Are the St. Louis BattleHawks ready for this?
They hit their inaugural season with a coaching staff short on experience, the only starting QB in the league that has yet to play a professional regular-season game and facing some of the longest odds to win the 2020 title.
On top of that, you probably either love or hate the team nickname. Frankly, I’m a fan, because BattleHawks sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon I definitely would have watched.
But what should we expect from this team fantasy wise? Let’s jump into our 6th preview …
You might remember St. Louis HC Jonathan Hayes from … nowhere. Unless you’re an avid follower of TE coaches.
After playing 12 years at TE in the NFL (1985-96, averaging 0.8 receptions per game for the Chiefs and Steelers), Hayes spent the past 16 years coaching Bengals TEs. (No TE led the team in receptions over that span, by the way.) He was involved in 9 offenses that finished in the league’s top half in scoring, though 5 of those came in the 1st 5 years of the Marvin Lewis era (2003-2007) -- and 4 of those with Carson Palmer at QB. Cincinnati cracked the top 10 in yardage once in the 8 years after Palmer left and ranked higher than 15th just 1 other time.
Unlike Hayes, OC Chuck Long actually comes with some history of running his own offenses -- though it’s been a while.
Long last served as OC for Kansas University in 2010 and 2011. That followed 3 years as San Diego State’s HC and 4 as the co-OC/QBs coach at Oklahoma. (Before his OU stint, Long also coached DBs and then QBs at Iowa, his alma mater.)
Long’s offenses have LOVED to run the ball. Over 9 seasons as an OC or HC, Long’s offenses posted a median of 29.9 pass attempts per game vs. 39.2 rushes per contest. Only 2 of his 9 offenses have passed more than run: The 2007 Aztecs featured senior QB Kevin O’Connell, who also led the team in rushing. Then the 2008 squad -- Long’s last at SDSU -- marked his only trip over 40 pass attempts per game. Freshman QB Ryan Lindley and former NFL WR Vincent Brown led that squad, which finished the year 2-10 and averaging just 4.3 yards per play.
The most successful teams Long took part in commonly ran 10+ times more per game than they threw. Even his final 2 offenses at Kansas, though, combined for 27.3 passes per game vs. 42.3 runs -- despite going a combined 5-19.
Now Long returns from the broadcast booth to coach under a former blocking TE. This should all be good news for the RB you’re probably most excited about ...
1. RB Christine Michael
2. QB Brogan Roback (not on roster)
3. WR De’Mornay Pierson-El
4. WR L’Damian Washington
5. TE Wes Saxton
6. WR Marcus Lucas
7. RB Matt Jones
8. WR Ishmael Hyman (not on roster)
9. WR Alonzo Russell
10. WR Jordan Lasley (not on roster)
Players of Note
RB Christine Michael
Let’s wait on the QB this time and start with the player who first caught all our eyes.
No XFLer was drafted higher by the NFL than Michael, who landed in Seattle with the 30th and final pick of Round 2 back in 2013 … and has been letting down fantasy owners ever since. Michael amassed just 256 total carries and 26 receptions across 5 NFL seasons with 4 teams. Most of that, of course, came with the Seahawks. And his busiest stint came in the 1st half of 2016. With Thomas Rawls going down, Michael averaged 16.2 carries and 3 catches per game over the first 6 contests. Michael averaged just 4.2 yards per rush and 5.0 per reception, though. Overall, he has averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 5.2 per catch in his NFL career.
Michael also didn’t seem to live up to his athletic ability at Texas A&M. The 166 carries and 15 receptions of his freshman year would remain his career highs. Michael finished college with 529 carries (including just 88 as a senior) at 5.3 per rush; plus 44 catches at 7.3. Then, of course, came the Scouting Combine, where Michael simply crushed the testing. He delivered a 103.6 speed score, 74th percentile among NFL RBs and 3rd-best among XFL RBs (behind hulking Andre Williams and speedy Jhurell Pressley).
The whole package was enough to make him the 6th overall pick of the skill-player draft and the 1st RB off the board.
Michael should lead the backfield for a St. Louis offense looking to run. Teammates Matt Jones, Lenard Tillery and Keith Ford have each also spent time on NFL rosters, though, and should compete for touches.
