Over the course of two days, the United States Football League completed their inaugural draft for the return of the USFL. The Tampa Bay Bandits, coached and managed by Todd Haley, made 34 picks over the two-day draft. In total, there were 280 selections over 35 rounds. The draft picks seemed to come in at a rapid-fire pace and I expect everything about this league to continue that trajectory. The spectacle was everything we expected and more. Football is more popular than ever. You bet your bottom dollar football fans were eager to see how this draft would unfold.
Though a supplemental draft is planned for March 10th of this year, we can expect that the players selected this week will make up the majority of the USFL rosters. The supplemental draft will be comprised of 80 selections to fill up the final 3 roster spots and 7 practice squad spots for each USFL team. The initial draft was a modified snake draft that focused on certain positions each round. Quarterbacks were the focus of round one, defensive ends in round 2, offensive tackles in round 3, etc. Day 2 saw the focus shift to positions like wide receivers, the secondary, interior OL, linebackers, and special teams. Let’s take a look at the Tampa Bay Bandit’s draft, analyze the draft results, and look at where their roster stands.
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What Kind Of Team Will Todd Haley Run?
The Tampa Bay Bandits entered Tuesday’s draft with the second overall pick. Todd Haley is not only the head coach but also the general manager so you can expect his fingerprints to be all over the makeup of this roster. Todd Haley is an offensive coach that comes to the USFL with extensive NFL experience as an offensive coordinator and a head coach. Haley, now 54, got his start in the NFL as a scouting assistant with the Jets before working his way up the ranks and becoming a well respected offensive coordinator. Todd Haley is most well known for being the orchestrator of the high powered 2008 Arizona Cardinals’ offense led by Kurt Warner. That team rode a high powered, vertical passing juggernaut all the way to Super Bowl XLIII where they would ultimately fall to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That performance was respectable enough to land Haley a head coaching gig with the Kansas City Chiefs. Though he has never quite lived up to that memorable 2008 season performance again, he is still a well-respected offensive mind. He prioritizes maximizing players’ strengths over pigeon-holing them into an offensive “scheme.” If history is any indication Haley will be a running a high powered vertical passing game that prioritizing stretch the field and benefitting from “chunk” plays.
Tampa Bay Bandit’s Roster: USFL Draft Results, Rosters, and Roster Analysis
The obvious player to highlight here is Jordan Ta’amu. More than a few people were surprised that Shea Patterson went first overall in the 2022 USFL draft. You have to think the Tampa Bay Bandits were absolutely thrilled the board fell this way and Jordan Ta’amu fell into their lap with the second overall pick, when many thought he could be the first player off the board, and rightfully so. This was not the first time Ta’amu has played second fiddle to Patterson, as many may remember before taking over as the starting quarterback for the final five games of the 2017 season for Ole Miss, Ta’amu was Patterson’s backup. Once an injury opened the door for Ta’amu, he never gave the job back. With Patterson transferring to the Michigan Wolverines, Ta’amu entered the 2018 season as the starting quarterback for Ole Miss and finished his senior season with 3,918 yards, 19 touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
Being a dual-threat QB, he also finished with 342 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. He has dazzled and made explosive plays at every stop he has made in his football career. In two seasons as the starter for Ole Miss (2017-2018), he racked up 5,600 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. After being signed and then subsequently released by the Houston Texans in 2019 as an undrafted free agent, he went on to be the starting QB for the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL. Before the XFL’s season was cut short, Ta’amu threw for 1,050 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions, while rushing for 217 yards and one touchdown in five games. I do not think it is a stretch to say Ta’amu could put up MVP-type numbers for the Bandits and be the face of the league by the time the 2022 season comes to a close. He is a name to watch. Former Memphis QB Brady White was also selected in the 12th round to serve as the backup QB to Ta’amu.
Former Alabama running back BJ Emmons was the first running back chosen in the 2022 USFL draft. The Bandits selected him with the first pick of the 27th round. Before sustaining a season-ending injury, Emmons rushed for 173 yards and 1 touchdown for Alabama in 2016. He then transferred and played for Hutchinson Community college and Florida Atlantic for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Emmons has spent time on the practice squad and preseason rosters of the Seattle Seahawks, Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars. In two years at Florida Atlantic Emmons produced 353 rushing yards and 7 rushing touchowns on 88 attempts. He is known as an exceptional pass blocker which makes his selection by a Todd Haley-led pass-first offense make perfect sense. My guess is he will see a lot of the passing down work.
