The Birmingham Stallions are faced with a fairly odd situation given that they will be one of four remaining USFL teams selecting their top ten players from a pool of roughly 400 players about to lose their teams in 2024. Some of the top players over the last two seasons in the USFL reside on these teams. Given that this draft takes place right around Christmas it seemed fitting to create a wish list to pass to Santa Claus..aka GM Zach Potter.
Names like Corey Coleman, Channing Stribling, Adam Rodriguez, Jonathan Adams, Sage Surratt, Wes Hills, Bailey Gaither, Rueben Foster, Troy Williams, Darius Victor, Toby Johnson, and Chris Orr will likely be on boards for teams across the league. The question really will boil down to who fits what the Stallions do on offense and defense. With that in mind I wanted to look at five offensive, and five defensive players that could improve the Stallions roster in 2024. Defense Wins Championships so let’s start there, so I’ll give you five main targets and some honorable mentions.
Defense Wins Championships
The Stallions defense was a solid unit in 2023 allowing just 190 points in the regular season and another 34 in the playoffs. This breaks down to 18.6 points per game. A fairly low bar for any modern offense to surpass. This is a big reason we watched the Stallions finish the season 10-2, with another Championship victory.
Only two opponents all season long topped 24 points, and only four managed more than 20 points all season including the Championship game. Along the way they produced six interceptions, and 19 sacks. However through two seasons the Stallions haven’t had a player surpass 6.5 sacks, and in 2023 the high mark for the team was only 4.
Looking at the sack leaders for the past two seasons a few names will be available in this first draft pool. This includes Keonte Schad who had 7.5 sacks, Anree Saint-Amour with 6 both from New Orleans, as well as Adam Rodriguez, and Hercules Mata’afa.
Of all these names atop everyone’s Christmas Wish List as Stallions fans should be Adam Rodriguez. Rodriguez may have had only 6 sacks in 2023, but he had 9 in year one. He has finished the last two seasons in the top five in sacks, and currently is the active leader for the league in sacks with 15. While the Stallions could also target Chris Odom the 2022 Sack Leader via free agency as well, I believe it would make sense for the Stallions to load up on pass rushers this offseason with the immense amount of talent coming available.
Rodriguez would fit right in with this rotation, and it would pair him with Carlo Kemp another very talented pass rusher from the 2022 season who found his way to the NFL during 2023. Bringing in another premier pass rusher could take this defense from dangerous to deadly in 2024. However the Stallions did just bring in Kemp, Twyman, and Mitchell on the line, will they continue to load up?
Last season the Stallions allowed 204.8 passing yards per game, and 118 rushing yards per game. In the playoffs game flow dictated they saw more passing and less rushing which resulted in a dramatic drop in rushing yards allowed, and a slight surge in passing yards allowed. Adding to the pass rush could help slow down the passing attack and create more turnovers. At the same time adding a premier interior run defender could be another big time addition.
Toby Johnson will be another name on many teams’ wish list. At 6’4 325 pounds, Johnson is one of the few defensive tackles in the league that could improve this front seven and help them not only improve their rush defense, but also create his own pressure as well.
In two seasons with the USFL, Johnson has 5.5 sacks adding an interception to his resume in 2022. Johnson is a veteran who has been in the NFL or other professional leagues since 2015. He also has played indoor football in 2019, 2021, and 2023. Adding Johnson AND Rodriguez to this line would make for a nearly unstoppable pass rush in 2024.
Another player that could fit this need is Olive Sagapolu. The 26 year old defensive tackle is 6’2 341 lbs, and recently spent time in the NFL with the Eagles, an extremely deep defensive line. After two seasons with the Maulers leading to his chance with the Eagles, he decided to sign with the Generals. Unfortunately for him both the Generals and Maulers will not be a part of the new league. If you’re looking for a run-stuffer he is your guy.
He would instantly be one of the biggest linemen on the Stallions if added, but that could be a good thing allowing the Coaching Staff to rotate players playing into their strengths. Although anyone discounting Sagapolu’s abilities as a pass rusher might want to think again. He produced 6 sacks over two seasons with Pittsburgh. He would be a solid fit as a 2 down player at NT, who could come off the field with Kemp, and Mitchell shifting inside to rush the passer in a sort of NASCAR package.
Foster has been an interesting player since he left college. After the 2017 season he turned down an invite to the Senior Bowl, and got into a heated argument with a medical worker at the NFL combine effectively ruining two chances to showcase himself. As if that wasn’t enough it later came out Foster failed a drug test at the combine. It wasn’t announced until days before the draft that his sample had tested as diluted, an automatic failure but something that could be attributed to something as simple as drinking too much water in the days before the test.
