The 2022 USFL season is upon us. Spring Pro Football is back. The USFL will allow players to showcase their skills and shine. Just like the recent Spring football leagues that have come before. The USFL will not only create an avenue for players to extend their pro-playing careers. But it can also serve as a launching point towards the NFL.
Case in point, there are over a dozen former AAF players currently on NFL teams. Most notably, players like Atlanta Falcons all-pro kicker Younghoe Koo and Cleveland Browns running back D’Ernest Johnson. They both have stood out and become mainstays in the NFL, three years after the Alliance last played in 2019. Koo, Johnson, and many others like them have proved that they belong playing on the highest level. And that they have lasting power three years later.
Furthermore, there are 150 former XFL players on NFL, CFL, and USFL rosters. Twenty-seven of them are currently on NFL teams. It’s an impressive number, considering it’s been two years since the XFL played five weeks of games in their shortened regular season.
The Value Of The USFL
Many players in the USFL with spring league experience haven’t latched onto NFL rosters.
The USFL’s existence has opened a doorway to make that dream possible. The numbers game always pushes players out of the NFL loop simply because there are not enough reps or playing time to go around for players on the fringe or bottom end of rosters, especially for young quarterbacks.
It’s very easy to wash out of the NFL quickly, with hundreds of new players joining the league every year from college. Many players don’t get an opportunity to make an NFL roster when they leave college.
The USFL will give NFL teams and their football ops departments a chance to get a full scouting report on players who either just missed the cut or were overlooked.
The playing time on national television through FOX, NBC, and other outlets for three months plus will provide invaluable game film for the players and NFL scouts. And USFL games will serve as excellent and vital visual intel for NFL teams.
As a result, I do not doubt that there will be players who get a second and third chance in the NFL because of the extended playing time received in the USFL. But there will also be players who are virtual unknowns to the mainstream football crowd that emerge as superstars and take their first steps into the NFL.
We will see USFL players on NFL rosters when the 2022 season ends.
Unfortunately, the USFL hasn’t set up traditional year-round fantasy football leagues, and many outlets like NewshubFantasy.com have independently made that possible for fans. The list below can also apply to weekly and year-long fantasy football players because there are several players on offense who will be standouts this year in that realm.
Here are 25 interesting players by position to watch for heading into the USFL season.
25 USFL Players To Watch For This Season
Jordan Ta’amu, Tampa Bay Bandits
In the XFL, Jordan Ta’amu was the league’s best running quarterback and led the league in completion percentage. He was so good that he held off current Washington Commanders QB Taylor Heinicke from starting games.
It remains to be seen what type of system former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator Todd Haley employs with the Bandits. But if Haley watched any film from Ta’amu at Ole Miss and with St. Louis in the XFL. It’s evident that Ta’amu’s best skill set is operating in a run-pass option offense.
Jordan Ta’amu has bounced around the back end of NFL rosters since shining in the XFL back in 2020. He has served as primarily a scout team quarterback. Back with the Chiefs, Ta’amu helped KC defeat the Ravens when he played the role of Lamar Jackson in practice.
Jordan Ta’amu has a grand opportunity in the USFL to get actual playing time again. As a result, he will be highly energized and motivated to succeed.
Kyle Sloter, New Orleans Breakers
Still only 28-years old, Kyle Sloter has all the tools to be an ideal pocket passer on the pro level. He has excellent size, arm strength, and good mobility as a former college-wide receiver.
The 6’5 218lb signal-caller has shined when given an opportunity to play. Sloter has been an NFL preseason standout since 2017. But for whatever reason, he hasn’t been able to break through the glass ceiling and get playing time. Sloter has languished on the back end of NFL rosters.
Sloter has been on six different NFL teams since becoming a hot prospect late in his college career at Northern Colorado. This will be his first real shot at leading an offense on the pro level.
Breakers head coach Larry Fedora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone are known for running an up-tempo one-back spread offense. It will be interesting to see if Kyle Sloter can excel in this scheme. It’s QB friendly because it has basic concepts, with each play beginning with different formations that vary on the defense’s reactions. It’s a simplified spread offense that gives quarterbacks run/play options.
Sloter has the skill set to be an MVP in the USFL if he can hit the ground running early. This is his last viable shot to prove that he is worthy of being a starting QB on the pro level.
