aaf News & Analysis

USFL Week 9: Touchdowns, players of the game, fantasy football workload notes and more

Birmingham, AL, USA; Michigan Panthers wide receiver Joe Walker (8) runs the ball against the Pittsburgh Maulers during the first half at Protective Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The USFL is still alive and kicking. Week 9 featured four more games full of lead changes, big hits and live football. What more can a person ask for in June?

The big hits part really can’t be overstated enough, as teeth were knocked out this weekend.

What follows is a breakdown of all the Week 9 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 reviews and preview episodes of this wonderful league.

New Jersey Generals 25, Michigan Panthers 23

Touchdowns
  • Generals WR KaVontae Turpin continued to prove why he’s the USFL’s single-best playmaker in Week 9, scoring the modern league’s first-ever punt return touchdown. Listed at just 5-foot-9 and 155-pounds, Turpin’s best chance of getting a shot in the NFL would seemingly be as a returner. Generals 10, Panthers 0.
  • Josh Love continued to mostly impress with his opportunities, leading the Panthers 68 yards in 12 plays for their first touchdown of the game. Most of the credit goes to Joe Walker for his 29-yard reception and ensuing two-yard score. This won’t be the last time you hear about Walker. Generals 10, Panthers 6.
  • New Jersey needed just four plays to travel 75 yards on the very next drive thanks, in large part, to De’Andre Johnson hooking up with Darrius Shepherd for a 35-yard gain. WR Cam Echols-Luper would cap off the drive with a 24-yard touchdown rush, as the Generals deployed some tricky ball handling to set up the reverse. The bowling celebration afterward was truly awesome. Generals 16, Panthers 6.
  • This second quarter was seriously wild, as Michigan scored again on their next drive, traveling 90 yards in just four plays. Love and Walker hooked up for a huge 60-yard play to quickly swing the field before Isaiah Hyman showed off some nifty YAC on his way to the end zone from 25 yards out. Generals 16, Panthers 14.
  • The Panthers managed to take the lead at the end of the third quarter after Walker found the end zone againthis time from 22 yards out courtesy of a nice throw from backup QB Eric Barriere. Credit to Walker for creating so much separation with some silky-smooth route-running. Panthers 20, Generals 19.
  • The Generals retook the lead for good on a six-play, 54-yard drive culminating with a 17-yard touchdown from Luis Perez to Shepherd, who managed to play through a nagging hamstring injury. A close call, but a win is a win. Generals 25, Panthers 23 (FINAL).
Offensive players of the game: Generals WR Darrius Shepherd, Panthers WR Joe Walker

Shepherd (90.7) and Walker (83.2) earned PFF’s top-two highest grades of the week among all offensive players. Shepherd (8-99-1) deserves credit for returning from a hamstring injury in style while Walker (8-139-2) was largely unguardable all game and put some truly solid route-running ability on tape with a pair of big plays on post routes.

Defensive players of the game: Panthers DT Walter Palmore

Palmore earned PFF’s highest defensive grade of the week (92.0). This was primarily due to his excellence against the run, as the Panthers did a great job limiting Darius Victor (7-19-0) and De’Andre Johnson (5-4-0) to forgettable days at the office on the ground.

Fantasy football workload notes

Generals: De’Andre Johnson started but didn’t look as explosive as usual on the ground, as he split plenty of reps with Luis Perez. Barring a full return to health from Johnson, New Jersey’s best chance at putting up consistent points might be with Perez under center full time.

Trey Williams and Darius Victor continued to largely split their usage down the middle in terms of snaps, although the latter back remains the more fantasy-friendly option thanks to his increased goal-line usage and added routes in the passing game.

