From Anthony Russo, to Ej Hilliard, Drew Powell to Tj Edwards, Dalton Sneed, Ja’rome Johnson and everyone in between. With the IFL/XFL Combine coming up we break down the quarterbacks that deserve the call up to the outdoor leagues.
Many of these players have been league leaders for multiple seasons, with the newcomers particularly intriguing in this group. With teams already shuffling quarterbacks often given the injuries in the CFL, and ELF and the offseason beginning for the XFL and USFL, now is the time these IFL guys should be getting the call to the next level.
Let’s Start with The Most Obvious Name
These players are in no particular order. This does not reflect any ranking, as each and everyone of these players will appeal to different teams, coaches, and schemes.
Anthony Russo, Massachusetts Pirates
Anthony Russo was one of the first quarterbacks picked up by the San Antonio Brahmas in the 2023 season. He was also the first released. The Brahmas had loaded up at Quarterback leaning primarily on very young and inexperienced passers outside of Reid Sinnett.
After being let go Russo landed with the Massachusetts Pirates of the Indoor Football League. Massachusetts is known for their ability to continue to attract former outdoor football players to their roster and ultimately get them back where they belong. As my boy Krish would say Jawad Yatim and his front office are the best in the league, that’s why the Tier 2 Outdoor leagues are littered with former Massachusetts Pirates.
Originally signed to be Alejandro Bennefield’s backup, an injury paved the way for Russo to start. Once he stepped in, there was no pulling him out as he has lit up the league. As Russo later watched his backup Geremy Hickbottom signed by the DC Defenders late in the XFL season. He continued to ball out focused on what he could control. While part of me wants Russo to return, because I truly believe he has all the tools and the football IQ to be one of if not the best IFL quarterback ever, that would be selfish and unrealistic unless he doesn’t receive interest outdoors.
The Brahmas went on to struggle to a poor season watching Jack Coan look like a rookie, Reid Sinnett, and Kurt Benkert got hurt, and Jawon Pass was so uninspiring he has since been released after the season. Perhaps the Brahmas should have kept Russo and given him a full chance to compete.
Meanwhile, Russo made a seamless transition to the Indoor Game an underrated ability given the speed of the game and the condensed passing windows. After 14 games he has 49 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, he completed 61.8% of his passes for 2,243 yards. This amounts to second in touchdown passes behind only former NFL Draft Pick Nate Davis.
Russo is also 9th in completion rate for starting quarterbacks. The one knock on him? He’s also second in interceptions, but can anyone complain about a near 5 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio? Russo is obviously already on the XFL radar, and San Antonio could revisit signing Russo, but I have a strange feeling we see him turn up on a CFL roster as soon as his IFL season finishes up.
We have already watched 12 quarterbacks start games so far, and teams are cycling through players quickly with names like Kai Locksley, Dakota Prukop, Khalil Tate being signed or released as well as nearly constant injuries.
With this in mind why not take a long look at Russo even if it’s only as a practice squad player to finish the season. Let’s not forget the transition from the IFL to the CFL is made easier to an extent by incorporating high motion, and other similar facets. Russo would also likely chew up defenses due to the wider/longer field giving larger gaps in coverage. I could see him being a very efficient passer in the CFL. A few recent examples of indoor quarterbacks making CFL rosters are the Vegas Knighthawks Cameron Dukes, and Salina Liberty’s Tyrie Adams. No matter which league it is; CFL, USFL, or XFL Russo should be back outdoors soon.
Ej Hilliard, Quad City Steamwheelers
Ej Hilliard is for all intents and purposes one of the best IFL quarterbacks. Originally hailing from Valdosta University, Hilliard has the necessary size, and athleticism, but more importantly he also holds the arm talent. Hilliard often uncorks 40-45 yard bombs in the IFL and trust me when I say his passes aren’t lacking zip on the ball either.
At 6’3 210 pounds he is one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the IFL, and would rank among the best runners at the next level as well. No matter which league looks his way. The thing going against Hilliard at this point is age he is 29 years old. Having originally attended Florida International University, he would graduate from Valdosta after the 2015 season.
During his time at FIU he was the backup to Jake Medlock working with names like Jonnu Smith. From 2012-2014 he played in 22 games attempting 274 passes, and rushing 122 times. He completed 64% of his passes for 1,756 yards, 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Moving on to Valdosta he earned the starting job out of camp and put together a season to remember.
In 12 games he attempted 346 passes completing 65% for 2,425 yards 22 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He rushed 120 times for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns. Keep in mind that’s accounting for yards lost on sacks as well. Then he fell off the map for a few years. It wasn’t until 2019 when Quad Cities brought in Hilliard for his rookie season.
