As of two days ago, the St. Louis BattleHawks do not have a clear-cut starting quarterback for the coming 2021 XFL season. This assumption comes after their starter during the 2020 season, Jordan Ta’amu, signed a contract with the neighbors 250 miles west in the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL for the coming season after Ta’amu had a solid showing in five games for the BattleHawks. As long as Ta’amu makes the Chiefs roster or for that matter any other NFL roster or practice squad, it is likely his time with the BattleHawks and XFL as a whole is done. His absence now leaves a hole at the quarterback position, and in this article, I will explore some potential options for the BattleHawks to explore at the quarterback position.
Options Currently on the Roster
First off, the in-house options. Outside of Ta’amu, the BattleHawks currently have two other quarterbacks on the roster. One is former Mississippi State product Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, 24, was a three-year starter for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, where he earned honors such as third team All-SEC, was a semifinalist for awards such as the Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, and was touted as one of the most decorated players in Mississippi State history. Fitzgerald had a phenomenal sophomore campaign in 2016, throwing for over 2.400 yards and 21 touchdowns in 13 games while adding an additional three touchdowns on the ground. However, Fitzgerald’s number fluctuated in his junior and senior year season, but he was still an invite to the 2019 NFL Combine.
Fitzgerald would not get drafted but signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on an undrafted free agent deal shortly after the 2019 NFL Draft. Fitzgerald was cut from the roster in late August but was signed to Tampa’s practice squad immediately after. But to his unfortune, Fitzgerald was released from the practice squad in early October. His professional football dreams seemed over, as Fitzgerald said that after getting cut from the Bucs meant he was just going to seek a regular job as he earned a degree in business administration. But the BattleHawks came calling in January and signed Fitzgerald. Since Ta’amu was the starter, Fitzgerald’s playing time was limited but he did at least see the field as he threw one pass which was incomplete and had a rush for three yards the season opener against the Dallas Renegades and then had one rush for seven yards against the Houston Roughnecks. While he only played a few snaps in the 2020 season, Fitzgerald could be a viable option at quarterback in 2021 as he knows the coaching staff, players on the roster, and the playbook and will have an entire offseason to work with each of them.
The other quarterback currently on the BattleHawks roster is Taylor Heinicke. He is a little more seasoned of a quarterback than Fitzgerald, as Heinicke is 27 years old and brings a lot of experience to the table. Heinicke attended Old Dominion University, where he was the teams’ quarterback from 2011-2014. ODU was originally an FCS D1 team but was promoted to the FBS for the 2014 season which was Heinicke’s senior year. Heinicke filled up the stat sheets while at Old Dominion, tossing for nearly 15,000 yards and 132 touchdowns in 46 career games (average of 325 pass yards and nearly three touchdowns per game) and also added an additional 1,320 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground. Heinicke would however go undrafted during the 2015 NFL Draft, but his professional football journey was only beginning. Heinicke signed with the Minnesota Vikings after going undrafted and served as their third string quarterback for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. But in September of 2017, Heinicke was placed on the injury reserve list and was released after reaching an injury settlement with the team. But two weeks later, Heinicke signed on with the New England Patriots practice squad which he was later released from which led him to the team where he would make his NFL debut: the Houston Texans.
He was originally a member of the Texans practice squad but was promoted to the active roster after the team suffered some injuries at the QB position. On Christmas Day of 2017, Heinicke entered a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers as T.J. Yates was briefly injured. But to his unfortune, Heinicke was concussed after taking a hit in the third quarter and would later be waived by the Texans the following April. This brought Heinicke’s NFL journey to Charlotte, as he was claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers. Due to Cam Newton battling injuries most of the 2018 season, Heinicke appeared in six games that year for the Panthers which included a Week 16 start against the Atlanta Falcons. In total, Heinicke went 35/57 for 320 yards and one touchdown. Then in the fall of 2019, Heinicke unfortunately was cut on the last waive of roster cuts by the Panthers. Heinicke was later allocated to the St. Louis BattleHawks before the XFL Supplemental Draft and served as the third string quarterback for the team during the 2020 season. Heinicke as well as Fitzgerald is a viable starting quarterback option due to his success at collegiate level, NFL experience, and just like Fitzgerald due to his time spent with the team and knowing the playbook.
I have who I believe would be an incredible option to be the BattleHawks starting quarterback in 2021. It is a name that every football fan in Missouri likely knows: Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert is a Ballwin, Missouri native and has spent the last decade in the NFL after being drafted 10th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. Gabbert was the heir apparent at Mizzou behind famed QB Chase Daniel and started for the Tigers at QB for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Gabbert had an outstanding run in two years as the starter at Mizzou, throwing for almost 6,800 yards and 40 touchdowns with an additional 436 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Gabbert led the team to an 18-8 record which included a 10-3 record in 2010 that included a win over number one ranked Oklahoma and a national ranking as high as seventh during the season. Gabbert then decided to forgo his senior year to enter the NFL Draft. Gabbert unfortunately did not live up to expectations in the NFL, partly because most of the teams he started for did not have a quality roster around him (looking at you, Jags). He spent several seasons as the starter for the Jaguars and then journeyed around the NFL as a quality backup and started games for the likes of the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, and Tennessee Titans. He was most recently on the Buccaneers roster but was placed on injured reserved with a dislocated shoulder in late September of 2019.
