aaf News & Analysis

USFL Week 3: Touchdowns, players of the game, fantasy football workload notes and more

Birmingham, AL, USA; Houston Gamblers wide receiver Tyler Simmons (10) runs the ball against the Tampa Bay Bandits during the first half at Protective Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Football in the spring is objectively better than no football in the spring. This is not up for debate, and the USFL was kind enough to grace all of us with four games that didn’t fail to disappoint this standard.

What follows is a breakdown of all the Week 3 of USFL action specifically noting:

  • Touchdowns
  • Offensive player(s) of the game
  • Defensive player(s) of the game
  • Fantasy football workload notes
  • Final Thoughts

Be sure to check out The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for weekly review and preview episodes of this wonderful league.

Tampa Bay Bandits 27, Houston Gamblers 26

Touchdowns

The scoring got going in a hurry Saturday afternoon, as Derrick Dillon caught a short curl from Jordan Ta'amu before breaking free and going 64 yards to the house. Not too shabby for someone who was limited in practice all week with a shoulder injury. 7-0 TB.

The first quarter included another chunk touchdown, this time courtesy of Clayton Thorson throwing a seed to Anthony Ratliff-Williams from 57 yards out. Here's the funny part: Ratliff-Williams fumbled the ball before essentially dribbling the thing into the end zone. It was arguably the single wildest touchdown in modern USFL history (so, three weeks). 10-7 HOU.

It took the Gamblers just one play to score their next touchdown, as RB Mark Thompson made not one, not two, not three, but four defenders miss on his way to the end zone from 55 yards out. Impressive speed from the 6-foot-2 and 235-pound bowling ball. 17-7 HOU.

The Bandits responded with a steady nine-play, 70-yard drive capped off by a 13-yard run by scat back Juwan Washington. 17-14 HOU.

The final touchdown of an eventful first half ended a six-play, 80-yard drive that took just 1:51 off the clock. Clayton Thorson found No. 1 WR Isaiah Zuber from 16 yards out. Credit to Zuber for making not one but two impressive contested catches on the drive to make up for underthrows. 23-14 HOU.

A blocked punt set the Bandits up with a short field, and Ta'amu managed to bring Tampa Bay within two points after scrambling for a touchdown from five yards out. It was good to see Ta’amu enjoy his best game, even if it took the USFL’s consensus preseason QB1 a few weeks to get going. The Bandits would go on to clinch the victory on a 46-yard field goal with just 13 seconds remaining on the clock. 27-24 TB.

Offensive player(s) of the game: Bandits QB Jordan Ta’amu and WR Derrick Dillon, Gamblers RB Mark Thompson

Ta’amu’s performance would have been far bigger if not for having a touchdown nullified, another one dropped and a potential third fumbled out the back of the end zone. He also chipped in a 6-29-1 rushing line and led the Bandits to a game-winning field goal at the end of the fourth quarter.

Dillon’s 64-yard touchdown demonstrated his big-play ability — he was the only player to reach triple-digit receiving yards in Week 3 (6-124-1).

Credit to Thompson for leading the week in rushing (24-147-1) and especially for breaking an astronomical 10 tackles. He’s averaging a league-high 4.8 yards after contact per carry this season. Overall, he ranks first in rushing yards (310), and his total yards after contact (253) rank first at the position.

Defensive player(s) of the game: Bandits S Anthony Cioffi and DI Daylon Mack

Cioffi (90.9) and Mack (88.8) earned the highest overall PFF grade of any player at their position in Week 3.

Fantasy football workload notes

Bandits: Jordan Ta’amu got back to playing every single snap after losing some work to an ineffective Brady White in Week 2. Juwan Washington and BJ Emmons continue to split things roughly 50/50. Note that Emmons appeared to be banged up for a portion of Saturday’s game.

John Franklin and Derrick Dillon were the clear top-two receivers in an offense that continues to keep far more wide receivers and tight ends involved than fantasy managers would prefer.