He responded by winning Offensive Player of the Year. By producing 75 touchdowns and 3,201 yards. What he showed was he was a true dual threat. Fast forward to 2021 he signed with the Tucson Sugar Skulls. An injury early in the season led to Demry Croft getting his first opportunity as a starter, and led Hilliard back to where it all began for him in 2022 with Quad Cities once again.
In 2022 100% healthy, he managed another great season. This time he rushed for 25 touchdowns and 681 yards while adding 35 and 1,810 yards through the air. This was good enough for another Offensive Player of the Year Award. This came after being ranked fifth as a passer and second as a runner.
Heading into 2023 he re-signed with QC once again. So far through 15 games Hilliard has the second most passing attempts in the league with 307. He’s completed 59.8% of his attempts for 2,203 yards 47 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, adding 662 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. For those keeping score at home:
8,557 total yards, 209 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, 2x Offensive Player of the Year (voting for 23 hasn’t occurred yet), these do not include post season statistics.
This man belongs at the higher level regardless of his age. Realistically missing three years of wear and tear on his body after college should only help his case with NFL quarterbacks playing into their 40’s Hilliard could play at least 5-7 more seasons at the outdoor level with the CFL, XFL, or USFL.
Drew Powell, Arizona Rattlers
Drew Powell is the man every defense fears in the IFL. With a wicked combination of accuracy and athleticism it came as no surprise to see Powell sign with a CFL team before the 2023 season, it’s not the first time a CFL team has shown interest either. It was a surprise However to see him let go before the season began.
Powell during college was an extremely versatile and electric player. One of the few quarterbacks I have ever seen catch passes and log a punt return in college. With 2 receptions, and 1 34 yard punt return on his resume. He also had 4,585 yards passing, 43 tds to 26 ints, and 348 carries for 1,398 yards and 14 touchdowns.
He saw his first opportunity come with the Sydney Express a team that played its football in the National Gridiron League based in Australia in 2016. He would return to the US and start his IFL career in 2017 splitting time between Sioux Falls and Nebraska. With Sioux Falls he played QB, RB, WR, DB, and special teams. At 6’3 225 pounds he had the size and athleticism to play nearly any skill position. Powell went 2 of 9 for 25 yards, 3 carries for 4 yards and 1 touchdown, 6 receptions for 83 yards and 3 touchdowns. He would be released and sign with Nebraska as a QB.
He helped lead his team to the playoffs collecting two offensive player of the week awards thanks to two separate five touchdown games. This showed the league he could be a great quarterback in the run heavy schemes of the IFL.
Powell returned to the IFL in 2018 signing with the Iowa Barnstormers. He would go on to finish third in passing yards per game and touchdowns, first in completion rate by a starting QB, second in passing yards, and threw just 4 interceptions. Powell also led the league in carries, rushing yards, and touchdowns. He won his first of many MVP awards working with Dixie Wooten a longtime IFL QB himself.
Powell would end up signing a deal with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. Head Coach Dixie Wooten said in an interview at the time “I knew I wasn’t going to have him the whole season, because of the talent that he had. I’m thankful for him going up and I’m trying to get more guys up as well.”-Last Word on Sports. He spent the 2019 season on their practice squad.
During 2019 he was also announced as One of eight players assigned to the Atlantic City Blackjacks. He was moved to the recallable reassignment list but never played it down in the AFL. He was also signed by the IFL’s Arizona Rattlers, midway through the year but in just his third game, he was inserted as the starter versus his former team the Nebraska Danger. From then on he and Arizona have never looked back. Powell has gone on to win two league MVP awards making it three in the three seasons he played the majority of the games. Can he make it four in 2023?
In 11 games he has thrown 236 passes for 2,048 yards 43 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, while rushing for 86 times for 503 yards and 25 touchdowns. 68 touchdowns in just 11 games or OVER 6 touchdowns a game. Unbelievable.
Tj Edwards, Frisco Fighters
Tj Edwards is also an IFL veteran but he is on the younger side of this list. Having joined the Arizona Rattlers in 2021 for his first season he was the backup to Drew Powell during a record setting season, and another MVP campaign. In 2022 Tj moved on to Frisco his hometown team where he would compete with Blake Sims a former NFL quarterback for snaps.
By the end of the season Edwards had taken hold of the quarterback position and Sims was moved into a utility role. Edwards and the Fighters finished the season with the best record in the IFL, a feat they managed again in 2023 with Edwards reaching a new level in his game. This was thanks in part due to his work with New Jersey Generals QB coach Zerrick Rollins.
