They say defense wins championships. With that in mind several teams made moves to solidify the depth on their defense tapping the seemingly endless well of talent that is the USFL. Following the 2020 shutdown of the XFL we watched as 40 players made the leap to the NFL. It was expected that the USFL players would be at a disadvantage given how late their season ends, at the time of writing this 29 USFL players have been signed.
Defensive Linemen Dominate Signings
Although the first signing this off-season was a linebacker, it’s actually the secondary, and defensive line that have seen the most players seeing contract offers. With each position group having five players signed a piece. However, coming into this week defensive back had held a slight edge. That was until a trio of Houston Gamblers defenders were signed.
The first player on that list is Domenique Davis. The 6’3 315 lb defensive tackle has been discussed at length here on USFLnewshub in the past. Davis is a disruptive player, that can eat up blocks and keep linebackers clean allowing them to run sideline to sideline to make the tackle. He has been signed by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Davis heads to the Bengals to compete with men like Josh Tupou, Tariqious Tisdale, as well as recent mid round draft picks Zach Carter (2022 3rd round pick), and Tyler Shelvin (2021 4th round pick). Currently the Bengals also have Dj Reader and Bj Hill penciled in as the starters, but these two players according to OverTheCap.com account for over $21 million in 2022 cap hits.
With the draft picks spent, as well as the young free agents brought in, it seems fairly obvious the Bengals are trying to get younger on the defensive line. In my eyes, if I am a coach, Davis is coming off of a 10 game season in which he was able to disrupt both the passing game, and the run game with 3 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks, as well as 57 overall tackles, I am much more inclined to keep a guy I know just played against professional level players, and performed at a very high level compared to an undrafted rookie. This thought process only becomes more amplified on playoff caliber teams.
Experience Over Youth?
One of Davis’s running mates was Tomasi Laulile another man who found himself signed by an NFL roster for the 2022 season. He has been signed by the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers are expected to be a playoff contender in the 2022 season, regardless of which quarterback starts. Naturally they are trying to round out their defensive line rotation by bringing in Laulile who has spent some time in the NFL in his past.
The 49ers have already lost a defensive tackle to injury. Kalia Davis was placed on the Non-Football Injury list. Laulile is essentially directly replacing his reps, while competing with former draft picks Robert Nkemdiche, Hasaan Ridgeway, and Akeem Spence, as well as former undrafted free agents rookie Kevin Atkins, and 3rd year veteran Kevin Givens.
Tomasi Laulile will not be handed a job simply because of his USFL background, but, he certainly has the talent to make the team. The question here will be how many defensive tackles do they carry? Currently they have nine on the roster, but I expect no more than five on the active roster. With Javon Kinlaw, and Arik Armstead at the top of the depth chart, I believe this is a four way battle for the last 2-3 roster spots, and unfortunately Laulile’s name isn’t among though four men I expect have the best chance to make the roster.
Tegray Scales, Linebacker, Houston Gamblers
Tegray Scales has also signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. This is not his first stint in the AFC North, in fact, this is not even his first experience with the Bengals. Scales spent time on the Bengals practice squad in 2021, before being signed to the active roster for the Steelers. He was released on May 10th 2022, and just nine days later he was signed by the Houston Gamblers.
Scales got his start in the professional football world back in 2018. In that season as an undrafted rookie he would latch on with the L.A. Rams, and manage to stick there. Then in 2019 he signed with the AFC North for the first time. This was his first of three stints with the Steelers. After being signed to a future’s deal in January of 2019, he was let go in final cuts in August.
Less than two full months later Scales was drafted by the XFL’s Dallas Renegades. He went on to collect 27 tackles, and 1 sack in just five games. After the XFL folded Scales had a cup of coffee with the Buccaneers lasting just two weeks before he was cut. This led him back to the AFC North, with the Steelers. He would then spend time with Cleveland, Saskatchewan, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh over the next calendar year until the USFL came around.
Scales was released by the Steelers just nine days before the USFL signed him. It’s almost as if the Steelers believed he needed more playing time so they let him go to sign with the USFL. Granted this is pure speculation, especially given that the rival Bengals signed him first, but I happen to know the Steelers showed interest in both Scales, and Davis before signing Doug Costin from the Stallions.
The last two men on this list are ironically both members of the secondary. The first name on the list is Tino Ellis. Ellis spent the 2022 season with the Michigan Panthers, before signing with the Miami Dolphins. This is another situation where an NFL team he is familiar with brought him back.
Ellis played for Miami for parts of the 2020-2021 seasons. The thing is at the NFL level, it is harder and harder to get back end of the roster players enough reps to truly develop at a rapid pace. That’s exactly why Ellis ends up back in Miami. Miami got to see Ellis microwave his development in the USFL for the Panthers.
Despite having technically entered professional football in 2020, he didn’t log a regular season statistic until he was drafted by the Panthers. The 6’1 198 lb cornerback had 31 tackles, and 1 interception this season for the USFL. I believe with the XFL and USFL out there now, we could see more NFL teams talk players into going down to these leagues in the off-season to get the playing time they other wise wouldn’t get.
Shakur Brown, Cornerback, Pittsburgh Maulers
The last name on this list is defensive back Shakur Brown. The 5’10 190 lb cornerback was signed shortly after veteran Buster Skrine opted to retire. The long time nickel corner paved the way for the Titans to sign Brown, and allow him to compete with others for the starting nickelback job. In fact he faces a very uphill battle if he expects to play in 2022, given that the Titans have 3rd round pick Elijah Molden and 2nd round pick Roger McCreary ahead of Brown.
With Brown signing, the Maulers have sent four players to the NFL. This includes three defensive players. Jarren Horten must be very proud of his unit after he saw three players make it to the NFL, and still holds plenty of depth at the positions they lost players at.
More to Come
At this point 29 players have been signed by the NFL, and we expect to hear at a minimum one more name in the coming days with Chris Odom having visited in the nieghborhood of 6 teams so far this off-season after leading the league in sacks in 2022. Odom isn’t the only player receiving looks. According to Aaron Wilson three more USFL wide receivers got workouts. Could we see more USFL players signed in the coming days? We are nearing the mark set by the 2020 XFL, could the USFL surpass it?
Stay with USFL News Hub all off season.