The XFL’s East division ended in a three-way tie, with the DC Defenders claiming the top spot due to head to head wins. With a respectable 3-2 record, the Defenders had fans chugging beers and rooting passionately for their squad. Were the numbers in the win/loss column legit? Or, were the Defenders a below-average team that somehow won three games? Below I’ll examine DC this past season, and look ahead to seasons to come.
Players / Coaches Lost to the NFL
Hunter Niswander – Dallas Cowboys
Elijah Campbell – New York Jets
Jon Toth – Detriot Lions (Practice Squad)
Tyree Jackson – Philadelphia Eagles (Reserve/Futures Contract)
Head Coach Pep Hamilton – Los Angeles Chargers Quarterbacks Coach in 2020 – Hired as QB Coach for Houston Texans for Upcoming 2021 Season
Defenders Players who Made an Impact
Cardale Jones – 61 of 113, 674 Passing Yards, 6 Passing Touchdowns, 7 Interceptions, 61 Rushing Yards
Jhurell Pressley – 42 Rushing Attempts, 190 Rushing Yards
Rashad Ross – 22 Receptions, 193 Receiving Yards, 1 Receiving Touchdown
Jonathan Celestin – 32 Tackles, 3 Tackles for Loss
Rahim Moore – 15 Tackles, 1 Quarterback Hit, 2 Interceptions, 4 Pass Break Ups
Ty Rausa – 9 Field Goals Made
Hunter Niswander – 936 Punt Yards, 44.6 Average Yards Per Punt
What to Look Forward To
The Defenders offense was downright explosive during the first part of the 2020 season. DC ranked 3rd in rushing yards per game behind former NFL backs like Jhurell Pressley and Donnell Pumphrey. They also finished 2nd in fourth down efficiency, a credit to situational awareness from the coaching staff. Though the offense slowed over time, DC showed flashes of greatness on that side of the ball. On Defense, they allowed the 3rd fewest points in the league. This playmaking unit also ended up in a tie for first place with 2 defensive touchdowns. DC ranked 2nd in average yards per punt as well.
Though the Defenders finished first in the East Division, they clearly were not the best team. After a nice 2-0 start, DC collapsed the rest of the way. Finishing last in passing yards per game with a measly 133.8, DC fell apart at the seams. More importantly than that, the Defenders has just 6 offensive touchdowns, also good for last in the league. Let’s also mention this team finished last in red-zone efficiency as well. Furthermore, DC finished just 1 of 9 on extra point attempts. Bottom line, the offense was abysmal down the stretch. Was it bad Quarterback play? A bad scheme put in place? We may never know the answers to those questions. The Defense was average at best. Some individual players flashed, but as a whole, nothing to write home about. If not for allowing the 3rd fewest points as mentioned above, we might have seen a different outcome for this team’s record in 2020. On special teams, they finished with the fewest kickoff return yards. Yet another disappointment, and could explain the lack of offensive production.
Looking at the Defenders as a whole, they’ve lost some key pieces in the days since COVID-19 ended their 2020 campaign. This all centers around the loss of Head Coach Pep Hamilton. Hamilton accepted the Quarterbacks Coach gig with the LA Chargers this past season. Following this, he has reportedly been hired to the same position with the Houston Texans. Though each team’s rosters are not set for the pending 2022 XFL Season, it’s safe to assume coach Hamilton will not be on the sidelines for the Defenders. On the player’s side of things, Defenders backup QB Tyree Jackson is now with the Philadelphia Eagles, converting from a passer to a Tight End. Let’s not forget the value of Punter Hunter Niswander, who filled in nicely for the Dallas Cowboys this past year. Some key pieces to the success of DC will now be elsewhere when the XFL kicks up again. Much like the seven other teams, a lot can change between now and 2022. The Defenders face a tougher road to kickoff, as they now have to find themselves a new head coach. As it stands today, DC looks to have more road blocks and speed bumps to get through before the XFL returns to action.
Header Pic Credit
(Credit: WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 08: DC Defenders fans cheer as they form a beer cup snake during the second half of the XFL game between the DC Defenders and the St. Louis Battlehawks at Audi Field on March 8, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)