As time ticks by in minicamps, and we inch closer to training camp the NFL is continuing to fill out rosters, and cycle the back end of their rosters. With that many, more players have been signed from the USFL giving themselves a shot to make it on an NFL roster for the 2022 season.
Having already written about six of the players signed I wanted to talk about the most recent five that were able to make the move to NFL teams before training camp.
Offensive Players Begin to Get Their Due
Many of the prominent offensive players had been so far ignored by the NFL, but it was only a matter of time before one signing opened up the flood gates, and it seems that has finally occurred.
Canella was voted the all-USFL tight end for a reason, he had an impressive season and showcased his abilities as a receiver. At 6’5 228 lbs, he is more like a large wide receiver than he is a tight end, but that happens to be exactly what the Packers are currently looking for to pair with Robert Tonyan, and hybrid TE/FB Josiah Deguara. Canella brings a skillset to the offense the Packers didn’t already have.
I would venture a guess that Canella does make the active roster as the 3rd tight end out of training camp. It wouldn’t shock me to see him get a role in the offensive game plan either. His ability to split out in the slot, or out wide, as well as line up inline will prove to be extremely useful to a Packers offense that likes to keep defenses on their toes. More importantly, the Packers were seeking this exact type of player when they were rumored to be interested in Darren Waller essentially a jumbo-sized wide receiver himself.
Wide receiver Victor Bolden was my personal favorite for league MVP. He helped his team in many ways and finished as the league leader in all-purpose yards. It is not at all a surprise to see an NFL team offer him a contract. Especially a team like the Cardinals who run five wideout sets more often than any other team in the league.
With Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, adding Bolden makes a lot of sense. His ability to play in just about any alignment at wide receiver is key to this offense, he is also a valuable special teams performer in both aspects of the return game. Bolden finished fourth in the league with 415 receiving yards but managed the third most yards after the catch in the league, and was tied for second in touchdown receptions despite playing in only 9 of the 10 games.
On special teams, he added 21 punt returns for 174 yards, or an 8.3-yard average per return. In the kick return game, he managed 25 kick returns for 610 yards or a 24.4 yard per return average. Solid numbers for both aspects of his game. This was without a doubt a factor in the decision to bring him in.
Luis Perez goes from arguably the best team in the USFL to arguably the best team in the NFL. Signing with the Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams. It seems like a lifetime ago that we watched Luis Perez go undrafted in the USFL draft, with the Generals opting to select Ben Holmes.
Before the season even began Holmes was released, and Perez was signed. Perez was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the USFL in 2022 and on that note makes a lot of sense as a backup quarterback in the NFL. Granted he has bounced around in the NFL multiple times before if you watched Perez over his career, it seems this season with the Generals, he was at the top of his game.
This is a testament to the fact that Perez has never stopped playing football. Never deterred by being let go by the NFL, or going undrafted by the USFL, he simply finds the next opportunity and makes the most of it. This season with the Generals was no different, and while I was surprised to see Perez as the first quarterback signed, it is not overall surprising to see him signed by an NFL team, let alone a Sean McVay-led team that has no shortage of weapons on the offensive side of the ball that are known for their ability after the catch. Perez could make the active roster out of camp.
Defensive Players Getting the Call
Cornerback Isaiah “Ike” Brown formerly of the New Orleans Breakers has now officially been the second player signed by the Las Vegas Raiders under the guidance of a regime that may as well be the younger version of the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick lite aka Josh McDaniels, is running the show for the Raiders, and he liked what he saw in the USFL.
After bringing in a wide receiver he was familiar with during his time in New England, McDaniels and Ziegler looked to the defensive side of the ball to bring in more USFL talent. Brown stuck out to them. Brown produced 16 tackles and 2 interceptions for 98 yards and 1 touchdown. Brown isn’t exactly a stranger to the NFL he spent some time with the Buffalo Bills in 2020 before being placed on the reserve/retired list.
There is no shortage of quality depth at cornerback so Brown certainly has his work cut out for him, but he is still fairly young at 24 years old. There is a good chance a practice squad is also an option for him. He also has some experience in college returning kicks, so special teams is definitely in his future if he makes the roster.
Carlo Kemp was likely one of the best and most recognizable players from the Pittsburgh Maulers roster. Kemp led the Maulers with 5 sacks while collecting 39 tackles. At 6’3 280 pounds, Kemp is exactly the type of player you want playing defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Kemp is again no stranger to the NFL he went undrafted in 2021 but spent time with two teams.
Getting his first opportunity with the Green Bay Packers who primarily run a 3-4 scheme. He was released in final cuts, and went on to be signed by Denver in December but stayed for just four days. One thing is clear. The NFL views Kemp as a true 3-4 DE and not a defensive tackle. This will the 3rd team that he lands with that runs a 3-4 scheme. Vic Fangio, Brandon Staley, and Joe Barry are noted for their work with the pass rush. It will be interesting to see if Kemp can crack the roster. Given his youth, there is a good chance the Chargers see the potential to develop him over time behind their veterans at defensive end.
Not Done Yet
I do not expect these to be the last USFL players we see land with the NFL. I believe this is only really the beginning. By the time we reach the 2023 USFL season, I expect somewhere between 20-30 USFL players to have been on NFL rosters or practice squads at some point during training camp or in season. If it proves to be any more than that, the USFL should consider the 2022 season a win. Fans shouldn’t be discouraged by some of their favorite players signing with the NFL either.
The way the USFL contracts work, if one of these players is released and not resigned by another NFL team, their rights revert to their previous USFL team. Meaning there is a chance some of these guys spend time on NFL rosters and still end up playing for your favorite USFL team in 2023.