XFL Week 1 Special Teams Power Rankings; A Comprehensive Breakdown
The "first weekend without football" was action-packed as the XFL kicked off its 2023 season on February 25th. With the start of a new league comes a wealth of opportunities, as 8 teams took to the field over the weekend to give special teams players a chance to showcase their skills. Let's discuss that;
First, I need you to understand that this list is in its early stages. These Power Rankings are being created with a very small sample size, and to get a truly accurate representation of how each Kicker ranks we need to give them at least 3 weeks of play. XFL Kickers attempted 16 field goals during opening weekend and were successful in 11 of them, giving them an average completion percentage of just under 70%. Let's discuss how each of the Kickers performed with a look at my (un)Official Week 1 XFL Kicker Power Rankings;
John Parker Romo (SA) had a highly productive opening night, making 3/4 (75%) of his field goal attempts, and connecting on 2 from over 40 yards out. He currently stands as the only kicker to have made a field goal from over 30 yards, and he also set the 2023 Longest Field Goal Record when he kicked a 48-yard field goal
Taylor Russolino (ARL) connected on all 3 of his field goal attempts and holds on to the second-longest field goal made this week (38 yards).
Hunter Duplessis (HOU) joins Russolino in the Top 3 this week after connecting on all 3 of his field goals, with a long of 33 yards.
Matthew McCrane (DC) is a statistical outlier this week, as he did not attempt a single field goal. He will remain in the middle of the pack until we can evaluate him better in the coming weeks.
Bailey Giffen (VGS) missed his only kick from 49 yards out.
José Borregales (ORL) missed his only kick from 40 yards out.
The Punters had a challenging start to 2023, primarily due to a significant change in the punting rules. In the XFL, any punt that either goes out of bounds or results in a touchback now results in the ball being placed on the receiving team's 35-yard line. Despite this challenge, the Punters managed to punt 33 times, with a total of 1,432 yards and 1,105 net yards (43.3 Avg. and 33.5 Net Avg. respectively). The Punters pinned their opponents inside their own 20-yard line and kicked punts over 50 yards 21% of the time. Let's discuss how each of the Punters performed with a look at my (un)Official Week 1 XFL Punter Power Rankings;
Sterling Hofrichter (STL) will lead the league through Week 1, punting 5 times for an average of 48 yards and 41.6 net yards per punt, impressively hitting 2 punts over 50 yards and pinning his opponent inside the 10-yard line in his debut on another.
Daniel Whelan (DC) also had an impressive performance (as I predicted he would), punting 6 times for an average of 44.5 yards and 40.3 net yards per punt. He leads the league in the number of punts inside the 20 and is tied for most punts over 50 yards.
Race Porter (HOU), on the other hand, had a less impressive night in terms of averages, as he punted 4 times for an average of 30.3 yards and a net average of 27.8 yards. However, he showed his ability to adapt to the XFL rule book by pinning his opponents deep on 2 of his punts and forcing a fair catch 50% of the time, indicating his punts had some serious hang time.
Michael Carrizosa (VGS) was very impressive in his debut, punting 5 times for a remarkable average of 51.8 yards per punt. Unfortunately, due to the touchback rule, 2 of his 70-yard punts were brought out to the 35-yard line, lowering his net average to just 26.8 net yards per punt. Nonetheless, he managed to land the longest punt in the league, 2 whopping 70-yarders and even showed off his legs with this Marc-Liegghio-inspired juke in the Third Quarter.
Cameron Nizialek (SEA) just missed out on the Top 4, punting 3 times for an average of 50.7 yards and 32.7 net yards per punt. He hit 1 punt over 50 yards but also had 1 punt travel into the endzone, raising questions about his ability to keep the ball in bounds.
Johnny Townsend (ORL) performed decently punting 5 times for a total of 202 yards and 163 net yards (40.4 Avg. and 32.6 Net Avg.). He did not punt over 50 yards or pin his opponent deep, but he also didn't receive any penalties for touchbacks or punts out of bounds.
