With the NFL draft in the books, and the first frenzied wave of undrafted free agent signings, the dust has settled a little bit, and we can finally sit back and survey the undrafted rookie scene. With so much happening in less than an hour after the draft, I am legitimately concerned for the well being of Aaron Wilson, and Tom Pellisserro’s thumbs after sending out what felt like 200 tweets in 2 hours. However, I do thank them for covering these signings, so the USFL and XFL fans out there can begin to look at who is left.
The Stars coaches, and really coaches around the league, made it clear after the USFL Draft class was complete that they hope these players get the NFL call first. They want these players to be hungry, motivated, and left with things to work on at this level from the NFL coaches they briefly played for. If you look at these types of drafts, it’s like a balancing act. You want premier players that belong in professional football…BUT, you have to weigh the NFL interest for each of these players as well in your evaluation. At times you’re looking for players with flaws, or from smaller Division II, III, or NAIA schools to try and find talent that the NFL will not get to due to all the Division I players they tend to focus on. Despite this approach even a few of their small school players got the call from the NFL, and it remains to be seen if five of the ten draft picks ever play a down in the NFL.
Trey Botts, Colorado State University of Pueblo
Trey Botts a defensive lineman out of Colorado State University Pueblo has a beautiful setup currently as a front NFL Player. While he did not get selected in the 2023 NFL Draft, he DID get selected by the Philadelphia Stars 62nd overall in the 2023 USFL Draft. The way this draft process works, the Stars hold his rights in the USFL, but it allows Botts the freedom to pursue opportunities within the NFL first. Which is precisely what he is doing by signing with the Baltimore Ravens.
He may not stick in Baltimore, and he may still eventually play for the Stars, but the main thing this process has provided for players is options. Before the USFL, and XFL returned in 2022, and 2023 respectively, players were limited in their options to play football in the United States. It was either the NFL, semi-pro, or indoor football. That has all changed, and it’s the players like Botts who benefit. Now Botts can attend camp with the Ravens, and if things don’t go well, and he ends up out of the NFL by 2024’s USFL season, the Stars get reinforcements on their defensive line that they sorely need.
Ironically the Ravens were the last team to select a CSU Pueblo in the draft, when they selected Ryan Jensen in 2013. Now they revisit a little known talent pool in southern Colorado that has produced some interesting players over the years. Botts has the potential to be a practice squad player, or back end of the roster player on a Ravens team that has watched a few key veterans retire over recent seasons.
The Ravens also have a long history of rostering undrafted football players, who later grow into big time contributors. At CSU Pueblo Botts showed he could push the pocket as a defensive tackle, but played just above 280 pounds more often than not. This has him uniquely prepared to step into a 3-4 defensive end position with the Ravens. More importantly his abilities to penetrate and make negative plays could earn him a roster spot if he can continue this into training camp and the preseason.
Playing in Division II football, level of competition is a question that Botts won’t escape soon. But his 23.5 tackles for a loss including 8.5 sacks over 43 games certainly give some clues as to his abilities. Here is a breakdown of Botts before he played any college football.
Botts won’t be the only USFL Draft Pick headed to the NFL with names like Tanner Morgan, and Malik Cunningham also headed to Pittsburgh and New England. It will be interesting how many USFL draft picks end up playing in the league as true rookies in 2023. It’s likely Botts will not at this point. However the coaches with Philadelphia have made it clear they would prefer these guys get a taste of the NFL.
Earl Bostick Jr.
Earl Bostick Jr., is a converted tight end who is considered an above average athlete as an offensive lineman. He needed to find a team that was noted for their ability to develop offensive linemen. What better location than Dallas who has had great success in recent history with undrafted offensive linemen.
Having not made the move to tackle until his sophomore season, he has a lot of room to grow into being a true offensive lineman. Starting less than 30 games in college, the sky is the limit for this player. It’s clear how much he was wanted by how much money he received to sign with Dallas. They seem to like his skill set and believe in his ability to develop long term. This is a low risk high reward move for Dallas.
