What is considered to be a big day for the USFL, the Houston Gamblers were one of eight teams who went through the first USFL College Draft.
The draft got underway Tuesday with ten rounds and 80 picks for the league in total. Houston went into the draft picking third in each of the ten rounds after finishing the 2022 season with a 3-7 record. This is the first time Gamblers fans got to see new head coach Curtis Johnson in action as he starts building the team about a week after being named Kevin Sumlin’s replacement.
While the early rounds were balanced between offense and defense, coach Johnson drafted six defensive players out of the ten picks the team had. Four of the picks were focused on the offensive or defensive lines. Three picks were in the secondary as they look to get younger at the position. The coach Johnson era seems to be off to a fast start with a solid draft.
Houston Gamblers Draft Picks
First Round, Pick Three: Chase Brice, QB, Appalachian State
Chase Brice has experienced multiple changes and multiple different offenses during his college career. Brice played two seasons at Clemson and won a national title with them before transferring to Duke in 2020 in his first year of starting at quarterback full-time. After a tough outing with Duke, Brice transferred once again to Appalachian State where he threw for 6,258 yards and 54 touchdowns in two seasons. He also ran for 266 yards and seven touchdowns during those two seasons as well.
The athletic portion of his game is what makes him a good prospect for the USFL. He’s got a good arm and can make the throws on the run. One fault in his game is how inconsistent of a passer he is with his accuracy. Some of that has to do with his footwork and needs some development there. Early NFL Draft projections have him as a day-three pick so the USFL might be a good avenue for him to take to develop and grow as a quarterback.
Second Round, Pick Ten: Justin Ford, DB, Montana
Talk about a ballhawk at cornerback and Justin Ford was that guy at Montana. Ford’s first two seasons in college were spent at Golden West recording 51 tackles and four interceptions in two seasons there. After a short one-year stint at Louisville due to injury, he joined Montana and had a career season where he picked off the quarterback nine times, two defensive touchdowns, and one field goal blocked for a touchdown in 2021. He was named First Team All-Big Sky for his performance. 2022 saw him only play eight games, but still recorded two interceptions and seven pass deflections.
Ford is a tall corner who is a playmaker and breaks on the ball extremely well. He proved to be a showdown corner year after year at Golden West and Montana. One part of his game he will need to work on is to make sure he doesn’t get burned on deep balls which comes with more coaching in his techniques. Should he join the Gamblers, it’s a good upgrade to corner as he could replace Will Likely and develop him as a future starter.
Third Round, Pick 18: Joseph Fisher, OG, Shepherd
Joseph Fisher found success at Shepherd where he started for three seasons with the team where he was an All-American at the Division II level. Fisher earned an All-PSAC First Team selection during his senior season with the team. He was recently invited to the Hula Bowl, NFLPA Bowl, and Reese Bowl.
His sheer size and strength are a major plus to his game as he rarely allowed any defenders past him on the line. He’s reliable at the pass and runs blocking and purely getting the defenders thrown into the ground. This will be different competition as he will need to be careful with committing penalties against guys who are similar sizes as him. He’s been making good impressions at the bowl games so even if he doesn’t make an NFL roster, Ford will get a chance to start in the USFL at tackle.
Fourth Round, Pick, 26: Scott Matlock, DT, Boise State
From the defensive tackle position, Scott Matlock was the Broncos’ top pass rusher on the team as he dominated from the interior. Twice he was named Second Team All-Mountain West in 2021 and 2022. His final career numbers include 115 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and three field goal blocks. Not to mention he has caught two touchdowns on offense in his career.
Great size on the defensive line and for a tackle he can get to the quarterback pretty well. There are some techniques work he will have to improve on to further improve his abilities. Houston took some hits on the defensive line and needs help, especially in the middle. Matlock could be the guy they can develop in the middle to help out.
Fifth Round, Pick 34: Jeffery Johnson, DT, Oklahoma
Another defensive tackle brought in to help, Jeffery Johnson has plenty of experience at defensive tackle for five years in college. His first four seasons were at Tulane before transferring to Oklahoma. After being a four-year starter at Tulane, he started six games at Oklahoma recording 23 total tackles during the 2022 season. He finished his college career with nine sacks and 158 tackles in five years.
He’s a good size defensive tackle whose strength is more about stopping the run because of how he can bully his way to the ball carrier. He could use some work on tackling and pass-rushing skills to form out his skillset on the line. Johnson has played big-time football and knows what it takes to win. He’s just the latest of good additions to the defensive line that could be impactful players should he join the Gamblers this season.
Sixth Round, Pick 42: Keenan Isaac, DB, Alabama State
Keenan Isaac has been an impactful player at Alabama State since joining the team in 2018. Outside of one major injury during his college career, Isaac proved to be a valuable player in four seasons at the school. He finished with career numbers of 99 tackles, 22 pass deflections, nine tackles for loss, and two interceptions.
Isaac is a formable tackler who can wrap the ball carrier with good technique. As a defensive back, scouts would like to see him be more of a playmaker and create turnovers consistently. Another addition to the secondary that is looking to get younger, Issac could fill in and be a good rotational player for Houston.
Seventh Round, Pick 50: Alex Jensen, OT, South Dakota
Locking down the left tackle position for South Dakota, Alex Jensen has been a part of some great running games during his time in college. Jensen was named Second Team All-MVFC in 2021 and 2022 where he was a consistent starter over the last couple of seasons for the team. He was a part of the offense that was ranked 32nd in the country in rushing yards with 170 yards per game in 2022.
South Dakota has been successful at running the football, so the run-blocking skills are there for Jensen. Where he will need work is competing against high-level players being that he played for a smaller school. He’s got good size at the left tackle position so Houston has a player they can develop to be the future blind-side blocker for Houston’s quarterback.
Eighth Round, Pick 58: Brady Russell, TE, Colorado
Brady Russell was a consistent player and a good leader at Colorado spending his whole college career there. Russell has played a minimum of 11 games each season except for 2020 where an injury only got him on the field for two games. He finished his college career with 78 catches for 799 yards and three touchdowns in five seasons.
After being invited to the Senior Bowl, Russell showcased his skills as a receiver and a blocker. His strength comes as a blocker and in the passing game is good for short yards situations. Russell won’t stretch the field for the Gamblers, but giving more support to the running game only enhances his player profile as Houston looks into the future.
Ninth Round, Pick 66: Jason Taylor II, S, Oklahoma State
Jason Taylor II can do a lot in the secondary whether it’s making the tackle in big moments or creating turnovers for his Oklahoma State team. In three seasons, Taylor recorded 159 tackles, 19 pass deflections, ten tackles for loss, and eight interceptions in three seasons. 99 of those tackles and six of those interceptions came last year which resulted in him being named First Team All-Big 12 Defensive Team.
Taylor is a great player who plays with high energy and can be a playmaker. There are times when he plays too aggressively and too fast which leads to big plays allowed and penalties. He would be a great player for Houston to bring onto the roster and grow as a player. With some development, he could be seen as a key piece for the Gamblers’ defense either this year or in the future.
Tenth Round, Pick 74: Colby Reeder, LB, Iowa State
Colby Reeder played well through his first four years at Delaware where he was named Third Team All-CAA in 2021. Reeder transferred to Iowa State where he started eight games where he recorded 38 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. He was named Honorable Mention All-Big 12 and Defensive Newcomer of the Year by the coaches.
Reeder has proven to be an athletic linebacker who has a nose for finding the football. He’s only played big-time football for a short time so some development is still needed on his end. Donald Payne and Reggie Northrup are no longer on the team, so the team needs to find replacements for them. Reeder could fit into that role for them.