This time of year can be tough for sports fans. The Super Bowl comes and goes and we are stuck waiting for next season. Thankfully, the 2022 USFL draft is right around the corner! The draft order was decided last week and the USFL snake draft is set to take place this Tuesday, February 22nd at 7 PM EST. Teams in the NFL tend to trade and draft for skill position players that enhance the positive traits of their quarterback or players that can disrupt the opposing team’s QB.
The USFL is approaching the draft with a modified snake system. The format will unfold by position with quarterbacks coming off the board in Round 1, edge rushers and defensive ends being drafted in Round 2 through 4. Defensive linemen are made up of nose tackles, defensive tackles, defensive ends, and specialized edge rushers. Let’s take a look at the 2022 USFL top ten defensive line draft candidates.
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The Confirmed 2022 USFL Defensive Line Draft Candidates
1. Toby Johnson
Professional Experience: Minnesota Vikings (NFL), Tennessee Titans (NFL), Carolina Panthers (NFL), Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL), Chicago Bears (NFL), Detroit Lions (NFL), New York Guardians (XFL), Massachusetts Pirates (IFL)
Measurements: 6-4, 325 pounds
Toby Johnson is a defensive tackle that has made numerous stops in the NFL including with the Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans, and most recently with the Detroit Lions practice squad in 2018 before being waived after an injury designation. He played for the New York Guardians of the XFL before the league ceased operations in April of 2020. Johnson’s only NFL experience came in 2016 when he played 2 games for the Minnesota Vikings and made two total tackles.
Johnson started his college playing career at Hutchinson Community College where he was teammates with Cordarrelle Patterson. Johnson was a top junior college recruit. After fighting through injury Johnson played 13 games for Georgia in 2014 where he racked up 27 combined tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks. As a member of the Massachusetts Pirates of the IFL Johnson was one of the most dominant defensive players of the 2021 season. He was one of the favorites to be named defensive player of the year in 2022. We could see Aaron Donald like production from Johnson in the USFL.
2. Walter Palmore
Professional Experience: Houston Texans (NFL), Dallas Cowboys (NFL), Seattle Seahawks (NFL), Seattle Seahawks (NFL), Houston Roughnecks (XFL)
Measurements: 6-3, 317 pounds
Walter Palmore is another Junior College transfer defensive tackle. He went on to find success playing his most important college football games with the University of Missouri. As a senior player in 2018, he played all 13 games and recorded 31 tackles, one sack, four tackles for loss, two pass breakups, and even blocked a kick. He went undrafted in 2019 and signed with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent. His most recent stint in the NFL came in 2021 when he was signed and waived by the Carolina Panthers in the same month. Palmore is known for using his hands well and has an amazing drive into the backfield to disrupt ball carriers. There is a good chance we will see him making some highlight reel-type plays in the backfield of USFL games.
3. Cavon Walker
Professional Experience: Chicago Bears (NFL), Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL), Kansas City Chiefs (NFL), New York Guardians (XFL)
Measurements: 6-2, 280 pounds
Cavon Walker is a pass-rushing defensive end that played his college ball at the University of Maryland after being a three-star recruit out of high school. He signed as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Bears and made subsequent NFL stops with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs. Walker has seen his most recent success with the New York Guardians of the XFL. He led the XFL in sacks in 2020 with 4.5 and tacked on 19 tackles with five of those for loss. He also had nine quarterback hits in five games. Walker may be one of the most sought-after pass rushing specialists in the USFL draft and could hear his name called early.
4. Reggie Howard Jr.
Professional Experience: Los Angeles Chargers (NFL), Edmonton Elks (CFL), Los Angeles Wildcats (XFL), Massachusetts Pirates (IFL)
Measurements: 6-3, 280 pounds
Reggie Howard Jr. is another defensive tackle with no shortage of experience. He has made stops in the NFL, CFL, XFL, and most recently the IFL. He was another member of the 2021 Massachusetts Pirates’ vaunted defensive line that assembled quite a prolific group of pass rushers. The Pirates may be well represented in the USFL with both Toby Johnson and Reggie Howard Jr. likely to be chosen to lead defensive lines in the USFL. Howard Jr. is well known for being a constant aggressor across the line of scrimmage and shedding blocks with ease in pursuit of the quarterback. For the LA Wildcats of the XFL in 2020, he recorded 7 tackles, 1 interception, and 1 fumble recovery in 4 games.