Brad Wing (SA) also had an average night punting, managing just 2 punts for an average of 39 yards and 34 net yards. One of his punts was received as a fair catch inside the 20-yard line.
Marquette King (ARL) struggled in the debut of his '23 XFL Season, punting 3 times for just 37.7 yards and a league-low 27 net yards. It seems that the extreme punting rules may have caught him off guard, but it does raise the question of if these rules should exist in the first place. He had a side-line interview where he spoke his mind on the rule changes.
This is a new section of the Power Rankings and is in its early development. The XFL kickoff is rather interesting, making some big changes to what we are used to seeing in football. In Week 1, specialists combined for an impressive 2,077 yards on 35 kickoffs, with an average of 59.3 yards per kickoff. Let's discuss how each of the Kickoff Specialists performed with a look at my (un)Official Week 1 XFL Kickoff Power Rankings;
Donny Hageman's (STL) powerful leg stood out in Week 1, as he led the league with the highest kickoff average, launching the ball over 64 yards each kickoff.
Hunter Duplessis's (HOU) average kickoff distance of 55 yards wasn't the highest, but he made a solid case for the Top Position this week after having 6 of his kickoffs remain inside the opponent's 25-yard line. This statistical anomaly is an indicator of his ability to consistently put his team in a great field position.
Dominik Eberle (SEA) had an equally impressive performance, kicking off 4 times for a total of 249 yards, which works out to be an average of 62.3 yards per kickoff and tying for the second-highest average in the league.
Taylor Russolino (ARL) showed great consistency, drilling 6 balls 363 yards for an average of 60.5 yards per kickoff. He was also the only other kicker besides Duplessis to land 1 of his kickoffs inside the opponent's 25-yard line.
Bailey Griffen (VGS) kicked off 3 times for an average of 62.3 yards per kickoff. This is tied for the second-highest in the league along with Eberle. Griffen's small sample size limited his opportunities, but he made the most of his three kicks.
Matthew McCrane (DC) played well, considering this was the only opportunity given to him on Sunday. He kicked off 4 times for 247 yards, with an average of 61.8 yards per kickoff.
John Parker Romo (SA) kicked off 5 times for 304 yards, with an average of 60.8 yards per kickoff.
José Borregales (ORL) was the only punter this week to be penalized for his kickoff not reaching the required 20-yard line on the opponent's side of the field. This brought the ball to the kicking team's 45-yard line, which means this kickoff was only good for 10 measly yards. Unfortunately for Borregales, his kickoff game was not up to par, with only 3 kickoffs averaging 44.7 yards. This left his team in quite a vulnerable position.
As a Special Teams fan, I'm always excited to watch a great Returner in action. It's a specialty in its own right, just like kicking and punting. This section of the Article is going to be split into 2 distinct sections, one for Kickoff Returners and another for Punt Returners. With that being said, Let's discuss how each of the Return Specialists performed with a look at my (un)Official Week 1 XFL Return Specialist Power Rankings;
Kickoff Return Specialists
During Week 1, Kickoff Return Specialists averaged 17.6 yards per return over 35 attempts and several Returnmen logged returns over 30 yards, with the longest return being 43 yards. While some teams employed more than one returner, I'll only be including the "main" return specialist for each team in the Power Rankings.
Kelvin McKnight (SEA) had an excellent day returning kicks, averaging over 26 yards per return over 4 kickoffs and even broke off for a 30-yard return.
DeAndre Torrey (VGS) was also in contention for the First Position, however, without his impressive 43-yard return, his average would be much lower. He will remain in Second Position
Adrian Killins (ARL) returned 3 kickoffs for a total of 66 yards, averaging 22 yards per return, with a long of 31 yards.
Darrius Shepperd (STL) returned 4 kickoffs for an average of 22 yards per return, with his longest being 29 yards, just missing out on a return over 30 yards.
Fred Brown (SA) also averages 22 yards a return, however, he only had 3 returns, with a long of 27, which will keep him in the Fifth Position for now.
