The New Jersey Generals, led by veteran head coach Mike Riley drafted 17 players on offense, 16 players on defense, and two specialists on special teams. With USFL active rosters at only 38, many players on both sides of the ball will have to contribute on special teams. There may even be a case, from time to time, where a defensive player could line up on offense in short-yardage situations as a lead blocker. It’s a common practice that took place in TSL, a league that proceeded the upcoming USFL.
Maximizing the value of each roster spot is a key element to the structure of all eight USFL teams. So drafting players who can play multiple roles on game day is a sound strategy, especially over the course of a ten-week regular season.
New Jersey Generals Coaching Staff?
Even with USFL teams heaving their head coaches in place, unveiling their uniforms, and drafting players. There are still some unknowns with less than two months to go before the regular season starts on Saturday, April 16th. Teams like the Generals haven’t announced their complete coaching staffs.
Mike Riley is New Jersey’s head coach and de facto general manager, and he will also most likely assume play-calling duties on offense. Jay Locey, the former Linfield head coach who coached with Riley at Oregon State, will be coaching running backs and tight ends for the Generals. Another former college head coach, Jeff McInerney, also reunites with Riley. The two coaches most recently teamed up in the AAF with the San Antonio Commanders. McInerney is slated to coach New Jersey’s defensive line and special teams.
First-year league pro football teams normally have a smaller coaching staff than the standard college or NFL team. But the Generals do not have, at the present day, anyone officially listed as their defensive coordinator. Therefore, getting a handle on what type of defense the Generals will run in 2022 is a bit challenging. It’s possible that Riley reaches out to more connections from his past. Like former Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe, Riley’s DC in San Antonio. Or that Riley already has his staff selected, but the USFL hasn’t finalized the agreements yet or made them official.
Figuring out player fits on New Jersey’s defense will be a topic for later. For now, all we have to go on is the resume of the defensive and special teams players the Generals drafted last Tuesday and Wednesday. Let’s take an in-depth at who New Jersey selected in those areas.
New Jersey Generals Defense/Special Teams Draft Review
Defensive Linemen/Edge Rushers
Round 2 (defensive end/edge rusher), Fifth overall selection: Bryson Young, Oregon
It took a while for Bryson Young, a former four-star recruit out of California, to make his presence felt in college. But Young finally started to show some promise as a senior with Oregon in 2019. After spending his first three years as mostly a reserve player on special teams with the Ducks.
Young, a 6’5 245lb standup outside linebacker, started 13 games for Oregon in 2019. Totalling 56 tackles and two sacks. Not exactly gaudy numbers, but he held up strong at the point of attack against the run and showed some flashes on the edge. Young was an off-the-ball linebacker who wasn’t strictly a pass rusher in college. So this is a surprising pick for New Jersey, particularly as their first edge rusher selected.
Young certainly has untapped potential. And it’s earned him some time with the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons the last two summers. But you could argue that this is a gamble and a projection pick by New Jersey, and the Generals are taking a leap of faith and betting on Young’s upside.
Round 3 (defensive end/edge rusher), Fourth overall selection: Kolin Hill, Texas Tech
Like Bryson Young, Kolin Hill was a late bloomer in college at Texas Tech. Playing the ‘Rush Linebacker’ position for the Red Raiders as a senior, he led the team with five sacks.
The 6’2 240lb, Hill, after graduating in 2018, hasn’t been able to find his way onto the NFL or continue the progress he made late in his college career. But that hasn’t stopped him from finding a place to play where he could.
Kolin Hill took his talents to Europe in 2021, playing for the Berlin Thunder in the newly formed European League of Football. In ELF, Hill was a menace, nearly winning defensive MVP honors after registering 11 sacks in ten games.
There’s no doubt that someone on the Generals’ staff noticed what Hill accomplished in Europe and is hoping that it’s a sign of things to come.
Round 4 (defensive end/edge rusher), Fifth overall selection: Malik Hamner, Jackson State
Former Jackson State All-SWAC defensive lineman Malik Hamner, a 6-4, 270lb product from Alabama, was one of the best players against the run in his conference. Hamner was also a force on special teams, blocking four field goals, and was a two-time SWAC Special Teams Player of the Week.
The former high-school tight end didn’t put up gaudy sacks numbers in college. But he was a productive player at the point of attack. It will be interesting to see how the Generals utilize Hamner on defense. He has the size to play at end in the 3-4, or even slide inside as an interior rusher on passing downs. Hamner is very raw, with minimal pro experience, save for a brief stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Generals are banking on the former HBCU standout’s upside.
