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USFL Week 4 power rankings, DFS and gambling preview

Birmingham, AL, USA; Philadelphia Stars tight end Bug Howard (11) grabs a pass against the Pittsburgh Maulers during the first half at Protective Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Week 3 was another great week to be great in the USFL.

Some highlights:

  • Anthony Ratliff-Williams caught a deep pass down the middle and fumbled but then by the grace of the football gods still scored a touchdown after one of the luckiest bounces you’ll ever see.
  • The Birmingham Stallions and New Orleans Breakers squared off on Saturday night in an undefeated collision, with the former squad’s ever-devastating pass rush and normal fourth-quarter heroics from J’Mar Smith being enough to take home the victory.
  • The Fighting Jeff Fishers Michigan Panthers ate their first W of the season with a dominant 24-0 performance over the Pittsburgh Maulers. The Panthers threw for *72* yards the entire game.
  • Panthers RB Reggie Corbin was fantastic, turning 20 carries into 133 yards and a score — all while not even being active.
  • Smack was talked to kickers. Naturally, the USFL’s never-ending supply of mics and cameras picked it all up for us. Gotta love this league.

Check out my Week 3 USFL review for full notes on every touchdown scored, offensive and defensive players of the game, key fantasy football workload metrics, and overall thoughts. More USFL goodness can be found weekly on The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast.

Nine USFL players who have particularly stood out after three weeks of action

RB Mark Thompson, Houston Gamblers

One of just two USFL players with a PFF grade of at least 90.0, Thompson (6-foot-2, 235-pounds) has worked as this league’s version of Derrick Henry thus far. Overall, he leads the league with 310 rushing yards, and his 253 yards after contact are more than second-place rusher Jordan Ellis (244) can attest to having period. Thompson is the only player with double-digit forced missed tackles on rush attempts (16) and explosive runs (10). His averages of 5.8 yards per carry and 4.8 yards after contact per rush are patently absurd. Add it all together, and Thompson has easily been the USFL's best running back through three weeks.

QB De'Andre Johnson, New Jersey Generals

The former Last Chance U star leads the league in yards per carry (6.4) and is one of just three players with more than 200 rushing yards. He's done so in style, forcing eight missed tackles along the way — three more than the rest of the USFL's quarterbacks have combined. Johnson hasn't exactly been the league's most polished passer and sports a rather brutal 34.0 PFF passing grade. Still, his dual-threat ability has forced defenses into some coverage mishaps and accordingly boasts a league-best average of 10.8 yards per attempt. Johnson has formed an early-season platoon with Luis Perez but may have taken over for good after playing the entire second half in Week 3.

QB Kyle Sloter, New Orleans Breakers

Sloter has looked a lot like the USFL’s best quarterback while having to play through a myriad of injuries. He entered Week 3 with hand and shoulder injuries listed on the injury report, never mind the “popped” groin he suffered the previous week. He bounced around with the Raiders and Vikings’ practice squads in 2021 and enjoyed some serious preseason success back in the day. Here’s hoping an even healthier version of the Breakers QB1 continues to ball out and earns another chance in the big leagues.

WR Jonathan Adams Jr. and WR Johnnie Dixon, New Orleans Breakers

Adams has posted a relatively modest season-long 7-112-0 receiving line. However, The 23-year-old talent’s Week 2 performance was the single most impressive 60-minute stretch by an offensive player in the USFL this season. 

And then there’s Dixon, who leads the league in receiving yards (166) and is tied for the top spot in receiving touchdowns (3). The former Ohio State Buckeye field-stretcher has shown off more route-running nuance in the underneath and intermediate areas of the field, although at 27 years of age he’s not quite the same sort of spring chicken as his teammate.

