The rebooted USFL wrapped up its inaugural season on Sunday
Is there anything more American than enjoying a championship edition of the new national pastime while likenesses of the game’s most revered legends of the game linger right next door?
The powers-that-be at the United States Football League certainly couldn’t find any qualifiers.
The rebooted spring football league concluded its first season on Sunday in Canton, OH, with the Birmingham Stallions topping the Philadelphia Stars by a 33-30 final at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unlike their recent predecessors from the Alliance of American Football and the (original) XFL, the league is expected to return for a second season after the first was played entirely in the stadiums of Birmingham.
With the debut campaign wrapped, players from the league’s eight squads are expected to latch onto NFL rosters, which could include that of the New York Jets.
Jet X has a player from each of the USFL’s eight squads that Gang Green should keep an eye on with training camp looming.
Scooby Wright just secured a USFL championship for the Birmingham Stallions! 😯 pic.twitter.com/aY88hHiSz4
— Justin Spears (@JustinESports) July 4, 2022
Birmingham: LB Scooby Wright
As brilliant and hopeful as this offseason has been for the Jets, they were in such dire straits that it was guaranteed that some area of the roster would be relatively neglected when all was said and done.
The linebacker spot, though energized in 2021 by the mid-season arrival of Quincy Williams, turned out to get a relatively short end of the stick. That can be partly rectified by Wright, whose pick-six in Canton sealed the Stallions’ championship.
Wright had opposing offenses declaring “Jinkies!” all season, earning 51 tackles and three sacks. The Jets are relatively bereft of experience in the interior linebacker spot behind Williams and C.J. Mosley, but Wright, previously a unanimous All-American at Arizona, has taken on major defensive responsibilities in three different spring leagues, previously working with Arizona and DC in the AAF and XFL respectively.
— Houston Gamblers (@USFLGamblers) June 8, 2022
Houston: DE/EDGE Chris Odom
Partly lost in the chaos of the Gamblers’ 3-7 season defined by close contests and lost leads in the fourth quarter were the antics of Odom. Having previously earned NFL experience in Green Bay and Washington, Odom became the USFL’s most prolific defender, earning 12 sacks in 10 games. His efforts were rewarded with the league’s Defensive Player of the Year title.
The Jets, long past the smashmouth, in-your-backfield’s-face days of the Rex Ryan era, ranked in the lower half of nearly every conventional (33 sacks, tied for third-worst in the AFC) and advanced (21.4 pressure percentage ranked 27th in the NFL) pass-rushing statistic.
Good help is hard to come by this late in the offseason, which will make Odom one of the most sought-after USFL commodities as the signing process gets underway. Odom can also be a major asset on special teams: he blocked four field goals over the Gamblers’ 10 games, notably taking the last for a 77-yard touchdown in a regular season finale victory.
USFL kicker Cole Murphy just hit a 60-yard field goal 😳
— Pickswise (@Pickswise) May 29, 2022
Michigan: K Cole Murphy
The kicker spot is, unrightfully, one of the most lampooned roles in football until he’s needed to secure the victory. New York has found that out the hard way in the wake of Jason Myers’ departure after a 2018 Pro Bowl campaign, going through a jaw-dropping seven kickers over the past three seasons.
Another competition for the right to succeed Myers is set to kick off later this summer, as incumbent Eddy Pineiro (inexperienced but perfect on eight attempts after arriving late last season) is set to go against the accomplished but reeling Greg Zuerlein (80 percent over the last three seasons).
Murphy, a Syracuse alum, was another in-season acquisition and wound up becoming a welcome exception to the USFL’s kicking woes, converting 11-of-12 attempts, including a 60-yarder in a May loss to New Orleans.
Nice chop from Calvin Ashley. pic.twitter.com/LBZepeyGqC
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) April 8, 2018
New Jersey: OL Calvin Ashley
Though postseason disappointment awaited, the “local” Generals enjoyed one of the most explosive offenses in the USFL, such endeavors headlined by a ground attack that averaged over 160 yards per game.
