USFL Power Rankings, Week 1: Tampa Bay Bandits, the highest ranked team heading into the season

Finally, the USFL is set to kick off its inaugural season in the league’s latest iteration this weekend in Birmingham, Alabama.

Of course, football fans have grown accustomed to having spring leagues on the sports calendar over the past few years amid the NFL’s offseason with the XFL and AAF making brief appearances. Unlike those leagues, however, the USFL will look to go from wire to wire in its first season and complete the 12-week indent that ends with the championship game on July 3.

In all, there are eight teams in the USFL which are grouped into two divisions – the North Division and the South Division. As we still await the start of the season on Saturday, we’ve compiled our pre-season power rankings of these eight clubs by breaking down the rosters, coaching staff and betting odds of who will be the last team standing when the season is all said and done.

Teams are listed with their odds of winning the 2022 USFL Championship. All odds via Caesars Sportsbook.

1. Tampa Bay Bandits (+450)

For my money, the Bandits have the best coach-quarterback combo in the league. Head coach Todd Haley is probably best known for serving as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2017. Specifically towards the back half of his tenure, the Steelers offense was consistently in the top 10 in points and in total yards. He’s now paired with quarterback Jordan Ta’amu (the No. 2 pick in the USFL draft), who has made a name for himself in the XFL. In five games played for the St. Louis Battlehawks, Ta’amu had a 101.3 passer rating and completed 72% of his passes. He also averaged 5.3 yards per carry. This projection has allowed the Ole Miss product to bounce back in the NFL over the past two seasons. Most recently, he was briefly signed to the Carolina Panthers practice squad.

BJ Emmons and Juwan Washington make an intriguing backfield duo. Fellow receiver John Franklin III also spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2019 to 2020.

The Bandits’ defensive ball side also have some NFL experience, including safety Obi Melifonwu, who is a former Raiders second-round pick.

2. Michigan Panthers (+450)

The Panthers have a strong coach-quarterback combo heading into the regular season with Jeff Fisher and former Michigan pointer Shea Patterson. The 25-year-old was the USFL’s first draft pick in February and has a college resume that includes a 144.2 passer rating during his two years at Michigan in 2018 and 2019. Most recently, Patterson traveled around the CFL, having stints with the BC Lions and Montreal Alouettes. That said, Patterson hasn’t seen much (if any) playing time. In addition to Patterson, Michigan added former Denver Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch, a first-round draft pick. of the 2016 NFL, so they have options under center.

Fisher has 15 seasons of coaching experience in the NFL and is probably the most recognizable coach in the league right now.

Elsewhere on the roster, they have players who had a cup of coffee in the NFL or various other spring leagues, which makes them decently deep.

3. New Orleans Breakers (+450)

The Breakers picked last in the first round of the USFL Draft, meaning they were the last team to select a quarterback and put him on their roster. They ended up with Kyle Sloter, who played his college ball to northern Colorado.

Sloter was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Broncos in 2017 and ended up having a strong preseason with the club — 125.4 passer ratings — but was waived in the final cuts. Since then, he has bounced back in the NFL, making saves on various practice teams including the Vikings, Cardinals and Lions. If Sloter plays like he did in that preseason run in Denver in 2017, the Breakers could be a team to watch. Meanwhile, he’ll be able to throw to receivers Shawn Poindexter and Johnnie Dixon, who had productive college careers in Arizona and Ohio State, respectively.

New Orleans also had its pick of the litter for edge rushers in the second round and picked up former Georgia pass rusher Davin Bellamy to help solidify the top seven.

4. Philadelphia Stars (+550)

Bryan Scott will be under center for the Stars and could be a sleeper QB to watch. He beat Zach Mettenberger for the starting job of the Spring League Generals in 2020 and led his club to a 4-0 unbeaten season to win the title. He was also named Spring League MVP. Although Scott has no NFL experience, he has flirted with teams in the past and trained for the Indianapolis Colts in February 2021. Although his Spring League success may not be really eye-catching, it’s remarkable that he’s ready to play at the USFL level.

5. Pittsburgh Maulers (+550)

There’s a bit of uncertainty at quarterback here for the Maulers. They took Kyle Lauletta with their first pick and also boast Josh Love. Lauletta is a former New York Giants fourth-round pick from Richmond and caught the eye of scouts with his three-touchdown performance in the 2018 Senior Bowl, where he earned MVP honors. Meanwhile, Love is a bit younger and has had minimal NFL experience as he spent a brief time on the Rams and Panthers. Lauletta will likely get the nod in Week 1, but it will be interesting to see how this position pans out.

As you might expect in what should be a developmental league, there are plenty of unknowns and players who lack NFL experience throughout the roster, making it a wildcard as we let’s enter the season.

6. Birmingham Stallions (+700)

Birmingham picked sixth in the first round and took on former FIU quarterback Alex McGough to lead the team into the season. McGough is a former Seattle Seahawks seventh-round pick in 2017 and has also jumped onto the Jaguars and Texans rosters in recent years. In his senior college season, he made 65.4 percent of his shots and had a 142.9 passer rating. He’ll throw to players like former Oregon State wide receiver Victor Bolden Jr., who was the top receiver in the USFL Draft. The Stallions are also said to be one of the deepest defenses in the league going into the year, though they may be lacking in legitimate NFL talent throughout the roster.

7. Houston Players (+700)

While the Gamblers may be in the bottom half of this list to start the year, they have one of the best names in the USFL for my money, which is a win in itself. They picked former North West quarterback Clayton Thorson in the first round. He was a former fifth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019 and toured the NFC East (Eagles, Cowboys and Giants) throughout his young career. He could turn out to be something of a dual-threat quarterback in the USFL, as he’s the only quarterback in Big Ten history to pass for 10,000 yards and rush for 20 touchdowns in his career, which would put a wrinkle in the Gamblers’ offense.

In the backfield, Dalyn Dawkins has 11 NFL runs and has a productive out-of-state Colorado college career to fall back on. At receiver, Isaiah Zuber is a name to watch. He has just two catches at the NFL level but has been impressive in small bursts with the New England Patriots.

Defensively, there’s not a lot of experience in coach Kevin Sumlin’s roster.

8. New Jersey Generals (+900)

The Generals currently have the worst chance of winning the USFL Championship this year. Does this mean anything just before the season? Not really. You could argue that’s good value given how tightly clustered these teams are likely to be. They have Mike Riley, who has two Gray Cup titles to his name, leading the way as head coach. The team also drafted both Ben Holmes and De’Andre Johnson to compete at quarterback. Holmes has since been released and the team have signed Luis Perez – who once tried his hand at being a professional bowler and had success in the AAF.

In the backfield, former Ohio State running back and Dallas Cowboys seventh-round pick Mike Weber could handle the bulk of the touches. For the Buckeyes, Weber has two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and averaged 6.1 yards per rush in his final college season in 2018.

The front seven don’t have many recognizable names to speak of, but they do have a strong secondary that includes cornerbacks De’Vante Bausby and Howard Wilson, as well as safety Shalom Luani.

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