aaf News & Analysis

USFL Week 5: Touchdowns, players of the game, fantasy football workload notes and more

Birmingham, AL, USA; Tampa Bay Bandits quarterback Jordan Ta'amu (10) throws against the Houston Gamblers during the first half at Protective Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Through five weeks of action, 15 of 20 USFL games have been decided by one score. Week 5 featured acrobatic one-handed catches and helmet cam hurdles. Friends don’t let friends slander this wonderful league — football in the spring is objectively better than no football in the spring.

What follows is a breakdown of all the Week 5 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, Michigan Panthers 20

Touchdowns

Head coach Jeff Fisher went into his bag of tricks early, as the Panthers scored the game’s first points courtesy of a double-pass touchdown from Joe Walker to Ryan O’Malley. Yes, two forward passes are legal if both are thrown behind the line of scrimmage. THIS LEAGUE. Panthers 7, Bandits 0.

The Bandits wasted no time responding with a trick play score of their own, as Jordan Ta'amu completed a 50-yard touchdown to Derrick Dillon on a lovely flea-flicker. Hopefully, you read my Week 5 preview article that noted Dillon as the projected winner with Week 4 WR1 Derrick Willies sidelined. Panthers 7, Bandits 7.

The Bandits' second scoring drive featured a three-yard score from Juwan Washington, who worked as the offense’s bell-cow back with BJ Emmons sidelined due to injury. Bandits 13, Panthers 10.

The Bandits continued to create big plays in the second half, as Ta'amu hooked up with John Franklin for a 43-yard score halfway through the third quarter to re-seize the lead. It was truly a perfect throw from Ta’amu, who has been playing some of his best ball of the season as of late. Bandits 20, Panthers 13.

The Panthers finally found the end zone again in the fourth quarter after marching 87 yards in 12 plays. Reggie Corbin originally scored from 15 yards out, but that was nullified by a holding penalty, setting the stage for a well-thrown 25-yard touchdown connection between Shea Patterson and La'Michael Pettway. Bandits 20, Panthers 20.

Ta'amu didn't panic, calmly moving the ball 62 yards in just five plays to score the game's final points. Of course, Washington deserves most of the credit for scampering into the end zone from 30 yards out with just 3:41 remaining on the clock. Bandits 27, Panthers 20.

Offensive Player of the Game: Panthers QB Shea Patterson, Bandits QB Jordan Ta'amu

Both Patterson and Ta’amu largely exceeded expectations in this contest. Overall, Patterson threw for 308 yards after failing to reach even 200 yards in a game during the first four weeks of the season. His average of 8.1 yards per attempt was also a single-game high, while the former Wolverines QB1 continued to be quite slippery on the ground with an 8-46-0 rushing performance.

Ta'amu completed 15 of 24 passes (62.5% completion rate) for 207 yards (season-high 8.6 YPA) with the aforementioned two deep touchdowns. He's now gone back-to-back games without a single turnover-worthy play. Here's to hoping this passing game has a second-half surge in it.

Defensive Player of the Game: EDGE Greg Reaves

Reaves racked up a pair of sacks and notched the single-highest overall PFF grade (92.4) of the week from a defensive player. Overall, he recorded seven pressures and also managed to bat down a pass at the line of scrimmage.

Fantasy Football Workload Notes

Bandits: Jordan Ta’amu continues to play every snap, with the Brady White experiment seemingly over. This was also true for Juwan Washington with BJ Emmons sidelined, a possibility that was discussed in my Week 5 preview article. John Franklin was back to WR1 status, but realize this offense has made a habit of basically rotating five to six receivers alongside two tight ends throughout the season. Franklin does continue to boast the most overall upside thanks to his potential to add on a few wildcat snaps during any given week.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB Jordan Ta'amu 100% 0% 26 9 0 0
HB Juwan Washington 100% 81% 0 13 1 14
WR John Franklin III 94% 100% 0 0 9 77
WR Derrick Dillon 63% 69% 0 0 3 37
WR Vinny Papale 46% 42% 0 0 2 11
WR Keith Mumphery 38% 31% 0 1 1 7
WR Rashard Davis 27% 27% 0 0 1 5
TE Cheyenne O'Grady 65% 42% 0 0 2 2
TE De'Quan Hampton 60% 54% 0 0 2 11

