The first-ever USFL College Draft is in the books, with each team selecting 10 players. In true Philadelphia Stars fashion, the Stars addressed the trenches early and often selecting three offensive linemen with their first three picks and then transitioning and addressing the defensive line next. With the USFL draft being a players’ rights selection, there’s a high likelihood that some of these players never play in the USFL. However, it’s this fact that made strategy an important part of the draft process.
There were a few rules for the draft that proved to alter some of the moves these teams could make, and allowed them to get creative with the selections to an extent. The first rule was that players had to be three years removed from high school, have exhausted or forfeited all college eligibility, or they could be a JUCO player for at least two years removed from high school. This is very similar to the CFL national draft, in that these players’ USFL rights are being selected. Meaning these players can’t sign with any other USFL teams. This does not mean the player can’t or won’t get drafted by or sign with the NFL, or the XFL for that matter.
The interesting part of this is the league did not allow for trades of picks, or the rights of players. This is an odd rule to me that feels unnecessary. Hopefully, they address this rule in the future and allow teams the maximum amount of flexibility in roster construction. One factor in this that we don’t yet know, is if these players can practice with the team or be given a playbook without signing a contract. If this is a possibility, then coaches could get very creative with how they bring along these players and get them involved with the team.
Alfred Edwards OT, Utah State
Edwards is a guy who played A LOT in college. Appearing in 54 games with nearly 3,700 snaps played according to NFLDraftBuzz.com. Currently, he is rated by several outlets as an undrafted free-agent prospect for the NFL. I would caution fans to look at that snap count and understand that experienced offensive linemen that have played this much, often will see at least a mini-camp invite.
At 6’7 318 lbs he also had NFL-caliber size for the position, it’s his run-blocking prowess that leaves him in question as an NFL lock. He is ranked by NFLDraftBuzz.com as the 90th prospect at his position due in large part to those questions about his performance in the run game.
When looking at his various draft profiles you see a similar trend emerge on every one. Moves well for his size, aggressive, good punch. The cons look similar too: plants too often in protection relying on length, allowing the defender to get around him, sometimes will overextend to reach faster pass rushers, and some coaches point to leverage as an issue as well. Being 6’7 has its disadvantages at times allowing shorter rushers to get under his pad level and drive him back.
I look at these cons and I see a lot of coachable items on that list, I also see the tools to be a great lineman there. That’s what makes him a long shot for an immediate trip to the USFL. There is a good chance an NFL offensive line coach believes they can coach a lot of issues in his game away. The Stars will happily bring him in and develop him in 2023 if an NFL team doesn’t however.
Anderson Hardy OT, Appalachian State
As I stated before The Philadelphia Stars addressed the office of line early and often. After drafting an offensive tackle in the first round they double-tapped the position, again selecting an offensive tackle in round two. Anderson Hardy played in 44 career games in college. Starting 29 of them. He would end his career on a 28-start streak before graduating and declaring for the NFL draft.
He was officially voted All-Sun Belt first team, and also received honors from PFF and PFN as a senior. According to many outlets, he was very highly regarded as a run blocker, seeing as high as a top 5 overall ranking. He helped his unit be named the top offensive line unit by the Joe Moore Midseason Honor Roll. Most importantly, the majority of his experience came on the left side, often regarded as the blind side of a quarterback. These tackles are especially valuable and I expect him to receive a rookie mini-camp invite somewhere.
As my colleague, Evan Willsmore pointed out many of these players played in the Hula Bowl, and Hardy was one of those players. This likely has only helped his draft stock. At 6’6 280 lbs, he could stand to add some weight at the NFL level, but he could also be a decent option as a 6th offensive lineman who checks in as eligible in run sets. This would cater to his strengths in the run game and in turn allow him to get meaningful snaps early. Could also be moved to guard.
With all this in mind, this pick again to me feels like a bit of a reach. To be fair, I’m not expecting Hardy to go into an NFL camp and dominate immediately claiming a roster spot either. That’s why these draft picks are interesting, the Stars aren’t necessarily selecting guys who they expect to impact their team in 2023. They’re looking at fringe NFL talent who will “get a taste of the NFL” before coming back hungry and looking to prove something.
Isaac Moore OT, Temple
Why not take a player who played his collegiate ball in the city your team represents? What better way to build a fan base in Philadelphia? Temple may be a smaller school but they’ve put out their fair share of talent including a man who smothered opposing quarterbacks for the “other” Philadelphia team, Hassan Reddick.