In the next round Todd Haley selected Juwan Washington to be the second running back of his 1-2 backfield punch. Washington played four years at San Diego State and is a shifty, agile, speedster who also returns kicks. He adds a lot of value to the backfield and special teams making him an easy selection here that will bring a lot of value to the Bandits. Emmons is an excellent pass blocker but Washington is known for having good hands and being a good receiver out of the backfield. Are we sensing a pattern here for the Bandits?
The Bandits clearly made an effort to build a well-rounded WR-corps by mixing size, experience, speed and explosiveness. The name that jumps off the page here is Eli Rogers. NFL fans will probably remember him from his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He brings a whole lot of experience to this group and likely will be relied upon by Todd Haley as a consistent chain-mover in the slot. Eli Rogers being the Bandit’s first WR pick should surprise no one given Haley’s familiarity with Rogers from their time on the Steelers. Haley was offensive coordinator for the Steelers for two of Rogers’ three years with the organization. In three years with the Steelers, Rogers racked up 78 receptions for 822 yards and 4 touchdowns as a backup slot receiver. He also carries some value as a kick and punt returner. Rogers also has experience in the XFL as he was part of the DC Defenders. He brings experience, versatility, and familiarity with Haley’s offense which makes this pick a homerun. I expect Rogers to lead what could be a top flight vertical passing offense making him a very appealing option for potential fantasy players.
Derrick Willies was selected by the Bandits with their next pick in the 14th round.Willies feels like the perfect complement at receiver to Eli Rogers. While Rogers is more known as a shift slot receiver that stands at 5-10, Willies is more of a traditional big bodied “X” receivers coming in at 6-4 207 pounds. Willies, who played his college ball at Texas Tech, spent time with the Cleveland browns for parts of three seasons but played on a limited basis due to injury. The Bandits added another potential high upside explosive player in the 15th round in the form of Derrick Dillon. Dillon player his college ball at LSU where he caught passes (including a touchdown in 2018) from the now infamous Joe Burrow. During his time at LSU, he accumulated 51 catches for 634 yards and four touchdowns. He most recently has spent time in the NFL on the New York Giants’ practice squad. Rogers, Willies and Dillon are likely locked in as the starting recievers when the Bandits go 3-wide, which knowing Todd Haley, will be often.
In rounds 16, 17, and 18 the Bandits rounded out their receiving core with what will likely be their second team WR-corps by adding Jordan Lasley, John Franklin II, and Vinny Papale. Lasley was a 5th round selection by the Baltimore Ravens in 2018 after playing his college ball at UCLA. Lasley has lots of experience spending time in the NFL, XFL and CFL. John Franlin III appears to be in line to the gadget player for the Bandits as the receiver is a converted QB who last spent time in the NFL on the practice squad of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is listed as a wide receiver but has many skills. His last year of college was spent playing for Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic University where a produced a unique line of 16 rushes for 229 yards with an average of 14.3 yards per carry while rushing for 2 touchdowns, 7 catches for 95 yards and 1 touchdown, and completing one pass for 49 yards. Haley clearly values versatility. If Vinny Papale’s name sounds familiar it is probably because he is the son of Vince Papale. Yes, THAT Vince Papale. The former Eagles’ receiver whose career and life was the basis of the 2006 film, “Invincible.” Papale played his college ball at the University of Delaware and his senior produced a line of 36 catches for 618 yards and 6 touchdowns in 12 games.
With a compensatory pick in the 34th round the Bandits selected their lone tight end, De/Quan Hampton. Hampton is known for being a big bodied tight end with good route running skills and sure hands. He has a huge wingspan and therefore a large catch radius. He played his college ball and USC and spent the 2020 season in the XFL with the Los Angeles Wildcats. Another versatile player who was actually listed as a receiver for the Wildcats, produced 6 catches for 26 yards and a touchdown during his tie in the HFL. In two years at USC he produced 22 catches for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns while playing in 25 games. Hampton is a freak athlete that can play in line as a tight end but projects well as a slot receiver as well. I picture him in a similar role to the one that Mike Gesicki play for the Dolphins.