Panthers: Shea Patterson continues to work as the undisputed QB1 with Paxton Lynch (ankle) sidelined. Reggie Corbin once again led the backfield in touches, but this is a true three-pronged committee in terms of snaps, and Cameron Scarlett has emerged as the preferred pass-down back. At this point, Lance Lenoir is the only receiver to feel all that comfortable about seeing the field for a majority of the snaps.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB Shea Patterson 100% 0% 44 8 0 0
HB Reggie Corbin 41% 19% 0 12 1 2
HB Cameron Scarlett 39% 40% 0 2 5 34
HB Stevie Scott III 20% 13% 0 5 0 0
WR Lance Lenoir Jr. 90% 94% 0 0 9 50
WR Devin Ross 64% 66% 0 0 6 58
WR Joe Walker 56% 49% 1 0 2 36
WR Ray Bolden 47% 53% 0 0 3 18
TE Connor Davis 51% 38% 0 0 1 5
TE Ryan O'Malley 47% 36% 0 0 4 29
TE La'Michael Pettway 44% 49% 1 0 6 72
Final Thoughts

The Fighting Jeff Fishers’ four losses have come by a combined 17 points. Credit to Shea Patterson for turning in his best performance of the year, but that still wasn’t enough thanks to Jordan Ta’amu and Juwan Washington’s second-half heroics. The Bandits might be getting hot at the right time, while enthusiasm could be running low for the Panthers down the stretch with the playoffs looking like a pipe dream at this point.


New Jersey Generals 27, New Orleans Breakers 17

Touchdowns

De'Andre Johnson led the first touchdown drive of the game, notably hooking up with Darrius Shepherd for a 33-yard gain before finding the end zone himself from two yards out. Generals 7, Breakers 3.

The Generals made it a two-score game midway into the second quarter when Johnson (again) found the end zone himself from two yards out. Credit to Trey Williams for busting a 28-yard run to get New Jersey into scoring position. Generals 14, Breakers 3.

Kyle Sloter and company finally got some serious points themselves after capping off a 13-play, 66-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Adams. Still my pick for the single-best player in the USFL, Adams makes an NFL-caliber play or two per week. Generals 14, Breakers 10.

New Orleans tied things up on the first drive of the second half, as Sloter found Johnnie Dixon in the back of the end zone on third-and-8 from the 10-yard line. Sloter deserves credit for calmly working through his progressions, and Dixon for displaying some toe-tap goodness. Generals 17, Breakers 17.

New Jersey quickly responded with an eight-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that featured seven runs. Darius Victor, the USFL's version of a muscle hamster, scored the game’s final touchdown with a seven-yard plunge. Generals 27, Breakers 17.

Offensive Player of the Game: Generals QB De'Andre Johnson

New Jersey (finally) ended the Luis Perez experiment and featured Johnson for the entire game. He proved to be plenty effective through the air (10.1 yards per attempt, 66.7% completion rate) and on the ground (10-39-2). Through five weeks, Johnson leads the USFL in yards per attempt at 10.3. No other quarterback is above seven.

Defensive Player of the Game: Generals S Shalom Luani

Luani brought in a pair of interceptions on the afternoon, ultimately allowing just two completions on five targets into his coverage.

Fantasy Football Workload Notes

Generals: Johnson’s first full start unsurprisingly produced an overall QB1 performance in fantasy land. His dual-threat upside is unmatched in the USFL. Darius Victor continues to surge ahead of Trey Williams and has dominated goal-line work since the beginning of the season. Still, Williams is the preferred pass-down back and doesn’t figure to be relegated out of the offense anytime soon. Alonzo Moore, Darrius Shepherd and KaVontae Turpin continue to work in three-receiver sets with J’Mon Moore (hamstring) sidelined. Turpin presents the most upside thanks to his additional work in the rushing game. Note that Woody Brandom's every-down role is contingent on tight end Braedon Bowman remaining on the inactive list.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB De'Andre Johnson 100% 0% 25 10 0 0
HB Darius Victor 57% 40% 0 17 1 -5
HB Trey Williams 43% 48% 0 13 3 -8
WR Alonzo Moore 92% 84% 0 0 1 12
WR Darrius Shepherd 83% 96% 0 0 4 35
WR KaVontae Turpin 56% 72% 0 2 6 38
WR Randy Satterfield 10% 8% 0 0 1 14
WR Cam Echols-Luper 5% 4% 0 0 1 4
TE Woody Brandom 100% 80% 0 0 2 65
TE Wes Saxton Jr. 56% 28% 0 0 0 0