Darrius Shepherd predictably took over for J’Mon Moore, who was on the inactive list. He was joined by Alonzo Moore in two-WR sets, but unfortunately, the Generals did a worse job than usual of getting KaVontae Turpin touches. New Jersey continued to rotate multiple tight ends.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB De'Andre Johnson 55% 0% 11 5 0 0
QB Luis Perez 45% 0% 16 0 0 0
HB Trey Williams 53% 37% 0 11 1 2
HB Darius Victor 47% 63% 0 7 2 -5
WR Darrius Shepherd 90% 100% 0 0 11 131
WR Alonzo Moore 88% 96% 0 0 2 70
WR KaVontae Turpin 49% 44% 0 1 3 21
WR Cam Echols-Luper 12% 15% 0 1 0 0
WR Randy Satterfield 4% 0% 0 0 0 0
TE Braedon Bowman 75% 74% 0 0 3 51
TE Woody Brandom 71% 48% 0 0 1 -1
TE Wes Saxton Jr. 12% 11% 0 0 0 0

Panthers: Paxton Lynch was inactive, leading to Josh Love starting another game. He was, once again, more impressive than the box score indicated, but unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury and wouldn’t return. This led to Eric Barriere playing his first meaningful snaps of the year. Don’t be surprised if Lynch is leaned on in Week 10 if Love is ultimately unable to return.

Stevie Scott and Cameron Scarlett basically split snaps, but Scott dominated the carries (13 vs. 1) while Scarlett handled most of the pass-down work (4 targets vs. 1). This came with the team’s best running back Reggie Corbin sidelined with an arm injury. Note that Corbin was listed as questionable coming into the game, meaning he might have a shot to return in Week 10.

Joe Walker and Lance Lenoir worked as the offense’s clearcut top-two options while the team’s tight end usage has gotten so absurd that they are now overtaking the team’s running backs in addition to the wide receivers. While La’Michael Pettway is the group's primary passing-game option, his narrow route rate win ahead of Marcus Baugh isn’t great if you're expecting a boom in Week 10.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB Eric Barriere 52% 0% 26 2 0 0
QB Josh Love 48% 0% 23 1 0 0
HB Stevie Scott III 47% 31% 0 13 1 -4
HB Cameron Scarlett 38% 45% 0 1 4 -5
WR Joe Walker 89% 96% 0 0 10 161
WR Lance Lenoir Jr. 86% 90% 0 0 10 60
WR Ishmael Hyman 50% 61% 0 0 6 36
WR Devin Ross 38% 37% 0 0 3 23
TE La'Michael Pettway 61% 61% 0 0 8 101
TE Marcus Baugh 61% 51% 0 0 3 18
TE Connor Davis 22% 20% 0 0 0 0
TE Ryan O'Malley 9% 4% 0 0 0 0
Final thoughts

The Fighting Jeff Fishers have been far more competitive than their 1-8 record indicates, but as Bill Parcells once said: “You are what your record says you are.” Credit to the Generals on their eighth-straight victory, and they’re my current pick to take home the inaugural USFL championship.


Houston Gamblers 17, Birmingham Stallions 15

Touchdowns
  • It took until the end of the third quarter for a touchdown to be scored, as Birmingham decided to break the ice with a 33-yard touchdown from J'Mar Smith to Adrian Hardy that was nearly intercepted. Hey, points are points. Stallions 12, Gamblers 11.
  • The Gamblers quickly answered thanks to QB Kenji Bahar, who wound up completing a 23-yard touchdown to Isaiah Zuber. Credit Kevin Sumlin for the excellent play-call that sprung Zuber wide open down the middle of the field. Gamblers 17, Stallions 15 (FINAL).
Offensive players of the game: Gamblers QB Kenji Bahar

Bahar utilized a nifty spin more on several occasions to help keep plays alive and eventually extend the drive. While his 164 passing yards and one score won’t take anyone's breath away, he did have to deal with two drops, and his 6-34-0 rushing line also helped.

Defensive players of the game: Gamblers CB Micah Abernathy, Gamblers EDGE Chris Odom, Stallions EDGE Dondrea Tillman

Abernathy recorded nine tackles, two pass deflections and a game-sealing interception off J’Mar Smith. Odom (seven pressures) and Tillman (six) led their respective squads in pressures.

Fantasy football workload notes

Gamblers: Kenji Bahar continues to take each and every snap with Clayton Thorson (elbow) sidelined. He showed off his legs more this week, demonstrating a potential fantasy-friendly rushing floor that could be utilized in Week 10.

Devwah Whaley surprisingly started over Mark Thompson, so it’s fair to wonder if Thompson is still operating at less than 100% after being listed as probable with a shoulder issue. RB Dalyn Dawkins' (leg) absence could produce another featured role for Whaley in Week 10, although Benny LeMay’s usage could also increase with another week of practice under his belt.