Round 24 (defensive tackles/nose tackles), Fourth overall selection: Destiny Vaeao, Washington State
The Generals added some much-needed experience and size to the interior of their defense by selecting Destiny Vaeao. The American Samoan has played for three NFL teams, most notably winning a Superbowl with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018. The 6’4 300lb run-stopper Vaeao has 27 tackles and three career sacks in the NFL.
Round 25 (defensive tackles/nose tackles), Fifth overall selection: Toby Johnson, Georgia
The well-traveled 30-year-old Toby Johnson has had quite the football-playing journey. Johnson was an all-state tight end in Georgia before transitioning to the defensive line. He was a junior college standout before transferring to Georgia. In the pros, the 6’4 325lb Johnson has been with seven different pro teams, six in the NFL, and he has also played in the XFL with the New York Guardians. Johnson has also had two stints playing Indoor Football.
Round 26 (defensive tackles/nose tackles), Fourth overall selection: Kalani Vakameilalo, Oregon State
Kalani Vakameilalo, pronounced (vah-kah-may-lah-loh), is a 6’3 330lb nose tackle who was a four-year starter at Oregon State. The Hawaiian-born road grader has spent time briefly in the NFL with the Jaguars, the XFL with the DC Defenders, and in TSL with the Aviators. Kalani should be a key figure in the Generals’ goals of stopping opposing team’s ground games.
Overall DL Analysis
The Generals have added some size and experience to the interior of their defense. But the team’s top three ends are all question marks. It remains to be seen how two tweener types like Kolin Hill and Bryson Young will be utilized in New Jersey’s defense. On paper, they appear to be best suited as edge-rushing OLBs in a 3-4 defense. But the plan could be to start Hill and Young with their hands down at the defensive end positions.
Having only six defensive linemen would appear to indicate the potential of the Generals playing a three-person front. But the supplemental draft is less than two weeks away, and who they select in their front seven on March 10th could indicate the style of front the team wants to play.
Round 29 (outside linebackers), Sixth overall selection: D’Juan Hines, Houston
D’Juan Hines is one of the more unique defensive players drafted into the USFL. The former high school standout at quarterback rated 23rd in the nation, transitioned to wide receiver, then safety before landing at linebacker with the Houston Cougars.
The 6’1 235lb Hines became a first-team All-AAC player with Houston and a four-time Academic All-American. Surprisingly despite his stellar pedigree as a versatile athlete and student. Hines went undrafted. He did, however, end up spending time with three different NFL teams. Twice on practice squads with the Chargers and Browns, and even saw some regular-season action. Hines would miss the final cut with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019, and two months later, he was drafted into the XFL, where he was an excellent starting player for the New York Guardians.
Still only 27 years old, I fully expect D’Juan Hines to be one of the better all-around linebackers in the USFL. He can play outside or inside, can call the plays on defense because of his smarts, and is an every-down linebacker because of his cover skills as a former safety.
Round 30 (outside linebackers), Third overall selection: Tim Walton Jr., Texas Southern
Tim Walton Jr. just completed his career at TSU as a graduate student in 2021. Walton is one of the college players in the USFL who is going straight from school to play in the league directly. He recently participated in the HBCU Legacy Bowl a week ago.
In 10 games, in 2021, Walton played ten games for the Tigers, registered 39 tackles, 7.5 for loss, four forced fumbles, and a sack. The Detroit native originally played at Syracuse before transferring to TSU. The 6’2 230lb linebacker, who has experience playing inside and outside, and could be in line to start immediately for the Generals a month from now.
Angelo Garbutt originally started his college career at Iowa before transferring to Missouri State. The 6’1 230lb linebacker was an All-MVFC selection and made the athletic director’s honor roll. . In three seasons at Missouri State, he registered 245 tackles (24 tackles for loss), along with four and a half sacks.
Garbutt has been working the circuit, looking for an opportunity to latch on with a pro team for quite some. He has participated in the HUB football camp and was also a part of the Spring League as a starting linebacker for the champion Linemen team in 2021.
Round 21 (inside linebackers), Eight overall selection: Chris Orr, Wisconsin
Chris Orr was the Generals’ only inside linebacker selection in the draft, but New Jersey made it count. Only 24 years old, Orr was a heck of a player in college. Orr played in and started all 14 games during his senior season at Wisconsin. The Badgers team captain had 78 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks. He also had eight quarterback hurries, broke up five passes, and forced two fumbles. His 11.5 sacks during this season were the most in a season by an inside/middle linebacker in school history.