Breakers: Kyle Sloter remains the undisputed QB1 in New Orleans, as he’s been all season. Jordan Ellis continues to be featured, with Anthony Jones simply replacing Larry Rose (inactive) as the offense’s clear-cut No. 2 back. Jonathan Adams Jr. continues to work as the No. 1 receiver, although Johnnie Dixon wound up racking up an asinine 199 air yards in this contest. Last week, Dixon, Taiwan Taylor and Shawn Poindexter largely rotated, so don’t assume the latter receiver will be the odd man out again next week. Sal Cannella continues to factor into the passing attack and racked up the second-most air yards of anyone in the offense.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB Kyle Sloter 100% 0% 39 2 0 0
HB Jordan Ellis 75% 72% 0 12 1 -5
HB Anthony Jones 25% 15% 0 8 1 -6
WR Jonathan Adams Jr. 88% 92% 0 1 6 53
WR Johnnie Dixon 82% 85% 0 1 11 199
WR Taywan Taylor 80% 79% 0 0 1 10
WR Shawn Poindexter 48% 44% 0 0 4 42
TE Sal Cannella 95% 97% 0 0 4 57
TE Justin Johnson 7% 3% 0 0 0 0
Final Thoughts

The Generals managed to build a quick early lead, allowing their suffocating run-first offense to grind out the surprisingly easy victory. Credit to the defense for making Kyle Sloter and company look awfully human, but the verdict remains out as to whether New Jersey can hang with a team that puts them in a hole early. The good news is their offense looks as lethal as ever with De’Andre Johnson now under center full time. It’s tough to treat the Generals as anything other than the USFL’s second-best team after five weeks of action.


Birmingham Stallions 30, Philadelphia Stars 17

Touchdowns

The Stars marched 75 yards in just five plays to start the game, finding the end zone courtesy of a two-yard touchdown run from Matt Colburn. This was a bit of a vulture situation; credit to starting running back Paul Terry for ripping off a pretty 43-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and later for catching a 23-yard pass down the sideline. Stars 7, Stallions 0.

The Stallions evened things up at the end of the first quarter with an 11-play, 61-yard touchdown drive. Then, starting quarterback Alex McGough found Marcell Dereus from 17 yards out for the score. Credit to McGough for avoiding a sack, but Dereus was left completely wide open after his defender fell down. Stars 7, Stallions 7.

Philly responded quickly on its next drive, as big gains to Bug Howard (33 yards) and Christian Rowland (15) led to a nine-yard run from Terry for the score. Terry made defenders miss all afternoon. Stars 14, Stallions 7.

The Stallions didn't find the end zone again until they swapped out McGough for J'Mar Smith, who quickly took advantage of the opportunity by driving the offense 75 yards in just seven plays. His 38-yard touchdown to Marlon Williams was a good enough throw, but Williams deserves most of the credit for his impressive after-the-catch ability. Stars 17, Stallions 14.

Birmingham could have had another touchdown before the half, but Osirus Mitchell dropped a potential five-yard score from Smith. Not to be discouraged, Smith and starting running back CJ Marable drove the offense back into the end zone to start the second half. Marable looked awfully shifty on his 29-yard touchdown scamper. Stallions 21, Stars 17.

The game's final touchdown capped off an 18-play, 61-yard drive that featured plenty of new running back Bo Scarbrough between the tackles. Ultimately, Smith took it into the end zone himself from two yards out to clinch the victory. Stallions 30, Stars 17.

Offensive Players of the Game: Stallions QB J'Mar Smith, RB CJ Marable

All Smith did upon replacing McGough was complete 17 of 22 passes (77.3% completion rate) for 203 yards (9.2 YPA) and a score. Perhaps the Stallions felt the need to give McGough, their Week 1 starter, a chance to regain his job upon him getting healthy, but at this point it'd be coaching malpractice if Smith goes back to the bench.

