With NFL preseason under way what better time to take a look at ten USFL players that could see NFL playing time in 2022. We are quickly nearing USFL 40 players signed by the NFL. This is nothing short of a success for the USFL. Yet we cannot expect all 38 of the men that signed contracts to ultimately stay with their current teams.
I wanted to narrow this list down to five players I believe are near locks, as well as five players that could surprise some people.
Five Players I Expect to Watch on Sunday
DeMarquis Gates, Linebacker, Chicago Bears
DeMarquis Gates has done everything you could ask of a spring football player trying to make it to the next level. In fact having played in the AAF, XFL, and now the USFL, his resume is becoming quite decorated.
In 2019 while with the AAF he played for the Memphis Express. After eight weeks the league abruptly folded but by that point Gates led the league with 62 tackles, he also had 5 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, and 1 sack. When the AAF folded Gates was signed by Washington just nine days later. He would last 2 months on the team before being released and end up sitting out the rest of 2019.
In 2020, he looked to the XFL. He was drafted by the later undefeated Houston Roughnecks. After just five games in a shortened season Gates was able to rack up 28 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, he also had a game winning fumble recovery against the Dallas Renegades, and forced a fumble against the Seattle Dragons. After the season ended, nearly a year to the day after the AAF shut down, Gates again got an NFL look.
This time from Minnesota Vikings where he spent March to August before being released during final cuts. He would then look to The Spring League for his next opportunity, where he was selected by the Blues. This reunited Gates with his XFL defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. This brief stint in The Spring League led to an opportunity to play with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders where he would notch 8 tackles.
Then he kind of just fell off the map until 2022 with the USFL. This is where he tallied 68 tackles, 6.5 sacks. 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 recovery in just 9 games. At 6’2 230 lbs and coming off a 6.5 sacks in 9 games could Matt Eburflus be seeing shades of Darius Leonard?
Chris Odom, Edge Rusher, Cleveland Browns
Chris Odom was one of the first players to start receiving interest. This would culminate in a tour around the NFL. Ultimately he would work out with six different NFL teams. Even if Odom doesn’t make it in Cleveland he had five other teams interested who would likely snatch him up as soon as he became available.
Odom had an unbelievable season with the Houston Gamblers and becomes the fourth defensive player they have lost this offseason. Third of which came from their defensive line. The Gamblers had arguably the best defensive unit in the USFL last season. The NFL must agree with that assessment after showing this much interest.
The Gamblers still currently have four players that could see interest on that defense as well in Donald Payne Jr, Will Likely, Micah Abernathy, and Reggie Northrup. I’m certain Kevin Sumlin is hoping his team doesn’t lose anymore prominent players. Having closed out the season with back to back wins, many believed the Gamblers would carry that momentum into next season. With each player lost that is becoming less likely.
Chris Odom has had an interesting run as a player. In 2017 Odom was ranked the 41st defensive end in the NFL draft. This led to his name slipping through the 7 rounds into undrafted free agency. This allowed him the opportunity to choose the team he signed with. He would settle on Atlanta. He was released during final cuts in September of 2017.
He would spend the next year with the Green Bay Packers after being signed off waivers. The Packers signed him on September 3rd, and didn’t let him go until September 1st in 2018. He would go on to collect 6 tackles that season. You would think after sticking on a roster for a year other teams would show interest, but they just didn’t. Odom spent the 2018 season out of football until the Alliance of American Football was born. He would sign a contract to play on the Salt Lake Stallions.
Through 8 games he had 7 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 8 qb hits, and 2 pass deflections with the Stallions. He would parlay this into another opportunity with the Falcons signing a two year contract. This unfortunately didn’t pan out as he had hoped and he was let go once again. After being released he signed with the First NFL team to give him playing time. The Washington football team. This led to a solid performance.
Playing just 47 snaps on defense, he managed 10 tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble that sealed a 29-21 victory. Despite this Odom just simply never got to a point where he stuck on the active roster. Instead the team would bounce him on and off the practice squad. After the season in February of 2020 he was released.
Despite being released the same month the XFL season began, he didn’t end up playing in the COVID ravaged 2020 XFL season. Instead he again missed some time away from the bigger leagues. It wasn’t until 2021 with the Calgary Stampeders that he would find his next chance. He was added to their practice roster, appearing in 3 games but logging just 5 tackles.
