Tight End

College: Florida 17-21, UCF 22

Anthony Becht couldn’t help but draft a tight end. That being said, if he was going to select a tight end to develop, Gamble was a safe bet, all puns intended. Kemore Gamble began his career at Florida the season before a very familiar name at the tight end position would join the school…Kyle Pitts. While Pitts and Gamble both served as back-ups in the 2018 season, it was Gamble who produced more receptions, with 7. Pitts had 3 but flashed his playmaking ability. The following season, Pitts took over the tight end room, and Gamble suffered the consequences.

Playing in 11 games he didn’t log a single reception, and watched as Pitts became a starter and had a career year. Luckily for Gamble, Pitts opted to leave college early entering the NFL draft. Thanks to redshirting his first season with Florida, and covid, Gamble still had eligibility left over despite entering school a year before Pitts. This meant when Pitts left, Gamble was the incumbent waiting to take over, given his opportunity to shine, and he did not disappoint.

Gamble would put up career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns with 31 receptions for 414 yards and 4 touchdowns. Considering he had just 17 receptions in his first 36 appearances at Florida, this was nothing short of an explosion for Gamble. After this season, Gamble bet on himself, and attended UCF as a graduate transfer for the 2022 season. He played in 10 games catching 7 passes for 118 yards and 1 touchdown. He also went on to play in the Hula Bowl in 2022, where he served as a blocking tight end, catching his only target for 5 yards on the day. As a tight end you couldn’t ask for a better place to go for your long term development being coached by Becht, and Woodbury.

At his pro-day he managed to put up very impressive numbers that should have realistically had him on more NFL radars. Running a 4.56 40-yard dash, with a 1.54 10-yard split, 29.5 inch vertical leap, and 21 reps in the bench press. He also measured with 10 3/8 inch hands which should prove as an asset. While the 29.5 inch vertical isn’t exactly earth shattering, give me a tight end that can run a 4.56, and has the playing strength to hold up in the blocking department any day of the week. Gamble should be an asset for the Battlehawks especially considering the team carried just two tight ends in 2023 with Jovani Haskins, and Jake Sutherland the players leading the way.

These two players combined for just 15 targets in 2023, however keep in mind 193 targets went to Hakeem Butler, Darrius Shepherd, Marcel Ateman, and Gary Jennings, all of which were signed by the NFL. Butler may be listed as a WR, but at 6’5 230 pounds, and running a 4.48 40-yard dash with a 1.51 10-yard split, you can see that Gilmore could be in line for some of the targets vacated by Butler, assuming he doesn’t return.

Depth at Running Back

Kevon Latulas

6’0 200 pounds

Running Back

College: Kilgore 19, Missouri State 20-22

Kevon Latulas has several leagues looking his way. Being signed by the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers is no small feat for a rookie player. Unfortunately for him at the time he only lasted two weeks with Winnipeg before final cuts hit. It’s no coincidence that the XFL held their drafts when they did. Each one was timed specifically to catch players being released from other leagues, or having fallen undrafted and unsigned by the NFL. This initial draft managed to tap the undrafted pool from 2023, while also managing to add in the CFL rookies that had been released as well.

Latulas began his collegiate career at Kilgore College listed as a wide receiver, and only seeing one carry in his first five games. By that point he already had 9 offensive touches, and 1 kick return for a total of 172 yards. That’s when Kilgore really got him involved. He would total 508 yards of offense on 52 touches his last five games of the season seeing more and more carries out of the backfield as the season progressed. In a total of 10 games he produced 680 yards on 62 total touches for Kilgore, and found interest from several big schools the following season. Namely Bobby Petrino and Missouri State University.

In his first season with Missouri State, he played in three games carrying the ball 18 times for 142 yards and 1 touchdown, 9 receptions 92 yards, 2 kick returns for 34 yards, adding 1 blocked punt he returned for 41 yards and 1 touchdown. This simply flashed the talent this young man had and the chances he had to develop long term for the school.

In 2021 Latulas managed a career high with 107 touches for 799 yards and 6 touchdowns averaging over 70 yards of total offense a game as primarily a role player starting just 7 of 11 games. In 2022 he fell back in the rotation with the addition of Jacardia Wright who transferred from Kansas State in 2022. Celdon Manning also returned from injury after missing all but one game in 2021 paving the way for Latulas to put up a career year.

Being able to play running back, wide receiver, and adding value on special teams as a return man, makes Latulas a very valuable addition to the Battlehawks offense. While Brian Hill, Mataeo Durant, and Kareem Walker will do their best to keep him on the bench, something tells me Latulas is too explosive to keep off the field.

Darion Chafin

6’3 195 pounds

Wide Receiver

College: Cisco College 18-19, Incarnate Word, 20-22

Darion Chafin is a small school player, with big-time production. In 15 games with Cisco College he had 39 receptions for 814 yards and 8 touchdowns averaging 20.9 yards per reception. While the sample size may have been relatively small, Incarnate Word came calling for the 2020 season.

Shortly after Chafin joined Incarnate Word the world shut down due to covid, and he found himself forced to wait until Spring of 2021 to play for the school in an abrieviated season. This time in 6 games, he added to his career totals with 27 receptions for 373 yards and 4 touchdowns. With more playing time came more production, nearly twice as much in fact. In 2021 during a full 13 game season Chafin managed 59 receptions for 771 yards and 11 touchdowns an impressive season, and one that would take a lot to top.

Well Chafin managed to do just that in his final collegiate season when he paired with new quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. and scored 18…yes 18 times through the air in just 14 games. He caught 70 passes for 1,244 yards on the season as the top receiver. He also threw 1 pass for 18 yards. He graduated college having played in 48 games collecting 195 receptions for 3,202 yards and 41 touchdowns total. Small school or not, this is the exact type of player the XFL should be looking for in their rookie draft. It’s not often players are selected out of Incarnate Word into the NFL, but if Chafin can find success in the XFL, this could be his ticket to a future in the biggest football league on the planet long term.

Chafin will certainly be a name to watch in the 2024 season. He was viewed as a priority undrafted free agent, and ultimately slipped through the NFL cracks. Part of this might be due to the fact that he couldn’t partake in a pro-day due to a late foot injury. This injury will not affect his status with the XFL in 2024, but it certainly prevented him from putting up numbers that might otherwise have gotten him some NFL minicamp invites. However this might actually be best case scenario for Chafin who could be a star in the XFL long term.

Both Chafin and James Boston out of Ohio have a unique opportunity to not only make a roster but potentially play as rookies. The Battlehawks watched Darius Shepherd, Marcell Ateman, Hakeem Butler, and Gary Jennings head to NFL teams. These players accounted for 193 targets, 1,546 yards, and 17 touchdowns or 64% of their passing offense. If any or all of these players stick these players could be the direct beneficiaries.

Biggest Surprise

There really wasn’t a surprise with this Battlehawks draft class. If I had to choose one the fact that the Battlehawks chose to draft two defensive backs was slightly surprising. St. Louis was third in interceptions in 2023 and just 2 away from first place. Of those eleven interceptions they had, two left for the NFL with Lukas Denis who signed with the Atlanta Falcons.

Nico Bolden

6’3 213 pounds


College: New Mexico 17-20, Kent State 21-22

Nico Bolden is a very experienced safety having spent 6 seasons in college, and playing in five. In high school he played receiver, return man, and defense as well. He graduated listed as the number 6 recruit in the state of Minnesota in 2016. While he was never really a full-time starter at New Mexico he got involved as an in the box safety.

Playing in 25 games he had 47 tackles, and 2 tackles for a loss, and 3 forced fumbles. A role that he could fill should the team choose, is as a WILL linebacker, add seven to fifteen pounds and drop in the box. Focus on covering tight ends, and running backs.

He transferred to Kent State for two seasons and became a huge contributor immediately. In 23 games he collected 188 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 4 pass deflections, 2 forced fumble and 1 recovery. This time for Kent State, was instrumental in getting him on the map for XFL teams. I for one will be very interested to see if he plays linebacker, stays at safety long term, or simply gets used all over to utilize his size and speed.

Something that might prevent a permanent move to linebacker would be his 4.44 40-yard dash that he ran at his pro day. Bolden is an elite size, weight, speed candidate but his assets don’t stop there he is extremely explosive with a 41 inch vertical leap. After not being invited to the combine the show he put on at his pro day didn’t get him a lasting spot in the NFL. If I was St. Louis I’d be salivating at the possibility of adding a versatile player with elite athleticism like Bolden.

Anthony Witherstone

6’2 190 pounds

Defensive Back

College: Merrimack 17-21

As a true freshman Witherstone was used as a depth piece for Merrimack. Appearing in four games he managed 10 tackles, including 2 for a loss. The following season it looked as if he would have a bigger role for the school until an early injury ended his year after just 7 tackles, 1 interception, and 3 passes deflected. As if things hadn’t been tough enough for Witherstone through two seasons, 2020 presented yet another challenge, a challenge no one was prepared for.

The world came to a halt, and made it to where Merrimack played just 3 games. In 3 games he had 9 tackles and 1 pass deflection. So far through three seasons, Witherstone had amassed enough playing time to barely amount to one full year. Not exactly the beginning to his collegiate career he had hoped.

Regardless that didn’t stop him from putting up a career year in 2021. Finally allowed to start he collected 27 tackles, 9 pass deflections, and 2 interceptions both of which he returned for touchdowns. As a senior in 2022 he again collected 21 tackles, and 2 turnovers but by now his performance in just 35 career games spread across 5 years looked pedestrian at best. Suffering through injuries, a pandemic, and a ton of depth in his freshman season, the XFL presents a unique opportunity for Witherstone to make his name known by NFL scouts.

At his pro-day he put up numbers that remind me of another Battlehawks draft pick that never ended up playing for the team: Channing Stribling. Witherstone isn’t going to win any track meets running a 4.62, but he managed 14 bench press reps, and a 35 inch vertical, 7.15 3-cone drill.

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