Long has the NFL been without a traditional developmental league, apart from the NCAA.
But MLB and even the NBA have had long term sustainable options for developing players who were not immediately ready for the big leagues.
Minor league baseball and professional basketball in Europe or China have provided, among other things, opportunity for precious repetitions that are not available for those hoping to play pro football.
One of the biggest questions the XFL will answer - whether it wants to or not - is if this has any sort of potential to grow those players who are in the top 1% of the population but not the top 0.5% good enough for the NFL.
Time will tell if gaining playtime in the XFL will ever be enough to help guys “move up,” but it is of considerable interest moving forward.
A perfect example of the type of player for whom the XFL could be life-changing is Marcell Frazier.
Frazier is a Defensive Lineman who played three years at University of Missouri. He actually has been a member of the Seattle Seahawks, though it was extremely short-lived.
#Seahawks' reported undrafted free agent signings:— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) April 29, 2018
DT Poona Ford, Texas
LS Tanner Carew, Oregon
DE Marcell Frazier, Mizzou
Marcus Martin, FB, Slippery Rock
John Franklin III, WR, FAU
Caleb Scott, WR, Vanderbilt
Ka’Raun White, WR, WVU
Taj Williams, WR, TCU
Eddy Wilson, DT, Purdue
In fact, I’ve gone to the trouble of locating Frazier’s professional stats to save you time and energy. Here they are:
Frazier is, in many ways like so many XFL hopefuls. The league is littered with practice squad cuts who haven’t played any downs in
professional football the NFL.
But to play and be seen is far better than to not play at all. And Frazier’s pressure combined with insane big playmaking ability may just get him a second chance.
Marcell Frazier has more takeaways in three XFL games than he did his entire collegiate career. One fumble recovery and one interception which he returned (fell over) for a touchdown.
Yes, it’s not an NFL quarterback in the pocket. A smarter player might not have attempted that window. But those HANDS. That’s essentially a reaction time of zero.
While the interception TD may feel a bit fluky, Frazier getting into the backfield is not. Both turnovers showed superior ball handling preceded by a quick path to the quarterback.
D-linemen who can apply pressure to the QB are at a premium in the NFL at the moment. Frazier seems like he could be this type of player, and making splashy plays in the XFL is at least a way to get some tape out there.
Which, probably, will be what it takes for these athletes, because relying heavily on statistics in the inaugural season feels unreliable at best.
Marcell finished the game far down the stat sheet, with only one tackle. One could say he was ineffective against the Dallas Renegades. However, he also had a sack, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, which is about as good as Jadeveon Clowney’s best game in Seattle. The reality is somewhere in the middle - eye test shows that he could be labeled “disruptive” through three games this season.
In fact, Frazier has only registered one tackle in each of three games so far, and was not prolific in this area in college. But former Seahawk Frank Clark had eight games this season with one or fewer tackles, and he’s looking at $100 million.
All we can do is watch how potential and former pros play against other potential and former pros, and if they can ball out at this level then there is at least potential of holding their own in the next.
At the end of the day, Frazier may prove an unforeseen aspect of the XFL to be truly valuable. Namely, a second chance in a far superior testing ground.
Earlier this season, Frazier gave great insight into just how hard it is to go from college to pro:
My hat’s off to the guys who are doing that grind right now, prepping for the combine and their pro days. But it’s exhausting. I remember getting to the Seahawks, and my body was kind of wiped out.
Being back out there, it’s pretty rejuvenating, just to get your feet back under you and getting your confidence back.
The XFL provides players like Marcell Frazier - and other hopefuls from the Seattle Dragons - a chance to play in front of real crowds on fresh legs. The question isn’t if anyone will go pro at some point, it’s how many.