Joel Dublanko is a name you likely know if you watch the NFL waiver wire at all. He had spent some time with the New Orleans Saints, and Seattle Seahawks following a lengthy career with University of Cincinnati. Since then, he has had a stint with the XFL after hearing his name called during the 2023 XFL Draft, but was released before logging a single tackle for the San Antonio Brahmas. Now he finds himself a member of a Philadelphia Stars team that is trying to rebound from a rough start to their 2023 USFL season.
Sixth Year Senior
When you follow alternative football leagues you will begin to see a trend develop with players in these leagues. There are a very high number of players who spent more time in college than your average player. Dublanko is another of these players.
To truly understand what led him to spend so long in college we need to look back to his freshman season. Coming out of high school Dublanko was a hybrid player. He had different outlets ranking him for different positions with 24/7 Sports listing him as the #18 inside linebacker in the nation, and 24/7 Sports ranking him the #41 defensive end prospect. This was all while splitting time at two high schools that have produced their fair share of professional football players.
Receiving offers from Montana, Akron, and Mississippi State, Washington State, Tennessee, he ultimately chose Cincinnati. Dublanko would need join a team that already had Eric Wilson, Bryce Jenkinson, and Jaylyin Minor returning after solid showings the year before. This fact among others led him to redshirt in 2016. He saw his first playing time in 2017.
He would appear in 12 games, playing primarily on special teams. His stat line was nothing to write home about but he was showing he could handle more playing time going forward. In 2018, he again saw most of his action on special teams. Logging 9 tackles, and returned 2 kicks for 24 yards. His role on defense also grew as he collected 18 tackles.
From Role Player to Renaissance Man
By his redshirt junior year, he was finally seeing regular playing time on defense. He saw career highs with 34 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, his first sack and first forced fumble as well. A key factor to Dublanko’s game throughout his collegiate career was his ability to play kick coverage, this could be a big reason why the Stars chose him to join their roster.
In 2020, he would end up being a full time starter while still seeing a role on special teams. This time he played primarily middle linebacker. He would finish third on the team in tackles with 51, 5.5 of which went for a loss. He added a 29 yard carry on a fake punt, showing yet another facet of his ability on special teams. He would also earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Geology in April of 2020.
He returned as a graduate student in 2021, and Cincinnati saw a performance from him they had never seen before. Almost as if he knew his professional football career depended on it.
He would finish the season with 113 tackles, 11.5 for a loss, 5.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 tipped passes, as well as another forced fumble and recovery. This showed the world he could do everything you could ask for from a linebacker, while providing above average pass rush ability. It’s no coincidence that his best season came under first year defensive coordinator Mike Tressel who also served as the ILB coach. Coaching linebackers is how Tressel made a name for himself as a coach, and Dublanko was just the latest in a line of great players he had overseen.
NFL Career Begins
Following the 2021 season Dublanko declared for the 2022 NFL Draft. He did not attend the combine, and at his pro day his numbers scared some teams away in my opinion. Weighing in at 243 pounds, he ran a 4.76 40 yard dash. What it did display, was an explosive first step. His 1.6 10 yard split typically is a time you would see from low end defensive backs. He also had a 35 inch vertical hammering home his explosive athletic abilities. He also put up 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press a respectable number for a linebacker.
Although he was not drafted, he wound up spending time with both the Saints, and the Seahawks, seeing time in the 2022 NFL Preseason with Seattle. In 3 games he managed 10 tackles, and 1 sack. But it was his abilities in coverage (6 targets, 5 receptions, 54 yards and 2 touchdowns) and missed tackles (3) that sunk him. However it was his ability in the run game, and special teams that helped him get there in the first place.
He would find himself on the open market during the regular season, and this left him looking at other options. First he would enter the XFL Draft, and wind up selected by the San Antonio Brahmas in the 9th round. He was originally named a starter and captain before being released just 8 days later.
While he was listed as a starter and was active for the game he didn’t play. Since then he was been available, looking for his next home. This search has led him to a team that desperately needs his help in the areas we can consider his strengths. Stopping the run, and playing special teams. Even if he’s a rotational piece at linebacker who only sees time in obvious run situations and primarily plays special teams, this could be tremendously valuable to the Stars moving forward.
Running Out of Time
Looking at this and the recent move to pick up Former Stallion Keyshon Camp, it appears the Stars are leaning on alternative football experience in their time of need. This is likely because they can’t afford to wait for an impact from these players sitting 1-2 having lost back-to-back games against North opponents, and allowing 135 more rushing yards in week 3 bringing their number to 376 rushing yards in 3 games. Shockingly enough this is not the worst per game average in the league. It’s third behind Birmingham and Memphis. However, that average could sky rocket having to face the Generals twice this season. The Stars are running out of time to correct these issues and climb themselves out of the cellar of the north division.