Bryan Scott, Philadelphia Stars
The USFL has a unique collection of young recent backup quarterbacks in the NFL. Players like Alex McGough, Kyle Sloter, Kyle Lauletta, and Clayton Thorson have spent time on the back end of NFL rosters the last several seasons.
Some of the USFL’s quarterbacks, like the Panthers duo of Shea Patterson and Paxton Lynch, have been out of the NFL loop for a while. But both players have name recognition and make for intriguing potential redemption stories.
But the starting signal-caller with the least mainstream notoriety in the USFL amongst casual football fans could be the league’s biggest wildcard, Philadelphia Stars quarterback Bryan Scott. Unlike the quarterbacks mentioned in the above paragraphs, Scott hasn’t received an opportunity to be in an NFL system. But that could all change this Spring.
Bryan Scott, the California native and former SCIAC player of the year at little-known Occidental College, has a chip on his shoulder because he has been overlooked for quite some time. Scott has operated in the shadows of anonymity since 2017. But the USFL will provide the football world an opportunity to see his skills.
For those who haven’t seen Bryan Scott play. The 6’2 220lb passer has a very similar skillset to Brett Favre. Scott has a strong arm, good mobility to throw on the run, and confidence in his passing skills to challenge secondaries. Bryan Scott has been a mega-star playing in The Spring League. He won league MVP twice, winning a TSL championship in 2020 with his current coach Bart Andrus. That’s why it was no surprise that the Stars selected him in the first round.
Scott has another strong connection with the Stars: Southern Oregon WR Jordan Suell. The duo tore up the Spring League together in 2020. The 6’5 205 Suell had 325 yards receiving and four touchdowns in 4 games played with Scott. Fantasy players should take a mental note of this as we head towards the season.
Bryan Scott is being afforded the opportunity to make a name for himself. And if he plays as he did in The Spring League, he won’t be a “no-name” for much longer.
Darnell Holland, Philadelphia Stars
It’s rather fitting that another TSL superstar is on the same team as Bryan Scott. The former Kennesaw State speedster’s time has arrived to shine on the grand stage. Like Scott, Holland is a small-school superstar who is a virtual unknown to mainstream football fans. But that’s about to change.
Darnell Holland is a multi-purpose game-breaker. And that’s exactly what he was at Kennesaw State as a runner, receiver, and returner. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. And that’s something that Holland also displayed the last two years when he received extended playing time in The Spring League.
Holland has 4.38 timed speed, but he’s one of those players who looks even faster with pads. At 5’10, 200lbs, Holland can break open-field tackles because he is adept at shaking defenders in the open field, and he makes defensive players look slow-footed and foolish in open space.
Stars head coach Bart Andrus is fully aware of Darnell Holland’s traits and will get the ball to him in various ways. He’d be foolish not to. Andrus selected Holland second overall amongst all available running backs in the USFL Draft, and a clear sign of how much his former TSL coach values him.
Mike Weber, New Jersey Generals
The Generals have one of the deepest backfields in the league with Mike Weber, veteran tailback Trey Williams, and bruising runner Darius Victor. But the former Big Ten freshman of the year at Ohio State, Mike Weber, who New Jersey selected third overall in the RB positional draft, figures to be the top player toting the rock for the Generals.
Once upon a time, Mike Weber was the successor to Ezekiel Elliott with the Buckeyes. But injuries and recruits like J.K. Dobbins pushed Weber to a complementary role. Despite the decrease in playing time in his three years in college. Weber still put up solid numbers, scoring 24 touchdowns and averaging over six yards per rushing attempt.
Hoping to break free from the logjam at Ohio State, Weber declared early for the NFL Draft. And his measurables were strong enough to get him noticed by NFL teams. Weber, at 5’10 211lbs, bench pressed 225lbs 22 times and ran a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash. The showing and his body of work in college were good enough to get him drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 2019, where ironically enough, Weber would be backing up Ezekiel Elliott.
However, Weber would never see significant action during meaningful games with Dallas, Kansas City, Green Bay, or the New York Giants from 2019-to 2021. In the USFL, Weber, who has fresh legs, and plenty of thread on his tires, is finally going to get a chance to be the lead dog again.
C.J. Marable, Birmingham Stallions
Although, Birmingham drafted former Oregon runner Tony Brooks-James ahead of Marable in the USFL Draft. Marable might have the most versatility to be a difference-maker as a runner and pass receiver in the Stallions’ backfield.