Further hurting Foster’s image was the fact that he scored a 9 on the Wonderlic a test designed to measure intelligence. The average score is considered to be 20 points. Despite all of this negative press, no one could erase his college career, or his undeniable athletic ability. He managed to impress enough as a two year starter to still be selected in round 1. After making it through his rookie year without incident, 2018 saw multiple arrests derail his career with the 49ers leading to his release before the end of his second season.
Claimed by Washington, he spent the next several months working to clear his NFL suspension and get back on the field. This time away seemingly affected him almost immediately when he returned to the team in 2019. In his first practice with the team, Foster crumpled to the turf having torn his ACL/LCL. He would miss the 2019 season. Despite suffering the injury in May of 2019, his recover process was still ongoing leading to a PUP Designation in July of 2020. He would never fully recover in 2020 and spend another year on IR. This effectively was the end of his time in the NFL.
He spent 2021 out of football, with not even a mention of a workout before seeing interest in 2022. He worked out with Miami, and Seattle neither team pulled the trigger. Soon after Foster took to social media asking if he should entertain playing in the USFL in the 2023 season, almost 4 years removed from his injury. On January 23rd 2023 he signed with the Maulers, 6 months after his most recent NFL workout.
He went on to start 8 games, and remind everyone what kind of player he was before his career fell apart. He collected 52 tackles, .5 sacks, and 1 interception. Foster is 29 years old now, but will turn 30 during the 2024 season. Foster was able to garner his first NFL workout in over a year with Miami, after playing in the USFL. While he wasn’t signed that is certainly progress.
One year with the Stallions and he might be in the same boat as DeMarquis Gates who won a USFL Championship in 2022, pocketed almost 70,000, signs with the Bears and has stuck with them now through two seasons, collecting nearly $900,000 during that stretch. Thanks to the USFL, Gates went from playing for free in the TSL in 2021, to sticking on an NFL roster in just one season. Foster finished the season grading out at 90.5 overall according to pff.com. This was the third highest grade in the entire league, and highest by a linebacker.
Gilbert was arguably the best cornerback in the USFL in 2023, while playing for the Pittsburgh Maulers. He played so well, in fact, that he found his way back on an NFL roster signing with Miami.
Gilbert has the size: 6’1 190 pounds, speed: 4.48 40-yard dash, and 1.52 10-yard split, and athleticism: 36 inch vertical, 13 reps of 225 lbs, to be a top flight cornerback in any league. While his lateral agility leaves something to be desired, no one is perfect and he has managed to get by just fine so far through his career.
After falling undrafted in 2021, he signed with the Steelers. He would end up sticking with their practice squad until week 8, when the Detroit Lions signed him to their active roster. He finished out the season with Detroit, seeing his only statistics just two weeks after joining the team when he suited up against the Steelers collecting 3 tackles. He later logged 1 pass break up, and 1 forced fumble. He would compete for a roster spot in 2022 with Detroit but he wound up released in late August. By October he returned to Pittsburgh’s practice squad finishing out the year.
Looking to improve his stock in the NFL, Gilbert opted to sign with the Pittsburgh Maulers. Calling Tom Benson stadium home, and playing under Head Coach Ray Horton, a longtime Steelers coach. He went on to collect 31 tackles and 4 interceptions. He was graded out at 79.2 by pff.com. This amounted to the highest graded cornerback in the entire league.
At each position there is obviously more than one suitable option. At cornerback the Stallions could look to 2022 interception leader Channing Stribling, or Generals CB Dj Daniels second highest graded per PFF.com. At defensive tackle, Boogie Roberts, or Kenneth Randall could make sense. On the edge a few names previously mentioned would turn heads; Chris Odom, Hercules Mata’afa, or Anree Saint-Amour could draw interest from Birmingham. At linebacker Chris Orr from the Generals, or Kyahva Tezino could peak interest as well. Tezino spent time with the 49ers who also had CB Nate Brooks from the Stallions on the roster.
Impact on the Defense
These players are all about as good as it gets in the USFL at their respective positions. Whether you’re trying to rush the passer, stop the run, or create turnovers all of these players can make nearly any USFL/XFL defense better in 2024. Something tells me all five of these players will be atop the Stallions draft board heading into 2024. This dispersal draft kicking off on Wednesday should be interesting to follow.