And then there’s Marable, who proved worthy of maintaining his featured back status despite the newfound presence of Birmingham’s hometown hero Scarbrough. Overall, Marable racked up 131 total yards and a score on 25 touches. He remains the most complete running back on this roster.

Defensive Player of the Game: Stallions CB Josh Shaw 

One of two players to receive an overall PFF defensive grade north of 90.0 in Week 5, Shaw allowed just five scoreless yards on two completed passes into his coverage.

Fantasy Football Workload Notes

Stallions: Smith should be the team’s full-time starting quarterback if there really is such thing as a (football) God. Marable also played well enough to keep working well ahead of his teammates; just realize it’s possible Scarbrough is more involved next week after having more time to learn the playbook. Victor Bolden, Osiris Mitchell and Marlon Williams continue to form one of the league’s more clear-cut top-three receiver groups, while Cary Angeline’s near every-down role is contingent on Sage Surratt remaining on the inactive roster.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB J'Mar Smith 71% 0% 25 1 0 0
QB Alex McGough 29% 0% 13 5 0 0
HB CJ Marable 78% 71% 0 23 3 16
HB Bo Scarbrough 22% 13% 0 7 0 0
HB Tony Brooks-James 13% 3% 0 1 0 0
WR Victor Bolden Jr. 87% 97% 0 2 7 61
WR Osirus Mitchell 80% 82% 0 0 7 89
WR Marlon Williams 80% 95% 0 0 8 55
WR Michael Dereus 26% 24% 0 0 3 33
TE Cary Angeline 79% 92% 0 0 2 37
TE Bobby Holly 28% 8% 0 0 0 0

Stars: Case Cookus should continue to take every snap as long as Bryan Scott (knee) is out of the picture. The running back situation is less clear. Matt Colburn has taken more and more snaps from Paul Terry upon returning from injury. Colburn wound up with more total opportunities in Week 5 despite Terry’s early success. Note that normal starter Darnell Holland should see far more action in the future. As such, this has the makings of an annoying three-back committee moving forward. Jordan Suell, Devin Gray, Diondre Overton and Bug Howard continue to work as the passing game’s top-four receivers, although Chris Rowland’s continued excellence out of the slot figures to keep him plenty involved, as well.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB Case Cookus 100% 0% 39 2 0 0
HB Paul Terry 49% 49% 0 2 5 24
HB Matt Colburn II 47% 36% 0 7 1 1
HB Darnell Holland 2% 0% 0 0 0 0
WR Jordan Suell 88% 85% 0 0 8 115
WR Devin Gray 82% 79% 0 0 3 11
WR Diondre Overton 71% 69% 0 0 3 85
WR Chris Rowland 39% 44% 0 0 5 46
WR Maurice Alexander 35% 38% 0 0 1 11
TE Bug Howard 88% 87% 0 0 6 119
Final Thoughts

Birmingham was my No. 8-ranked team before a single snap of USFL football was played primarily due to my lack of trust in Alex McGough. Credit to J’Mar Smith and this ferocious Stallions pass rush for leading the squad to an undefeated record through five weeks of action. Birmingham deserves to be the top-ranked team in any power ranking. While I appreciate the Stars continuing to deploy by far the USFL’s most pass-happy offense, the defense sure looks like the league’s worst overall unit, and it’s tough to see a real ceiling for Philadelphia without Bryan Scott healthy enough to suit up.


Pittsburgh Maulers 21, Houston Gamblers 20

Touchdowns

The Gamblers traveled 72 yards in just four plays on their opening drive, scoring on a 24-yard connection from Clayton Thorson to Isaiah Zuber. I figured Zuber’s early-season touchdown success would slow down given Thorson’s inconsistency, but it turns out the man is simply a baller. Gamblers 7, Maulers 0.

The Gamblers looked to be on the verge of running away with this one after turning their first drive of the second half into seven points. This time, it took them 12 plays to drive 53 yards, with Mark Thompson doing most of the heavy lifting. His helmet cam hurdle was one of the coolest moments of the season. Thorson capped off the drive with a bad-snap-infused and far less cool one-yard run on a play that was designed to go to Thompson. Gamblers 17, Maulers 6.

