Initial USFL Team Defense Rankings: A Defensive Deep Dive

Initial USFL Team Defense Rankings: A Defensive Deep Dive
Initial USFL Team Defense Rankings: A Defensive Deep Dive

With a supplemental draft already in the books, the USFL springs forward into team preparations for an April 16 debut and Sports Gambling Podcast has a positional breakdown of each layer on offense. Shifting our attention to the other phases of the game, we’ll dive into the defensive side of each of the USFL’s eight rosters with rankings based on what we know thus far. While starters on each unit have yet to be designated, the rankings provided offer a top-down look at each defensive depth chart addressing potential strengths and weaknesses.


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8. Michigan Panthers

The Panthers’ defense managed to land edge rusher turned reality star Chase DeMoor, which may speak louder volumes about the remainder of their draft from this side of the ball. Outside of an appearance on Netflix’s Too Hot To Handle, DeMoor’s lacking resume (two seasons at College of the Siskiyous for 17 total tackles and 5.5 sacks) may prove daunting as the season progresses. Selecting Adewale Adeoye at 6-3, 270 lbs provides an anchor among the Michigan defensive ends, notching 84 combined tackles and 2.5 sacks at Utah State.

Michigan’s secondary secured NFL experience in cornerback Jameson Houston, albeit brief practice squad stints with the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Carolina Panthers. 6-1, 198 lb Tino Ellis also brings Saints practice squad tenure following four seasons at Maryland with 73 tackles and a pick. David Rivers also provides a 6-2, 185 frame with previous playing time as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, though his speed may be a hindrance.

Taiwan Jones and Justin Lorenz-Hughes head the inside linebacker corps, with Jones’ 6-3, 258 lbs offering size and NFL experience to the Panthers’ defensive interior. Terry Myrick touts success at the college level in five seasons at Eastern Michigan with 260 combined tackles and 17 tackles for loss. JaQuan Bailey is a bright spot in the middle of the defensive line, bringing his Iowa State resume of 150 tackles and 25 sacks over five seasons. The mild experience by comparison to other units, while size and speed appear to be lacking in depth for the Panthers, Michigan may have their work cut out for their defensive interests come season’s start.

7. Houston Gamblers

Though the name is arguably fitting for a number of their wagers on defense, the Gamblers come away from the draft leaving questions of size scattered at each position. Yet we’ll turn to the positive, which Houston managed to acquire with their second-round pick in Chris Odom. Odom tallied 15.5 sacks through four seasons at Arkansas St. through 2016, eventually playing partial seasons with both the Green Bay Packers (2017) and then-Washington Redskins (2019) where he amassed two sacks and 16 combined tackles through 11 games.

Houston selected cornerbacks, Will Likely, Howard Wilson, and Jerry Cantave. The 6-0, 190 lb Summers saw brief success in the XFL with the New York Guardians following four seasons at UConn (2017), compiling 182 combined tackles, 12 interceptions, and a pick-six. Another asset in Azeem Victor was obtained to protect the outside edge while fast enough to bring pressure, and at 6-3 231 Victor provides one of the Gamblers’ greater options in doing so. Victor notched 198 combined tackles with the Washington Huskies of four seasons, alongside 3.5 sacks and an interception.

The Gamblers’ safeties Andrew Soroh and Manny Bunch, neither above 6-1, round out a secondary in question. Inside linebackers, Beniquez Brown and Reggie Northrup lend value though overall size to protect against the rush remains iffy. Ultimately the impact of size may weigh the greatest detriment to this Houston assembly on defense.

6. New Jersey Generals

As a defensive draft, the New Jersey Generals may have a void of proven talent at multiple positions though not without their merits as well. Safety Shalom Luani alongside cornerbacks Trae Elston and De’Vante Bausby offer multiple years of NFL experience beyond the practice squad, with Luani having played a full season with then-Oakland Raiders in 2017 for 18 combined tackles and two defended passes.

Elston’s NFL tenure, also of 2017, featured 18 total tackles and an interception in 13 games with the Buffalo Bills (and one game for one tackle with the Philadelphia Eagles). Bausby lends another layer of NFL in-game experience having played 26 games while starting in six of them, registering 60 combined tackles with Chicago, Philadelphia, and Denver from 2016-20. The 6-2, 190 lb stature of Bausby provides quickness to defend the pass, equipped with effective hands.