The former Coastal Carolina star, Marable had 2,691 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground in the three seasons he played for the Chanticleers, averaging 5.5 yards per rush at the collegiate level. He was also plenty productive as a pass-catcher, catching 84 passes for 703 yards and 12 touchdowns.
A shifty back with reliable ball-carrier vision in between the tackles and plenty of agility once he gets out into space, Marable showcased the ability to squeeze through holes and make defenders miss in the open field. He is also a tough runner whose low center of gravity allows him to bounce off defenders.
The fact that C.J. Marable wasn’t drafted or didn’t make the Chicago Bears roster in camp last summer is not a knock on his abilities. For all their struggles on offense last season, the Bears had one of the deepest backfields in the NFL. Between David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Damien Williams, and Ryan Nall. The Bears’ backfield was a difficult one to penetrate. Marable will get his chance to shine in the USFL, and if the results go his way, he could be back on an NFL roster this summer.
B.J. Emmons, Tampa Bay Bandits
Emmons, the 24-year old power back, has had a unique playing journey in college and the pros. The 6’0 200lb bruising tailback was a four-star recruit landing with the Crimson Tide at Alabama before a season-ending foot injury sidetracked his collegiate career.
B.J. Emmons transferred to Hudson Community College and then sat out a year before playing at Florida Atlantic. But Emmons couldn’t catch a break; he broke his ankle in his first game with the Owls before returning for the Conference USA championship and scoring two touchdowns.
Despite showing a well-rounded skill set displayed in games, Emmons lost his spot in the rotation because of durability concerns.
But Emmons showed enough glimpses of brilliance to gain the attention of NFL teams. After initially signing with the Seattle Seahawks after the 2021 NFL Draft. Emmons had a good showing with the Las Vegas Raiders, rushing for 90 yards and a touchdown during last preseason. In the silver and black’s crowded backfield, it earned him a spot on their practice squad.
However, as is typically the case with practice squad players, with team needs elsewhere due to injuries, Emmons was released by Las Vegas and landed back with Seattle on their practice squad before ending the 2021 NFL season on the Jaguars’ practice roster.
Emmons, who never fumbled in his collegiate career, has the size and adequate speed at 4.5 in the 40 to be a bell-cow for the Bandits and could potentially be one of the best short-yardage backs in the USFL. Tampa thought so highly of Emmons’s skill set that they took him first overall in the RB positional draft in February.
Madre London, Pittsburgh Maulers
Based on draft position, logic dictates that former Wisconsin runner Garret Groshek will be the Maulers’ top back this coming season.
But here’s the thing, although Pittsburgh drafted Groshek eighth in the RB pool, the player they took ninth in the snake styled draft, DeVeon Smith, was released to make room for a new running back. Former Tennessee Volunteers and Michigan State tailback Madre London.
You may ask yourself, who the hell is Madre London? It’s a fair question. The four-star recruit out of Arkansas didn’t precisely have a starring turn in college. He played sparingly at MSU before finishing up his collegiate career at Tennessee. London had only 272 carries, rushing for over a thousand yards and 11 touchdowns in four years.
Not exactly the kind of college resume that warrants any attention from pro football teams in the united states. That’s why London, fittingly enough considering his last name, took his talents outside this country to play for the reborn Cologne Centurions in the European League Of Football.
In eleven games in ELF, The 6’1 220lb Madre London put up video game numbers, rushing for 2,177 yards and 24 touchdowns. London was the league’s most productive ball carrier by a wide margin, running for 1,120 more yards than the next closest rusher. The 25-year old had multiple games with over 300 yards rushing. London finished the season averaging 217.7 yards a game and 7.2 yards per run. Suffice to say, London’s reign of terror on defenses in Europe earned him the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2021.
Now perhaps, London’s ridiculous breakout performance overseas is because of the talent level in the league he played. And maybe there is some merit to that contention. However, it’s worth noting which team picked up Madre London and the coach who heads up that franchise. Kirby Wilson.
Pittsburgh Maulers’ head coach Kirby Wilson has made his bones in the football world, coaching running backs in college and the NFL for nearly three decades. Wilson has coached running backs for nine different NFL teams since 1997. It’s fair to surmise that if anyone knows what it takes to run the ball at the highest level, it’s him. The two-time Superbowl-winning assistant coach has coached some of the game’s best running backs.