Name POS Snap % Route % Dropbacks Rushes Targets Air Yards
Jordan Ta'amu QB 100% 2% 42 6 0 0
Juwan Washington HB 58% 47% 0 15 0 0
BJ Emmons HB 42% 44% 0 9 3 -1
John Franklin III WR 84% 81% 1 3 6 29
Derrick Dillon WR 77% 74% 0 1 6 36
Rashard Davis WR 59% 56% 0 0 4 39
Vinny Papale WR 47% 56% 0 0 5 51
Derrick Willies WR 15% 14% 0 0 1 8
Cheyenne O'Grady TE 64% 56% 0 0 3 19
De'Quan Hampton TE 53% 56% 0 0 5 48

Gamblers: Clayton Thorson played every snap with Kenji Bahar (hand) sidelined. Mark Thompson dominated the rushing share as expected. Isaiah Zuber worked as the clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver from a routes standpoint, but Tyler Simmons and Anthony Ratliff-Williams wound up leading the way in targets.

Name POS Snap % Route % Dropbacks Rushes Targets Air Yards
Clayton Thorson QB 100% 0% 25 1 0 0
Mark Thompson HB 67% 28% 0 24 3 6
Dalyn Dawkins HB 35% 24% 0 5 1 6
Isaiah Zuber WR 91% 96% 0 0 3 46
Tyler Simmons WR 75% 64% 0 0 7 40
Anthony Ratliff-Williams WR 60% 84% 0 0 4 77
Tyler Palka WR 58% 84% 0 0 2 39
Teo Redding WR 33% 40% 0 0 2 54
Brandon Barnes TE 42% 16% 0 0 1 5
Julian Allen TE 38% 16% 0 0 0 0
Final thoughts

Ta'amu's performance was far better than the box score indicated. He had a 50-yard touchdown to Dillon nullified by an iffy illegal man downfield penalty, Rashard Davis was inches away from converting a short completion into a score before fumbling the ball through the end zone and TE De'Quan Hampton let a short touchdown bounce directly off his hands. Two of these occurred on the same drive. Either way, it’s another example of why team #WatchTheFilm will always have an advantage over spreadsheet nerds who ignore the actual football being played.


Birmingham Stallions 23, New Orleans Breakers 13

Touchdowns

USFL's game of the week started a bit slow, but the Stallions managed to strike first halfway through the second quarter on a 47-yard touchdown pass from J'Mar Smith to Marlon Williams. “Pass” might be a strong word, as it was a short screen that Williams managed to take all the way to the house. Smith's final stat line would have been even more brutal without this assist. 7-0 BHM.

The Breakers managed to respond before the half, driving 85 yards in 13 plays before finding the end zone courtesy of a 10-yard touchdown connection between Kyle Sloter and Johnnie Dixon. It was a pretty route from Dixon, who managed to find a soft spot in the zone coverage before bullying his way into the end zone. 7-6 BHM.

The Breakers put together another long drive to start the second half. This time they traveled 77 yards in 17 plays, once again concluding with a short touchdown connection between Sloter and Dixon. However, it was a minor miracle that LB Scooby Wright failed to interception the rather ill-advised pass. 13-10 NO.

The Stallions managed to retake the lead after J'Mar Smith found Victor Bolden from 19 yards out on a well-placed slot fade. Birmingham nearly scored on the same play quite literally the play before, so they just flipped it and executed better the second time around — something life-long Madden players know plenty about. The Stallions would control the clock the rest of the way and go on to win by nine. 23-13 BHM.

Offensive player(s) of the game: Breakers WR Johnnie Dixon

The former Ohio State Buckeye caught seven of his 10 targets for 86 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Through three weeks of action, Dixon ranks second in receptions (16), first in receiving yards (166) and tied for first in receiving touchdowns (3).

Defensive player(s) of the game: Stallions LB Scooby Wright, Breakers EDGE Anree Saint-Amour and Shareef Miller

Wright racked up an absurd 17 tackles to go along with a pass deflection and forced fumble on the goal line. Meanwhile, Saint-Amour and Miller were PFF’s two highest-graded defenders on the week — they combined for nine pressures and a sack.

Fantasy football workload notes

Stallions: J’Mar Smith played every snap with Alex McGough still sidelined due to injury. CJ Marable worked well ahead of Tony Brooks-James this week after splitting things far more evenly in Weeks 1-2.

The Stallions continue to offer one of the league’s more clear-cut receiver rotations with Victor Bolden, Marlon Williams and Osirus Mitchell each running a route on well over 80% of Smith’s dropbacks. Cary Angeline is one of the USFL’s most-used receiving tight ends at this point.