In late November the Stamps released Odom paving the way for him to land in the USFL for the 2022 season. He was selected by the Gamblers in round 2 of the draft and quickly became one of the best players on their roster. During the 2022 season Odom matched a career high of 12.5 sacks that he set as a senior in college over 5 years ago.
He also managed 35 tackles as well. Odom showcased a first step, and a bag of pas rush tricks he simply didn’t have as a rookie all those years ago. However in Cleveland he was reunited with a former teammate, Myles Garrett, whom he will combine to create a deadly pass rusher for opposing offenses. Shout out to Mike Mitchell for that nugget of info.
Kavontae Turpin Wide Receiver Dallas Cowboys
This one is a no-brainer. Everyone watched as Turpin was the most explosive player in the USFL bar none. He went on to win the MVP award, after leading the league in reception yards. He finished the season with 540 yards, nearly 60 yards ahead of Lance Lenoir in second place.
As if that wasn’t enough he led the league in yards after catch. With 316 yards after the catch he led the league by over 50 yards in this category as well. Turpin’s utility doesn’t lie solely as a receiver either. The Generals used him as their defacto third string running back behind Trey Williams, and Darius Victor. He would total 23 carries for 129 yards and 1 touchdown.
Despite his abilities on offense, it’s his skill set on special teams that led to the move by Dallas to sign him. After racking up 12 returns for 184 yards and 1 touchdown, adding 3 kick returns for 68 yards and 2 tackles. The thing is after Turpin was signed, Dallas began to suffer injuries at wide receiver. Suddenly CeeDee Lamb was the only healthy receiver who had caught a touchdown pass in the NFL. Leaving an opening for Turpin to develop a role on offense immediately.
Normally saying Turpin at 5’8 155 lbs is a lock would be a stretch. The thing here is Dallas believed in him enough to hand him a three year contract. This provides him with a semblance of stability to begin his NFL career. The former ELF, FCF, and USFL star always belonged in the NFL.
It was off field issues that kept him out of the league and had him booted from school at one point. If any team was going to give him the second chance he was looking for it was the Dallas Cowboys, a team that has harbored many players with much more recent off field issues. Turpin has kept himself out of the news for the wrong reasons for a few years now. He has earned this second chance, but should still expect to have a short leash.
Channing Stribling, Defensive Back, Washington Commanders
Channing Stribling is no stranger to the NFL. At times he has looked like he was going to make an active roster only for cuts to go a different way and leave him searching for his next job. The main knock here is his lack of top end speed.
The thing with Stribling is, and always has been, he plays faster than he tests out. Some players just don’t seem to pop when you watch them perform combine drills. Stribling is one of those guys. A 4.6 40 yard dash is below average for an NFL cornerback, a 31.5 inch vertical leap isn’t exceptional, and 5 bench press reps aren’t scaring any wide receivers in press coverage despite his 6’2 188 lb frame.
He would have 5 different stints with NFL teams before ever really seeing the field. It wasn’t until he signed with the Memphis Express of the AAF that he got to really play. With Memphis he had 18 tackles, and 1 interception in 8 games. He was able to find interest in the CFL following this 8 game stretch.
The Hamilton Tiger Cats brought Stribling in on the practice roster clearly thinking he needed more reps to develop into a quality player. Little did they know those reps would come in the XFL in 2020 not the CFL. Less than a month after Hamilton signed him, Stribling was drafted by the Seattle Dragons of the XFL.
Stribling would go on to play in five games before COVID shut the league down. He had 12 tackles, and 1 interception in the shortened season. After this Hamilton brought him back. Soon after news broke that the CFL would cancel the 2020 season. Stribling made the smartest move for his career at the time. He chose to opt out of his contract and move on to The Spring League where he was drafted by Bart Andrus and his TSL Generals.
After that 2020 season Andrus and Stribling both left The Spring League for Canada. Stribling opted back into his contract with the Tiger Cats for the 2021 season. This time he would make it on the active roster as a depth piece. He would play in 4 games racking up 6 tackles. This ultimately ended his time in Hamilton. He was released in December.
This left him available just months before the USFL draft. He was drafted in round 8 and immediately became the number 1 cornerback in a fairly deep secondary. In 2022 Stribling looked like a ballhawk. It was as if all the NFL and CFL coaches who thought he just needed more time to develop were right.
