XFL Rules and Players to Know Ahead of Opening Weekend

The XFL kicks off Saturday with some familiar names and new-age rules. Here's a quick breakdown of the rules you should know about and the names you'll recognize if you tune in on opening weekend.
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Remember the insane scramble that replaced the coin toss to determine possession in the first rendition of the XFL back in 2001? A player from each team lined up on the 35-yard-line and then raced and dove towards the ball placed at the 50-yard-line, wrestling with the other player to secure possession. Yeah, that’s not happening in this version of the XFL, but there are plenty of other rules changes to get excited about.

If you’re like me and can’t bear to watch conservative coaching and brutally boring extra point attempts (seriously, if you were Andy Reid and you had Patrick Mahomes at quarterback and that array of offensive weapons, why wouldn't you go for two every time?!) then the XFL is the football league for you.

Just when our national football withdrawal is sinking in at the bleakest point of winter, the XFL is here to help with four games on the slate this weekend, all featuring a running game clock. Goodbye three-and-half hour contests! The rebirth of the ill-fated league that lasted just one season in 2001 is nothing like the first one. The original XFL was a WWE spin on NFL action, promising more violence, more entertainment and more sex appeal than the NFL. This isn’t the X-rated NFL, but rather, a league that was built on ideas from football fans. Like the concept that people just might have other things they’d rather be doing than sitting around waiting for a replay review to end. Personally, I’d rather spend my time rewatching the Super Bowl halftime show for the 26th time.

Per the XFL’s rules site, the XFL has added five “gameplay innovations,” five “timing changes,” and five “common sense rules” that distinguish its game from the NFL. As the 10-week regular season begins with all eight teams in action, starting with the Seattle Dragons visiting the DC Defenders on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET, here are the highlights of those updates.

UNIQUE XFL RULES

NO EXTRA POINT KICKS

Mercifully, the XFL has eliminated the extra point kick. You will never have to suffer through an extra-point doink in the XFL). Instead, there are three options post-touchdown score. Teams can go for one point from the 2-yard line, two points from the 5-yard line or three points from the 10-yard line. That means a team could score a nine-points in one possession. These three different scoring options will make a regulation tie a lot less likely. The options will create a fascinating wrinkle in coaching strategy. It’s likely that two-point conversions will be most common, but after a defensive touchdown, why not go for three?

SAFER KICKOFFS AND PUNTS

Two other game play innovations involved the kicking game: Kickoffs have been altered to make them safer so players aren’t hitting each other at full-speed. The kicker will kick off from the 30-yard line, 5 yards farther back than in the NFL, as a way to limit touchbacks. Most players will line up across from each other between the other 30- and 35-yard line and cannot move until the returner catches the ball.

The XFL made some changes to disincentivize punting, in the hopes of encouraging more teams to go for it on fourth down. Balls that are punted into the end zone or out of bounds will be marked at the 35-yard line, as opposed to the 20 in the NFL. The XFL is calling that a “major touchback.” If a team does punt, it will be more difficult to cover. No player on the punt team can run downfield until the ball is kicked, which will give returners more space to work with.

TWO FORWARD PASSES (!)

The XFL did not want to be a gimmicky football league, so they actively designed rules updates that made sense and wouldn’t turn the game into a circus. In what might be the most fun update in the XFL rulebook, the double-forward pass will be allowed, as long as the first pass is completed behind the line of scrimmage. Once the ball has passed the line of scrimmage, no forward passes are allowed.

QUICKER GAMES

The XFL is aiming to play each game in under three hours, but with the same amount of total plays. To do this, the league is focused on reducing the time in between plays. The XFL has added an eighth official on the field whose only job is to spot the ball. Once the official spots the ball, a 25-second play clock will begin. The game clock will keep running after incompletions and plays in which the ball went out of bounds until less than two minutes remain in each half. Each coach only has two timeouts per half, instead of three, and halftime is cut to 10 minutes. The XFL also eliminated coaches’ challenges. All plays will be subject to review from the replay official, who will be stationed in a booth above the field. He is the only person who can stop the game. There are no coin tosses to eat up time at the beginning of the game. The home team will choose to kick off or defer at the start of the game.

In another effort to speed up the game, the league rewrote the illegal man downfield penalty to help eliminate one of the most common penalties. As the NFL has written the rule, it is confusing and tough to officiate, and has become an issue with the popularity of run pass option plays where offensive linemen are run blocking farther downfield when the play actually ends up being a pass. The XFL will allow offensive linemen to be up to two yards downfield when a pass is thrown.

A CLEAR DEFINITION OF A CATCH

What’s a catch? It’s still not clear in the NFL, but the XFL aims to clear that up with a rule that does not require both feet in bounds to qualify as a catch. The XFL is hoping to eliminate the uncertainty surrounding catches by only requiring that a player touch the ground in bounds with any part of the body, and then maintain control to, “make an act common to the game.”

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

The XFL didn’t make an effort to go after big-name NFL rejects like Johnny Manziel or college stars that aren’t eligible yet for the NFL like Trevor Lawrence. They didn’t make a push for any NFL free agents, like alternative leagues have in the past. Instead, the league chose to stick with players that they could rely on to participate in training camp and commit to the full 10-week season. Here are a few players to keep an eye on:

Kenny Robinson, S, St. Louis

Robinson is the only XFL player who entered the league with college eligibility remaining. The 21-year-old was dismissed from West Virginia last June because of an academic violation and chose to sign with the XFL rather than transfer to another school. He is eligible for the 2020 draft, and he’ll use this XFL season as a tryout for NFL evaluators.

Cardale Jones, QB, DC Defenders

Jones is a permanent part of Buckeye lore after leading Ohio State to a national championship in backup duty as a freshman. His NFL career was short, but he’s one of a few players that bring a bit of name recognition to the league.

Marquette King, P, St. Louis Battlehawks

King might not get much work in with the way the XFL has disincentivized punting, but he’s another ex-NFL name in the XFL, and has a big personality. King is the only player in the XFL who earned All-Pro status in the NFL. He was voted a second-team All-Pro in 2016. And then, in 2018, new Raiders head coach Jon Gruden cut him.

Kony Ealy, DE, Houston Roughnecks

Ealy was a second-round pick in the 2014 draft, and he started 15 games for the Carolina Panthers over three seasons before he was traded to New England. He also memorably had an interception and a strip sack against Peyton Manning in Super Bowl 50. The Patriots waived him before he ever appeared in a game, and then he bounced to the Raiders and Jets. Ealy is now 28, and the XFL will give him another shot to catch the eye of the NFL.

Antonio Callaway, WR, Tampa Bay Vipers

One of the most interesting XFL names won't be playing this season. The ex-Browns receiver was injured in practice with the Vipers and is now on IR. Callaway was cut from the Browns after two years of missteps in Cleveland and a second suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The speedy fourth-round pick likely hoped to use the XFL as a way back into the NFL.

Other names NFL and college fans will recognize: Josh Johnson, Landry Jones, Christine Michael, Keenan Reynolds, Matt Elam, Sammie Coates, Will Sutton, Jordan Taamu, Matt Jones, Lance Dunbar, Jeff Badet, Kenneth Farrow and Scooby Wright.

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Week 1 Schedule:

Saturday, February 8

  • Seattle Dragons vs. DC Defenders: 2 p.m. ET on ABC
  • Los Angeles Wildcats vs. Houston Roughnecks: 5 p.m. ET on FOX

Sunday, February 9

  • Tampa Bay Vipers vs. New York Guardians: 2 p.m. ET on FOX
  • St. Louis Battlehawks vs. Dallas Renegades: 5 p.m. ET on ESPN