Football is a game won in the trenches. It is a phrase that football fans have heard adnauseam. While they may not get the highlights or make the top 10 plays on SportsCenter, their value to a team is immense. The Bandits made Tyler Catalina their first offensive line pick and he likely projects to be their left tackle, who many would argue is the most important position on the offensive line. Catalina played for both Rhode Island and Georgia in college before signing as a UDGA with the redskins in 2017. He has versatility as he has played both LT, RT and even stepped and started at RG for an injured Bradon Sherff for Redskins in 2017. He has spent time in the NFL and CFL.
The Bandits selected Corbin Kaufusi with their next pick. Kaufisi is a giant human standing at 6-9 and weighing in at 325 pounds. He brings a ton of experience to the bandits having played for the Saints, Jets, and 49ers in the NFL after playing his college ball at BYU. He likely projects to start opposite Catalina as the right tackle. After selecting Juwanna Bushell-Beatty, an OT who spent his college years playing for the Michigan Wolverines and projects to be a rotational OT, the Bandits selected their starting center in the form of Bruno Reagan.
Lately, Reagan has been more well known as a sports radio show host for Nashville sports radio and for being an electric twitter personality but before all of that, he was a three-year starting Center for Vanderbilt where he made 40 consecutive starts. Standing at 6-3 and having the versatility to play center or guard, he went undrafted in 2019 and failed to make the roster of the Kansas City Chiefs. He went on to play an essential role in the offensive line for the St. Louis Battlehawks before the XFL went out of business in 2020. Rounding out the offensive line selections for the Bandits are a couple of guards in the form of Fred Lauina and Damien Mama. Both bring an abundance of experience ranging from college football, the NFL, the XFL, and in Mama’s case even the AAF.
Mehki Brown was the Bandit’s first defensive draft pick and the first Alabama player off the board. He was a four-star prospect out of high school. Brown spent his first three college seasons at Alabama where he saw mostly special teams duty and made seven tackles in 2017. He transferred to Tennessee State for his senior season where he was a starting defensive end in 2018 and 2019. He recorded 43 tackles and 4 sacks. The next edge rusher chosen by the Bandits was Michael Scott. No not the Regional Manager for Dunder Mifflin.
The edge-rushing Michael Scott played two years at Oklahoma State in 2018 and 2019 and produced 4.5 sacks in 25 games. He has football in his genes and is related to former NFL running back Tatum Bell. Schuler was the last edge selected by the Bandits. Schuler is a Florida native that played college football for West Virginia before transferring to Florida for the 2018 season. Adam Schuler was signed by the Arizona Cardinals ahead of the 2020 season after going undrafted but was cut before the season. He had a productive college career totaling 139 total tackles, 9 sacks 2 force fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. He looks to be a solid rotational edge rusher for the Bandits.
Rounds 24, 25, and 26 were spent filling out the defensive line by filling it out with big-bodied defensive tackles in the form of Daylon Mack, Reggie Howard, and John Atkins. Mack was originally drafted by the Ravens in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL draft before bouncing around NFL practice squads for a few years. He was a four-year starter at Texas A & M and likely slots into a starting role here with the Bandits. Reggie Howard could be one of the steals of the draft as a defensive tackle that brings loads of experience and recently was part of a formidable championship-winning defensive line for the Massachusetts Pirates of the IFL.
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. 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. John Atkins is the last piece of the defensive line puzzle for the Bandits. Before making numerous stops on NFL practice squads he played out his college years as a member of the Georgia Bulldogs where for his college career he totaled 81 tackles and 5 pass deflections.
Rounds 21, 28, and 29 were used to round out the team’s linebacking units. A2 a redshirt Junior for the Arizona Sun Devils during the 2017 season, Christina Sam totaled an impressive line consisting of 127 tackles, 1 interception,3 sacks, 2 pass deflections, and 2 forced fumbles. Sam Declared for the 2018 NFL draft and was selected by the New England Patriots in the sixth round and subsequently won a super bowl ring. Since then he has bounced around NFL practice squads looking for an opportunity to again establish himself as a productive middle linebacker.
The outside linebacking positions were filled in rounds 28 and 29 by former Oklahoma Sooner Emmanuel Beal and Greg Reaves of USF. In two seasons for the Sooners, Beal started 24 games and recorded 101 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks while receiving an All-Big 12 honorable mention in 2017. Reaves played defensive end and linebacker for USF from 2016 to 2019. Though originally a walk-on for the USF Bulls, he would go on to start 37 games and amass 212 tackles and 8.5 sacks. Versatility is clearly valued highly by Todd Haley’s Bandits and this group has it in spades.
