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NFL Takes Notice of USFL Offensive Players, Latest 14 Players to Sign NFL Contracts

The defensive side of the ball got all the early attention from the NFL, but now the tides have turned with ten players signed in the last week.

The USFL may not want to be a developmental league for the NFL, but that’s exactly what they became in year one of the USFL reboot. To date, 25 players have been signed out of the USFL. Some of these men will be right back in the USFL in 2023, but the question is which of these latest 14 players has what it takes to stick on a roster?

Offensive Players Signed

Kyle Sloter, Quarterback, New Orleans Breakers

Kyle Sloter was one of the more experienced quarterbacks in the league when it comes to NFL experience. Sloter came out of Northern Colorado, as an undrafted free agent. Originally landing with Denver for a couple years before moving on to Minnesota. Sloter has decided to sign a contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jacksonville presents a unique opportunity for Sloter. Ahead of him, and behind Trevor Lawrence are just two names. Cj Beathard, and Jake Luton. Beathard is a former 3rd round pick and career back-up quarterback while Luton is a guy whose career doesn’t look all that different from Sloter’s humble beginnings. Sloter could in theory unseat Luton via the competition.

Sloter is currently 28 years old so this may actually be his last real chance to prove he is at worst an NFL backup. Jacksonville might be the best place for him. Doug Pederson’s career as a quarterback looked very similar to Sloter’s so far. Maybe Pederson takes a liking to the journeyman quarterback and he makes the roster as the 3rd quarterback.

Wide Receiver is Getting a Lot of Attention

Osirus Mitchell, Birmingham Stallions

The Stallions will have a lot of work to do at wide receiver if both Bolden, and Mitchell stick. The Stallions ran three wide receiver sets often enough that 3 of their wide outs were credited with 9 or more starts. Mitchell was credited with 10 starts.

Having been targeted 47 times, he caught 23 passes for 333 yards and 3 touchdowns, Mitchell wound up third on the team in targets, receptions, and yards, but second in touchdowns. This leaves just leading receiver Marlon Williams currently on the roster. Williams had 32 receptions for 474 yards and 4 touchdowns leading the team in yards, and reception touchdowns, but so far will return to the Stallions in 2023. Mitchell lands with the Packers and Aaron Rodgers for the 2022 season.

Rashard Davis, Tampa Bay Bandits

Davis is a man who has spent his fair share of time in the NFL. Having signed with the Jets for the 2022 season, he has now been a part of four other NFL franchises, as well as one team in the CFL. Davis is a former dual threat high school quarterback from Charlottesville, Virginia who moved to wide receiver in college.

At 5’9 175 lbs, this man actually has a Super Bowl ring in his collection having entered the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2017 season. He would spend a season and a half on the practice squad with the Eagles before moving on to Oakland. Oakland signed him in mid 2018, and carried him on their roster through the 2019 season. During the 2019 season he would pay for a total of three teams.

Starting with the Raiders, before moving to the Andy Reid led Chiefs, and the Mike Vrabel led Tennessee Titans where he finished the season. During the 2019 season he got his first regular season action catching 1 pass for 16 yards, and returning 2 punts for 9 yards. Davis has a chance to make the Jets roster out of camp as a special teams player and depth wide receiver.

Bailey Gaither, Pittsburgh Maulers

Bailey Gaither was the slot receiver in the passing game for the Pittsburgh Maulers. Despite playing in just 7 games, and being counted as a starter in just 2 of those games, he managed a solid season. He at times struggled with his chemistry with quarterback Vad Lee during the season.

However Vad Lee may have actually helped Gaither get signed in Baltimore. Lee was invited for a work out with the Ravens, the same workout that Gaither was at. Perhaps he was there strictly to see the connection he had with his former USFL wide receiver. Regardless Gaither never left, and currently Lee is still looking for his next NFL deal.

Lance Lenoir, Michigan Panthers

Lenoir has signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. He has an uphill battle to make this roster for several reasons. The Eagles have essentially overhauled their wide receiver room this offseason. Trading for Aj Brown, and signing Zach Paschal I was slightly surprised to see the Lenoir signing.

That isn’t to say he doesn’t have an opportunity to stick with the Eagles. Currently Philadelphia is relying on a former first round pick as their primary return man. Jalen Reagor, is regarded as a bust, and the team may be looking to move on from him at this point given his lack of development into the receiver they believed he could be.

The Eagles were innately familiar with Lenoir’s skillset, having played against him for multiple years to begin his career. Lenoir’s first team was Philadelphia rival Dallas. Ultimately if not for an injury in 2020 he might still be a Cowboy. Lenoir is expected to compete with Reagor to return kicks and punts. Should Lenoir prove himself as a reliable and explosive option he will get the nod over Reagor.

Ishmael Hyman, Michigan Panthers

Best known for the hit that broke his wisdom tooth, Ishmael Hyman is a prototypical NFL wide receiver. At 6’0 197 lbs he has solid size, and speed for he position. After going undrafted in 2018, and spending a year out of football, Hyman landed with the AAF for the 2019 season. Playing for the best team in the league when it shut down after 8 games in the Orlando Apollos.