Isaiah Zuber, Teo Redding, Anthony Ratliff-Williams and Tyler Palka were the main wide receivers in this four-WR heavy offense. Still, JoJo Ward could have earned himself some extra offensive snaps thanks to his repeated big plays as a kick returner. Tight ends remain an afterthought in this offense.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB Kenji Bahar 100% 0% 29 6 0 0
HB Devwah Whaley 64% 41% 0 11 2 -3
HB Mark Thompson 22% 14% 0 5 1 4
HB Benny LeMay 12% 3% 0 2 0 0
WR Isaiah Zuber 96% 100% 0 0 4 22
WR Teo Redding 84% 79% 0 0 1 4
WR Anthony Ratliff-Williams 66% 76% 0 0 3 -4
WR Tyler Palka 52% 69% 0 0 8 54
WR JoJo Ward 20% 24% 0 0 0 0
TE Brandon Barnes 44% 21% 0 0 0 0
TE Julian Allen 40% 28% 0 0 2 19

Stallions: J’Mar Smith took each and every snap with QB Alex McGough (ankle) sidelined. Smith’s play had been inconsistent enough recently to warrant another audition for McGough, which is not the sort of situation that a team wants to be dealing with entering the playoffs.

CJ Marable worked well ahead of Bo Scarbrough from both a snap and route perspective, but ultimately, they both finished with 12 combined carries and targets — at least Tony Brooks-James is basically out of the picture at this point.

Victor Bolden returned from his hamstring injury and joined Marlon Williams as the offense’s top-two receivers. Osirus Mitchell filled out three-WR sets, although it’d make sense if Adrian Hardy gets more repetitions in Week 10 with touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. Note that Sage Surratt is one of the league’s few tight ends who has the sort of receiving ability/every-down role to warrant fantasy consideration.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB J'mar Smith 100% 0% 44 4 0 0
HB CJ Marable 60% 57% 0 9 3 8
HB Bo Scarbrough 40% 16% 0 11 1 3
HB Tony Brooks-James 3% 2% 0 0 1 0
WR Victor Bolden Jr. 94% 95% 0 0 10 107
WR Marlon Williams 88% 95% 0 0 12 113
WR Osirus Mitchell 70% 77% 0 0 4 71
WR Adrian Hardy 25% 20% 0 0 2 20
WR Michael Dereus 12% 11% 0 0 0 0
TE Sage Surratt 78% 93% 0 0 6 51
TE Bobby Holly 27% 7% 0 0 1 1
Final thoughts

Credit to the Stallions for going eight straight weeks without a single loss, but the 2020 XFL Houston Roughnecks can finally pop those champagne bottles. J’Mar Smith and this struggling offense have been playing with fire for a while, and they’ll need to improve in a hurry to bring home championship gold. Credit to Kenji Bahar for making a good bit out of largely nothing throughout the game.


New Orleans Breakers 17, Tampa Bay Bandits 6

Touchdowns
Offensive players of the game: Bandits WR Rashard Davis, Breakers TE Sal Cannella

Davis hauled in a (lovely) 31-yard touchdown from Ta’amu and finished with a stellar 6-112-1 performance. The performance would have been perfect if not for an ill-advised lost fumble. Meanwhile, Cannella caught three of four targets for 34 yards with a touchdown and two-point conversion. Cannella remains one of the league’s few tight ends who have a big enough receiving role to work as a viable fantasy asset.

Defensive players of the game: LB Jerod Fernandez

Fernandez racked up eight tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. He finished the week with PFF’s second-highest grade, especially against the run (90.9), among all linebackers

Fantasy football workload notes

Breakers: It sure looked like Kyle Sloter was on the verge of being completely benched for Zach Smith, but we’ll never know because Smith went on to suffer a left shoulder injury and failed to return. While Sloter’s lone interception wasn’t his fault, it’s been a while since he’s gotten the most out of this passing game.

Jordan Ellis and Anthony Jones continue to essentially split snaps and touches, but it was actually surprising that Jones wasn’t used more after some of his early success on the ground. Expect this committee to continue to swing back and forth on a weekly basis.