Dejoun Lee (HOU) returned 2 kickoffs for 48 yards, averaging 24 yards a return. If he can continue to return kickoffs at this level, we can expect him to rise in the Power Rankings.
Jaquez Ezzard (DC) Returned 3 Kickoffs for 68 yards, averaging 22.7 yards per return.
Eli Rogers (ORL) struggled the most out of all the Returners, averaging just 11 yards per kickoff return over 5 attempts. It will be interesting to see if he'll remain the starting Return Specialist in Week 2.
Punt Return Specialists
Punt Return Specialists racked up 185 yards on 26 punt returns, averaging about 7 yards a Return. The longest return in Week 1 was 23 yards. As with our kickoff return specialist rankings, we'll only include the "main" punt returner for each team.
Joe Powell (ARL) holds the record for the Longest Punt Return in the '23 XFL Season. He was able to return the ball 23 yards before being tackled. This will net him the First Position in the Power Rankings.
Will Likely (HOU) was also able to get a return over 15 yards (exactly 15 yards) during his 4 attempts. He averaged about 9.8 yards per return.
Mathew Sexton (VGS) had only 1 opportunity to return a punt, but he made it count, bringing it back 17 yards.
Jequez Ezzard (DC) was able to rack up 19 return yards on 2 punt returns, averaging just under 10 yards a punt.
Austin Proehl (STL), the star WR for St. Louis was also serviceable in the return game, as he returned his only punt for 10 yards.
Landen Akers (SA) returned 4 punts for 31 yards, averaging 7.8 yards per return, which is just above the league average.
Kelvin McKnight (SEA) struggled to get any momentum going, as he returned 4 punts for just 19 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per return.
Eli Rogers (ORL) struggled in the Punt Return as well, racking up only 8 yards on 2 punt returns. I'm not confident we will see him return for the Guardians again.
Coverage teams are an incredibly important aspect of each and every return. If you want to neutralize the league's best returners, you need guys on the field who can limit the number of yards given up. You want these numbers to be low, indicating the Coverage Team wrapped up the returner early in the return, therefore maximizing the flip of field position. Let's discuss how each of the Coverage Teams performed with a look at my (un)Official Week 1 XFL Coverage Team Power Rankings;
Houston Roughnecks boasted the best coverage teams during Week 1, giving up just 15.9 yards per return. They allowed just 8 yards on 2 punt returns and averaged just 11.9 yards allowed on 8 kickoffs, which is nearly 10 yards under the average for the league. They were also the only team to recover a muffed punt, which earns them the #1 spot.
St. Louis Battlehawks, on average, gave up 7.6 yards on 5 punts and 22.3 yards over 3 kickoffs. They performed solidly and beat out D.C. due to the yards allowed on kickoffs.
D.C. Defenders performed better than the Battlehawks on Punt Coverage, allowing just 25 yards over 5 punts, but were not as efficient on Kickoff Coverage, allowing 105 yards on 4 returns. From here on out, an argument could be made for each of the teams to be in the Fourth Position. Positions 4-8 are really all tied in terms of how well they performed. Kickoff Returns were largely the same, however, the punt return numbers are what decided the rest of the list.
Seattle Sea Dragons gave up an average of 20.3 yards per kickoff return and 9.5 yards per punt return.
Las Vegas Vipers allowed 9.7 yards per punt (on 3 punts) and 22 yards per kickoff (on 3 kickoffs).
Orlando Guardians allowed 9.8 yards per punt (on 4 punts) and 24 yards per kickoff (on 2 kickoffs)
San Antonio Brahmas allowed 10 yards on the only punt return, and 22.2 yards per kickoff return (on 5 kickoffs).
Arlington Renegades allowed the most yards off of Returns this week, giving up 17 yards on the only Punt Return and 22 yards per Kickoff Return. They will need to shore up their tackling next week if they want to escape the bottom of the Power Rankings.
As you come to the end of this article, I hope that you have found it informative and engaging.
Thank you for taking the time to read my work.