Moore began his career at Temple in 2018. He started two games as a true freshman that season. Entered his sophomore year as the starter at left tackle. He had a great season being named to the AAC all-academic list, lettering, and making the president’s honor roll. He was quickly making a name for himself at the college level.
He was benched in the offseason and relegated to backup status in weeks 1 and 2. This didn’t last long when he retook his starting job in week 3. He would finish the season with five starts in a row. This would prove to put him on a path to set a record for most games played with 57. This experience is something I spoke about before with the other two players so I don’t need to remind you that the NFL will likely at least “kick the tires” on Moore in mini-camps.
He is rated as high as a 6th-round pick. It seems as the Stars got deeper in The draft, they began selecting players more and more likely to get an opportunity in NFL. This is somewhat of a backward way of drafting, but the logic behind this strategy makes sense on the surface in this scenario. Obviously, the higher in the draft that you pick the more you’re investing in that player. You would ideally like to be able to select a player in the first round that is almost a near given to be in the league at some point. Then as you progress, you take larger risks on players without “harming” your ability to still add talent in the (relatively) short term, most likely the 2024 season.
Truman Jones DE, Harvard
With this pick, another trend emerges. The Stars are targeting intelligent players who have displayed proficiency in the classroom. Why is this significant? In spring football and even more so with the timing of this draft, the time to learn a scheme is much shorter than in college, or the NFL. As of right now, the USFL has no OTA’s, or mini-camps, and with most of these guys, if they join in 2023, it’ll likely be a mid-season, after the NFL draft was over.
With that in mind, Truman Jones might have the highest IQ on the roster if/when he joins the team. As if his IQ wasn’t enough of a draw for the Stars, and NFL teams, Jones was also a team captain. This shows he is well respected by his teammates and regarded as a leader amongst his peers and coaches. Intangibles are important, but what about physical attributes?
At 6’4 251 pounds, Jones was able to put up solid but not spectacular numbers. Primarily a role player before his senior year, He did end his career on a high note with 5.5 sacks in 2022. He’s also ranked in some places as a draft pick for NFL teams simply based on his raw potential. Steelersdepot.com recently wrote about Jones and his fit in Pittsburgh as an OLB in their 3-4 scheme.
If he ends up playing with the Stars he could be the long-term replacement for Darius Hodge or Adam Rodriguez both of which are similarly styled, players. In the Stars’ scheme he would be asked to play defensive end, allowing him to pin his ears back and focus on one thing; pressuring the passer. Sacks are great, but with this secondary forcing errant throws might be more valuable. When asking Stars defensive line coach Brandon Maguire about Jones he had this to say: “Had to game plan against him when I was at Holy Cross. He is a monster. Hell of an athlete.”
Earl Bostick Jr. OT, Kansas
Five picks, and four offensive linemen. It’s clear the Stars have plans to keep offensive line talent flowing for Philly. Somewhere in Kansas City, Andy Reid is smiling watching this draft strategy for the Stars. The legendary former Eagles’ head coach made it the norm to select offensive and defensive linemen in the first round year after year even if it meant ignoring glaring needs at skill positions. As a result the Eagles often had a top-five offensive line during his tenure.
With that in mind, the Stars took this strategy to another level. Knowing that they will not bat 1.000 when competing with NFL teams for talent, they have already selected four offensive linemen in the first five selections of the draft class. Given the success, Reid has found in the NFL, and the competition for offensive linemen at this level, throwing more than one dart at the board was necessary if you hope to improve or solidify the future of your offensive line with the draft.
Bostick Jr. to his credit is rated as a better pass blocker than a run blocker. Rated as the 51st offensive tackle in the NFL Draft class he is expected to be an undrafted free agent. The questions about him range from a lack of agility and quickness out of his stance to his lack of mobility to be a pulling guard. This is a player who might be best served coming to the USFL and doing what he can to develop for a season.
One thing working in his favor is a combine invite. The NFL doesn’t often give out invites to players who they see no chance of signing. Chances are there are teams intrigued by him that want to see his ability in Indy. I still say if Bostick Jr. is smart he signs with the USFL. Maybe you wait until after the combine but short of an injury putting more film out for a guy who only started 36 games despite spending six seasons in college.