QB Jordan Ta’amu
Now the QB, who locked down the starting gig after being assigned to the BattleHawks. Ta’amu brings nice speed for the position -- his 4.77-second 40 time rates 63rd percentile among NFL QBs -- and decent size (6’3, 221) and arm strength. But he likely also has some developing to do.
Ta’amu started for just a season and a half at Ole Miss after spending his 1st 2 years at New Mexico Military Institute. Ta’amu tallied a nice 9.5 yards per pass attempt on 64.5% completions for the Runnin’ Rebels. It’s fair, though, to call his 19 senior-year TD passes a little disappointing given that he had A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf (for 7 games), DaMarkus Lodge and Dawson Knox.
Tough to say whether we should blame the player or a coaching staff that has since been replaced. But Ta’amu also went undrafted and then spent just about a month with the Texans. He went 7-of-12 passing across 3 preseason appearances, with no more than 6 attempts in any game. Ta’amu also took 4 sacks while rushing just once for 6 yards. His speed didn’t translate to much rushing success at Ole Miss either.
Still, he has the right mix of skills -- plus a sneaky set of pass-catchers -- to potentially be worth more as a fantasy QB than real-life field general.
TE Wes Saxton
Before we get to the muddled WR crew, let’s hit the TEs. I don’t know whether the top guy will be Saxton or Cole Hunt, but Saxton seems to check all the boxes in his favor:
-- He’s faster (4.65-second 40 vs. Hunt’s 4.88).
-- He caught a lot more balls in college (96-25).
-- He averaged 2.0 more yards per catch (albeit at South Alabama compared with Rice/TCU).
-- He caught 17 balls in AAF play vs. 2 for Hunt.
-- St. Louis drafted Saxton higher.
-- Both guys have made stops on multiple NFL rosters.
There’s room for both guys to play significant roles in what should be a TE-friendly situation, and DraftKings pricing is treating Hunt like the 3rd-best receiving bet on the team. I’ll take a shot on Saxton at $3000 as a potential differentiator, though, over Hunt at $4900 in Week 1.
WR Keith Mumphery … and crew
Here’s another position group that will likely require some sorting. I’ll start with Mumphery, who might still be in the NFL if not for a 2016 sexual-assault controversy that eventually found him exonerated. At the time, though, Houston dumped a player who had caught 24 passes in his 1st 2 seasons while serving as the primary return man. Mumphery is thickly built for a WR, at 6’0 and 210 pounds, with solid speed (4.54). He averaged 15.3 yards per catch on 88 career receptions at Michigan State.
St. Louis acquired Mumphery from the Renegades about 2 months after the initial draft, sending LB Markus Jones to Dallas.
Mumphery leads all BattleHawks pass-catchers in Week 1 DK pricing at $6600, but that ranks him just 11th in the combined WR-TE pool. That seems an appropriate starting point.
Mumphery looks like the best initial bet to lead St. Louis WRs, but he stands among 7 wideouts that have all spent time on NFL rosters.
De’Mornay Pierson-El was the 1st WR St. Louis drafted and sits just $400 behind Mumphery in DK salary for Week 1. He was a dynamic punt returner as a freshman at Nebraska, averaging 17.5 yards and scoring 3 TDs among 34 returns to earn All-America honors. But Pierson-El fell off in that area through the rest of his college career and averaged a fairly pedestrian 13.1 yards per reception across 4 seasons.
Pierson-El tied Rashad Ross for 3rd-most receptions (36) in the AAF last spring, but averaged just 11.5 yards per catch and scored 1 TD there. With 4.62 speed at just 5’9 and 194 pounds, though, it’s tough to see what will make Pierson-El stand out. And target volume doesn’t appear likely to help him here.
L’Damian Washington, on the other hand, joined the BattleHawks just 5 picks later and looks like a higher-upside play. Standing 6’4, 216 and running a 4.46-second 40, Washington averaged 17.4 yards per catch across his 100 receptions over 4 seasons at Missouri. Washington increased his catches each season, topping out at 50 as a senior -- 3rd on the team behind Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas (now an XFL teammate). Washington led that team in receiving yards, though, and scored 32.3% of the receiving TDs (despite falling 2 behind DGB’s team lead). Washington has spent time with 7 NFL teams and looks like the early play over Pierson-El, especially at a $2500 savings in DK salary.