Jose Ramirez, Eastern Michigan-Selected in 6th Round Both Drafts
Former Eastern Michigan defensive lineman Jose Ramirez was a guy that I expected to go in the NFL draft. Seeing him go in round six was a bit of a surprise, but he could be a valuable pass rusher and special teams player for Tampa Bay.
He also gets to learn from veteran Shaq Barrett who has 40.5 sacks over the last four seasons for the Buccaneers. The Buccaneers also have Joe Tryon, and Anthony Nelson at outside linebacker. It was Vita Vea who led the team last season with 6.5 sacks, Devin White had 5.5, and Antoine Winfield Jr, had 4. They needed more depth at outside linebacker, and more juice in the pass rush. Ramirez should fill both those needs in Tampa.
Chiefs Sign Two, Also have Stars ties to Corey Coleman and Devin Gray
The Chiefs signed two of the Stars draft picks, first to sign was Anderson Hardy from Appalachian State. Hardy is a career left tackle in college, he played in 44 career games all at tackle. He made 29 career starts, with 28 in a row to end his career. After stepping in as a starter in 2020, he would hold onto his starting job to finish out college.
From 2020-2022 he was named All-Sun Belt Conference First Team twice, and second team once. In 2021 he was rated as the 3rd highest graded overall lineman, and 4th highest run blocker. Playing 849 snaps as a senior, he helped earn the Joe Moore award for the top offensive line in the conference. He also only allowed two sacks as a senior.
Hardy had originally joined college as a 6’6 261 pound freshman, after redshirting he came back at 275 pounds and began to play more. Finally in 2020 he was up over 280 pounds and played in 12 games with 3 starts. In 2021 he finally settled at his playing weight of 293 pounds. He would go on to play in the Hula Bowl as well.
Hardy showed what kind of athlete he is at his pro-day putting up impressive numbers across the board:
4.96 40-yard dash
30 reps of 225 pounds
31.5 inch vertical at 293 pounds
9’2 broad jump at 293 pounds
This athleticism is likely what intrigues the Chiefs. Signing Hardy is one of those moves that flies under the radar every year until the team needs a 6th offensive lineman and all of a sudden we see Hardy running out as that player.
Truman Jones, Harvard
Truman Jones will be the other player in camp with the Chiefs. Hailing from Harvard University, he certainly has the intelligence and quick processor to be in the NFL. He would stick with Harvard for five seasons, but not play at all in 2020 due to COVID.
During the three seasons he was a starter; 2019, 2021-2022, he managed unbelievable production with 88 tackles, 28.5 for a loss of 104 yards, 14.5 sacks, 4 pass deflections, 3 forced fumbles and 2 recoveries. However his most valuable trait, and one that might get him on the roster, is his ability to block kicks.
He graduated college with 4 blocked kicks, including 3 as a senior. At 6’4 242 pounds, he will likely play outside linebacker and special teams for the Chiefs. Yet another Hula Bowl selection as well. Chiefs certainly did their homework this season as both of these players have tremendous upside in their schemes.
Meat Left on the Bone
While each team selected ten players that means the Stars were left with five who have yet to ink NFL deals. This is good news for a team that could use some midseason reinforcements, sooner rather than later. The particularly important fact that jumped off the page to me is we have three offensive tackles still available following the draft, a defensive back, and a linebacker currently still available.
The Stars depth has been tested since before the season began, and it seems with each week we lose another player to injury. Our offensive and defensive lines have been hit particularly hard, but linebacker follows closely behind although they seem to have gotten Jordan Genmark-Heath back to the active roster this week.
Isaac Moore, Temple
Moore so far has not been picked up, which could prove to be a huge win for the Stars IF and only IF they can get him to come to the USFL right away. Moore is more experienced than Demontrey Jacobs, the other lineman available. Having played in 57 games over five seasons he could come in and make an immediate impact. Moore has ties to the city of Philadelphia from attending Temple, and was rated as high as a 6th round pick by some outlets.
