The inaugural season of the rebooted USFL wrapped up Saturday night in Canton, Ohio. The Birmingham Stallions held back the Philadelphia Stars in a highly entertaining and competitive championship game.
Much of the USFL talent pool is filled with players eager to advance into the NFL. And more than a few showed they have enough abilities or unique traits for NFL teams like the Detroit Lions to watch them longer now that the USFL season is over.
Here are eight USFL players who stood out as players that the Lions scouting division should delve deeper into ahead of training camp.
Channing Stribling, CB, Philadelphia Stars
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Stribling is a household name in the Mitten State. He is a product of the Michigan Wolverines program.
After bouncing on several NFL and CFL teams since 2017, Stribling has thrived in the USFL. He picked up a competitive seven passes and offered excellent man-covering skills with his height. He’s still skinny (6-2/180) and not much of a tackler – the main reasons he washed out with the Browns and Colts – but Stribling has the covering knowledge and ball skills to research.
Calvin Ashley, OT, New Jersey Generals
Ashley played the right tackle for the generals and led an aggressive ground play. Florida Atlantic’s 6-7, 310-pounder can really move bodies like a run-blocker. Ashley appeared in better physical shape than he did during his training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021. He doesn’t move well enough to hold out the tackle in the NFL, but has potential as a right guard.
Victor Bolden, WR, Birmingham Stallions
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Bolden was hard to beat at the end of the Detroit Lions training camp in 2021, spending the better part of two seasons on the Lions’ training squad. He channeled the frustration of just missing the cut in Detroit last year into an impressive receiving and returning threat.
Bolden caught 45 passes for the champion Stallions. His speed and soft hands made him a favorite target. Bolden also showed some juice as a return specialist in both the punt and trap game. Philadelphia dedicated braces coverage to him in the USFL Championship game, rare respect for a 5-9 receiver showing just how impactful he was for the champions.
Donald Payne, LB, Houston Gamblers
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Payne has real NFL starting experience and spent three seasons (2017-2019) with the Jaguars. His anticipation and tackling ability jumped out of the Gamblers game movie.
Payne led the USFL in tackles (117) and also picked up three passes. He’ll be 28 next week, but the 6-0, 228-pounder has a bull’s eye and a great nose for the ball. He was a capable special team player in the NFL and deserves a chance to prove he can get back into the league.
Jordan Ta’amu, QB, Tampa Bay Bandits
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Ta’amu, another player with experience in Lions training camps, played better for the Bandits than his stats would indicate. Ta’amu can thread a needle with his steps and threatens to hide and run away.
He has bounced through the NFL since he left Ole Miss due to his indecisive nature in the sack. Ta’amu was better at getting the ball out quickly and making the right decisions in the USFL. For a team like the Lions who have huge questions behind starter Jared Goff, Ta’amu is worth a look.
Jared Thomas, C, New Orleans Breakers
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That’s Thomas in the foreground, doing what he did best for the Breakers: keeping the QB clean.
Thoams earned all of the USFL center honors for his consistent blocking. The northwest grad showed good balance and excellent hitting with his hands. He’s hampered by short arms, but the 6-2, 300-pounder deserves at least a sniff for how well he played for the Breakers.
DeMarquis Gates, LB, stallions
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Gates amassed six sacks and 62 total tackles as an all-rounder for the Stallions. His pocket in the championship game showed his quick attacking ability and how well he can use his height. Gates led the USFL in tackles-for-loss and was ahead of Birmingham in multiple spots.
The former Ole Miss star has now done well in three different competitions since not being entered in 2018, dominating the XFL and AAF for his strong showing with the champion stallions. Gates has had cups of coffee in a few NFL training camps, but didn’t really have a permanent position. He fits well into the WLB role in a 4-2-5 base – the basic defense the Lions will perform under Aaron Glenn.
Shalom Luani, S, Washington Generals
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Luani earned his All-USFL honors as a game-making safety for the generals. He picked up five passes and picked up a sack despite missing two games with an injury. He was very easy to spot on Washington’s match film, flying across the field.
Luani, 27, has been in NFL training camps with several teams after being picked in the seventh round by the Raiders in 2017. better eye discipline.