Chris Orr anchors the Generals inside linebackers bringing prominent production from his four seasons at Wisconsin generating 188 tackles, two interceptions (one for a touchdown), and 15 sacks, though his 225 lb, 6-0 size may be a tad light. Defensive end Kolin Hill forged success in three seasons at Texas Tech with 126 tackles and 10 sacks, while Destiny Vaeao brings 300 lb pressure on the line and also has played three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles (27 total tackles and three sacks). Toby Johnson brings a solid 325 lb, 6-4 frame to the middle of the defensive line with NFL and XFL experience in tow. Despite the Generals’ professional experience scattered at all defensive positions, size disparity in overall depth may impact their consistency to pressure offenses.

5. New Orleans Breakers

New Orleans found themselves with a well-rounded draft in hindsight, and more specifically from the defensive standpoint. A beast of an acquisition to cement the outside edge in Davin Bellamy at 6-5, 259 lbs brings an NFL practice squad background in tandem with four years at Georgia where he racked 135 tackles (24 for loss) and 13 sacks. Bellamy not only offers speed behind his size enabling pressure to opposing quarterbacks but reactionary hands are quick to swat passes at the line.

The Breakers also managed to also address the outside on the second level with outside linebacker Shareef Miller. At 6-4, 255 lbs Miller is quick on the tackle after the catch, has great ball awareness playing the pass with effective hands to cause disruption to quarterbacks. With NFL practice squad experience Miller also played in one game for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Also adeptly addressing their secondary, Adonis Alexander stands out as a valuable addition at 6-3 and 205 lbs. With nine games of NFL experience stemming from Washington, Alexander produced 125 combined tackles and seven interceptions in three seasons at Virginia Tech. However, New Orleans may be lacking in body mass and professional experience at the middle of the defensive line with Shakir Soto (6-3, 290 lbs), Kamilo Tongamoa (6-5, 290 lbs), and Connor Christian (6-2, 276 lbs). Yet an overall sturdy unit with standout strengths at nearly every position, the New Orleans Breakers defense should prove a worthy test to the seven opposing offenses.

4. Pittsburgh Maulers

The Pittsburgh Maulers managed to surround their promising offensive unit with a well-rounded defense in regards to experience and talent, garnering depth at defensive tackle. Ethan Westbrooks at 6-4, 287 lbs brings veteran NFL talent to the gut of the defensive line achieving 80 tackles, nine sacks, and a fumble recovery touchdown. Boogie Roberts (6-2, 289 lbs) also extends professional experience from the XFL with explosive power off the line. Olive Sagapolu (6-2, 300 lbs) is another monster on the line.

Blair Brown (5-11, 238 lbs) is an instinctive middle linebacker who reads plays with efficient reaction, defending both the rush and pass with second nature. Alongside him is wily E.J. Ejiya (6-1, 235 lbs) who notched an incredible 272 tackles and 16 sacks in three seasons at the University of North Texas. Kyahva Tezino (6-0, 235 lbs) was also a collegiate success, registering 288 tackles and 14.5 sacks at San Diego State.

Terrell Bonds brings pro experience to the secondary, while at a concerning size disadvantage (5-8, 182 lbs). Ajene Harris (5-10, 190 lbs) is an excellent tackler providing precise hands in disrupting and picking off passes. Jaylon McClain-Sapp (5-11, 181 lbs) logged 67 tackles and two interceptions as a pesky on-ball defender, wedging between passes and tightly covering receivers effectively. Albeit some size concerns in the secondary, the Maulers produced a noteworthy draft on defense as one of the better assemblies on paper.

3. Philadelphia Stars

The Stars of Philadelphia shine bright on defense with NFL experience installed across each position including a stout defensive line. Freedom Akinmoladua at 6-3, 284 lbs brings quick pressure to opposing quarterbacks from the edge and plays the ball magnetically. Akinmoladua carries NFL experience in five games with the Bengals and Jets while four years at Nebraska netted 106 tackles and 11 sacks. Anchored in the middle of the line sturdily by Michael Barnett (6-4, 304 lbs) and Jerome Johnson (6-3, 304 lb), the Stars should have plenty of capability at mitigating the rush while getting to the quarterback with some frequency.

At the next layer of Philadelphia’s defense Carroll Phillips (6-3, 242 lbs) provides NFL experience at the outside linebacker position in 11 games played with the Jaguars, Colts, and then-Washington Football Team. Another element of pressure behind the line of scrimmage, Phillips managed 48 tackles and 12 sacks in three seasons at Illinois. Uniting the interior on the second level is linebacker Gabe Sewell at 6-0, 245bs, who is another ballhawk that tackles well in open space. Sewell managed an impressive 282 tackles (21.5 for losses), 3.5 sacks, and five passes defended at the University of Nevada.