If I was the Stars I would be making calls trying to get him to Detroit as soon as possible. While the coaches have said they want all these guys to get a taste of the NFL, they also made it clear they wouldn’t turn players away if they weren’t signed by NFL teams immediately. Isaac could continue developing while making some money at the same time.
Demontrey Jacobs, University of South Florida
Demontrey Jacobs played three years at Grambling State University before transferring to USF. During his time at Grambling, he made the conversion from defensive line to offensive line. Originally redshirting as a defensive tackle, he played the position his redshirt freshman season.
Still listed as a defensive lineman, he would make the switch to offense as a redshirt sophomore, immediately becoming a starter an impressive feat in year one at the position. He would move on to USF, operating as a swing tackle playing left tackle in 2020, and then mostly right tackle in 2021. This experience could be handy for the Stars who were forced to consider moving guards to tackle just to make it through the week.
Alfred Edwards, Utah State
Edwards as I mentioned in my original draft class breakdown article, played a lot in college, 54 games and over 3,400 snaps. He has NFL level size at 6’7 325 pounds, and athleticism isn’t a question for teams either. At the Utah State pro day Edwards ran a faster than 5.05 seconds, with 8 feet 3 inches on broad jump and a 32 inch vertical.
His performance on the bench press, might be a bigger indicator of why he fell out of the draft. Edwards managed just 16 reps, and has been routinely knocked for his run blocking. These two things must go hand in hand. If Edwards can get into a professional program and start developing as a run blocker, while improving his strength, he will be in the NFL quick.
Destin Mack, Citadel
Mack is versatile, he has played cornerback, and safety. He could in theory provide a new level of creativity for defensive coordinators who can now drop a free safety down to cover the slot receiver one on one rather than having to pull a linebacker off the field and further hampering their run defense. Mack’s pro day displayed that his best bet long term is as a full-time safety, given his 4.6 40 yard dash. However, the Stars have used Channing Stribling as a cornerback despite a relative lack of foot speed as well.
To put Edwards bench press numbers in perspective Destin Mack also managed 16 reps of 225 pounds..at 190 pounds. He showed he’s fluid enough in coverage, or zone to be a solid asset to the team, but it’s his production in college that has me surprised he hasn’t been signed yet.
53 games, 182 tackles, 6 for a loss, 2 sacks, 9 interceptions, 171 return yards, 20 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries, and 2 blocked kicks.
His value on special teams, and in the secondary would be a boon to this team that could use help in nearly every level of defense currently. The Stars also allowed Showboats kick returner Derrick Dillon to average 26 yards per return. This could be the biggest area Mack helps if he joins the team midseason it’ll take time to get acclimated to the defensive playbook.
Dre Terry, Alabama A&M
Dre Terry did not begin at Alabama A&M but often times it’s not how you start your football career in college, it’s how you finish it that matters. Terry played his final collegiate season with Alabama A&M, where he managed spectacular production.
85 tackles, 12 for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 3 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery
He is a converted defensive back so his ability to get sideline to sideline shouldn’t be a question. He has played inside and outside linebacker, and shown prowess at both positions. Tackling machine when playing, will force big plays simply because of his hustle to the ball on every play. More importantly he could be another huge asset on special teams for the Stars including return units as a blocker.
USFL Draft Provides Options for Players
The main takeaway from the USFL draft is how this gives players options. If they don’t receive an NFL camp invite they can immediately jump into playing with the USFL, or in theory still be signed by an XFL team before their 2024 season as well. Regardless here’s to hoping these guys end up with the Stars if they don’t get the NFL offers they’re hoping for, but clearly deserve. With half the class now under contract, and half still available, it’s clear the Stars did their homework on this draft class knowing some players would never play for the USFL, while others might right away.
In almost a descending scale of how likely they were to come the Stars drafted players higher that were more likely to join the team, and then made more gambles as the draft went on. Guys like Jose Ramirez and Earl Bostick Jr knowing full well they might get the NFL call right away. This was ingenious because it not only gives you players that could come in immediately, but guys to watch for 2024 and beyond as well. If the Stars could match that each season their college draft classes will build this team for many years to come.