2021: 4 of 7 41 yds 2 tds, 0 ints, 4 carries, 3 yds 0 tds
2022: 124 of 182 1,481 yds, 26 tds, 5 ints, 126 carries for 781 yards and 28 touchdowns
2023: 205 of 328 for 2,286 yds 33 tds, 7 ints, 161 carries for 777 yards and 42 touchdowns
Totals: 517 attempts, 333 completions, 64.4%, 3,808 passing yards, 61 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 291 carries for 1,561 yards rushing and 70 touchdowns.
Given his relationship with the quarterback coach for the New Jersey generals, and the fact that the Generals have shown interest in IFL Players in the past I believe this is a great landing spot for TJ Edwards. Dakota Prukop is back in the CFL and no word as to if he will return to the USFL in 2024, I would assume he will not given that he was released before the USFL season ended.
Meanwhile Kyle Lauletta played poorly, and DeAndre Johnson flashed but wasn’t consistent at times and really held back the offense. However if you’re looking for a mobile quarterback who can run the scheme in a very similar manner to DeAndre Johnson; TJ Edwards is your guy. I would also venture a guess that his relationship with Rollins would be a motivating factor to bring Edwards in given his expected knowledge of the offense.
Dalton Sneed, Bay Area Panthers
Sneed is likely one of the better pure passers on this list although he can definitely still do damage with his legs. An IFL rookie in 2022, he split time between the Vegas Knighthawks and the Sioux Falls Storm under two of the better coaches in the Indoor Football League.
Sneed has already gotten CFL looks having attended training camp with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Ironically enough he signed with Vegas as his first indoor football league team, but played in just two games before being shipped off to Sioux Falls who was looking for a quality back up. This is ironic because the man he took A backseat to, Cameron Dukes has since signed with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts and made the active roster for the 2023 season.
While Sneed has not seen another CFL team offer him a contract yet, last season he played in just 12 games. Completing 106 of his 179 attempts for 1,377 yards 25 tds, and 3 interceptions, adding 95 carries for 408 yards and 16 touchdowns.
In 2023, the Bay Area Panthers traded for Dalton Sneed bringing him in as their QB1 seeing the potential he offered after being a part time starter in 2022. This season he’s looked even more accurate completing 68% of his 231 attempts for 1,941 yards, 42 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions adding 93 carries for 493 yards and 13 touchdowns. Meaning he ran and threw for more yards, scored more touchdowns, did not see his interceptions increase despite throwing it 52 more times.
Sneed had a very interesting college career but played at some big time schools. Beginning at UNLV he later ended up at Fort Scott Community College before a brief stay at Montana to finish his career. The same traits he has shown now, accuracy, athleticism, and field awareness were on display in college.
Sneed set a school record at UNLV with a 91 yard touchdown run his redshirt freshman season despite playing in only six games that year. Opting to take a chance and transfer to a community college to get an opportunity to start, Sneed made the best of it and ended up right back at the division one level at Montana after a solid season.
Ironically it was Sneed’s backup in 2023, D’Angelo Fulford who got the call from the XFL, with the Vegas Vipers a team that plays just miles from where Sneed attended UNLV. Something tells me this is the season Sneed gets his chance. He is easily a USFL/XFL/CFL talent, but if these three don’t pan out Sneed should turn his attention to the LFA or ELF. Getting some outdoor film could be his last necessary step to make it in one of those leagues.
DaQuan Neal, Vegas KnightHawks
DaQuan Neal was a name that had to be on this list for multiple reasons. First of all he has had NFL, and USFL interest in the last two seasons, and second of all, he is really really good. Neal is everything a team wants in a quarterback at the next level, so much so that in 2022 he had to miss an IFL game due to a workout with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. The 6’3 210 pound quarterback was not signed at the time but he certainly made some connections that could prove fruitful in the future.
Neal attended Elizabeth City State for four years acquiring his bachelors degree. During that time he played in 31 games and was the primary starter for three years. He attempted 924 passes completing 478 of them for 6,140 yards, 48 tds, 32 ints, adding 358 carries for 1,142 yards and 25 touchdowns. Granted this was a small school he displayed some traits to like. He pursued the draft, but fell undrafted looking for other opportunities he launched his career in 2019.
After the 2022 IFL season with the Tucson Sugar Skulls, Neal signed a contract with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. He was released around the time the Generals brought in former and now current CFL quarterback Dakota Prukop. Neal was then nearly immediately signed by the Vegas Knighthawks, who had just lost Cameron Dukes to the CFL. Neal has struggled through some injuries this season, but has only added to an already impressive IFL career.
Despite the injuries, Neal still managed the 9th best per carry average in the league at 5.8 yards. With 104 carries he topped 500 yards and scored 16 times.
2019: (4 games)72 of 92 for 800 yards 17 tds, and 0 ints 41 car, 188 yards, 6 tds
2021 :149 of 248 for 1,833 yards 29 tds and 7 ints 103 car for 611 yards and 16 tds
2022: 181 of 294 for 2,342 yards 50 tds, and 9 ints, 87 car for 354 yards and 17 tds
2023: 142 of 252 for 1,989 yards, 39 tds, and 7 ints, 104 car, 546 yards and 16 tds
Totals: 544 of 886 or 61% for 6,164 yards 135 tds and 23 ints, 335 car 1,699 yards and 55 tds
Ja’Rome Johnson, Green Bay Blizzard
Johnson is another dual-threat quarterback a trait you’ll see often with IFL’s Quarterbacks due to the run heavy offenses they use. Johnson is no exception to this rule, and ran early and often during his collegiate career as well.
Originally committing to the University of Virginia-Wise, Johnson came in as a 6’2 160 pound quarterback. He would play in 17 games over the next two seasons racking up 69 completions on 138 attempts for 888 yards, 8 tds to 7 ints. He added 109 carries for 576 yards and 5 touchdowns. Seeing the writing on the wall after spending the majority of the 2018 season on the bench, Johnson opted to transfer this time to Bowie State.
Johnson immediately found a much larger role playing in 26 games over the next two seasons. He attempted 510 passes, completing 290 of them, and added 288 carries as well. The dual threat quarterback collected 5,533 yards and 66 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions. Despite adding 15 pounds to his frame Johnson wasn’t added by any of the tier 2 football leagues.
This left him looking for an opportunity and he found one, or so he thought with the Major League of Football a league that was set to launch a four game showcase season in August of 2022. However the MLFB, as if hit by a case of Deja Vu had financial issues come up once again this time six years removed from their first attempt, also a failure.
This time they sent players home just days before the first game was said to be played. Many players were kicked out of their hotel rooms and left to fend for themselves never collecting a dime from the MLFB. Apparently the MLFB is still attempting to launch once again in 2023. Although I’m hoping players understand this league is nothing more than a façade. However due to the situation it left Johnson without a home for the 2022 season.
Delaying his rookie year until the 2023 season when he signed with the Green Bay Blizzard of the IFL. Since finally getting his opportunity to begin his professional career, Johnson has reinvigorated the Blizzard fans and given them something to believe in for the first time in many years.
Traits that really stick out in his game are his Escapability within the pocket while always keeping his head turned down field, and he throws a very pretty deep ball. Everytime I have the pleasure of watching Johnson play I can’t help but feel he has that little bit of magic great quarterbacks always seem to have. When your team needs a big play you know Johnson will deliver. In Johnson’s case I believe his size limits him a little bit as to which teams will look his way.
Johnson finished his rookie year 93 of 163 for 1,234 yards, 23 touchdowns and 7 interceptions adding 74 carries for 440 yards and 13 touchdowns. Now it isn’t often a team can say this but Green Bay found not one but two diamonds in the rough at QB.
Max Meylor, Green Bay Blizzard
Meylor and Johnson competed in training camp for the starting job for the Blizzard. Johnson ultimately won the job most likely due to his ability to throw the deep ball a little bit better than Meylor. However when Johnson came up injured, and the Blizzard were forced to turn to their back up there was little to no drop off in the offense in fact their statistics are nearly identical.
Meylor completed 114 of 175 passs or 65.1%, an 8% increase over Johnson. However he didn’t push the ball down the field as much. Completing 21 more passes he still managed just 1,240 passing yards 23 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. He added 86 carries, 340 yards and 13 touchdowns. If you’re looking for a quarterback that will protect the ball, add a rushing element to your offense Meylor makes sense. Also he could be a utility player in the mold of an Eric Dungey or Tyler Palka he actually caught 2 passes and scored on one in college. At 6’3 225 pounds he also provides NFL level size. He actually makes a lot of sense for the Houston Gamblers or DC Defenders.
Andre Sale, Tulsa Oilers
Andre Sale was once the starting quarterback at Tennessee Tech, that must seem like a lifetime ago for the young quarterback who has since transferred to LSU as a walk on, went un-drafted by the NFL, signed his first professional contract, got hurt, released, signed by another team and started his first games and that was all just since he transferred.
Playing in 8 games for Tennessee Tech as a sophomore Sale completed 123 of 209 passes for 1,520 yards, 8 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Sale then transferred to LSU where he spent two years but never appeared in a game, or was given a scholarship. By the end of the 2019 season he chose to transfer again. This time he would end up at Henderson State University.