The Generals’ rushers (including league-leading rushing scorer Darius Victor, formerly of the MetLife Stadium-dwelling Guardians of the 2020 XFL reboot) should get some NFL consideration, but the Jets are spoken for in that regard, with Ty Johnson and La’Mical Perine battling for the third spot behind Michael Carter and Breece Hall.
When it comes to their Garden State neighbors in name only, the Jets should instead turn their focus to those that paved the way for Victor and his compatriots.
The versatile Ashley is one of the most attractive USFL options as New York looks for blocking depth. He primarily played tackle with the Generals but also worked the interior during his collegiate affairs at Auburn and Florida A&M.
— Kevin Brown (@KevinBrownNFL) January 8, 2018
New Orleans: G Steven Rowzee
You’ve heard all about how a former member of the Iowa Barnstormers (the former Arena Football League team whose branding has lingered across the indoor football circuit) made it to the NFL. Maybe it’s time for another to fly in?
Much like the Generals, the Breakers were granted a postseason appearance thanks to some high-octane offensive efforts. Jordan Ellis led the league in rushing yardage while Kyle Sloter was the runner-up in the passing department.
Those efforts were partly spearheaded by Rowzee, the Breakers’ primary left guard who previously spent time with Troy and the Barnstormers. His starting work with, again, a playoff effort could be the solution to the Jets’ woes in the latter stages of the depth chart.
Channing Stribling gets his SEVENTH interception of the season. @USFLStars lead 3-0.
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) June 12, 2022
Philadelphia: CB Channing Stribling
Stribling bounced around NFL camps, practice squads, and several other professional endeavors (including the AAF, XFL, and CFL) before finding a niche this past spring. The Michigan alum became the USFL’s most prominent ballhawk, earning a league-best seven interceptions during the Stars’ surprising run to the title game.
The knock against Stribling was his tacking abilities, but the Jets could use a Trevon Diggs-style defender with a penchant to sniff out turnovers. Last year’s effort was particularly embarrassing, as the Jets earned only seven interceptions (tied with Jacksonville for second-worst in football), the first coming on Halloween.
That’s one of the reasons they used the fourth overall pick on Sauce Gardner, but Stribling is a particularly interesting case for the Jets. One of his prior NFL stops was in San Francisco, where he spent the latter portions of the 2017 season under Robert Saleh’s partial watch on the practice squad.
PICKED‼️@BryceTorneden comes down with it 🙌
— Pittsburgh Maulers (@USFLMaulers) May 29, 2022
Pittsburgh: S Bryce Torneden-Johnson
There wasn’t much to celebrate in the world of alternative Pittsburgh football this season, as the Maulers finished with a league-worst 1-9 record. Their defense, led by Torneden-Johnson, did what it could to serve as a silver lining, at it allowed only 167 passing yards a game, second-best in the league.
Torneden-Johnson is, alas, far too familiar with the concept of trying to keep a downtrodden program afloat, previously fulfilling a similar role with the beleaguered Kansas Jayhawks. He certainly won’t have to do the same with the Jets (who continued to paint the post-Jamal Adams safety picture with the arrival of Jordan Whitehead) but some recent experience in relative prime-time opportunities certainly wouldn’t hurt.
— USFL Gambling Podcast (@USFLGambling) April 30, 2022
Tampa Bay: WR Derrick Dillon
The Bandits, headlined by the services of head coach Todd Haley and quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, went through a disappointing four-win season, but their offensive playmakers at least kept their games exciting. It’s been a while since the Jets have had that type of electrifying, big-play talent – this era of losing has rarely been blessed by appearances in the SportsCenter Top 10.
Dillon was Ta’amu’s top target, ranking seventh in the league with a 13.8-yard average reception. Previously a participant in LSU’s run to the College Football Playoff’s national title in 2020, Dillon gained some national notoriety with a 4.28 40-yard dash at the Tigers’ Pro Day in Baton Rouge. A potential Jets union wouldn’t be his first encounter with metropolitan football, as he previously spent time in the New York Giants’ system as an undrafted free agent.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags