With the USFL draft now over, it’s a good time to reflect on all of the players selected that will make their debut in April. For the Tampa Bay Bandits, there were some familiar faces in the alt. football world that should have a big impact in the league. The list of all 35 selections can be found in the two graphics below, courtesy of the Bandits’ official Instagram and Twitter pages (yes, there are a few errors).
Out of the 35 players, there were five that stood out to me, and a few other honorable mentions. These are players who will likely have the largest impact on the team, so fans should get to know them sooner rather than later.
Jordan Ta’amu, QB, Mississippi (round 1, pick 2)
After the Michigan Panthers selected Shea Patterson first overall, the Bandits jumped at the opportunity to select Jordan Ta’amu, generally viewed as the most talented quarterback in the pool. The decision from the Panthers to pass on Ta’amu was certainly questionable, and it could possibly haunt them further down the line. Interestingly, Ta’amu was once the backup to Patterson at Ole Miss in 2017, and Ta’amu became the starter after Patterson transferred a year later.
Ta’amu had a great showing with the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks in 2020, completing 72% of his passes for 1,050 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in just 5 games. He also rushed for 217 yards (5.3 YPC average) and another touchdown on the ground. Combined with a few stints on NFL rosters, Ta’amu brings plenty of experience to the table, and should become a top performer very quickly.
Eli Rogers, WR, Louisville (round 13, pick 5)
Rogers was one of the more recognizable players in the pool, as he spent four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2015-2018). Over that span, he caught 78 passes for 822 yards and 4 touchdowns, all while lining up alongside players such as Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Bandits head coach Todd Haley was also the Steelers’ offensive coordinator for three seasons while Rogers was there, so the two are familiar with each other and have already established a connection.
Rogers has been playing with some of the best since he was in high school, with the most notable names being Teddy Bridgewater and Amari Cooper. The Florida native should be Tampa’s number one pass-catcher, and has a great shot of reviving his career in the USFL. He was a member of the DC Defenders (XFL) in 2020, and would later join the Montreal Alouettes (CFL) in 2021 for their training camp. Both of those experiences have kept Rogers in the loop since his departure from Pittsburgh, but they don’t quite compare to what the Bandits have to offer.
John Franklin III, WR, Florida Atlantic (round 17, pick 5)
Franklin has one of the most interesting stories of any USFL player, some of which has been documented on a national scale. Franklin was featured in the Netflix documentary series Last Chance U, which took place during his time at East Mississippi Community College in 2015. Prior to this, Franklin had spent two years at Florida State, and would later find himself at Auburn. He finished his collegiate career as a grad transfer at Florida Atlantic, demonstrating his versatility under head coach Lane Kiffin.
While Franklin spent most of his time in college as a quarterback, his final year marked the beginning of a switch to wide receiver. After going undrafted in 2018, he worked out for the Chicago Bears as a defensive back, and stayed with the team through the preseason. In 2019, he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and was listed as a wide receiver again. His only career NFL stat came at the end of that season, when he recorded a single rush for 11 yards.
Despite being named to one position, Franklin has experience with three. His mobility is what makes him stand out, and it won’t be a surprise if he is equally split between run and pass plays. Franklin will be a fun player to watch in the USFL, and it’s safe to say that Todd Haley shouldn’t have a problem finding a spot for him.
Anthony Cioffi, S, Rutgers (round 19, pick 5)
Cioffi has been a standout defensive back in the CFL since 2018, splitting his time between the Ottawa Redblacks and the BC Lions. In three seasons, he has 136 total tackles, 4 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, and 2 pass deflections. Cioffi also has two NFL stints under his belt (Oakland Raiders and New York Jets), meaning he knows two different sides of the game. Assuming he can keep up that same level of production, Cioffi can easily be the team’s best defender, and possibly one of the best in the league.
Emmanuel Beal, OLB, Oklahoma (round 29, pick 8)
Beal spent his last two seasons in college (2016-2017) as an Oklahoma Sooner, and he definitely made his impact felt. Beal racked up 176 total tackles, leading the team as a senior with 95. Additionally, he recorded 3 pass deflections, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception. Beal would go on to sign with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 2018, but never saw any playing time. He later joined the XFL’s Tampa Bay Vipers in 2020, making just 7 tackles in 5 games. It’s been quite some time since Beal was a force on the football field, so the USFL should be a breath of fresh air for the 26-year-old.
Vinny Papale, WR, Delaware (round 17, pick 9)
Bruno Reagan, C, Vanderbilt (round 20, pick 3)
De’Quan Hampton, TE, USC (round 34, pick 10)
All in all, the Bandits had one of the better drafts when compared to other teams. The Ta’amu pick solidified them as a franchise to watch in the coming months, and they were able to follow that up with more talent from a variety of places/leagues. A supplemental draft will take place on March 10th, and ten more players will be added to the roster. Until then, however, dive deeper into some of the picks that weren’t highlighted, and get excited for some Bandit Ball!
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