The USFL recently announced they were looking at Birmingham, Alabama, as a location for their “inaugural” season (this is the second version). If all goes to plan, the USFL will kick off in Spring 2022, becoming the next alt. league for football fans to enjoy.
Given that information, the question of “who will be playing in the USFL?” comes to mind. While there’s been no updates regarding a draft or roster formation, it’s a good time to start making some predictions. Here are my top 10 quarterbacks that could be under center in a few months, from least likely to most likely.
No. 10: Vad Lee
Former Georgia Tech & James Madison product Vad Lee has played for a variety of alt. leagues in the past, a common theme with most of the players on this list. His pro career started with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (CFL) in 2016, then continued with the Columbus Lions (NAL) in 2018, YCF Grit (Your Call Football) in 2019, DC Defenders (XFL) in 2020, and TSL Alphas (The Spring League) in 2021. There’s a chance Lee might not even be a starter in the USFL, but given his past experience, he’d be a valuable asset on any team.
No. 9: Luke Falk
Luke Falk, a sixth-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, hasn’t found much stability as a pro so far. He spent time with both the Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins in 2018, then started two games for the New York Jets in 2019 following injuries to Sam Darnold and Trevor Siemian. After being out of football in 2020, Falk briefly joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders. If the former Washington State signal-caller wants to turn his career back in the right direction, the USFL could be the way to go.
No. 8: Nick Fitzgerald
A majority of football fans (especially college ones) will remember Nick Fitzgerald from his gruesome ankle injury during the 2017 Egg Bowl, but not many know what happened to him afterwards. Following his time at Mississippi State, Fitzgerald signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He landed on their practice squad, but was cut shortly after the regular season began. Fitzgerald then signed with the XFL’s St. Louis Battlehawks, but saw no in-game action as the third-stringer behind Jordan Ta’amu and Taylor Heinicke. He most recently played for the TSL Sea Lions, and the USFL could be a great place for him to continue his pro career.
No. 7: Luis Perez
Luis Perez has a very unique story, as he played college football for a Division II program (Texas A&M-Commerce). He signed with the Los Angeles Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2018, but failed to make the final roster. Perez was the fifth overall pick in the first and only AAF draft, becoming a member of the Birmingham Iron. His AAF run helped him land two more NFL contracts in 2019 (one with the Eagles and the other with the Lions), but neither resulted in a meaningful role. Perez then went back to the alt. league route, joining the XFL’s New York Guardians in 2020. After a stint with the TSL Jousters last Spring, moving on to the USFL makes a lot of sense.
No. 6: Case Cookus
Case Cookus had a great collegiate career at Northern Arizona, but has yet to establish himself as someone who can play at the next level. Since going undrafted in 2020, Cookus has been an offseason or practice squad member of 4 NFL teams (Giants, Broncos, Vikings, and Raiders). Although he may have had a chance to showcase his talent with the TSL Generals just a few months ago, Cookus signed one of his many NFL contracts before that could happen. If he wants to have a legitimate shot at playing time, the USFL can likely give him that opportunity. It would also let Cookus create more tape for scouts to look at.
No. 5: Anthony Gordon
Gordon is the second Washington State alumnus to be featured on this list, and is attending a HUB Football CAMP workout on October 20th. HUB Football hosts invite-only events that help free agents acquire new contracts, and was founded by Tom Brady’s agent Don Yee. This should give Gordon a great chance to prove his worth, and possibly give him another pro opportunity before the USFL season. Regardless, he’s one of the higher candidates in my rankings. Gordon was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Seattle Seahawks in 2020, but as you may have already guessed, he didn’t make the team. Gordon had another NFL stint with the Kansas City Chiefs this past offseason, getting to work with former MVP and Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes. However, he didn’t stick around there, either.
No. 4: Ryan Finley
Ryan Finley started a game in the NFL as recently as last year, meaning his pro experience is anything but limited. The former NC State quarterback was a fourth-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019, and has appeared in 8 games over two seasons. Finley was traded to the Houston Texans in 2021, and was [oddly] cut before the start of training camp. It’s somewhat of a surprise that he’s still a free agent, and the USFL should attempt to give him a deal before the NFL comes calling again.
No. 3: K.J. Costello
K.J. Costello was a quarterback at Stanford for four years (including freshman redshirt) before transferring to Mississippi State as a senior. Besides his 2018 campaign, Costello’s statistics were never anything to write home about. However, after a 623-yard passing performance against LSU in 2020 (which broke the SEC record for most pass yards in a game), he was able to get everyone’s attention. It was enough to land him a UDFA deal with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2021, but unfortunately, he was cut just two weeks after the deal was signed. A player like Costello is one the USFL needs to go after, as he’s already a name that many are familiar with. When combined with the fact that he’s still young and ready to play, it works out well for everyone involved.
No. 2: Jamie Newman
Newman is a very similar player to Costello, as both changed schools for their senior season in college, and both went undrafted in 2021. Newman spent four years (including freshman redshirt) at Wake Forest before transferring to Georgia. However, he did not play in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, choosing to opt out instead. Newman’s best season of college football was in 2019, when he had a 60.9% completion rate and 32 total touchdowns. The Philadelphia Eagles gave him a UDFA deal, but he was off the roster before training camp. Many were surprised that Newman was not a late-round draft pick, and it was even more surprising that he couldn’t get onto a practice squad. If the NFL isn’t showing interest, the USFL shouldn’t hesitate to reach out.
No. 1: Johnny Manziel
Maybe this comes as a surprise, but it shouldn’t. Since his story has been covered over and over again, there’s no need to give a full summary about his career. After Manziel’s disappointing NFL stint, he’s been a part of three alt. leagues (CFL, AAF, and FCF). The USFL would be his fourth, and it might also present the best opportunity. Recently, Manziel seems to have broken away from the labels that were once given to him. There’s evidence to suggest that he’s healthier now than he’s been in years, which is a good sign for his football career. Manziel’s NFL days are far behind him, but if he’s able to bring attention to smaller leagues and smaller markets, it’s an investment that could pay off long-term.
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