While the DC Defenders 2023 season was chock full of extreme highs, it also consisted of a few severe lows that may epitomize the season in more ways than one. The season ended in despair for DC, as they lost the XFL Championship to the Arlington Renegades, 35-26, after finishing the regular season with the league’s best record at 9-1.
Many would say DC’s season ended in disappointment due to the loss, especially with their opponent being a team that finished with a record below .500 (4-6). Defenders HC Reggie Barlow would say otherwise in his Championship postgame presser, “We lost a game, but we still had a good season. Really proud of them”.
NFL Signees & Invites
Before we look ahead, the following list includes DC Defenders players headed to NFL camps/rosters (6/6/23):
QB Jordan Ta’amu, Minnesota Vikings (Camp invite) WR Lucky Jackson, Minnesota Vikings (Signed) WR Chris Blair, Tennessee Titans (Camp invite) WR Brandon Smith, Denver Broncos (Camp invite) TE Briley Moore, Tennessee Titans (Camp invite) DL Joe Wallace, Tennessee Titans (Camp invite) DL D’Marcus Hayes, Washington Commanders (Camp invite) LB Ferrod Gardner, Washington Commanders (Signed) P Daniel Whelan, Green Bay Packers (Signed)
A Look Ahead…
With the Defenders organization looking the way it does currently, DC appears to have plenty of players and coaches returning for them in 2024. Fans must remember that XFL players are eligible to sign with teams until December 26, 2023, following the conclusion of Week 16 of the NFL season. Tons of time between now and then, more players will surely be added due to injuries and other various reasons.
QB D’Eriq King is set to return as of now, along with his partner in the backfield, RB Abram Smith. Smith definitely comes at a surprise after dominating through the majority of the regular season and finishing as the XFL’s top rusher by a landslide. The way the NFL views running backs has shifted severely in the last 10-15 years, and while Smith is still very young at 24 y/o, he does not necessarily fit the ideal dual threat combo of rushing and receiving that many teams are looking for in their backup RBs. A return to the XFL could give Smith the opportunity to show teams he is more than capable of handling a receiving role out of the backfield.
Another surprising facet of DC’s offseason thus far is that they have yet to lose any offensive lineman to other leagues. The Defenders offensive line continued to impress throughout the season, even through a plethora of injuries. Guard Liam Fornadel from James Madison University made the All-XFL team this season, and seems poised for an NFL opportunity. Fornadel was consistently the best lineman on the field for DC and exemplified that with his ability to stay healthy.
On the defensive side, the expectation is that CB Michael Joseph lands with a team before the 2024 XFL season. After nearly averaging an interception in every other game this season, it would be malpractice for a team not to bring Joseph in for at least a tryout.
A few key names to monitor throughout the offseason include LB Francis Bernard, S Santos Ramirez, and CB KJ Sails. Bernard started the season slow due to a two game suspension stemming from week three against St. Louis, but had a stellar second half of the season and his motor popped on film consistently. Santos Ramirez is a player Coach Barlow spoke highly about consistently through the season, highlighting traits like leadership, intelligence, and range on the backend. KJ Sails is the type of player every coach loves to have in their locker room. His infectious positive energy paired with his versatile skill set makes him a core piece of the Defenders team, and his absence would be felt.
XFL Coach of the Year, Reggie Barlow, has decisions to make concerning his staff as well. So far no hiring or firings have been made, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility of it happening between now and February. Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams caught some heat near the midpoint of the season, moreso for the performance against Orlando, but also for giving up a string of 37, 33, 26, and 29 points to close the regular season. Williams brings much needed NFL experience to the Defenders staff, but you have to wonder whether he will stick around for 2024.
On the other side of the ball, OC Fred Kaiss coached a phenomenal season overall. Kaiss displayed a rare, successful two-QB system with Jordan Ta’amu and D’Eriq King, and managed to limit turnovers while doing so. As long as Kaiss wants to continue coaching, it is difficult to see a scenario in which he does not return to DC next season.
It is unknown who will return for the DC Defenders in 2024, but if they can somehow come back with a similar staff, they have to be considered a league-favorite heading into the new season.
Unfortunately for XFL fans, this is the slowest time of the year as far as news goes. We will continue to see minor moves throughout the summer and leading up to the XFL Draft, but the bulk of moves have been made as of right now. It will be intriguing to watch how the XFL draft unfolds, and who DC decides to pick up, so stay tuned.
What are your thoughts on the DC Defenders ongoing offseason? Which players would you like to see DC target this offseason? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!
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