The Stars’ secondary remains promising, though lacking in overall professional-level experience as a whole. Cornerback Mazzi Wilkins (6-0, 191 lbs) brings the most NFL tenure in seven games with Tampa and Baltimore over the past three seasons, further accompanied by Ladarius Wiley (6-1, 201 lbs) and Jack Tocho (6-0, 202 lbs). Wiley racked up 256 combined tackles and two interceptions at Vanderbilt, while Tocho brings NFL practice squad and Alliance of American Football experience as an interception savvy corner. Despite the minimal professional tenure in the secondary, Philadelphia’s defense has the potential to make a statement early into the season.

2. Birmingham Stallions

Among the flagships of the draft were the Birmingham Stallions, who strung together a daunting depth chart of talent on defense. Defensive end Jonathan Newsome (6-3, 247 lbs) brings NFL outside linebacker experience to the edge, having played 30 games with the Colts for 47 tackles and 7.5 sacks. Aaron Adoeye (6-6, 250 lbs) joins Newsome among the Stallions defensive ends and played one game with the Baltimore Ravens in 2020. Haston Adams (6-5, 295 lbs) and Chauncey Haney (6-4, 250 lbs) had success at both the DIII and DII levels, respectively. Willie Yarbury (6-2, 285 lbs) assumes the role at defensive tackle with the ability to snuff out the rush early after the snap, previously with the Chargers roster.

DeMarquis Gates (6-2, 221 lbs) offers quickness as a hard-hitting turnover generator at outside linebacker. Gates secured 282 tackles, six sacks, and nine passes defended at Ole Miss while also playing for the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks. On the inside is ex-Miami Dolphin Terrill Hanks (6-2, 241 lbs), providing excellent ball awareness. Hanks forces turnovers with second nature ability and quickness to bring pressure behind the line of scrimmage effectively. Scooby Wright III (6-0, 247 lbs) played with the Arizona Cardinals for 13 games and four games for the XFL’s DC Defenders as a linebacker instinctive to the ball with power behind hits.

The Stallions’ secondary landed Brian Allen (6-3, 215 lbs) to provide size and NFL experience at the cornerback position. Allen played in 20 NFL games (16 with Pittsburgh), bringing excellent vertical ability and fly trap ball coverage skill with reach. Lorenzo Burns (5-11, 175 lbs) comes with great ball-tracking ability out of the University of Arizona, where he registered 191 tackles, nine interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and 26 passes defended. All knit-picking aside, the Birmingham Stallions have comprised a powerhouse on defense.

1. Tampa Bay Bandits

And then there’s Tampa Bay. Selecting a potent installment across the positional board, the Bandits secured defensive tackle John Atkins (6-3, 320 lbs) to cement the interior. Atkins played with the Detroit Lions in 2018-19 for 14 games along with the University of Georgia. He is bringing substantial size to the middle with quick tackling ability for having such body mass. He’s joined by Daylon Mack, aka The Mack Truck (6-1, 340 lbs), who’s a beast off the line as well as speedy for his massive size.

The Bandits’ outside edges consist of Oklahoma State’s Mike Scott (6-5, 245 lbs) who had promising collegiate tenure in two seasons with the Cowboys. The same upside applies to Mekhi Brown (6-5, 241 lbs) who had character issues at Alabama. Adam Shuler II garnered 139 tackles and nine sacks at West Virginia and Florida, instilling tenacity to get to the ball behind the line of scrimmage for the Bandits.

Tampa Bay’s linebacking corps is rounded out by Emmanuel Beal (6-0, 218 lbs) from the University of Oklahoma. Beal recorded 176 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one interception, three defended passes, and two forced fumbles. Beal is a fantastic tackler in combination with turnover manufacturing ability, induced by his revved energy style of play. In tandem on the outside is Travis Feeney (6-4, 225 lbs) who’s also a superb tackler with excellent hands and speed at both levels. At the University of Washington Feeney achieved 248 tackles, 15.5 sacks, four interceptions (one for a touchdown), four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. At inside linebacker, Christian Sam provides a storied collegiate resume as well. Sam also comes with great ball tracking and the ability to mitigate the rush from developing behind the line of scrimmage. Sam made it to a number of NFL practice squads after being drafted by New England in 2018.

The Bandits’ secondary features height, ball skills, and power in their roster, as Tampa selected Delrick Abrams Jr. (6-3, 180 lbs) at cornerback. Abrams brings fast and effective tackling abilities in addition to disruptive ball defender skills to a tall frame. He’s joined by versatile defensive back Anthony Cioffi (6-0, 205 lbs), who produced 169 tackles, 2.5 sacks, eight interceptions, and 13 passes defended. Cioffi provides superb ball-hawking skills, cunning fast-twitch abilities, and is a nasty tackler to boot. The Bandits are as formidable as they come in USFL defensive territory.

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