Stribling went on to lead the league with seven interceptions. This ended up being two more than any other USFL player on the season. That in itself was impressive, but now consider he played in just seven regular season games due to injury that feat becomes even more amazing.
Obviously Washington who is rife with former Spring football talent saw enough in him to bring him in. They also happen to have a wide open cornerback depth chart as of right now. This could be the chance Stribling has needed all along.
Carlo Kemp, Defensive End, L.A. Chargers
Carlo Kemp was essentially a rookie when he touched a USFL field for the first time. He spent time on two offseason rosters last season. He didn’t see any playing time or log any statistics. Then the USFL returned for the 2022 season.
The USFL allowed him to get in game repetitions with professional level players. I know I have harped on the lack of reps to go around at the NFL level for practice squad and bottom of the roster guys. If a player finds himself with in that realm he essentially has to develop as fast as draft picks, with a fraction of the reps to earn a roster spot.
Fighting an uphill battle in this manner is never a fair fight to begin with. The draft picks are getting the reps, because the team has invested more than just money in them. Given that Kemp was an undrafted free agent, he became expendable in his last two NFL stops.
In 2022, he found himself, inexperienced and needing game film to progress in the football world. The USFL presented the opportunity to get on an active roster, and potentially start if he earned the job. The thing is, Kemp was always one of the better defensive linemen on the roster, and was bound to get on the field sooner rather than later.
By the end of the season, the Maulers had produced 20 sacks, and Kemp himself produced 5 of them. He has now signed a contract with the Los Angeles Chargers. At 6’3 281 lbs, Kemp slots in as a 3 technique in a defense that traditionally plays a 3-4 front.
Currently the Chargers feature eight defensive linemen fighting for what likely will be 5-6 spots. When you begin to look at the depth chart, you have a few guys who are locks to make the active roster.
It would be extremely shocking to see the Chargers move on from Morgan Fox, Jerry Tillery, Austin Johnson or Christian Covington. Which means there are four men fighting for one or two roster spots. Gaziano, Fehoko, Brown, and of course Kemp. However this will be no small task. Gaziano and Fehoko made the active roster last season. Kemp provides more upside as the youngest of the bunch.
At quarterback teams Tend to place a high value on experienced back ups. So it’s not surprising to see Kyle Sloter and Luis Perez both ultimately land on NFL rosters following the 2022 USFL Season. During their profession careers both have had NFL stints but don’t seem to be in the top 53 of their rosters. Both men needed to develop and prove they could play so they looked to the USFL and both were rewarded with NFL contracts afterward.
Kyle Sloter, Quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars (released)
Kyle Sloter is about as experienced as you can be as an NFL QB, without having actually played in a regular season game. The thing Sloter is now fighting is his age. At 28 years old he can’t be viewed as a developmental prospect anymore.
At this point he needed the playing time to prove he deserved to be in the NFL even at that backup level. Up to this point his relative youth and experience helped keep him in relevancy for the NFL. This is why we saw him bounce around to multiple different NFL teams prior to going to the USFL.
Whoever is advising Sloter clearly saw his career was at a crossroads. Once you hit a certain age as an NFL third string QB if you haven’t been on an active roster, you likely will fall out of the league quickly. Sloter was on his way to that point when someone stepped in and advised him to play in the USFL. The ability to start nine games at this level showed what he can do when called upon but was it enough to convince an NFL team?
The truth is Jacksonville might have presented the best opportunity for Sloter to solidify his status in the NFL. Doug Pederson is a coach that was once a back up quarterback himself he tends to like the older quarterbacks and he often leans toward veteran backups. In Philadelphia he latched on to Nate Sudfeld as his third QB and kept him year after year choosing experience over youth.
Could Sloter be his new Sudfeld long term? That question seems to lean no after having been released. Having experienced backups in Cj Beathard and Sloter wouldn’t be the worst idea on a talented roster headelined by a young QB. Doug Pederson might revisit this later on in the season if Sloter isn’t signed.
Luis Perez, Quarterback L.A. Rams
Perez may not have the level of NFL experience that Sloter has, but he has more experience as a starter at the spring football level. A veteran of the AAF, XFL, USFL, and Spring League, Perez has developed leaps and bounds over the past 3-4 seasons by simply playing.