After college Sale jumped into coaching and wound up overseeing quarterbacks/wide receivers for Presbyterian College. He also coached quarterbacks independently before joining the full time coaching ranks. He would also start peaking interest from IFL teams and ultimately sign with the Duke City Gladiators as the backup to Nate Davis, THE elite quarterback in the IFL.
Much like Matt Cassel who once rose from the shadow of Tom Brady, Andre Sale sat behind Nate Davis in Duke City for a short time after college. Then Duke City made a trade that sent ripples through the IFL. One of those ripples was the release of Andre Sale. This actually ended up presenting an opportunity for Andre, who had previously not gotten the chance to start in Duke City. Tulsa came calling and signed Sale to finish out the year as their QB1.
Since then Sale has played in 6 games and showed he deserves to be more than a backup, and truly could belong outdoors. He has completed 115 of 185 passes for 1,101 yards 23 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He also has run 18 times for 59 yards. Unfortunately for Andre, Tulsa did not make the playoffs so his season is already over. However I’m hoping for his sake that he attends the IFL Combine. I believe he has all the makings of an XFL backup quarterback.
The question is if his sample size is too small so far, and if one more season is necessary. One option that Sale could explore is joining a more pass happy Arena League. Perhaps he can find a spot with the NAL, assuming they’re still in operation as a league, or the AFL if they get off the ground.
Ramone Atkins, Tucson Sugar Skulls
Ramone Atkins is everything coaches want in a modern quarterback. He’s big, he’s mobile, he protects the football, and makes good decisions. This is highlighted by his 65.8 completion rate, and 34/11 touchdown to interception ratio. He has thrown for 1,891 yards while running 139 times for 599 yards and 19 touchdowns.
This season actually was a slight drop off from what Atkins managed during his 2022 IFL Rookie of the Year campaign in Duke City. Last season Atkins threw the ball 325 times in 14 games completing 190 passes. He threw 50 touchdowns tied for second in the league, and just 10 interceptions while accumulating 2,169 yards which ranked 4th in the league.
He also added 76 carries for 326 yards and 15 touchdowns. This is interesting to see in hindsight because Duke City ran a very pass happy offense in 2022. Tucson opted to lean heavily on Atkins’ ability to run the ball. He nearly doubled his 2022 carry number and attempted a lot fewer passes. Duke City later transitioned to a more run oriented scheme this season choosing to trade away Nate Davis acquiring quarterbacks that could run the read option more effectively. One has to wonder if Duke City would retain Atkins and not Davis this past offseason if they had the chance to do it all over again.
Coming out of New Mexico Highlands it took the local Indoor Football team to give him a chance for him to get his foot in the door of the professional football world. In 2023 he was able to pry that door open even more. Something tells me with a strong Combine performance Atkins will have the door wide open when he ultimately signs an XFL, USFL or CFL deal. Perhaps he gets his start as a short yardage specialist at 6’4 225 pounds.
The IFL and XFL partnered to give diamonds in the rough better opportunities to advance their career. That’s precisely why we find Atkins in the IFL, and I would expect him to return if he doesn’t end up outdoors. Perhaps a Duke City reunion is in the works? Another option could be Europe or Mexico. He is better than a good chunk of starters in both leagues.
Vincent Espinoza, Tulsa Oilers/Billings Outlaws
Espinoza began his season with the Champions Indoor Football League in Billings Montana. Espinoza is a guy who has next level mobility, but I believe teams question his accuracy overall. However if you’re a CFL or ELF team looking for a quarterback, you should be taking a long hard look at Espinoza’s resume.
Garrett Kettle, NAZ Wranglers
Kettle is a guy who possesses the necessary size to be a professional football player. One thing teams will question is his decision making as he threw his fair share of interceptions in 2023. He threw 35 touchdowns to 16 interceptions, completing just 57% of his passes. He added 533 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. At 6’4 210 pounds he has the requisite size and athleticism to make the jump.
Daniel Smith, West Texas Warbirds/Iowa Barnstormers
Daniel Smith began his season with the West Texas warbirds under Head Coach Tate Smith. After West Texas signed multiple quarterbacks in multiple weeks the writing was on the wall for Daniel Smith. He would end up released by the Warbirds making him available for Iowa who couldn’t find consistency under center. Smith came in and immediately solidified the quarterback position.
He finished the IFL season playing in 12 games completing 97 of 161 passes for 1,017 yards. He had 20 total touchdowns to 3 interceptions, adding 150 yards rushing. Smith has spent the past few seasons playing in the CIF, IFL, NAL, and others in pursuit of a bigger opportunity.
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