Of course, defense is pretty important to the sport of football, as well. The following defensive players have posted a PFF grade north of 90.0 through three weeks of action (minimum 100 snaps):

  • EDGE Shareef Miller, New Orleans Breakers (93.2): Miller's 11 pressures rank fifth in the USFL, and he's managed to post elite grades in back-to-back weeks (90.3 and 91.4). However, he's far from a one-trick pony, racking up nine defensive stops (tied for third) and posting the league's fourth-best overall run defense grade.
  • CB Will Likely, Houston Gamblers (91.5): Nobody has a higher PFF coverage grade than Likely (91.4). Overall, just five of 12 targets into his coverage have been caught for 34 yards this season. Throw in two interceptions, and quarterbacks have posted a 9.7 passer rating when targeting the Gamblers' CB1. Note that a quarterback receives a passer rating of 39.0 if he takes every snap and throws the ball directly into the ground on every play.
  • EDGE Carlo Kemp, Pittsburgh Maulers (90.6): Kemp has racked up 11 pressures and three sacks this season. His 90.8 PFF pass-rush grade trails only Shareef Miller (91.4), and only Dondrea Tillman (10) has a single game with more pressures than what Kemp (8) managed to pull off in Week 2.
  • EDGE Dondrea Tillman, Birmingham Stallions (90.3): Tillman has 24 pressures on the season. No other defender has more than 13. So far just two of those pressures have been converted to sacks, but he's been the star of the USFL's most-lethal pass rush.

USFL Week 4 Power Rankings

1. Birmingham Stallions (3-0)

The Stallions have pressured opposing quarterbacks on 48.7% of their dropbacks. No other USFL defense has posted a pressure rate higher than 33%. This was their key to knocking off the Breakers (last week’s No. 1), as J’Mar Smith came back down to earth a bit despite the victory. Still, Smith has managed to lead the offense to a more than respectable 27.7 points per game, and the Stallions’ pass-rush is as dominant as any single position group in the league. Throw in a weekly “home-field advantage,” and the Stallions deserve to be ranked No. 1.

2. New Orleans Breakers (2-1)

A banged-up version of Sloter simply didn’t have enough to push the Breakers across the finish line last week, but the Breakers still boast the league’s best point differential at +28. Despite last week’s loss, I believe the best version of the Breakers has more upside than any team in the USFL thanks to Sloter and PFF’s highest-graded overall defense.

3. Tampa Bay Bandits (2-1)

The Bandits snapped out of their six-quarter lul in Week 3 to the tune of a week-high 27 points. Jordan Ta’amu’s late-game heroics were a welcome sight after the USFL’s consensus preseason QB1 had to split snaps with something named Brady White in Week 2. Nobody has a stiffer run defense than the Bandits (86.8 PFF grade), which is more important than ever in this largely run-first league.

4. New Jersey Generals (2-1)

The Generals have passed the ball on a league-low 43.6% of their plays in non-garbage time situations. The strategy has produced a rather meh 19.3 points per game, but the potential for De’Andre Johnson to take over as the full-time quarterback could produce a new ceiling for the team.

5. Philadelphia Stars (1-2)

The Stars deserve to be viewed as the USFL’s best team with just a single win. However, the potential for Bryan Scott (knee) to miss time certainly isn’t ideal for the league’s most pass-happy offense. Failure to hum at a high level on offense will be problematic if PFF’s worst-graded overall defense fails to improve in a meaningful way.

6. Houston Gamblers (1-2)

Clayton Thorson has looked better as of late, but it’s fair to wonder how long that will last behind the USFL’s No. 8 and No. 7 ranked offensive line in run-blocking and pass-blocking grades. Houston has managed to rank dead last in both yards before contact per carry (0.6) and pressure rate allowed (43.4%). Note that the Gamblers would leap the Stars should Scott be forced to miss extended time.

7. Michigan Panthers (1-2)

Jeff Fisher and company simply haven’t been able to get anything going through the air this season. Overall, they've posted league-low marks in passing yards (388) and passing touchdowns (1) after 12 quarters of play. Week 3 showed that their defense and run game are capable of making up for Shea Patterson and Paxton Lynch’s deficiencies, but it’s tough to see this group hanging with the league’s top offenses more weeks than not.

8. Pittsburgh Maulers (0-3)

Josh Love was quietly working as one of the USFL’s better quarterbacks during the first two weeks of the season, only for Kyle Lauletta to turn the situation back into a platoon in Week 3. The defense has struggled to slow down opposing offenses all year long, while head coach Kirby Wilson has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Last week’s winless showdown with the Panthers was one of the worst team-wide performances of the season.

PFF team grades in specific categories are listed below:

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