Name POS Snap % Route % Dropbacks Rushes Targets Air Yards
J'mar Smith QB 100% 0% 44 8 0 0
Bobby Holly FB 27% 0% 0 0 0 0
CJ Marable HB 76% 52% 0 16 6 -24
Tony Brooks-James HB 24% 14% 0 5 0 0
Victor Bolden Jr. WR 100% 100% 0 1 12 90
Marlon Williams WR 90% 93% 0 0 6 48
Osirus Mitchell WR 83% 84% 0 0 3 41
Michael Dereus WR 13% 16% 0 0 1 34
Peyton Ramzy WR 10% 7% 0 1 1 12
Cary Angeline TE 73% 93% 0 0 8 122

Breakers: Kyle Sloter continued to play through the pain but did seem troubled by the Stallions’ lethal pass rush. Jordan Ellis predictably dominated usage with T.J. Logan sidelined due to injury. Jonathan Adams is the clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver in New Orleans, but at least for last week Sloter wound up looking Shawn Poindexter's and Johnnie Dixon’s way far more often. Taywayn Taylor is the odd man out of three-WR sets while everyone is healthy. Sal Cannella is one of just two USFL tight ends with a route participation rate above 90%.

Name POS Snap % Route % Dropbacks Rushes Targets Air Yards
Kyle Sloter QB 100% 0% 50 1 0 0
Jordan Ellis HB 80% 48% 0 25 2 -2
Larry Rose III HB 20% 18% 0 6 2 -2
Jonathan Adams Jr. WR 98% 98% 0 0 4 96
Shawn Poindexter WR 83% 86% 0 0 9 94
Johnnie Dixon WR 73% 78% 0 1 10 89
Taywan Taylor WR 40% 38% 0 0 4 8
Sal Cannella TE 95% 94% 0 0 8 91
Justin Johnson TE 11% 6% 0 0 0 0
Final thoughts

A win is a win is a win, but J'Mar Smith played his worst game of the season and could face platoon life if Alex McGough is healthy enough to suit up next week. Credit to the Birmingham pass rush for continuing to make their presence felt, this time against a banged-up version of Kyle Sloter. Other than the aforementioned mishap in the end zone, LB Scooby Wright was truly the star of the show in this one.


Michigan Panthers 24, Pittsburgh Maulers 0

Touchdowns

The Panthers started Paxton Lynch in this one, and he quickly led the offense to the end zone from 63 yards out in just nine plays on the opening drive of the game. Lynch himself was mostly responsible, chugging through the Maulers' front seven for a 20-yard gain on 3rd-and-10 before Stevie Scott capped off the drive with a six-yard score. Lynch then bullied his way into the end zone for the two-point conversion. 8-0 MICH.

A muffed punt set the Panthers up on the Pittsburgh five-yard line. It took them three plays to find the end zone again, this time courtesy of a one-yard plunge from Lynch. RB Cameron Scarlett converted another two-point conversion to further stretch the lead. 16-0 MICH.

It took until the fourth quarter for any more points to be scored in this low-scoring affair. Lynch was injured and out of the game by this point, but that didn't stop Michigan from driving 63 yards in 12 plays for the score. Continuing with the theme from their previous touchdowns, RB Reggie Corbin scored from four yards out before Patterson added a two-point conversion. 24-0 MICH.

Offensive player(s) of the game: Panthers RB Reggie Corbin

Going 20-133-1 on the ground while not even being active is truly the stuff of legends. Social media mishaps aside, Corbin racked up three explosive runs and managed to force four missed tackles on the week. He was quite clearly the best Michigan running back on the field.

Defensive player(s) of the game: Everybody

The Maulers had just 228 total yards of offense on 53 plays. Credit to each and every member of the Panthers defense for pitching the USFL’s first shutout. They only forced one turnover but that was clearly more than enough.

Fantasy football workload notes

Panthers: Lynch’s ankle injury led to Shea Patterson playing most of the game’s final 45 minutes. Reggie Corbin worked as the lead back, which was “funny” because the USFL Panthers Twitter account said he was inactive. Sigh. Corbin made the most out of his opportunities on Sunday, but this three-back committee doesn’t figure to boast much week-to-week clarity when all parties are active.