After graduating from Wisconsin, Orr signed on with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent. He would spend the 2020 NFL season on and off the Panthers’ active and practice squad roster. But in 2021, Carolina released him. Wisconsin thought saw highly of Orr that they brought him on as Director of Player Development this past season.
For whatever reason, perhaps due to his size at 6’0 225, Orr went undrafted and didn’t stick with Carolina in the NFL. The Generals and the USFL are fortunate to have him in 2022, and Orr should be a standout player and leader for New Jersey.
Overall LB Analysis
Quality over Quantity. The Generals selected only four linebackers. But this has a chance to be one of the better starting linebacking corps in the USFL. Particularly with Hines and Orr roaming the field, and Walton and Garbutt make for fascinating stories because of their backgrounds.
Round 8 (cornerbacks), Third overall selection: De’Vante Bausby, Pittsburgh State
De’Vante Bausby was arguably, pound for pound, one of the best overall selections by any team in the USFL during the draft. And it would not shock me if he is one of the first players in the league that ends up back on an NFL roster when the USFL season ends.
It’s also not surprising that Mike Riley would draft one of his best players from the AAF in Bausby. After starring with San Antonio. De’Vante Bausby has spent the last three seasons in the NFL, two of them with the Denver Broncos.
The 6’2 cornerback is a physical man man-to-man player. Bausby showed in the AAF that he was up for the challenge when given the opportunity to start, and I think he will repeat the same performance in the USFL.
Round 9 (cornerbacks), Sixth overall selection: Trae Elston, Ole Miss
It’s worth noting that Trae Elston, who has played safety for most of his career, was drafted by the Generals at cornerback. The 6’0 200lb Albama native Elston was New Jersey’s second choice at the position. It’s possible that he could slide back to safety, but New Jersey might want to try his hand on the outside.
Despite only recently turning 28 years old, Elston’s career resume reads like a journeyman defensive back. He’s had 12 different stints with pro teams since coming out of Mississippi in 2016. The former All-SEC player has been a career practice squad player. With the Generals, he should get an opportunity to be a full-time starter.
Round 10 (cornerbacks), Third overall selection: David Rivers, Youngstown State
The Generals added another tall player to their secondary in 6-foot corner, David Rivers. Like Trae Elston, the 28-year old Rivers is also well-traveled. He’s been on several NFL rosters, played in the XFL for two teams, and was most recently briefly on a CFL roster with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The former Youngstown State grad could have an opportunity to play nickel in the Generals defense.
Round 11 (cornerbacks), Sixth overall selection: Dejaun Neal, Shepherd
Rounding out New Jersey’s corners is former Shepherd University standout Dejuan Neal. The 6’0 cornerback was a standout on the D2 level hasn’t had much experience. He has spent time with Washington in the NFL and New York in the XFL. Neal has had plenty of college-level experience. He appeared in 43 games over four years at Shepherd and logged 95 tackles, 17 pass defenses, and three interceptions during his career.
Round 18 (safeties), Second overall pick: Shalom Luani, Washington State
Shalom Luani is a recognizable name in the futbol and football world. However, the former Raiders seventh-round draft pick is better known worldwide for his association football career. The American Samoan has tried his hand at American Football for several years now. The former first-team All-Pac 12 safety at Washington State in 2016 has been on the fringe of several NFL teams rosters, seeing some regular-season action over the last five years.
The 6’0 201, 27-year-old Shalom Luani most recently played in The Spring League with the Jousters. He put some good film on tape, enough to have New Jersey select him to patrol their secondary as a starter.
Round 19 (safeties), Seventh overall selection: Dravon Askew-Henry, West Virginia
Dravon Askew-Henry was a standout player with the Mountaineers at West Virginia. Starting a school-record 51 games in four seasons. An All-Big 12 player who showed great versatility playing in the box at safety and lining up at the nickel position in coverage. Traits that he showed favorably in the XFL with the New York Guardians in 2020.
The 6’0 203lb defensive back’s performance in the XFL led to the New York Giants signing him. It made for a heck of a story, and much of the attention was focused on Dravon Askew Henry’s famous cousin, legendary future hall of fame cornerback Darrelle Revis, who has been one of DAH’s mentors.
Askew-Henry is back playing for a tri-state area team, albeit in Birmingham for the 2022 season. Still only 26 years old, he will have an opportunity to showcase his skills once again.
Overall Secondary Analysis
The Generals are not lacking for talent in their secondary. But the running theme for all USFL teams in this draft is how thin their depth is in several areas. The supplemental draft on March 10th should help bring in more reinforcements. But with only ten players added to the current 35, seven of them presumably heading to the practice squad when the season starts. There are only so many areas that a team can address.