Because of Wilson’s coaching style, the Maulers are one of the few teams in the USFL with a traditional fullback in Winston Dimel. A clear sign that Pittsburgh plans to play some smash-mouth football. Madre London is in great hands with Kirby Wilson. We will find out if London’s turn in Europe was a fluke. But something tells me that Wilson already knows the answer.
Jeff Badet, Michigan Panthers
The Panthers’ top draft pick at receiver, Quincy Adeboyejo, did not report to the team. As a result, it’s created an even bigger target share for an electrifying talent like Jeff Badet.
A legit 4.2 40 guy, Jeff Badet was Michigan’s third WR selected in the draft, but he might end up being their very best weapon on offense this coming season. Badet has made the rounds in the NFL with three different teams since playing for Dallas in the XFL. But injuries have held him back from contributing. With any luck, Badet is finally getting a chance to showcase his world-class speed in the USFL.
USFL defensive coordinators and defensive backs should be on high alert when Badet takes the field. The former Oklahoma receiver is highly motivated to showcase his skills.
Taywan Taylor, New Orleans Breakers
Taywan Taylor is arguably the most accomplished veteran receiver in the USFL. A former 2017 third-round pick by the Tennessee Titans out of Western Kentucky. The 27-year old Taylor has 53 career receptions for 697 yards and two touchdowns in the NFL. Taylor, who was mostly a reserve receiver and occasional returner for the Titans, does have 10 NFL starts on his resume.
Taylor’s type of pro experience is a valuable asset for Larry Fedora’s offense and, more importantly, quarterback Kyle Sloter.
Once upon a time, Taywan Taylor was a pass-catching machine at Western Kentucky, setting several receiving records. As a two-time All-Conference USA player, Taylor exploded on the scene in his final two seasons at WKU. From 2015-to 2016, Taylor had 184 receptions for over 3,000 yards and 34 touchdowns in that two-year span. The Breakers hope that Taylor has a career resurgence and replicates the same type of breakthrough in the USFL.
J’Mon Moore, New Jersey Generals
TCU’s KaVontae Turpin is getting a lot of attention based on his dynamic skill set as a returner and receiver. But Turpin’s Generals’ teammate, J’Mon Moore, might be the more polished receiver of the two. The 6’2 226lb former fourth-round pick of Green Bay Packers in 2018 has a chance to be one of the better red-zone targets in the USFL.
J’Mon Moore has a great combination of size and straight-line speed. 4.40 in the 40. It’s a significant reason why he was highly touted coming out of Mizzou four years ago.
Moore was a prolific pass catcher in his last two collegiate years with the Tigers. He led the SEC in receiving yards as a junior with 1,012 yards and followed that up as a senior with 1,082 years. Moore had over 130 receptions and 18 touchdowns during that two-year stretch.
Injuries and the numbers game have prevented Moore from climbing up the ladder of NFL depth charts. But in the USFL, he might be the ladder that opposing defensive backs will need to climb when he is scoring in the end zone.
Derrick Dillon, Tampa Bay Bandits
People love sleepers. Here’s one—former LSU speedster Derrick Dillon. The player who ran a 4.29 at his school’s pro day has never fully realized his potential in college or since. The New York Giants saw a lot in Dillon’s potential last year when they gave him a $15,000 signing bonus and a guaranteed salary of $25,000 for the 2020 season. A surprising gesture for someone who only caught 51 passes for 634 yards and four touchdowns throughout his college career.
But the Giants believed in Dillon’s upside. The 5’11 185lb receiver spent the last two seasons on and off New York’s practice squad. But injuries and the numbers game stunted his development.
There might be more accomplished receivers in the USFL than Derrick Dillon. But this list is about the top 25 players to watch for, rather than the very best players in the league.
However, Dillon has a chance and an opening to make an impact with the Bandits in Tampa. After all, veteran pass-catcher Eli Rogers did not report to the team. And the team’s second receiver selection, Derrick Willies, at 6’4 207 is more of a possession receiver. John Franklin III and recent acquisition Rashard Davis could also factor into the Bandits’ passing attack. But Dillon has world-class wheels and could start realizing his potential playing in Todd Haley’s offense.
De’Quan Hampton, Tampa Bay Bandits
Unfortunately, because a league like the CFL doesn’t incorporate traditional tight ends in their wide-open offenses. Alternative options for players who play the position are not available outside the NFL. The arrival of the USFL gives pro, and college-free agent tight ends an avenue to showcase their skills. The USFL also affords converted tight ends a shot at continuing their transition.