5. Miles Brown
Professional Experience: Arizona Cardinals (NFL), Tennessee Titans (NFL), Detroit Lions (NFL)
Measurements: 6-2, 320 pounds
Miles Brown is a talented nose tackle that played his college football at Wofford before going undrafted in the 2019 NFL draft and being signed by the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent. Brown spent his entire college career at Wofford where he started 49 of 50 total games and he racked up an impressive line of 174 total tackles, 38 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Brown made numerous practice squad stints in the NFL making stops with the Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, and Detroit Lions.
Professional Experience: Cincinnati Bengals (NFL), New York Giants (NFL), Tennessee Titans (NFL), New York Jets (NFL)
Measurements: 6-3, 286 pounds
Freedom Akinmoladun is a defensive end and edge rushing specialist. He was signed by the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent after the 2019 NFL draft after a successful collegiate career with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Akinmoladun spent time on the practice squads of the Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, and New York Jets. He saw live NFL game action in September of 2020 when he was promoted to the active roster for a Week 2 game against the Cleveland Browns where he made an impressive fourth-down stop on the goal line in the third quarter. Akinmoladun led all returning Power 5 edge rushers in pressures from the right side in his 2016 season as a Nebraska edge rusher going into the 2017 season. That is eight more than the current San Francisco 49er’s defense end Arden key.
7. Kalani Vakameilalo
College: Oregon State
Professional Experience: Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL), DC Defenders (XFL), Aviators (TSL)
Measurements: 6-3, 325 pounds
Vakameilalo is a large defensive tackle from Hawaii who played his college ball with Oregon State and made stops in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the XFL with the DC Defenders, and the TSL with the aviators. His career at Oregon state included 31 starts in 46 games. During his college career, he made 75 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks. In 2020, he played two total games and made two tackles for the DC Defenders. He is known for his short-area quickness and strength inside. He could prove to be a true defensive line anchor in the USFL.
8. Javier Edwards
Professional Experience: Houston Texans (NFL), Arizona Cardinals (NFL)
Measurements: 6-3, 325 pounds
Javier Edwards is a nose tackle that played his college football in Colorado. During his senior year in 2018, he started all 12 games at nose tackle and played 510 snaps from scrimmage. He had a season and career-high seven tackles in the 2018 season finale at Cal. In 23 games with Colorado, he made 69 tackles, three for loss, and 2.5 sacks. He has spent time with the practice squads of both the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals of the NFL. USFL teams looking for a big-bodied run-stuffer may look his way.
Professional Experience: Tennessee Titans (NFL), Aviators (TSL)
Measurements: 6-6, 250 pounds
David Gilbert is a defensive end who started his college football career with the Wisconsin Badgers before transferring to the University of Miami where he would play defensive end in 2013. As a senior for the Miami Hurricanes in 2013, he would play in all 12 games and produce 12 tackles. Gilbert signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Tennessee Titans of the NFL in 2014 where he made appearances in the preseason. He spent the 2021 season playing defensive end for the TSL Aviators. David Gilbert also spent three seasons playing for three different teams of the Indoor Football League (IFL). During his IFL career, he managed to produce 34 tackles and 1.5 sacks. If the USFL is looking to model itself after the fast-paced, pass-happy NFL, then an edge rusher/linebacker hybrid like David Gilbert could prove to be a valuable rotation piece on any competitive roster.
10. Domenique Davis
Professional Experience: New York Jets (NFL)
Measurements: 6-3, 315 pounds
Domenique Davis is an impressive defensive tackle who played DII college football for UNC Pembroke. During his three collegiate seasons, he managed to produce at a high level. He generated 122 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks. He has limited professional experience but did sign as an undrafted free agent with the NFL’s New York Jets in 2020. Davis did not make it through the summer as he was released due to a failed physical. Regardless of the level of competition he faced in college, he produced at an impressive rate and may have more to prove than anyone else vying for a starting spot on a USFL roster. Davis is a name to remember and a guy to watch out for this spring.
The Rest of The Field
Several players have had brief stints on practice squads or in training camps in the NFL, XFL, and TSL such as defensive linemen Anthony Johnson Sr. He would make a great USFL defensive line candidate given his experience in the XFL with the Seattle Dragons. Numerous other former TSL players would make great candidates for the USFL including Adewale Adeoye, Andre Bird-Pierre, and Chase DeMoor. Demoor is a particularly interesting candidate for the USFL and is a defensive line and edge rushing specimen standing at 6-5 and weighing in at 250 pounds. If the USFL is looking to make a name for itself and gain some notoriety in the current age of social media sensations then including a former reality star with a string of success at the college level may not be a bad way to go. He would surely make a valuable addition to any USFL defensive line.
The USFL draft begins on Tuesday, February 22nd. Make sure to check back to the Sports Gambling Podcast for all the USFL coverage.