Just when it looked like the Maulers were ready to roll over and take their fifth loss of the season, backup quarterback Vad Lee found Bailey Gaither from 30 yards out to make it a two-point game. The throw was a bit ill-advised, seeing as how Gaither was double-covered, but big players make big plays in big games. It’s safe to say Gaither is a big-time player (a little bit of foreshadowing going on here, people). Gamblers 17, Maulers 15.

Four seconds remaining. Five-point game. One play. One shot. One opportunity. You get the idea. Anyway, Lee again hooked up with Gaither for the score. Plays like these are why Gaither owns PFF's highest receiving grade after five weeks of action. Maulers 21, Gamblers 20.

Offensive Players of the Game: Maulers WR Bailey Gaither, Gamblers WRs Isaiah Zuber and Teo Redding

Gaither's 8-108-2 performance came on just 10 targets, and he displayed a pristine mix of route-running and contested-catch ability. Meanwhile, Zuber (3-72-1) combined his lovely contested-catch score with some killer after-the-catch ability that should be utilized more frequently down the stretch.

Redding had just one catch, but my goodness, it was amazing.

Defensive Player of the Game: Maulers ED Carlo Kemp

Kemp posted the week's highest PFF pass-rush grade (86.3) on his way to racking up five pressures. His 42.9% win rate is truly asinine.

Fantasy Football Workload Notes

Maulers: Pittsburgh signed Vad Lee on May 10, and he seemingly took Kyle Lauletta’s starting job on May 15. Lee was awfully erratic before leading the Maulers to victory, so don’t be surprised if this offense isn’t done rotating quarterbacks. Garrett Groshek continued to work ahead of Madre London from a snap perspective, but both running backs remain equally involved on the ground. This remains an evenly split two-back committee. The return of Bailey Gaither didn’t exactly prevent Tre Walker from putting up big numbers himself. Still, the primary air yard regression candidate of the week is Delvon Hardaway, who was every bit as involved as Gaither and Walker without the same sort of counting number success.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB Vad Lee 82% 0% 37 5 0 0
QB Kyle Lauletta 18% 0% 10 0 0 0
HB Garrett Groshek 67% 51% 0 7 5 6
HB Madre London 33% 15% 0 11 1 -1
WR Bailey Gaither 98% 100% 0 0 10 139
WR Tre Walker 95% 98% 0 0 12 113
WR Delvon Hardaway 80% 89% 0 0 9 114
TE Artayvious Lynn 62% 49% 0 0 0 0
TE Hunter Thedford 62% 23% 0 0 0 0

Gamblers: Clayton Thorson remains the undisputed QB1 in Houston with Kenji Bahar (hand) sidelined. Mark Thompson continues to work as the engine of this offense, and neither Dalyn Dawkins nor Devwah Whaley work as anything more than a clear backup when active. Both wide receiver JoJo Ward and wide receiver Tyler Simmons were inactive, leading to Isaiah Zuber, Teo Redding and Anthony Ratliff-Williams working in three-receiver sets. Tyler Palka was also heavily involved in an offense that does a good job keeping four wide receivers involved in the passing game.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB Clayton Thorson 100% 0% 28 5 0 0
HB Mark Thompson 75% 61% 0 17 1 -5
HB Dalyn Dawkins 22% 18% 0 7 0 0
WR Isaiah Zuber 93% 96% 0 0 8 138
WR Teo Redding 91% 93% 0 0 2 51
WR Anthony Ratliff-Williams 78% 82% 0 1 4 37
WR Tyler Palka 62% 64% 0 0 4 41
TE Julian Allen 42% 32% 0 0 3 6
TE Brandon Barnes 38% 36% 0 0 2 8
Final Thoughts

The Maulers’ walk-off victory made for some truly entertaining Sunday afternoon television. Arguably the two worst teams in the league still managed to produce a one-point thriller. It’s tough to ask for anything more, but keep in mind that Houston and Pittsburgh still profile as underdogs against just about anybody else in this wonderful league.

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