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USFL Week 5 power rankings, DFS and betting preview

Birmingham, AL, USA; New Orleans Breakers running back Jordan Ellis (31) runs the ball against the Tampa Bay Bandits during the first half at Protective Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Week 4 was another great week to be great in the USFL. Check out my Week 4 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.

What follows is a breakdown of some outliers across the league, power rankings, favorite DFS plays and best bets. Keep your head on a swivel; let’s get after it.

10 wild stats after four weeks of action

The following 10 metrics help distinguish some of the USFL’s biggest outliers thus far.

The Stars have a league-high 72.7% pass-play rate in neutral situations

Each of the Stallions (58.2%), Maulers (58.1%), Breakers (57.6%) and Bandits (57.4%) also make a habit of throwing the ball around the yard, but not to the same extent as Bart Andrus and company. Meanwhile, the Gamblers (53.6%), Panthers (46.2%) and especially the Generals (44.6%) have embraced more of a run-first approach so far.

The Breakers have created an explosive pass play on a league-best 18.1% of their dropbacks

No other USFL team has managed to complete a 15-yard pass on even 14% of their dropbacks. After New Orleans, the Generals (13.9%), Stars (12.1%), Stallions (11%) and Bandits (10.4%) stand out as teams still capable of making some big plays happen through the air, while the Gamblers (9%), Panthers (8.3%) and Maulers (7.9%) have largely struggled to consistently strike fear into secondaries all season long.

The Maulers have been pressured on a league-low 14.4% of their dropbacks

While the Pittsburgh offense hasn't exactly been spectacular, Kirby Wilson and company do deserve credit for consistently giving their signal-caller a clean pocket to work from. The same is true to a lesser extent for the Stallions (24.8%) and Stars (29.3%), while the Breakers (33.1%), Panthers (33.3%), Bandits (36.1%), Generals (40.9%) and Gamblers (42.3%) struggle in that regard.

The Generals rank first in lowest drop rate (2.1%) while averaging the most yards after the catch per completion (7.5) and employing the highest play-action rate (32.2%)

New Jersey might be the league's most run-heavy team, but they've made the most out of their dropbacks with sure-handed receivers and players who know how to make something extra happen with the ball in their hands. While Luis Perez deserves some credit for his accurate arm, dual-threat De’Andre Johnson puts the most pressure on opposing defenses and is capable of causing coverage breakdowns on a routine basis. Look no further than last week’s chunk touchdown to Alonzo Moore.

The Generals (23.5%) and Stallions (23.2%) are running screens on nearly a quarter of their dropbacks

There's nothing wrong with utilizing a screen to help keep a feisty opposing pass rush at bay, but New Jersey and Birmingham have taken things to a new level. None of the USFL's other six teams have approached even a 15% screen rate; Houston (9.8%) and Philadelphia (9%) are still in single digits. It’d behoove future opponents of the Generals and Stallions to keep an especially close eye out for these screens in pass-first situations.

The Generals have averaged a league-high 2.1 yards *before* contact per rush

Having a dual-threat quarterback like De'Andre Johnson naturally creates wider run lanes for the likes of Darius Victor and Trey Williams. It makes sense to throw the ball all over the place in the NFL, where top-flight efficiency is a given, but the Generals have been zagging all season by operating as a run-first offense and have already compiled a good bit of success by doing so.

The Gamblers (17.6%) and Bandits (17.1%) have been the top-two secondaries in terms of contested catch percentage

The Panthers (16.2%) and Generals (15.4%) also deserve credit for regularly making things difficult on opposing wide receivers. It's been a bit easier to find breathing room against the Stars (12.9%), Breakers (12.4%), Maulers (11.6%) and Stallions (11.1%)

The Stallions have pressured opposing quarterbacks on an absurd 48% of their dropbacks

Houston (35.6%), New Orleans (34.2%) and Pittsburgh (32.6%) are the league's only other teams with a pressure rate north of 30%. The Stars (28.5%), Generals (26.1%), Bandits (19.8%) and Panthers (19.8%) simply haven't been as successful at consistently keeping opposing quarterbacks under duress.

Both Birmingham (41.9%) and Tampa Bay (40.5%) have blitzed at a truly astronomical rate

At least the Stallions are converting their blitzes into pressures. No other defense has blitzed on even 29% of their opponent's plays. Hell, the Gamblers (20%), Stars (15.2%) and Generals (9.4%) have blitzed on just one-fifth or fewer of their opponent's snaps.

The Stars have allowed a league-high 2.1 yards before contact per carry

The Breakers (1.5), Stallions (1.3) and Gamblers (1.3) are the only other defenses to allow anything over one. Credit to the Bandits (0.8), Generals (0.9) and Panthers (0.9) for working as the league's most stout run defenses through four weeks.

USFL Week 5 Power Rankings

1. Birmingham Stallions (4-0)

The Birmingham pass rush sure looks a lot like the single-most dominant position group in the USFL. Throw in seemingly two capable enough quarterbacks in J’Mar Smith and Alex McGough, and the Stallions are still sitting pretty in the No. 1 spot.

2. New Orleans Breakers (3-1)

Kyle Sloter has been the most impressive quarterback in the USFL through four weeks of action. The Breakers are the only defense with a higher PFF team defense grade than the Stallions. Because of Sloter, I believe the best version of New Orleans beats that of Birmingham.

3. New Jersey Generals (3-1)

While unconventional, Mike Riley’s run-first Generals have managed to largely impose their will on the ground against everyone they’ve played this season. A full-time quarterback change to De’Andre Johnson seems inevitable and would allow the Generals to fully embrace their status as the most unorthodox team in the league. As Mark Twain stated in “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” (1889): “The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought.”

4. Tampa Bay Bandits (2-2)

Jordan Ta’amu and company haven’t taken the USFL by storm as expected, but they have flashed enough to think the squad is the league’s more-capable 2-2 team, with the Stars unfortunately down to their backup quarterback. This is especially true because the Bandits have the league’s fifth-best defense in terms of PFF team grade, while the Stars rank last.

5. Philadelphia Stars (2-2)

Credit to Bart Andrus for employing the league’s most pass-happy attack. That philosophy should continue to give the Stars a chance to outscore their opponent more weeks than not, regardless of who is under center. Still, life without Bryan Scott is far from ideal, and this defense is rather brutal.

6. Houston Gamblers (1-3)

Clayton Thorson makes a play or two per game to get you thinking he’s on the verge of putting everything together, but ultimately turnovers and a lack of consistency have plagued this offense. It was a miracle that their 23-16 Week 4 loss to the Breakers was so close considering Houston was out-gained, 523 to 155.

7. Michigan Panthers (1-3)

The Fighting Jeff Fishers needed only a 21-yard field goal to get back to .500, but alas: kickers gonna kicker. This passing game remains rough on the eyes, but it’d make sense if a healthy version of Paxton Lynch proves a bit more capable than Shea Patterson down the stretch.

8. Pittsburgh Maulers (0-4)

The decision to fully ride with Kyle Lauletta over Josh Love doesn’t look great in hindsight. Ultimately, the Maulers have lost by 14, seven, 24 and eight points over the first four weeks of the season. They don’t deserve to be anywhere other than last at this point.

PFF team grades in specific categories are listed below:


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