Several quality tight ends in the USFL could make this list. Players like Houston’s Brandon Barnes, New Jersey’s Nick Truesdell, Philly’s Bug Howard, Birmingham’s Sage Surratt, and the Breakers’ first overall pick in the supplemental draft, Mississippi State’s Justin Johnson, all come to mind.
But one of the more intriguing players who has quietly ascended since making the transition from playing wide receiver to TE is DeQuan Hampton. The former 6’3 USC wideout was one of the best pass-catching tight ends playing in the Spring League for the Jousters.
‘MegaQuan’ slowly transitioned to TE in the XFL with the LA Wildcats before showing serious signs of growth in TSL. His performance last spring caught the eyes of NFL scouts as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Hampton. The Seattle Seahawks would sign Hampton to their practice squad last season after Tampa released him.
De’Quan Hampton is far from your traditional tight end. But another star turn in his development playing the position for Tampa could lead to more NFL opportunities, and he’s still a developing player with upside.
Terry Poole, New Jersey Generals
Finding quality offensive linemen in alternative pro football leagues is extremely challenging. Often, it’s one of the weakest spots in any upstart football league.
Terry Poole, the former fourth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, not only brings experience, but he has had success as a starter in both the AAF with San Diego and the XFL with the Houston Roughnecks.
The San Diego State alum Poole came into his own in the XFL, protecting the blind side of the league’s most dynamic passer and current Carolina Panthers quarterback PJ Walker. Poole was the third highest-graded offensive lineman in the XFL by Pro Football Focus. At 77.5, behind only Chargers OT Storm Norton (80.2) and Browns G Michael Dunn (79.5).
The Generals have some intriguing young prospects with upside on their offensive line. But you can’t underestimate the value of having a veteran like Terry Poole, who has already been through the wars on the pro level.
Calvin Ashley, New Jersey Generals
Calvin Ashley has the potential and talent to be one of the better offensive linemen in the USFL. And if the former five-star recruit can live up to his immense talent in the USFL, and he might rewrite his narrative and set a course back to the NFL.
In college, Ashley came to Auburn as one of the nation’s top recruits. But despite being so highly gifted and ranked. Ashley’s collegiate career took a quick detour, playing only five games with the Tigers, before transferring to Florida Atlantic University and eventually Florida A&M.
After announcing that play in the MEAC would be canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, Ashley declared early for the pros. However, he would go undrafted in 2021. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Ashley as a free agent. But his stay would not last long. Ashley spent just three months on the Bucs roster before leaving the team to deal with personal issues.
Ashley is a classic boom or bust prospect in the USFL. At 6’7 and over 300 plus pounds, the jumbo-sized linemen has great agility for a player his size. Ashley has blue-chip physical tools. The Generals could be his last chance to prove himself, but there’s no denying that he is an elite prospect with massive upside. It will be fascinating to see if he can finally live up to his billing.
Shareef Miller, New Orleans Breakers
The first overall edge player taken in the USFL Draft by New Orleans, Georgia’s Davin Bellamy, is rightfully getting much attention from many studying USFL rosters. But the player who has an even more accomplished resume is former Penn State pass rusher Shareef Miller.
The 2019 fourth-round draft pick of the Eagles didn’t live up to his billing and draft status in the NFL. He had had five different stints over two years in the league, twice with Philly. But once upon a time, Miller was terrorizing opposing offenses in the Big-Ten with the Nittany Lions.
In his last two years at Penn State, Miller had 13 sacks, 7.5 as a senior, and 26 tackles for loss. The 6’4 254lb edge was just as effective against the run as he was rushing the passer.
Still only 25 years old, Miller has a chance to resurrect what was once a very promising career.
Cavon Walker, DE, Michigan Panthers
Despite being listed as a defensive end, At 6’2 280, Cavon Walker can also play on the interior at defensive tackle. The former Maryland standout is no stranger to spring pro football.
In 2020, Walker played for the New York Guardians and led the league in sacks with 4.5 in five games. He also had five tackles for loss and nine quarterback hits. His standout performance led to the Pittsburgh Steelers signing him when the XFL season ended prematurely.
Walker’s versatility will make him an asset for the Panthers. And if he can repeat what he did when he last got a fair opportunity to play. Walker could be one of the more dominant players in the USFL.