After the AAF folded, Hyman immediately got interest. First signing with the Browns, before being released and spending time in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers. This is where he caught his only two NFL passes, racking up 34 yards in the process. Hyman would ironically head to the Carolina Panthers next where he spent the 2020-2021 seasons.

In 2022 he moved on to another Panthers team, the Michigan Panthers of the USFL. The reason Hyman is getting a look likely lies in his ability on special teams. With a career stat line of 21 receptions for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns in 3 separate leagues, he isn’t necessarily scaring anyone at wide receiver. It’s his 2 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 7 punt returns for 78 yards over his career that are peaking the Packers interest for the 2022 season.

Kavontae Turpin, New Jersey Generals

Last but certainly not least, Turpin is the most likely player to stick on an NFL roster after the contract he received from the Dallas Cowboys. He signed a three year deal to join a Cowboys roster that is looking at him as a return man first, and an offensive weapon second.

However looking at the fact that they gave him three years of security, I truly believe the Cowboys see a role for him on the active roster going forward. In previous seasons we have watched Dallas employ Tony Pollard as the primary return man, and as time has gone on he has begun to look like the better of the two running backs at the top of the depth chart.

Due to this the Cowboys bring in Turpin to take over the return duties so Pollard can focus on being an offensive force, while Turpin is used as gadget player, and slot receiver on offense. The USFL MVP, and league leader in reception yards was explosive in the return game this season. He was one of the most likely players to make the leap after the 2022 season he had in the USFL.

Tight End

Bug Howard, Philadelphia Stars

Bug Howard depending on who you ask might be considered a tight end, or a wide receiver. He Entered the NFL as a 6’5 200 lb receiver, but added weight almost immediately upon entering the NFL. He got his start in football with the Colts in 2017. His time with the Colts didn’t last long and he ultimately found himself with the Browns by season’s end.

He stuck in Cleveland for a little while, spending some time in the 2018 season with them as well. He would finish out the 2018 season as a member of the Panthers. Narrowly missing playing with Ishmael Hyman. After the 2018 season he decided spring football was his best bet to showcase his abilities. He signed with the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of American Football.

With the Legends, Howard got his first taste of regular season action and caught 17 passes for 220 yards or 12.9 per reception. He would bounce around the NFL spending time in Denver, Jacksonville, and Buffalo. He landed in the USFL for the 2022 season but reported very late to camp and got a bit of a slow start. He ended the season with 30 receptions for 371 yards, and 4 touchdowns. He showed an ability to stretch the field as a true tight end now having added nearly 30 pounds since coming out of college.

Offensive Line

Garrett McGhin, Guard, New Jersey Generals

McGhin was a member of the vaunted New Jersey Generals. He was a key member of an offensive line that blocked for a league lead in rushing yards. Helping  two different runners on their squad rank in the top 5 of the league for rushing yards. Both Williams and Victor benefitted from having McGhin blocking from them, will he have the same effect in the NFL?

The 6’6 302 lb interior offensive lineman was named to the first All USFL team in his only season with the USFL so far. Having got his start in 2019 with the Buffalo Bills, he spent the next few years bouncing around on practice squads, with only one stint on an active roster in season.

Starting with Buffalo, led him to the Carolina Panthers, where the Bills coaching staff actually came out of. He would spend time in the 2019 season on the active roster before ultimately being cut and ending up right back in Buffalo. He latched on with the Jaguars for two seasons before being told he needed to get on the field to prove himself and decided to go the USFL. He has proven himself, and been signed by the Giants who could use the depth inside.

Darrin Paulo, Tackle, Tampa Bay Bandits

Paulo was the only other offensive lineman signed so far. Despite NFL coaches constantly complaining about a lack of experienced professional offensive lineman coming out of college these days, they have largely ignored the USFL ready made linemen. Paulo finally got signed to the Detroit Lions a couple days ago landing him with a roster that needed quality depth at tackle.

He is still fairly young, having graduated in 2019. He went undrafted in 2020, but signed with the New Orleans Saints after the draft. He would ultimately decide he needed to solidify his status as a priority free agent by going to showcase his abilities in the USFL. So far it appears he was right.

Paulo has the unique experience of playing special teams, guard, right tackle, and ultimately left tackle as well in college. This provides a valuable asset to the Lions who now have another option as a swing tackle behind the starters currently penciled in. Paulo is very versatile as a a lineman and it remains to be seen if he makes the roster in Detroit due to this versatility.

Closing Word

With 25 players currently signed from the USFL, this list of offensive players presents several men who could be on active rosters when the season begins, and several others we could see returning to the USFL in the 2023 season. If I was a betting man, I would put money on an over/under of 15 players sticking on practice squads or active rosters heading into the 2022 NFL season. We could see up to 40 players signed throughout the course of the season, which should be seen as a win for the USFL. So far the only position that has been left in the cold is running back.

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