With the fast-spreading Coronavirus forcing the XFL to suspend its inaugural season after just five games, its players have now become eligible to turn their attention towards the NFL: starting today, the league’s 32 franchises are allowed to bring the spring league’s players on board as free agents — something the Carolina Panthers promptly did when they reportedly decided to sign Houston Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker. Walker was arguably the XFL’s best player in 2020, but he will not remain the only one to get signed.
Of those now available, some might also spark the interest of the New England Patriots as potential low-risk, high-reward options. Let’s therefore take a look at six players who should be on the team’s radar — and if only to find out whether or not they actually have some potential to play in the NFL. Obviously, they should not be expected to be starting material for a team like the Patriots, but could carve out depth roles nevertheless.
WR Cam Phillips
The Patriots did bring in Damiere Byrd on a one-year contract, but they still have a lot of potential to improve their depth at the wide receiver position. A deep draft class is the most obvious avenue, but they could also look to Walker’s favorite pass catcher: Cam Phillips, who finished the XFL season with 31 receptions for 455 yards and nine touchdowns — leading the league in all three categories. The 24-year-old needs to prove that he can survive against NFL-caliber cornerback play, but his production over the last few weeks does make him an interesting target nevertheless.
WR Tre McBride
Due to injury, McBride appeared in only three of the XFL’s five games, but he still had some solid production and finished fifth in the league with 271 receiving yards on 16 catches. His 16.9 yards per reception are obviously notable as the 27-year-old proved himself a capable deep threat in the league. His age and NFL history — he spent time with five teams before leaving the league to join the short-lived AAF and later the XFL — will hurt his stock, but he might have something to offer for a team that puts him in as a situational field-stretcher.
TE Donald Parham
Parham reportedly already has offers from NFL teams on the table, with the Patriots not being among them. That said, he would make for an interesting addition to the team’s current position group consisting of only Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo: at 6-foot-8 he offers impressive height, but needs to add considerable bulk to his 240-pound frame to be able to compete in the NFL. His frame did certainly not impact his production in the XFL, though, and he finished top-five in the league in catches (24; fifth), receiving yards (307, third), and touchdowns (4; second).
DT Cavon Walker
New England’s pass rush suffered some notable departures in free agency, with both Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins leaving the team. Finding new players that can successfully rush the passer — Van Noy and Collins ranked first and third in pressures in 2019 — is therefore paramount for the Patriots this offseason, and the XFL’s sack leader might be worth keeping an eye on: Cavon Walker registered 4.5 sacks and also had nine quarterback hits. While his 6-foot-2, 280-pound frame is not impressive, the 25-year-old might be able to find a role in the NFL as a penetrating three-technique end.
FS Kenny Robinson
The Patriots’ safety group is in solid shape with both Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung returning for the 2020 season, and free agency pickup Adrian Phillips providing quality depth alongside them. Robinson might still be an intriguing target, though, due to his deep-field range and ability to make plays on the ball — he had two interceptions in the XFL. While not eligible to be signed as a free agent until after the draft, New England could decide to take a flyer on the former West Virginia defender in one of the later rounds.
K Austin MacGinnis
New England did not address its kicker situation so far in free agency, with Stephen Gostkowski remaining the only player at the position currently under contract. If the team does want to bring some competition on board before the draft, however, MacGinnis might be its guy: the 24-year-old, who went undrafted in 2018 and remained unsigned until joining the AAF a few months later, was successful on all 10 of his field goal attempts and also was successful as a kickoff specialist.