Former Panthers, NC college players popular in first XFL Draft

Former North Carolina running back Elijah Hood was the eighth skill position player picked in the XFL Draft, selected by the Los Angeles Wildcats. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

Like it or not, the XFL is back. Vince McMahon’s renegade football league will begin play in early 2020, and the XFL Draft was held last week, with several names football fans in the state will recognize being selected.

Each of the eight teams were assigned a starting quarterback. Then the draft went by position group, with a 10-round skill position player draft leading things off. That was followed by 10 rounds each for offensive linemen, defensive front seven and defensive backs. The draft concluded with 30 rounds of open selections to fill out each team’s 71-man roster.

Eleven players with connections to North Carolina were selected in the skill position draft. Five local players went in the offensive line draft, three in the front seven rounds and 10 in the defensive back selections.

Houston made the second overall pick and chose quarterback Connor Cook, who spent last season on the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad. 

The Houston Roughnecks added Wake Forest center Ryan Anderson in the eighth round of the offensive line draft and NC A&T cornerback Deji Olatoye with the third overall pick in the DB draft.

With the sixth pick in the open draft portion of the day, Houston added one of the bigger names on the board, selecting former Carolina Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy. A second-rounder in the 2014 NFL Draft, Ealy had 14 sacks in three seasons with the Panthers.

Houston then looked to the smaller schools in North Carolina, adding Mars Hill defensive end Johnny Maxey, Catawba wide receiver Sam Mobley and Western Carolina safety Fred Payne in later rounds of the open draft.

The Los Angeles Wildcats also looked to the state for their first round pick. L.A. picked former UNC running back Elijah Hood with the eighth overall skill position pick.

The Wildcats started the second round by taking wide receiver Rashad Ross, who spent training camp with the Panthers this season before getting cut when the team got down to the final 53-man roster.

In the eighth round of the skill position draft, Los Angeles selected another wide receiver with Panthers ties. Keyarris Garrett spent 2016 and 2017 on the team’s practice squad.

L.A. used its first-round pick in the DB draft to take former NC State corner Jack Tocho. In the third round, the Wildcats took N.C. Central corner CJ Moore. Then it was back to the Wolfpack in the ninth round to take Mike Stevens.

In the open draft, Los Angeles took a former NC State quarterback in Jalan McClendon, who transferred to Baylor after backing up Ryan Finley.

The Dallas Renegades pulled another big Carolina Panther name from the past in the third round of the skill player draft, choosing running back Cameron Artis-Payne.

Artis-Payne rushed for 491 yards and five touchdowns for the Panthers from 2015 to 2018 as a backup running back. 

Dallas took ECU quarterback Philip Nelson in the seventh round of the skill position draft. Then it was back to the Panthers for the front seven, taking defensive end Frank Alexander in the seventh round. Alexander played 29 games for Carolina from 2012 to 2015.

The Renegades combined their two North Carolina sources in the fifth round of the DB draft, taking former ECU cornerback and 2018 Panther Josh Hawkins.

The Seattle Dragons were the next team to go after a former Panther, taking receiver Fred Ross, who spent 2017 and part of 2018 on the team’s injured reserve, in the third round.

Seattle took App State receiver Malachi Jones in the 10th round and former Tar Heel receiver Austin Proehl in the open draft.

The St. Louis BattleHawks took 2014 Panthers practice-squadder Marcus Lucas, a receiver/tight end, in the sixth round of the skill position draft and 2013-14 Panther guard Brian Folkerts in the second round of the OL draft.

St. Louis then went with App State cornerback Clifton Duck, ECU receiver Davon Grayson and offensive tackle Andrew McDonald — a Panthers practice squad member in 2013 and 2014 — in the open draft.

The DC Defenders took Duke receiver Max McCaffrey, older brother of Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, in the eighth round of the skill position draft. DC then added defensive tackle Elijah Qualls, a member of last year’s Panthers practice squad, in the third round of the front seven draft, and UNC corner Desmond Lawrence and Campbell safety Carlos Merritt in the second and ninth round of the DB draft, respectively.

DC closed out its DB draft with corner Ladarius Gunter, who played four games for the Panthers in 2017.

DC added a Duke transfer in the open draft, taking receiver Terrence Lee-Alls, who finished his college career at James Madison. The Defenders also took NC State guard Terron Prescod.   

The New York Guardians took former UNC quarterback Marquise Williams in the tenth round of the skill draft. They added App State guard Parker Collins in the third round of the OL draft and took 2018 Panthers practice squadder Ian Silberman in the eighth.

In the DB draft, New York took corner Lorenzo Doss, who played two games for the Panthers last year, and safety Demetrious Cox, who played four in 2017, in the second and fifth rounds respectively. 

In the open draft, New York shopped for running backs from the state, taking Wake’s Tommy Bohanon and Matthew Colburn as well as Wingate’s Lawrence Pittman.

Tampa Bay passed on any N.C. products in the skill draft, waiting until the seventh round of the OL draft to take NC State guard Tony Adams.

The Vipers took Wake DT Josh Banks in the fifth round of the front seven draft and another Wake DT, Nikita Whitlock, in the open draft.