Abrams was the first corner selected by the Bandits with the first selection of the 8th round. Abrams initially signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent following the 2020 NFL draft but did not make it past the final roster cuts. Following his college career playing for Colorado, Abrams spent time on the practice squads for the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams. Abrams only made one appearance in an NFL game and totaled on snap on defense and 10 on special teams. Abrams is a long and rangy corner standing at a whopping 6-3. The bandits likely envision Abrams as a starting outside corner that can contribute on special teams. The Bandits selected their second corner in the ninth round in the form of Davante Davis. While playing for the Texas Longhorns throughout his college career he totaled 119 tackles in 48 games, 26 of which were starts. He also has 4 interceptions, 24 passes defended, and three forced fumbles.
Todd Haley clearly values size in his corners and Christian Campbell fits that mold. The Penn State product stands at 6-1 and weighs in at 195 pounds. Campbell was a sixth-round selection of the Cardinals in the 2018 NFL draft but was waived in September of that year. After spending time on numerous practice squads of the NFL in 2018 and 2019 Campbell signed on to play for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL before the 2020 season was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rashard Causey Jr. was the 4th overall cornerback selected by the Bandits and was taken in the 11th round. Causey is a Miami native and played his collegiate football for UCF from 2015 to 2018. During his time there he helped the Knights win an incredible 25 straight games. As a senior, he started 5 games and appeared in 13. He finished the season with 48 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, while also breaking up 6 passes and tacking on 2 sacks. Causey has spent time on some NFL practice squads, including the Atlanta Falcons, but feels like another player being valued for his versatility and ability to play all over the field and multiple positions.
Safeties were addressed in rounds 18 and 19 and the Bandits did so by selecting Obi Henry Melifonwu and Anthony Cioffi. As a senior at Connecticut in 2016, Melifonwu recorded 118 tackles and 4 interceptions. In 2017 Melifonwu was selected in the second round by the Oakland Raiders. He struggled with injuries and was released before latching on with the Patriots in 2018. He appearances were scarce, only appearing in 2 games and making 3 tackles, but he earned a super bowl ring when the Patriots defeated the Rams in Super Bowl LII 13-3. That is now multiple players selected by the Todd Haley led Bandits with NFL playoff experience and championship rings. Could this be a pattern? Cioffi was a four-year starter at Rutgers University. Another versatile player with the ability to play multiple positions Cioffi played cornerback, free safety and strong safety during his collegiate career. He has since had experience in both the NFL and CFL.
Brandon Wright (K)
Ryan DiSalvo (LS)
Last but not least, special teams. Anyone who thinks special teams are not important, overrated, or not worth covering clearly did not watch the Green Bay Packers epic meltdown loss to the San Francisco 49ers in this year’s divisional playoff round in Green Bay. Having a solid special teams unit can be the difference between winning and losing close games. With the 4th pick in the 32nd round, the Bandits selected kicker Brandon Wright from Georgia State. In a surprise to no one reading this article at this point, Wright is a versatile player who can play multiple positions. He spent 5 seasons with Georgia State where he was the primary punter for 4 seasons and the primary kicker for 2. During his time with Georgia state, he made 104/108 extra points, 32/54 field goals, and an average punt of 43.3 yards.
With their last pick in the draft the Bandits rounded out their draft and the foundation of their roster by selecting long snapper Ryan DiSalvo. The San Jose State product has extensive NFL experience as a former long snapper for the Tennessee Titans. DiSalvo’s NFL experience was likely a motivating factor for his selection by Haley who very clearly favored players he either had experience with formerly or players that have proven they can handle the bright lights on the biggest stages.
The Todd Haley-led Tampa Bay Bandits put together quite the draft and have the look of a team that may move up and down the field with ease riding a high-flying vertical offense. Haley clearly put an empahasis on position versatility and the ability to contribute on special teams and it showed. Landing Jordan Ta’amu with the second pick in the draft and securing sure-handed receivers with NFL experience like Eli Rogers almost ensures that Todd Haley’s dream offense is more than likely to become a reality. Make sure to keep an eye on the supplemental draft due to take place on March 10th and for another recap of the Tampa Bay Bandits’ draft including their new additions.