Lance Lenoir continues to work as the USFL’s single-biggest air-yard earner. Devin Ross is the only other pass-catcher in this offense consistently involved on a near every-dropback basis.

Name POS Snap % Route % Dropbacks Rushes Targets Air Yards
Shea Patterson QB 72% 0% 18 2 0 0
Paxton Lynch QB 28% 0% 9 2 0 0
Reggie Corbin HB 46% 30% 0 20 0 0
Stevie Scott III HB 31% 26% 0 13 0 0
Cameron Scarlett HB 24% 33% 0 5 1 -5
Lance Lenoir Jr. WR 97% 96% 0 0 9 125
Devin Ross WR 74% 89% 0 0 7 88
Joe Walker WR 56% 48% 0 0 3 33
Marcus Baugh TE 81% 56% 0 0 0 0
La'Michael Pettway TE 49% 63% 0 0 2 26
Connor Davis TE 44% 11% 0 0 0 0

Maulers: It was disappointing to see Kyle Lauletta turn this back into a platoon after Josh Love took every dropback in Week 2. The presence of a heavily utilized fullback doesn’t help matters for the offense’s complementary receivers and tight ends.

Madre London leaped ahead of Garrett Groshek in usage, but this backfield figures to continue flowing and keeping both participants fairly equally involved. Tre Walker, Branden Mack, and Delvon Hardaway are the clear-cut top-three receivers in this passing game.

Name POS Snap % Route % Dropbacks Rushes Targets Air Yards
Josh Love QB 65% 0% 19 0 0 0
Kyle Lauletta QB 38% 6% 13 1 0 0
Mikey Daniel FB 42% 22% 0 0 2 4
Madre London HB 50% 44% 0 11 5 -3
Garrett Groshek HB 44% 28% 0 10 1 2
Tre Walker WR 87% 88% 0 0 6 55
Branden Mack WR 79% 75% 0 0 5 50
Delvon Hardaway WR 69% 75% 0 0 2 0
Jeff Thomas WR 23% 25% 0 0 3 16
Hunter Thedford TE 96% 69% 0 0 5 44
Final thoughts

The Fighting Jeff Fishers dominated this game from start to finish while totaling 72 passing yards. Not exactly the greatest television product, but the Panthers are now in the win column and deserve credit for the dominant defensive performance. The answer to Paxton Lynch vs. Shea Patterson is quite likely “no”, although Lynch’s size and relative athleticism for the league seemed to give the offense a better chance to consistently move the ball. His ankle injury will be important to monitor ahead of the Panthers’ Week 4 matchup against the fellow 1-2 Stars.


New Jersey Generals, 24 Philadelphia Stars 16

Touchdowns

The Stars wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, as QB Bryan Scott connected with Bug Howard on a 42-yard score on just the Stars' second play from scrimmage. The touchdown was caused by the Stars not touching Howard after he slid for the catch. Either way, it was a nice ball from Scott and a heads-up play from the Stars’ tight end who essentially plays wide receiver. 7-0 PHI.

It took until halfway through the third quarter for another trip to the end zone to occur. Ultimately, the Generals ran the ball on seven straight plays, traveled 80 yards and eventually Darius Victor found the end zone from four yards out. This run-heavy approach was a constant theme for the Generals in the second half, as they leaned fully on De’Andre Johnson ahead of Luis Perez for the first time all season. 10-10.

Bryan Scott was too banged up to play in the second half, leading to Case Cookus performing admirably enough given the circumstances. He led the Stars on their final touchdown drive at the end of the third quarter, finding Diondre Overton from six yards out for the score. The touchdown demonstrated Cookus’ ability to extend the play. Philly shouldn’t be expected to completely die on offense if Scott is forced to miss time. 16-10 PHI.

Darius Victor ended another drive for the Stallions in the end zone, this time converting from one-yard out. A bowling ball of a back, Victor and fellow backfield mate Trey Williams are the closest things the USFL has to a true “Thunder and Lightning” running back duo. 17-16 NJ.

De'Andre Johnson put the final nail in the coffin with a four-yard score at the 6:22 mark in the fourth quarter. The drive included a 48-yard RPO-driven completion from Smith to Woody Brandom as well as a 21-yard screen to Trey Williams. Johnson doesn’t have the same sort of passing ability as Luis Perez, but his high-level rushing goodness puts far more stress on opposing defenses of all shapes and sizes. 24-16 NJ.

Offensive player(s) of the game: Generals QB De’Andre Johnson

Credit to running backs Trey Williams (19-110-0 rushing) and Darius Victor (13-51-2), but it was Johnson’s dual-threat ability that truly spearheaded this dominant New Jersey rushing attack. Overall, Johnson converted 11 carries into 94 yards and a score, good for a robust 9.4 yards per carry. Throw in 130 passing yards on just eight attempts (16.2 YPA), and it’s clear who gives the Generals' offense the best chance at consistently moving the ball down the field.

Defensive player(s) of the game: Generals DL Tyshun Render and Kalani Vakameilalo

Render and Vakameilalo combined for nine pressures and a sack, generally making life difficult for whichever Stars quarterback was dropping back to pass.

Fantasy football workload notes

Generals: De’Andre Johnson played the entire second half over Luis Perez after rotating for most of the season’s first 2.5 games. His dual-threat rushing upside would make him a fantasy cheat code with a consistent full-time role. Trey Williams worked ahead of Darius Victor overall and especially in pass-first situations, but Victor has emerged as the goal-line back and accordingly vulture away a pair of scores. Alonzo Moore and Darrius Shepherd saw just two combined targets despite working as the offense's clear-cut top-two receivers; that’s life inside of this run-first, second, and third offense. KaVontae Turpin might be the most fantasy-friendly receiver of the bunch thanks to his split usage as a running back. Call him the USFL’s Deebo Samuel if you must.

Name POS Snap % Route % Dropbacks Rushes Targets Air Yards
De'Andre Johnson QB 65% 0% 12 11 0 0
Luis Perez QB 35% 0% 17 0 0 0
Trey Williams HB 60% 59% 0 19 5 -5
Darius Victor HB 40% 38% 0 13 3 -5
Alonzo Moore WR 89% 86% 0 0 1 12
Darrius Shepherd WR 88% 93% 0 0 1 37
KaVontae Turpin WR 56% 72% 0 3 5 17
Cam Echols-Luper WR 21% 21% 0 0 0 0
Braedon Bowman TE 83% 72% 0 0 4 40
Woody Brandom TE 57% 41% 0 0 2 0
Wes Saxton Jr. TE 7% 3% 0 0 0 0

Stars: Bryan Scott remains expected to take every snap when healthy enough to do so. Paul Terry worked as the offense’s rather undisputed RB1 with Darnell Holland sidelined and Matt Colburn returning from injury. Jordan Suell and Diondre Overton worked as the clear-cut top-two receivers with Devin Gray, Maurice Alexander, and Chris Rowland all various degrees of banged up. Bug Howard has lined up as a true inline tight end on just 13 of his 99 snaps this season (13%); he’s a big slot receiver in the mold of Mike Gesicki who continues to be designed as a tight end for whatever reason.

Name POS Snap % Route % Dropbacks Rushes Targets Air Yards
Case Cookus QB 55% 0% 20 3 0 0
Bryan Scott QB 45% 0% 14 0 0 0
Paul Terry HB 82% 79% 0 6 9 -1
Matt Colburn II HB 18% 18% 0 2 0 0
Jordan Suell WR 100% 100% 0 0 5 73
Diondre Overton WR 86% 85% 0 0 4 39
Devin Gray WR 61% 62% 0 0 5 20
Maurice Alexander WR 36% 38% 0 0 2 34
Chris Rowland WR 14% 15% 0 0 1 6
Bug Howard TE 77% 76% 0 0 5 37
Pro Wells TE 25% 24% 0 0 0 0
Final thoughts

The Generals had a three-drive stretch in the second half where they ran the ball on 23 of 26 plays but scored 17 points for their troubles. This has been their identity all season long, and De’Andre Johnson is the sort of dual-threat quarterback capable of actually making this run-heavy approach work out. Continued reliance on solely Johnson will continue to make him a fantasy darling; just realize Luis Perez could find the field in a hurry if New Jersey is ever trailing by multiple scores.

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