The continued complaints by NFL coaches are that there are a lack of quality reps to go around the team at QB. Perez seemed to always be the odd man out on NFL squads, but in Spring Football it’s much the opposite. Teams began for a quarterback like Perez in spring leagues. He is efficient, he protects the ball, he’s a quality leader, and he will put your offense in the right play based on what the defense shows.
He is exactly what NFL teams look for in a number two quarterback. A guy who is ready to start when needed, but one who isn’t going to be a problem when he is on the bench. A man who has been there done that in professional game action, even if not at the NFL level.
The thing about Perez is his win loss record in spring football is unbelievable. With the AAF he led the Iron to a 5-3 record, in the XFL he won his only two starts. With the Spring League in 2021 he led the Jousters to the Mega Bowl. In 2022 he was a part of the 9-2 New Jersey Generals. Who by the way might have been undefeated if not for their kicking game. That fact alone should earn him a job.
Maurice Alexander, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions
Maurice Alexander is about as versatile as they come as an offensive weapon. As a former high school QB, he is a coaches best friend when it comes to simulating a mobile QB. He also is a viable option as an emergency QB a role he held for weeks with the Stars.
The former QB, is better known as a pass catcher than he is as a quarterback at this point in his career. The Philadelphia ties are ironic, Given the fact that Maurice Alexander could be the next Greg Ward for the NFL. Ward was a former QB turned WR that latched on with the Philadelphia eagles following his stint in Spring Football.
Ward has quietly developed into a reliable receiver and special teams contributor for the Eagles. His role is identical to what I expect for Alexander. The most likely scenario here is that Alexander bakes his hair playing special teams as a return band for the Lions. However, the Detroit Lions seem to have an affinity for smaller quicker slot style receivers like Alexander.
If you looked at their 2021 roster construction, you might have thought they didn’t want larger receivers. It wasn’t until they signed Josh Reynolds mid season that they had any prominent wide receiver that topped 6 feet tall. This off-season, the team has focused on revamping that wide receiver room. Whether it was in the draft, through trade, or via free agency the Lions brought in many new faces. Alexander being one of them. Chances are this fact helps level the playing field for Alexander.
Derrick Dillon, Wide Receiver, Cleveland Browns
Derrick Dillon ended the season sixth in reception yards with 386 yards. The incredible part of his season was that 257 yards came after the catch. To put that into perspective the only other player that topped 200 yards after the catch was Kavontae Turpin the league MVP, and recent apple of Dallas’s eye.
Dillon showed elusiveness as well as top notch acceleration which helped him achieve this number. He also showcased his ability in space as a kick returner. I believe the right team could get him involved in the jet sweep game as well.
Dillon joins a Browns squad that is fairly wide open at wide receiver. The Browns have rebuilt this receiver corps in Kevin Stefanski’s image. The only question is where does Dillon fit this puzzle?
Sage Surratt, Tight End, L.A. Chargers
Sage Surratt went into the USFL a 6’3 210 lb receiver and left a 6’3 220 lb tight end. Surratt’s biggest knocks have routinely been about his lack of speed for an outside wide receiver. So his team the Birmingham Stallions, saw an opportunity to create a mismatch nightmare on offense.
Rather than following the definition of insanity and trying to do the same thing over again with Surratt, the Stallions decided to move him to a position where his speed would be an advantage. Transitioning to tight end sounds a lot easier than it really is. Then add in that as a 4th or 5th option in NFL camp, snaps are scarce to try and learn.
That’s where the USFL comes in for Surratt. The league gave him a chance to get live in game reps, high level coaching, and hit the weight room to prepare for the 2022 NFL Season. The truth is, Surratt is exactly the type of player the USFL should be targeting.
Players seeking to make a position change can now look at the USFL as an opportunity to showcase themselves at a new position, and get more development in a short period of time without giving up much if any NFL time.
Ten Players to Watch
This was ten players to watch of the now 44 USFL players signed to NFL rosters. Lots of offensive names on this list with good reason. The USFL skill position players impressed in 2022, and the NFL is showing that with their contract offers. Eight teams at 50 players each equals 400 players which means we are over 10% of the USFL players on NFL rosters.
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