In 2023, the San Antonio Brahmas had a season to forget. The Brahmas finished the year missing the playoffs and only getting into the win column three times, with two of those wins coming against the 1-win Orlando Guardians. Needless to say, head coach Hines Ward and the Brahmas front office have some work to do this off-season to solidify this roster and turn the fortunes of this team around. The silver lining for the Brahmas is that they only missed the playoffs by a game, as the Arlington Renegades, who got hot through the playoffs, entered the playoffs with a 4-6 record.
The first step? The 2023 XFL rookie draft. A chance to reload on younger talent for the Brahmas and hopefully find some gems within this deep rookie class out of college. As I have mentioned before, two of the hardest positions to find talent is the offensive line and cornerback positions. Not because they’re isn’t talent to find, but because the pool is generally so deep that some good players slip through the cracks and other leagues reap those rewards.
The Brahmas biggest question going into 2024 is going to be the QB position, though. Jack Coan got invited to camp, but it’s unlikely that he’ll stick with the roster. Coan had been benched in the middle of the season for NFL veteran Reid Sinnett, who then got hurt and had his season cut short. Sinnett is likely to return to the Brahmas in 2024 and I imagine that Hines Ward and his coaching staff is preparing to make a decision at the position earlier rather later.
With how little the Brahmas produced on offense, it comes as no surprise that they spent six of their ten draft picks on the offensive side of the ball. With what is assumed to be their first round pick, they took playmaking TE Jahleel Billingsley. Billingsley is an interesting prospect; it surprised a lot people when he went undrafted in the 2023 NFL rookie draft. Billingsley started his career with Alabama, which has produced some solid tight ends in the NFL before transferring and ending his career with the Texas Longhorns.
With this pick, the Brahmas definitely could have found a contributor in the passing game for the 2024 season. Primarily used as a pass catcher, but never really featured in an offense, he’ll have an uphill battle at learning and understanding the position to polish his dangerous skillset. If the Brahmas really focus on him and use him as a focal point in this offense, it could be a great year for Billingsley, who could find his way onto an NFL roster in the second half of 2024.
In rounds 3, 8 and 9, the Brahmas focused, once again, on the skill position portion of the offense. They drafted wide receiver Carlos Carriere, out of Central Michigan, in round three. Carriere is a huge target, as he stands 6’5 but lacks the ideal weight as he tips the scales at 205 pounds. Carriere didn’t have a standout career at CMU, but his best season did come in 2022 with 45 catches and 520 yards. Carriere is going to have to develop into a solid possession receiver because speed isn’t his game. Look for him to be a red zone target primarily in 2024, while they ease him into the offense. With their 8th pick, they drafted wide receiver JC Santana out of Tulsa. Santana’s height is more like your prototypical style wideouts in today’s game.
He’s about 6’0, but only weighs 185lbs. Santana is going to need to add a little more weight if he wants to be anything but a slot receiver at the professional level. While he lacks the overall size, he makes up for with being quick and shifty. In his four year career. Santana went over 500 yards receiving a total of three times. He averaged just under 15 yards per reception for his career, which is impressive, as well. His 2022 season was his most productive setting personal bests in receptions(53) and yards(859). Santana may not make an immediate impact in 2024, but he could carve a good role right away with special teams and situational plays.
Their 9th round pick was running back Chris Smith out of Louisiana. Over the last few years, the Sun Belt conference has worked its way into becoming a legitimate conference with really good players. Chris Smith is one of the men responsible for Louisiana’s surge to national recognition. Smith was a do-all back for the Ragin’ Cajuns, but his best damage came as the feature back. A little undersized, Smith was overlooked by the NFL due to his lack of top end speed. What Smith lacks in top end speed, he makes up for with his vision and shiftiness. Smith set the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajun rushing record against Arkansas State where he ran for 238 yards on 24 carries. He scored two touchdowns, as well. It’s evident that Smith has the ability to create, and San Antonio, who lacked a bit of a running game down the stretch, looks to make up for that with their selection of Smith.
In the Trenches
In order to have an efficient offense, you have to have strong offensive line play. Without an offensive line, you can’t efficiently and effectively run your offense. The Brahmas had a solid OL in 2023, but it was still near te bottom of the league overall. With their second selection, the Brahmas took Brendan Bordner, a big guy out of Florida Atlantic. Standing 6’5 and weighing just over 300lbs, Bordner has the ability and size to basically play any position.
While he projects better to be a guard, he has some experience at the tackle position that could help him win a rotational role with the Brahmas for 2024. This will be good for the Brahmas because having flexibility on the OL helps with the success of the offense. Bordner should help bring good run blocking skills to a run game that desperately needs it.
The Brahmas dipped into the big man well in the 7th round, as they drafted Dylan O’Quinn, out of Cincinnati. O’Quinn is almost identical in size to their earlier draft pick in Bordner, which makes it very clear to me that they felt they needed to sure up the middle of the OL. O’Quinn is experienced and had a lot of success playing in Cincinnati which rose to national recognition with QB Desmond Ridder. O’Quinn was on the offensive line that blocked for NFL running back Jerome Ford, as well. He played with a lot of talented players around him and he proved he could it for them. Look for both these guys to carve out a decent role for the Brahmas in 2024.
The Brahmas spent their other four draft picks, rounds 4, 5, 6, and 10, on the defensive side of the ball. In round four, the Brahmas drafted Darrious Gaines, out of Western Colorado. While “level of competition” definitely plays a factor into why Gaines wasn’t drafted to the NFL, it’s not the sole reason. Gaines’ best season came in the 2019, as a redshirt freshman.
Age and lack of dominance at the FCS level contributed to Gaines’ fall. While he wasn’t as productive as his 2019 season, Gaines has flashed some major ability. He has good size standing 6 feet and weighing 187, but it’s his 4.37 speed that should draw the coaches’ attention. If the coaching staff can work with him and clean up some of his mental mistakes, Gaines’ size and speed alone could be disruptive at the XFL level of professional football.
Knowing the importance of a productive secondary, and the lack of overall success the 2023 secondary accomplished, the Brahmas spent their round five pick on another defensive back in RJ Hubert, from Utah. Hubert is a bit undersized as a safety, and that could lead to him switching to the nickel back position. Despite that size, Hubert was a very accomplished tackler in the 2022 season. He totaled 78 tackles, showing his ability to come up and make the play , when needed. He also proved that he is capable of playing in coverage, as well. He had 3 INTs last season, as well. Hubert could play a hybrid role in 2024 for the Brahmas and eventually make a name for himself on that defense.
In the last round, the Brahmas closed their draft by taking defensive back Dillon Thomas from Missouri State. Thomas is another player in the secondary with really good size. He’s tall and lanky with a good wingspan. He wasn’t dominant at the FCS level, causing teams to move him off their board for the 2023 NFL draft. He plays stronger up near the line of scrimmage than he does in coverage, as he was more disruptive in the running game than he was in the passing game. Thomas has the tools to carve out a spot on the roster, but it’ll be an uphill battle for him, as he doesn’t possession as high of a ceiling as some other guys currently on the roster and the other two counterparts he was drafted with in this class.
Topping 80 tackles twice in his collegiate career, 6th round selection Lorenzo McCaskill, plays like a throwback middle linebacker. McCaskill definitely plays better in run support and near the line than he does in the pass coverage. He’ll need to find of that magic and improve in the pass defense in order to make a name for himself with this Brahmas team.
Overall, there is no secret as to what the Brahmas were trying to accomplish in this draft. They needed playmakers and they spent several draft picks at position needs to help them achieve their goal of a more efficient offense. They understood the need for depth in the secondary as they spent three picks in that group, as well. They definitely wanted to eliminate big plays and give them an opportunity to be in games at the end of the day, but importantly, the end of the season.
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