Therefore, it’s wise for teams like the Generals to have players who can play multiple positions. Trae Elston has experience at safety, and both Luani and Askew-Henry have shown the capability of playing special teams and the nickel spot on defense. New Jersey will certainly add more bodies to this group. The best player they drafted was De’Vante Bausby; he should be a great asset to the secondary when the season rolls along.
Round 32 (kickers), Second overall selection: Nick Rose, Texas
Another player reuniting with NJ Generals head coach Mike Riley is former San Antonio Commanders kicker Nick Rose. The former Longhorn placekicker started his playing journey at Texas as a kickoff specialist. But over time, he progressed to take on full kicking duties. In his senior season, Rose was efficient, missing only four field goals and one extra point while showing great range on kickoffs and long-field goals.
Since leaving college, Rose has seen some action in the NFL, mostly as a fill-in replacement for several teams since 2016. He has made 11 of 14 field goals, with a career-long of 55 yards. He’s also had 32 touchbacks. In the Alliance of American Football, Nick Rose was a perfect 14 of 14 on kicks with a long of 54 yards.
Skeptics will routinely dismiss how players perform in non-NFL leagues because of the level of competition. However, that argument doesn’t hold any water when it comes to kicking. The pressure level may not match the atmosphere of the NFL. But kicking field goals in any league is practically the same function, regardless of competition level. For evidence of this, two of the best kickers in the NFL the last two years have been Younghoe Koo and Nick Folk. Both were great kickers in the AAF. Koo proved his worth and is now an All-Pro. Folk was left for dead off of NFL rosters. He stood out in the AAF and is now back to the all-pro form he showed years earlier.
Nick Rose can be a great weapon for New Jersey. The team won’t have to deal with the elements seen in the Northeast in 2022, playing games in the South. But Rose’s strong leg should be suitable for games in windy conditions when the Generals make their way home in the future.
Round 35 (long snappers), First overall selection, Scott Flanick, Army
It figures that a team called the Generals would draft a player from Army. Long snapper Scott Flanick, a 2020 West Point graduate, is currently serving in the United States Army at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. He played in 25 games in his college career for the Black Knights.
No one notices the long snapper until something goes awry. Much like soldiers in any outfit, they are often nameless and faceless. But their value is immense. And if you are a reliable long snapper, you can play pro football for a very long time. Much like the kicking position, the competition level in a non-NFL league is not a deterrent.
Three out of the eight XFL long snappers have all had success and landed NFL jobs. Nick Moore (Vipers-Ravens), Scott Daly (Guardians-Lions), and Christian Kuntz (Renegades-Steelers). If Scott Flanick is worth his weight in gold. He can end up down the same path.
Overall Special Teams Analysis
The Generals passed on selecting a punter. The USFL hasn’t officially released their rules yet, and it’s possible that they could incorporate some unique rules that affect special teams. But at the moment, the team could either opt to draft a punter in March’s supplemental draft or to help with the limited roster depth; the Generals could task kicker Nick Rose with punting duties. Perhaps, the Generals could forgo punting altogether. But even if that strategy is adopted, someone will still need to hold on field goals for Nick Rose.
A significant part of the Generals special teams return, and coverage units will be filled by players pulling double duty. New Jersey has drafted several candidates with experience returning kicks and punts. RB Trey Williams, WR’s Ke’Vontae Turpin, Darrius Shepherd, Chris Platt, and Randy Satterfield could assume those duties.
Final New Jersey Generals Defense/Special Teams Draft Analysis
In a league structured like the USFL, there will be several issues regarding team cohesion. Limited roster size combined with a short window for teams to practice and get used to one another could affect the quality of team play, especially early in the season. The Generals coaches will need to work fast to install their schemes and get their new players up to speed and comfortable with each other.
In leagues such as this, it stands to reason that the defenses might be ahead of the offenses. Having a few veterans on that side of the equation could help expedite that process. The Generals are mostly a very young and inexperienced group, and young veteran players like De’Vante Bausby might have to help lead the way.
The Generals have a few young players who have star potential on defense and special teams. Chris Orr was a fantastic selection, and he might be tasked with handling the defense from the middle immediately. Talent aside, communication issues could be an issue early on. The positive thing for New Jersey is that this will be an even playing field because all USFL teams will be dealing with the same dilemma.
The goal now for the Generals is to fortify the trenches before their week one opening game against the Stallions arrives on April 16th.
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