Lee Morris was transferred to the active roster in Taywan Taylor's place on game day, and he wound up playing more snaps than everyone other than Jonathan Adams, who continues to work as the de facto No. 1 wide receiver on an every-week basis. Johnnie Dixon, Shawn Poindexter and Sal Cannella also continued to play hefty roles, albeit not large enough to warrant serious exposure moving forward as long as this passing game continues to struggle.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB Kyle Sloter 70% 0% 17 3 0 0
QB Zach Smith 30% 0% 10 4 0 0
HB Jordan Ellis 52% 33% 0 14 3 -14
HB Anthony Jones 48% 59% 0 11 0 0
HB Ezra Gray 23% 15% 0 1 1 5
WR Jonathan Adams Jr. 79% 78% 0 0 4 34
WR Lee Morris 68% 59% 0 0 0 0
WR Johnnie Dixon 57% 78% 0 0 6 49
WR Shawn Poindexter 50% 63% 0 0 1 5
TE Sal Cannella 70% 67% 0 0 4 30
TE Justin Johnson 54% 41% 0 0 0 0

Bandits: Jordan Ta’amu continues to take each and every snap. His 9-86-0 rushing line demonstrated the sort of fantasy-friendly upside he continues to bring to the table each and every week.

BJ Emmons and Juwan Washington continue to split the backfield’s snaps and routes fairly equally, but Todd Haley seemed especially insistent on getting Emmons the ball. It’s tough to figure out why, as his 13 carries went for a total of -1 yards,while the five targets produced a measly five receiving yards.

The offense continued to feature six different wide receivers in addition to two competent pass-catching tight ends. Credit to Vinny Papale, Rashard Davis and Cheyenne O’Grady for particularly standing out, but it'll be tough for them to repeat their respective feats as long as each runs a route on sub-70% of their offense’s dropbacks.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB Jordan Ta'amu 100% 0% 48 9 0 0
HB BJ Emmons 57% 31% 0 13 5 -6
HB Juwan Washington 43% 38% 0 2 3 0
WR Derrick Dillon 85% 83% 0 0 5 52
WR Derrick Willies 65% 69% 0 0 2 27
WR Vinny Papale 54% 54% 0 1 4 64
WR Rashard Davis 50% 54% 0 0 6 71
WR John Franklin III 35% 31% 0 1 2 49
WR Dee Anderson 4% 6% 0 0 1 19
TE Cheyenne O'Grady 72% 65% 0 0 5 26
TE De'Quan Hampton 34% 31% 0 0 4 42
Final thoughts

The Breakers outscored the Bandits 51 to nine in their two wins this season despite only winning the yardage battle 589 to 546. Madness. The good news is that Sloter and company are going to the playoffs. The bad news is the the offense looks worse than it has all season lately, and there’s only one week left to fix it.

Philadelphia Stars 17, Pittsburgh Maulers 16

Touchdowns
  • The Maulers extended a drive with a fake punt conversion before utilizing another trick play to score a touchdown, as K Ramiz Ahmed threw a 14-yard touchdown to LB Malcolm Howard. I don’t normally compliment kickers, but it was awesome. Maulers 10, Stars 3.
  • Backup Stars QB KJ Costello got Philly into the end zone toward the end of the third quarter, most notably hooking up with Maurice Alexander for a 32-yard gain. Paul Terry capped off the drive with a one-yard score. Stars 10, Maulers 10.
  • The Maulers responded in a hurry, driving 52 yards in eight plays to re-take the lead. Vad Lee finished the drive with a 28-yard scoring strike to Tre Walker. Credit to Walker for going up and getting the underthrown pass, as this was a great highlight to complement his typical YAC goodness. Maulers 16, Stars 10.
  • The Stars needed just one play to take the lead for good, as Matt Colburn took a carry off the left side all the way to the end zone from 51 yards out. The man is truly electric in the open field. A missed 49-yard Maulers field goal settled things for good. Stars 17, Maulers 16 (FINAL).
Offensive players of the game: Stars RB Matt Colburn

The USFL’s closest thing to Austin Ekeler continued to dominate in style, posting a 12-97-1 rushing line that featured a week-high six forced missed tackles. His game-winning 51-yard touchdown run was truly a thing of beauty.

