The first season of the revamped United States Football League (USFL) kicked off this weekend, with the New Jersey Generals taking on the Birmingham Stallions on Saturday night.
The previous installment of the league, active in the 1980s, had more talent than any spring league has ever had. The league featured former Heisman winners, future NFL MVPs, and even a handful of players who would later end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
While the situation back then was different from now, with some talented players electing to join the USFL out of college rather than the NFL, the players on the 2022 USFL rosters will be hoping they can emulate those past success stories.
With other professional leagues being canceled or postponed due to coronavirus, and college football being severely disrupted over the past two years, the 2022 USFL teams were constructed from a talent pool that is at a level not seen outside of the NFL in some time.
At the very least, the below players should be stars at the USFL level. If you dare to dream, however, they could provide an incredible story on a road to NFL success.
C.J. Marable, RB, Birmingham Stallions
While there are a couple of QBs you will have heard of to be discussed later in this article, in my opinion at least, C.J. Marable is one of the most likely USFL players to succeed at the NFL level.
Marable played three seasons at Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Conference. Over that time, he amassed 2,691 yards on the ground, scoring 29 touchdowns. He was also impressive in the passing game, adding 703 yards and 12 touchdowns over the three-year period.
He impressed the most in 2020, finishing tied fifth for total touchdowns in the FBS, with 19. Ahead of the 2021 draft, he was described by NFL analyst Lance Zierlein as a “versatile offensive weapon” and a “touchdown maker”.
He went undrafted in 2021, eventually signing with, and later being released by, the Chicago Bears.
Marable scored a touchdown in the season opener for the Stallions and will hope to continue that form throughout the season.
With NFL teams always on the lookout for depth at the running back spot, particularly for backs that are prevalent in the passing game, Marable has a real chance to impress in the USFL.
John Franklin III, WR, Tampa Bay Bandits
While outside of being a Coastal Carolina fan you may not have heard of Marable, the story with John Franklin III is slightly different. The former QB played college football at Auburn, Florida State, and Florida Atlantic. If that still isn’t ringing a bell, it’s because he is most famous for his time at East Mississippi Community College, starring in season one of Netflix’s “Last Chance U”.
Franklin III is an incredible athlete, something which he has shown everywhere he has played. At the professional level, he spent time with the Chicago Bears as a defensive back and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a wide receiver, even receiving a Super Bowl ring with the Tom Brady lead Bucs despite not seeing any action.
The 27-year-old will hope to use his time with the Bandits as an audition for NFL teams, who are always on the lookout for depth pieces at receiver. When the ball is in the former QB’s hands, it is clear he is one of the best athletes on the field – His athletic ability is unquestionably NFL level.
With former Ole Miss QB Jordan Ta’amu under center for the Bandits, the former Netflix star is in a great situation to impress NFL teams tuning in to watch the pair.
B.J. Emmons, RB, Tampa Bay Bandits
A four-star recruit out of high school, Emmons initially committed to Georgia, before changing his mind and eventually ending up at Alabama. A college story that involves two of the biggest programs in the country, Emmons clearly had high hopes of ending up in the NFL.
His college career, however, was hampered by serious injuries. After playing seven games for the Crimson Tide in his freshman year, he suffered a season-ending foot injury.
He transferred at the end of that year to a community college, and a season later to Florida Atlantic. Unfortunately, he broke his ankle in his first game for the Owls and would miss most of the season.
He would play two more seasons at Florida Atlantic but was never able to put together enough production to see himself drafted to the NFL. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks but, outside of pre-season games, he saw no NFL action.
If he can put together a productive season with the Bandits, and show off the talent which gained him offers from Alabama and Georgia, he should be able to make a case to NFL teams that he deserves a roster spot. At still just 24-years of age, Emmons could see a successful professional career start with his time in the USFL.
Jordan Ta’amu, QB, Tampa Bay Bandits
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Ta’amu played with one of the country’s biggest college football programs – Ole Miss.
Ta’amu played behind another USFL QB Shea Patterson, after transferring ahead of his junior year. He ended up playing five games that season after Patterson was injured, finishing the year with 1,682 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions, while also adding 4 touchdowns on the ground.
In his senior year, he scored another 19 touchdowns through the air as well as 6 on the ground. He finished the year second in the SEC with 3,918 passing yards, only behind future first-round pick and current Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa.
Ta’amu went undrafted in the NFL and bounced around a number of practice squads. He did, however, play professional football in the XFL. He impressed, showing his skills both through the air and on the ground. Unfortunately, the season was cut short, somewhat ruining his chances of making it back to an NFL roster.
With NFL teams no doubt tuning in to the USFL over the next few weeks, Ta’amu has a real chance to plead his case as a roster-worthy QB in the NFL. With the league’s rules also being altered slightly, to provide more excitement and offensive scoring, this might be his best chance to impress.
Kyle Lauletta, QB, Pittsburgh Maulers
It may surprise some to see a former fourth-round NFL pick be on a USFL roster, but here is Kyle Lauletta.
Lauletta was a dominant force at the FBS level. He started for three years at Richmond, finishing his career with over 10,000 yards, 73 touchdowns, and 35 interceptions. He also added 12 touchdowns on the ground.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL draft by the New York Giants, Lauletta has found himself on a number of team’s practice squads and offseason programs. He has only thrown 5 passes at the professional level for 0 yards and an interception.
To be taken in the fourth round of the NFL draft, it is clear teams saw the potential for him to succeed in the league. While this attention has no doubt died down since 2018, Lauletta will be hoping he can prove once again to NFL teams that he has what it takes to succeed at the professional level. What better way to do that than in a league being telecast to the nation on FOX Sports.
Scooby Wright, LB, Birmingham Stallions
One of the most dominant players at the FBS level in 2014, Scooby Wright was the PAC-12 defensive player of the year that season. That year he had 164 tackles, 15 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles at the University of Arizona.
He was drafted in the 7th round of the 2016 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns before being waived and signed to the practice squad later that season.
Having also played in the XFL before the league was suspended, he has had little chance to prove himself to NFL teams in recent years.
Wright III was impressive in the season opener against the NJ Generals. He had four tackles, including a sack-fumble of Generals QB Luis Perez.
It is probably a long shot that the former college star will make it to, and succeed at the NFL level. The USFL, however, will be the best chance the 27-year-old has had to impress at the national level in some years.
With the talent available on the 2022 USFL rosters, it would not be a surprise to see a handful of players featuring on Sundays in the NFL in the future.
The talent which could see NFL success is not limited to the above players, of course, with stars such as Jeff Thomas, Shae Patterson, and Mekhi Brown all likely on the radar of NFL teams tuning in over the coming months.