Jose Ramirez DE, Eastern Michigan
In the 6th round with the 46th overall pick the Stars selected the USFL rights to Jose Ramirez. Ramirez is a guy who has played at anywhere from 238 lbs, to 255 lbs during his collegiate career. He also has one of this draft class’s most interesting career paths. Ramirez was one of the rare early high school graduates, who entered college early. He originally committed to Arizona in 2017. He would practice with the team but never see the field.
This would lead him to Riverside City College in 2018. Riverside may be a community college, but this isn’t your average school. Perhaps you’ve heard of current Los Angeles Cornerback J.C. Jackson? How about former XFL players Will Smith, and Charles Tuaau, how about…current Philadelphia Stars long-snapper Ryan Navarro? That’s right…Navarro attended RCC a few years before Ramirez spent a season there. Ramirez took this opportunity to showcase exactly the player he could be given the opportunity. He racked up 44 tackles, 8 sacks, and a forced fumble. Including two games in which he took over and put up 2.5 sacks in each.
In 2019 he moved on to Eastern Michigan he played in 4 games with the school but didn’t log any statistics. He played all 6 games in a covid shortened season. This would prove to be a very solid performance despite the limited playing time. He would rack up 27 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 1 pass deflection, and 1 forced fumble. From there Ramirez only got better every year. In 2021, he managed to rack up 63 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, 4 pass deflections, and 3 forced fumbles. He nearly doubled that production as a senior when he had 66 tackles, 19.5 for a loss, with 12 sacks, 2 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. His 12 sacks were good for 2nd in the NCAA in 2022. Ramirez to me is a pick you make for the long term.
If you thought Ramirez was a one-trick pony as a pass-rusher you would be incorrect. Per Pff.com Ramirez made 28 run stops last season, top ten among all edge defenders in the nation. He also graded at an insane 90.5 pass-rush grade. He is ranked as a 5th round pick in the NFL. Chances are Ramirez will not end up in the USFL anytime soon but maybe there is a chance long term. Ramirez is a player who lacks some of the numbers in combine-style drills that wow scouts, but when you look at his production it is hard to argue he belongs in the NFL. However, the USFL and XFL are full of players that fit that same description.
Demontrey Jacobs OL, South Florida
Demontrey Jacobs may have finished at USF, but it all began at Grambling. Originally Jacob to joined Grambling, with an agreement to redshirt as a defense of lineman for the school. As a redshirt freshman, he went on to start 11 games as a member of that defensive line. It wasn’t until his redshirt sophomore season that he converted to offensive line.
He would start 11 games as an offensive tackle that season. Headed into the 2020 season he opted to transfer, this time looking to the University of South Florida for his next opportunity. Moving on to Florida, he would continue to play offensive line. Starting on the left-hand side of the ball as well. He would play in 7 of 9 games that season while starting one.
Having transferred with two years of eligibility, he played one more season before returning as a graduate student in 2022. This time he started every game at right tackle, showcasing versatility. Ultimately his college career would span six seasons, offense, defense as well as several positions. The USFL could provide an opportunity for Jacobs to truly settle in at one position.
Maybe he focuses on right tackle with the Stars building on the position he has most recently started at. Perhaps he wants to increase his marketability and they place him at left tackle and allow him to prove himself. The big question with him will be whether or not he is ready to transition to the speed of the game in the NFL. He is still very green on the offensive side of the ball after beginning his career on defense and not playing much during his first season at USF.
Trey Botts, DT, Colorado State University-Pueblo
Trey Botts is another defensive line prospect, but he is an interior pass rusher not an edge like the two players picked ahead of him. He will see most of his time at defensive tackle, playing at 6’3 295 pounds this season. He had previously fluctuated from 287 lbs as a freshman, up to 305 lbs as a redshirt sophomore, then back to 287 his final two seasons. Botts is yet another player that spent six seasons in college. He began as a redshirt freshman in 2017, then was granted another year of eligibility due to covid after CSU-Pueblo didn’t play any games in 2020.
Botts was somewhat of a late bloomer, his first two seasons were night and day different from his final two seasons. As a senior, he exploded on the scene. He was named a first-team All-American AFCA as a senior at CSU Pueblo. On the year he had an Aaron Donald-like performance with 66 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, and 5.5 sacks. However, one game put his dominance on display. On October 15th, 2022 against New Mexico Highlands he managed 15 tackles and 3 sacks. This performance amounted to nearly 25% of his season total in tackles, and 50% of his sacks on the season, which can both scare and encourage teams depending on the perception.
