Local players to help bring back XFL

Former Panthers and N.C. college players were drafted for the 2023 season

Former North Carolina A&T running back Jah-Maine Martin, pictured in 2019 with the Aggies, was selected in the fifth round by the Orlando Guardians in the 2023 XFL Draft. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

Let’s try this again.

The XFL will return in 2023 for a third inaugural season. WWE honcho Vince McMahon created the league in 2001, with future Carolina Panthers returnman Rod Smart capturing the world’s attention by choosing “He Hate Me” as the name on the back of his jersey.

The league folded after one season and returned in 2020. It made it through half the season that time before COVID forced the remainder of the games to be canceled. It may have just accelerated the inevitable, as the league declared bankruptcy a month later.

This time around, the XFL is owned by a group led by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and will have eight teams that will play a 10-game season starting the weekend after the Super Bowl.

The league held its player draft last week, and the new rosters will be populated with plenty of players who have connections to North Carolina — either playing for one of the state’s college programs or appearing on the roster of the Carolina Panthers at some point.

Here’s a rundown of players you might know when the XFL kicks off again in February.


The faces of the XFL franchises were selected first, with a pair of local players getting picked.

Former NC State quarterback Jalan McClendon was one of two quarterbacks chosen by the Las Vegas Vipers. McClendon also played in the 2020 edition of the XFL.

“Jalan is going to be a solid athletic QB weapon for us because of his football IQ and ability to read defenses,” said Vipers head coach (and NFL Hall of Famer) Rod Woodson.

The second quarterback is Anthony Russo, who was invited to the Carolina Panthers rookie minicamp before this season. He was one of two quarterbacks taken by the San Antonio Brahmas.

“Anthony Russo is a gunslinger with a big-time arm,” said San Antonio coach Hines Ward, “and he has some impressive mobility. He’s a great leader who loves the game. I’m excited to have him on my team.”

Offensive skill positions

The XFL had separate drafts for each position group.

Receiver Charleston Rambo, a Panthers training camp cut before this season, was selected fourth overall by the Orlando Guardians.

Running back John Lovett, who played for Matt Rhule at Baylor, was another training camp cut by the Panthers before this season. (Russo also played for Rhule at Temple before getting a camp invite from the Panthers.) He was drafted by the Vipers in the second round with the 12th overall pick.

Former Duke running back Mataeo Durant was selected by the St. Louis BattleHawks in the fourth round with the 31st pick.

In the next round at pick 35, the Brahmas took former NC State tight end Dylan Parham. One pick later, the Guardians took former NC A&T running back Jah-Maine Martin.

NC Central wide receiver Isiah Macklin was the next local player to go, getting selected by the Vipers at pick 53 in the seventh round.

Tight end Jovani Haskins was taken by the BattleHawks at pick 79, in Round 10. He was a rookie minicamp invitee with the Panthers.

Another veteran of the 2020 XFL, former UNC receiver Austin Proehl, was taken at pick 82 in the 11th round by the BattleHawks.

Defensive backs

Safeties and corners were the next position group to be selected, and the third overall pick was former UNC Charlotte safety Ben DeLuca, who went to the BattleHawks.

Former East Carolina cornerback Josh Hawkins, who played with the Panthers in 2018, was selected by the Arlington Renegades 11th overall in the second round, going three rounds earlier than he did in the 2020 XFL Draft.

Another UNC Charlotte safety went to the BattleHawks in the seventh round when Jonathan Alexander went with the 51st pick.

Cornerback John Brannon, who played for Western Carolina and was a 2021 training camp cut by the Panthers, was selected by the Houston Roughnecks in the 11th round, 85th overall.

Defensive front seven

Defensive ends, tackles and linebackers were next to go. Defensive end Jacub Panasiuk, a 2021 training camp cut of the Panthers, was taken by the D.C. Defenders with the 21st overall pick in the third round. Defensive tackle DaVonte Lambert, a camp cut by the Panthers in 2020, was taken by the Renegades at pick 30 in the fourth round.

The Seattle Sea Dragons took former NC State lineman Daniel Joseph with pick 50 in the seventh round.

Linebacker Josh Watson was on the Panthers’ practice squad near the end of 2021 and went to camp with the team this year. He went to the Renegades in the 10th round at pick 78.

Linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley opened the season on Carolina Panthers’ injured reserve before being cut in September. He was taken with pick 83 in the 11th round by the Renegades. Lenoir Rhyne end Jaquan Artis went with the next pick, to the Roughnecks.

Offensive line

East Carolina’s Garrett McGhin was the first local lineman off the board, going 15th overall in the second round to the Renegades.

Mike Horton, who played three games with the Panthers last season, went to the Renegades with the 18th pick in the third round. Brian Folkerts, who played with the Panthers in 2013 and 2014 and was taken in the second round in 2020, went to the Renegades at pick 63 in the eighth round.

NC State’s Tony Adams, a seventh-rounder in 2020, went to the Vipers at pick 68 in Round 9 this time around. The Vipers also took ECU’s Fernando Frye with pick 84 in Round 11.


Special teamers were the last group drafted. Long snapper Thomas Fletcher, a 2021 Panthers draft pick who spent the entire season on injured reserve before getting cut in training camp this year, was taken eighth overall in the first round by the Seattle Sea Dragons.

East Carolina snapper Erik Lawson went to the Defenders in the second round at pick 15 to round out the local presence in the XFL Draft.