When Paul Newman asks Robert Redford, “Who are those guys?” in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he’s not referring to the opening-week quarterbacks in the XFL.
But he could be.
The second go-round of Vince McMahon’s pro football league includes vaguely familiar names, but the XFL is hoping to sell the audience on the competition rather than tease them with big names such as Johnny Manziel surrounded by aspiring NFL players. League executives identified quarterbacks who’ve either had a taste of the NFL or appear capable of making the jump.
XFL original quarterback Landry Jones slowed by injury
When the Dallas Renegades open at home against the St. Louis Battlehawks, they may have to do so without QB Landy Jones, who was the first player recruited by the XFL. Jones has had recent knee problems and could be limited in the early going this winter.
That would be a blow to the XFL since Jones is easily recognizable by football fans. Jones, 30, spent five NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the backup to Ben Roethlisberger, appearing in 19 games and going 3-2 as a starter.
In his absence, the best-known XFL quarterback would be the D.C. Defenders’ Cardale Jones, who led Ohio State to a championship, was taken by the Buffalo Bills, and made it onto the field as a QB in just one NFL game. He was most recently a part of the Seattle Seahawks practice squad.
XFL isn’t just a training ground for young prospects
Los Angeles Wildcats quarterback Josh Johnson is a longtime pro who has landed in XFL. The 12-year veteran started three games for the Washington Redskins two seasons ago and began last fall with the Detroit Lions. Johnson has played in 33 NFL games, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns.
New York Guardians signal-caller Matt McGloin is the league’s other experienced hand, having played four seasons with the Oakland Raiders. McGloin was only 1-6 as an NFL starter, but the Penn State product’s numbers include a 58.1 completion percentage and 11 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.
XFL could be a proving ground for other QBs
Chad Kanoff is exactly the type of player who could benefit from XFL experience, Kanoff, who will play if Josh Johnson is unable to go for Los Angeles, has credentials but not the type of background NFL teams look for when sifting the college ranks for their next franchise quarterback.
Kanoff, who spent time on three practice squads over the past two seasons, set the Princeton record with 7,510 career passing yards on the way to being selected the top offensive player in the Ivy League in 2017.
Similarly, Brandon Silvers of the Seattle Dragons put up gaudy college numbers, including 10,667 yards and 71 touchdowns as the four-year starter at Troy State University in Alabama. Silvers played in the ill-fated Alliance of American Football last year and threw for 799 yards, four touchdowns, and two picks.
Philip Walker of the Houston Roughnecks got a look from the Indianapolis Colts as a possible backup to Andrew Luck in 2017 as a result of a resume that included 10,668 yards and 74 touchdowns in four years at Temple.
Aaron Murray of the Tampa Bay Vipers was drafted in 2014 and has kicked around longer than some of the other college stars but has yet to make it onto the field in the NFL after throwing for 121 touchdowns at Georgia.
The eighth opening-week QB is Jordan Ta’amu of the Battlehawks. Ta’amu finished strong at Mississippi but was undrafted last spring.