Gabbert is currently a free agent, and it is unclear if any NFL team will reach out to the 30-year-old for backup duties. If Gabbert is not signed by an NFL team, going to the BattleHawks makes perfect sense. He can continue his professional football career, will start games, has fellow Mizzou alumni on the team, and come on, a hometown boy leading the charge of a hometown team that happens to be the most well attended and devoted fan base in the XFL? We know how much St. Louis loves their home-grown professional athletes, no matter who they play with; it would be a no brainer. Say what you want about his NFL career, Gabbert to the BattleHawks makes PERFECT sense and he would likely have success in the league. If he is not on an NFL roster come September, I suggest Jonathan Hayes pick up the phone and give Gabbert a call to gauge his interest.
Readers may roll their eyes at the sight of seeing the name Kelly Bryant, but it is another scenario that makes sense. Kelly Bryant originally attended Clemson University, where he was the backup to now NFL superstar Deshaun Watson for two seasons. Bryant then started for the Clemson Tigers in 2017, leading the team to a 12-2 record which included an ACC Championship and appearance in the College Football Playoff. Bryant threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 13 touchdowns while adding nearly 700 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground that season. He then entered 2018 as the starter for Clemson, going 4-0 but was benched in favor of Trevor Lawrence and later announced intent to transfer.
Bryant transferred to Mizzou, where he took over quarterbacking duties for the 2019 season which was his final year of eligibility. Bryant’s performance in the 2019 was rather underwhelming, as he threw for just over 2,200 yards and totaled 16 touchdowns in 10 games as he battled injuries throughout the season. Bryant is out of college eligibility and is not an NFL roster guarantee for the 2020 season. If he does not land on an NFL team or practice squad, the XFL could then be a great option for Bryant who could continue to get reps, mature as a quarterback, and prove he still has NFL caliber talent, similarly to how Ta’amu did this season. Keep in mind Bryant ran RPO-styled offenses at Clemson and Mizzou and would fit right in with Chuck Long’s playbook.
Shea Patterson has quite the interesting situation. He played at Ole Miss in the 2016 and 2017 seasons and actually had Jordan Ta’amu right behind him on the depth chart in ’17 and eventually Ta’amu took over the starting job because Patterson battled some injuries. Patterson had solid numbers in a small sample size at Ole Miss, playing in 10 total games over two seasons while throwing for over 3,100 yards and 23 touchdowns. After the 2017 season, Patterson announced his intent to transfer because he claims he was misled by Ole Miss coaches during their NCAA investigation when they were recruiting him in high school. Patterson transferred to the University of Michigan, where he was ruled immediately eligible to play. He spent the final years of his eligibility, 2018 and 2019, and the starter for the Wolverines and had continued success. While at Michigan, Patterson played in 26 total games and tossed for nearly 5,700 yards, 45 touchdowns and added eight touchdowns and 300 yards on the ground while helping the Wolverines to a 19-7 overall record which included national rankings and a bowl game appearance in both seasons.
Patterson has the potential to stick in the NFL, but due to the 2020 NFL Draft class being deep at the quarterback position, Patterson could become a victim of a numbers game. Patterson is given a prospect grade of 5.57 by NFL.com which claims he “has a chance to make end of roster or practice squad.” A majority of sites that have 2020 draftable quarterback rankings have Patterson 10th or lower. Similarly, most online NFL Draft projections have Patterson as a late day three pick (rounds 6-7) or going undrafted. If he does not stick in the NFL, the XFL could be a plausible option for Patterson and he could potentially have a foot in the door of the BattleHawks via former teammate Jordan Ta’amu.
I am fully ready to take flack for this one. The Tim Tebow to the XFL narrative is one I refuse to ever let die until Tim Tebow is gray and old and announces his retirement in sports. The odds of Tebow coming to the XFL let alone the BattleHawks are astronomical but imagine how it would shock the sports world. Tebow was one of the best and most dynamic quarterback’s college football has ever seen in its history while he attended the University of Florida. He then took the NFL world by storm in 2011, going 7-4 as a starter and leading the Denver Broncos to an AFC West Division Crown and an improbable and iconic overtime playoff win in the wildcard round over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tebow was then phased out of the NFL, as the Broncos moved on from Tebow to sign Peyton Manning. Tebow then jumped around a few different teams but truly did not get another chance at quarterback before finding himself out of the NFL completely. He has since been playing minor league baseball in the New York Mets organization. Tebow is still in great shape, is an intelligent guy, and with a proper offseason and training could take the XFL by storm and dominate. Everyone who is a football fan in the least bit would tune into BattleHawks games every week just because of Tebow. I am not saying pull the trigger on Tebow but taking a flyer on his interest level would not hurt.
I would like to make one thing clear: I am no XFL or BattleHawks insider, nor do I claim to be. The four outsider quarterback options are pure speculation and there is no proof that the BattleHawks have any interest in the mentioned players or vice versa. I just simply lied out a few options the team will have and some players that they may want to take a flyer and look at. There is a good chance that not a single player on this list will play for the BattleHawks or even ever play a down in the XFL. However, each of them has a good case as to why the BattleHawks should look into them as a potential starter. We have a long road ahead before anyone has any sort of clue who the BattleHawks starting quarterback is going to be in 2021 but it does not hurt to start looking.