As we all know by now, there were plenty of excellent players who were a part of the XFL’s 2020 season, some of which have signed with NFL teams. That being said, there are many who are still free agents. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few defensive standouts from this season who should come back to the league. If you’d like to read about some offensive players we think should return, you can do so here.
Steven Johnson | Seattle Dragons
Steven Johnson has seen plenty of ups and downs throughout his career. The 32 year old linebacker has been playing professional football since 2012, bouncing between a few different NFL teams until 2017. In 2019, he played for the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF, and racked up 48 tackles and three interceptions through eight weeks of play. This year, he played for the Seattle Dragons who were a part of the XFL’s reboot. Through five weeks, he led the league in tackles with 48, along with six tackles for loss, and two passes defensed.
It is quite surprising to see Johnson remain a free agent, considering he has proven to be a leader on defense in the XFL and the AAF. With his combination of strength and quickness, he is a versatile linebacker with a lot of talent. He took his leadership role very seriously, as we saw him pump up his teammates multiple times throughout the season. If Johnson is still unsigned by the time the XFL returns, he is certainly someone who should make it on a team’s roster.
Will Hill III | St. Louis Battlehawks
If you looked up the definition of a “ball hawk”, Will Hill would probably be the first image to pop up. He was nothing but a playmaker all season long for the St. Louis Battlehawks. In five games, he compiled 33 tackles, three QB hits, four tackles for loss, two interceptions, and two passes defensed. Week in and week out he made all sorts of plays for the Battlehawks defense, and ended the season as the second highest graded safety in the league by Pro Football Focus.
Will Hill OUT OF NOWHERE for the huge interception
Will Hill joined the NFL in 2012, playing for the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens until 2015. In 2017 he played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL and saw success, but was let go due to character issues. In 2019, he played for the Orlando Apollos of the AAF and was outstanding. However, the league folded and he joined the XFL. Once again, he had another league shut down on him. Now that the XFL is going to return, it would make sense to see Will Hill on a team if he is still a free agent at that point.
DeMarquis Gates | Houston Roughnecks
The Houston Roughnecks had several standouts on defense, but linebacker DeMarquis Gates was an absolute monster all season long. Through five games he had 32 tackles, two sacks, three QB hits, three tackles for loss, one interception, three passes defensed, one forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries. That’s quite the resume. He was a leader on Houston’s defense, and also made a couple game winning plays throughout the season.
The 24 year old hasn’t been playing professional football for long, but has already made an impact in his young career. He led the AAF in tackles with 72, along with one sack and five forced fumbles. Gates was signed by the Minnesota Vikings back in March, but was recently let go and is now looking for a team. If he is still unsigned by the time the XFL comes back, it would be a surprise if we didn’t see him back in the league.
Even though the Vipers defense was inconsistent throughout the season, Marcelis Branch was a solid player every game. In his five starts with Tampa Bay he had 33 tackles, one sack, one quarterback hit, two tackles for loss, and two passes defensed. His best performance of the year came in week two against Seattle, where he had 12 tackles, one sack, and two tackles for loss. Branch was one of the Viper’s most consistent defensive players, and didn’t receive enough attention this year.
Marcelis played for the Atlanta Falcons from 2017-2018, before joining the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019. However, he only saw preseason playing time on both teams, and was cut by the Steelers. He joined the XFL, and was drafted by the Vipers for their 2020 season. If Branch is still a free agent, the XFL 3.0 would be a great fit for him to showcase his talent once again.
Mike Stevens | Los Angeles Wildcats
Mike Stevens turned out to be a fantastic prospect for the LA Wildcats. Through the five games he played, he had 23 tackles, one sack, two quarterback hits, two interceptions, and three passes defensed. He saw small amounts of playing time in weeks one and two, but was a starter in week three which is where the stats started to add up. Against the DC Defenders in week three, he had six tackles, one sack, and two interceptions. It was his best game of the year, and proved that he could be a starting cornerback.
Stevens has had it rough since coming out of college in 2017. He was invited to the Carolina Panthers training camp in 2018, but didn’t make the team. He found his way onto the Atlanta Legends of the AAF, but didn’t see any playing time. In the XFL, his talent was finally showcased, as he played well in every game played. When the league returns, Mike Stevens should be one of the first cornerbacks the XFL brings back.
We saw plenty of talented players in the XFL this year, and hopefully we’ll see them come back when the league returns. Would would you like to see come back? Let us know down in the comments below or join the conversation on Discord!