The ability to take over a game always has value, but when it is much less frequent professional teams begin to question why that big game happened, rather than assume it is the player playing to his potential. On this list of draft picks, Botts might be the most likely player to end up immediately in the USFL. CSU-Pueblo has a fairly light NFL draft history, and the streaky play likely will not assist him in his pursuit of the NFL. What could put him over the top…would be embracing the USFL, going to the league immediately, and looking at it as an extended bowl game for scouts to evaluate him against stiffer competition than what Division II can offer. Ultimately Botts left the same season his very decorated head coach John Wristen retired.
Destin Mack, CB, Citadel
Destin Mack is a highly decorated cornerback from Citadel. Ironically in high school, he primarily played running back, and linebacker but saw time as a quarterback and defensive back at times as well. Upon arriving at college at only 6’0 and 190 pounds there was no chance they were going to play him at linebacker and immediately moved him to defensive back. He has played some safety and some cornerback throughout his five seasons in college.
As a true freshman, he played in every game, logging 4 starts, and playing closer to the line of scrimmage as a strong safety. He logged 16 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, 2 sacks, 1 pass deflection, and 1 forced fumble. This was close as he ever got to playing linebacker, but it displayed his ability to play all over the secondary in nearly every role. Whether it is inside or outside as a cornerback, as a box safety, or a free safety roaming the secondary.
As a sophomore he would play more as a true cornerback, and end up logging his first interceptions, collecting two, and tipping four passes. This was only the beginning of what would be many flashes of his ball-hawking ability. After Covid pushed back the 2020 season and led them to play into 2021, he appeared in 11 games and didn’t log an interception but this time deflected 5 passes. In the true 2021 season, he showcased his ability to create big plays when he had an unbelievable season. He would log a career-high in tackles (44), interceptions (5), pass deflections (7), fumble recoveries (1), and blocked kicks (2). While also adding 2 tackles for a loss. He would graduate with 6 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 9 interceptions, 20 deflections, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries, and 2 blocked kicks.
In my opinion, Mack is a guy who will likely get strong NFL interest even if it only comes as a UDFA. His ability to play in several phases of special teams, including as a return man, and his versatility on defense are simply too valuable given his production on the field. If we are looking at NFL comparisons, the name that comes to mind is Malcolm Jenkins. At 6’0 204 lbs, Jenkins started his NFL career as a cornerback, but it wasn’t until he signed with the Eagles, and moved to safety that he ignited his career. Although he was listed as a safety he played many roles similar to Mack. Displaying the ability to play deep, in the box, or even single up on receivers when needed. I envision Mack holding a similar role if/when he gets to the USFL as their version of a do-it-all defensive back to patrol the secondary.
Dre Terry, LB, Alabama A&M
The play to select Terry was interesting on multiple fronts. First of all, this tapped an HBCU player, but it also tapped an HBCU, whose assistant head coach, happens to moonlight in the XFL. So not only are they very clearly competing with the NFL, but they also likely would compete with the Vipers if they were interested in Terry as well. Often in the alt-football world, it isn’t about what you know, it’s about who you know. That connection to Duane Taylor with the Vipers could prove to be key to which decision he makes, even though they only overlapped for one season connections such as this can be the difference between making a roster, and sitting out a season as a free agent left behind in final cuts.
Terry is a very capable linebacker at this level. Playing in 11 games as a senior with Alabama A&M, he collected 85 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery, and 1 interception as well. However, his beginning in college came at Chowan University. originally committing to play with the school as a defensive back at 6’2 200 lbs, he made the move to linebacker gradually over the next season and off-season gaining 30 pounds by his sophomore season. Playing in 18 games at Chowan he managed 95 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, 4 passes deflected, and 1 fumble recovery.
His next stop was East Caroling University where he spent two seasons primarily as a backup linebacker. He was active in 15 games but logged just 4 tackles over his two seasons at the school. This proved to be a bump in the road and could prove to be the question mark the USFL needed for him to ultimately play in the league early. Early doesn’t mean immediately, and I expect he is yet another player that will see an opportunity to at least make an impression on NFL teams before he feels out either of the alternative football leagues at his fingertips.