Jonathan Newsome, Birmingham Stallions
One of the more unique players in the USFL this season is former Indianapolis Colts fifth-round draft pick Jonathan Newsome. The Ball State standout had a tremendous rookie season back in 2014 before his career took a negative turn shortly thereafter.
In his first year playing with the Colts, Newsome registered 6.5 sacks, with 25 QB pressures and four forced fumbles, coming off the bench as a situational pass rusher.
Newsome looked like a star in the making. He had the second-most sacks amongst NFL rookies in 2014 and the third-most by a rookie in Colts’ franchise history.
By early 2016, Jonathan Newsome was out of the NFL, released by the Indianapolis Colts, after being arrested for marijuana possession.
He would end up playing six seasons up north in the CFL for three different teams. Newsome would occasionally show glimpses of the talent he displayed in the NFL, but he was largely an effective role player, producing only 11 sacks in Canada.
The now 31-year old, who retired in 2020 after playing for the BC Lions, is coming out of retirement to play in the USFL. The Stallions drafted Newsome as their third edge rusher, using a compensatory selection.
Everyone loves a comeback story, and leagues like the USFL were made for them. It will be fascinating to see if Jonathan Newsome can rekindle some of his early magic in Birmingham.
Daylon Mack, Tampa Bay Bandits
Only 25 years old, Daylon Mack, the 2019 fifth-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens, could be the best run-stopping defensive tackle in the USFL. The 6’1 340lb Texas native and five-star recruit has bounced on and off the rosters of six different NFL teams since graduating from Texas A & M.
Mack is a physically gifted nose tackle, he ran a 5.1 in the 40-yard dash at 340 pounds. He also benched 30 reps at the NFL Combine. Although, more and more NFL teams have transitioned away from space eaters on the inside at defensive tackle. The physically imposing Mack could find his way back on an NFL roster if he is a dominant force against the run in the USFL for Tampa.
Chris Orr, New Jersey Generals
Chris Orr is not your typical inside linebacker. After spending a year with the Carolina Panthers, the former team captain at Wisconsin, on and off their practice squad and active roster, was released in 2021. And then began transitioning to a role in player development at his alma mater.
But he put his post-playing career back on hold after the New Jersey Generals drafted Orr to captain the middle of their defense. The 6’0 225lb, Orr doesn’t have conventional inside linebacker size. But at Wisconsin, Orr’s style of play defied convention.
Orr played in and started all 14 games during his senior season at Wisconsin. He had 78 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks. He also had eight quarterback hurries, broke up five passes, and forced two fumbles. His 11.5 sacks were the most in a season by an inside/middle linebacker in school history, and he helped captain his team, as the primary signal-caller on defense to a single-season school record 51 sacks.
In an upstart league where everyone is new to each other, getting your teammates all on the same page will be essential for early and long-term success.
Once upon a time, an undersized inside linebacker with the heart of a champion defied the odds and became a hall of fame player after becoming a superstar in the old USFL. Chris Orr, or anyone else, may not ever match what Sam Mills accomplished as the ultimate underdog. But it’s challenging not to see some of the similarities between him and Chris Orr.
DeMarquis Gates, Birmingham Stallions
DeMarquis Gates, fellow teammate Scooby Wright is getting a lot of attention because of his impressive collegiate career. And how well he performed in the AAF and XFL. But pound for pound, DeMarquis Gates may very well be the best all-around linebacker in the USFL.
Like Scooby, Gates also had a strong turn in the AAF in 2019, where he was one of the league’s best off-ball linebackers, leading the league in tackles. Gates was a weekly candidate for AAF Defensive Player of the Week.
In the XFL with the Houston Roughnecks, DeMarquis Gates was named to the All-XFL team. He had 32 tackles, five for loss, two interceptions, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, three passes defended, and two sacks in five games.
His star turn in the XFL led to a roster spot with the Minnesota Vikings. But Gates was unable to make their roster in the long term. He played in the Spring League and the CFL, before making his way back to the states to play for Birmingham. Gates was the very first OLB that Birmingham drafted in February.
Still only 26 years old, Gates has been one of the standouts in Stallions camp and will get a chance to show his wares all over again.
Jamar Summers, Houston Gamblers
The one that got away. For whatever reason, despite playing stellar coverage, making big plays in NFL preseason games, the AAF, and the XFL. The opportunity to make an NFL regular-season roster has alluded cornerback Jamar Summers, and the fact that he hasn’t to this point is puzzling.