Defensive players of the game: LB Kyahva Tezino, Stars EDGE Adam Rodriguez, Stars LB James Crawford

Tezino racked up two sacks and three pressures, generally making his presence felt all over the field. Both Rodriguez (91.2) and Crawford (90.4) recorded the highest overall PFF grade at their position for the week. Nobody recorded more pressures than Rodriguez (eight) on the week.

Fantasy football workload notes

Stars: Case Cookus got banged up in the first half and proceeded to give way for K.J. Costello, who completed a beautiful strike to Maurice Alexander for one touchdown and showed actual potential to move the offense throughout his audition. It’s unclear just how banged up Cookus is, but expect him to take each and every snap in meaningful playoff games if Bryan Scott (ankle) remains sidelined.

Matt Colburn continues to dominate usage and has, arguably, been the USFL’s best running back over the past month of action. The heartbeat of this offense without a consistent presence under center, Colburn figures to be leaned on more than ever once the playoffs get going.

Jordan Suell, Maurice Alexander and Devin Gray continue to work as the offense’s big-three wide receivers while Bug Howard’s role has fallen off in recent weeks despite several impressive catches in this one. Note that WR Diondre Overton (leg) was inactive.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB K.J. Costello 57% 0% 12 3 0 0
QB Case Cookus 43% 0% 15 0 0 0
HB Matt Colburn II 72% 59% 0 12 4 40
HB Paul Terry 21% 22% 0 4 0 0
WR Jordan Suell 89% 85% 0 0 5 85
WR Maurice Alexander 85% 81% 0 1 3 49
WR Devin Gray 72% 85% 0 0 3 42
WR Chris Rowland 57% 52% 0 0 1 2
WR Kahlil Lewis 9% 15% 0 0 0 0
WR Brennan Eagles 9% 11% 0 0 0 0
TE Bug Howard 62% 63% 0 0 3 34
TE Pro Wells 23% 15% 0 0 1 29

Maulers: Vad Lee took all but three dropbacks in this one, continuing to show off questionable ball placement, albeit there also wasn’t a constant dosage of wide-open receivers in an offense that continues to insist on featuring plenty of heavy sets. Attempting to guess what head coach Kirby Wilson will do next at quarterback is pretty much impossible.

Madre London and Garrett Groshek were suddenly joined by James Gilbert, who was transferred to the active roster on Saturday. They basically split reps of all shapes and sizes right down the middle, so expect this three-back committee to stick in Week 10.

Delvon Hardaway, Jalen McCleskey and Isiah Hennie once again worked ahead of Tre Walker, who is seemingly being punished for getting suspended back in Week 7 due to fighting. Honestly, it’s tough to tell why Kirby Wilson does just about anything in regards to player personnel. For all we know, maybe Walker ate a bag of pretzels when the team snack was supposed to be potato chips. WR Bailey Gaither, one of the USFL’s more impressive wide receivers during the first half of the season, was a healthy scratch. Sheesh.

Shoutout to Hennie for literally getting his teeth knocked out but continuing to play. That’s a football player right there.

POS Name Snap % Route % Dropbacks Carries Targets Air Yards
QB Vad Lee 91% 0% 31 4 0 0
QB Roland Rivers 9% 0% 3 0 0 0
HB Madre London 38% 35% 0 9 1 3
HB James Gilbert 34% 21% 0 8 2 -4
HB Garrett Groshek 30% 24% 0 11 0 0
WR Delvon Hardaway 89% 91% 0 0 2 19
WR Jalen McCleskey 70% 74% 0 0 5 54
WR Isiah Hennie 58% 65% 0 0 5 52
WR Tre Walker 39% 38% 0 0 4 69
TE Matt Seybert 64% 41% 0 0 1 16
TE Artayvious Lynn 64% 41% 0 0 3 6
TE Hunter Thedford 14% 15% 0 0 3 24
Final thoughts

Joel Klatt picked the Stars to win the championship, although that was before the Case Cookus injury. Either way, they have won four straight games and look a lot like the USFL’s best offense when everything is cooking. Getting either Cookus or Bryan Scott (ankle) back for the playoffs will make them a tough out against just about anyone.

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