The 26-year old shutdown cornerback out of UCONN is getting another opportunity to showcase how good he is yet again. Regardless of whether Jamar Summers gets another shot in the NFL, perhaps this time, his career momentum won’t be halted by another league stoppage.
With Houston, Summers is reuniting with his former Birmingham Iron coach Tim Lewis. It’s no surprise that the longtime respected NFL veteran coach chose Summers as his first defensive back in the draft.
Tim Lewis, a former DB himself, did a masterful job in the XFL coaching up West Virginia transfer portal player Kenny Robinson. Thanks to Lewis’s tutelage in St. Louis, Robinson was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the 2020 NFL Draft.
De’Vante Bausby, New Jersey Generals
One of the safe bets on the shortlist of USFL players who could end up back on an NFL roster this fall is De’Vante Bausby. The 6’2 man coverage corner just spent the last three seasons in the NFL after starring in the AAF with the San Antonio Commanders.
Bausby is a ball-hawking cornerback who has great instincts and is adept at making big plays. In the AAF, he was tied for the league lead in interceptions with five.
Another strong showing in a spring pro football league will probably put De’Vante Bausby back on multiple teams shortlists in the NFL.
Bausby is reuniting with his former AAF head coach Mike Riley with the Generals’. But he will also be working with defensive coordinator Chris Dishman.
Dishman was one of the very best cornerbacks of his generation with the Houston Oilers. There are some similarities between the playing style of Bausby and his new coach, and Dishman was also a tall, lanky physical press cornerback back in his heyday. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Generals’ DC drafted Bausby as his first choice at the position.
Obi Melifonwu, Tampa Bay Bandits
Veteran defensive back Obi Melifonwu has always been one of the most physically gifted defensive backs in pro football. His measurables are off the charts. At 6’4 224lbs, possessing 4.40 speed, a 44inch vertical leap, and a 75 5/8 wingspan. For added measure, Melifonwu also has an astounding 11’9 broad jump.
But despite his freakish athletic ability, the former second-round pick out of UConn has never played up to his out-of-this-world physical traits. Melifonwu has played for four NFL teams from 2017 to 2021. The most surprising aspect of Obi Melifonwu’s career is that he has only started one NFL game.
Melifonwu has been mostly a reserve cornerback and safety in the NFL. Despite sticking out like a sore thumb because of his hulking size, Melifonwu has not stood out from the crowd. Perhaps that will change in the USFL. It will be fascinating to see if Obi Melifonwu can finally put it all together with the Bandits.
Kicker, Austin MacGinnis, New Orleans Breakers
Don’t laugh. I know that specialists tend to be ignored on these types of lists. But if you look real closely at recent spring leagues. Several kickers, punters, and long snappers have used these leagues as a springboard to success.
Nick Folk resurrected his fading career in the AAF and is now back to being an elite kicker in the NFL. Younghoe Koo turned his time with the Atlanta Legends into an all-pro career with the Atlanta Falcons.
Three long snappers in the XFL have all earned long-term roles on NFL teams since 2020. And if you throw in kick returners on special teams for good measure. All-XFL player Austin Walter has earned his way onto two NFL team’s rosters since 2020, and he is currently with the New York Jets.
The reason why specialists can make an easy transition to the NFL is simple. It’s because the argument of level of play in a secondary pro football league doesn’t hold water for specialists. The level of competition doesn’t come into the discussion or apply when evaluating who can kick long field goals, punt efficiently, or long snap.
There are several quality specialists to choose from in the USFL. Like Stars K/P Matt Mengel, for example, who is a jack of all trades. But for the purposes of this discussion, I am choosing to shine a light on former first-team All-SEC kicker Austin MacGinnis. The former record-setting Kentucky standout hasn’t been able to break through and kick for an NFL team in the regular season. But he has been right on the edge.
MacGinnis proved his worth in both the AAF and XFL. With the Memphis Express in 2019, Austin was 9/11 on field goals, with a long of 51 yards, and was named AAF player of the week after he kicked four field goals, including the game-winner to secure a 26–23 Memphis win.
In the XFL with the Dallas Renegades, MacGinnis was a perfect 10/10 on field goals. The performance led to Mac spending the entire 2020 season on the LA Rams practice squad.
In the USFL, MacGinnis will have plenty of opportunities to make clutch kicks with the spotlight on him again, the same way he did in college, the AAF, and XFL.
Players proving themselves all over again or for the first time is what leagues like the USFL are all about.