Houston Aims for Second Win as Gamblers Battle Bandits

Pre-Draft Roster Preview: Houston Gamblers

Fans of the Houston Gamblers had a rough 2022.

Houston finished last in the south with a record of 3-7 and 5 of the 7 losses were by a margin of one score. Things didn’t get better over the offseason either. They were one of the teams that lost their Defensive Coordinator as Tim Lewis took a DC job with the Arlington Renegades in the XFL.

They also lost 16 defensive players and 9 of them were starters and when things couldn’t get worse, their head coach Kevin Sumlin is leaving for the Co-OC job at Maryland. Only hours before this article was posted the Gamblers replaced Sumlin with former Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson. This all means the Gamblers have a lot of work to do this offseason and their biggest asset they can use to do that work is the 3rd overall pick in the 2023 Rookie Draft. Let’s see where GM Robert Morris and the rest of the Gamblers crew stand going into the draft.

The Gamblers have 56 rostered as of 2/14/23.

Quarterback

Returning: Kenji Bahar, Monmouth; Terry Wilson, New Mexico

Additions: Montell Cozart, Boise State

Losses: Clayton Thorson, Northwestern

In 2022, the Gamblers went all in on their first-round pick Clayton Thorson. That gamble didn’t seem to pay off as Thorson went 85-149 for 987 yard and a TD to INT ratio of 10-7 and gamblers would only win one game in the seven he started. Things would only get worse for Thorson as he would suffer an elbow injury that would put him out for the final three weeks and is reportedly so bad that he wouldn’t be ready for camp. So, with Thorson out of the picture, The QB with the most obvious track to starting is the one who made those final three starts, Kenji Bahar. Bahar wasn’t spectacular in those three games, but it was enough to go 2-1 including the only win against the Stallions all season. The other two QBs currently rostered are Terry Wilson and Montell Cozart who both spent last year in the USFL (Cozart was traded from Birmingham) but neither would see any playing time. Overall, I would love for them to add another QB to compete for the starting job but if they don’t it mostly likely is Bahar’s job.

Skill Positions

Returning:

RB Mark Thompson, Florida; Devwah Whaley, Arkansas; Benny LeMay, Charlotte

WR Anthony Ratliff-Williams, North Carolina; Tyler Palka, Gannon; Teo Redding, Bowling Green; JoJo Ward, Hawaii

TE Brandon Barnes, Alabama State; Julian Allen, Southern Miss; Josh Pederson, Louisiana-Monroe; Clint Sligg Jr., Lindenwood

Additions:

RB TJ Pledger, Utah

WR Joshua Moore, Texas; Deontez Alexander, Franklin; Keke Chism, Missouri; Justin Hall, Ball State

Losses:

RB Dalyn Dawkins, Colorado State

WR Isaiah Zuber, Kansas State; Tyler Simmons, Georgia

In 2022, the Gamblers struggled on the offensive side of the ball. They were dead last in Passing and rushing yards, worse than both teams picking before them. They are also going to have issues because one of the few bright spots in their weapons was Isaiah Zuber who signed a futures deal with the Raiders. They are retaining RB Mark Thompson who got to a hot start before getting hurt and cooling off by the end of the season, he figures to be the core of the offense especially with them leaning into mobile Quarterbacks. The additions haven’t been too notable although Joshua Moore was supposed to play at SMU this year but opted to sign into the USFL instead which is interesting for the possibilities for player acquisition for spring league. Overall, the weapons are either going to need one of the new additions to step up in a big way or the Gamblers should look early and often to add to these rooms to get it out of the basement.

Offensive Line

Returning:

T Avery Gennesy, Texas A&M; Brandon Hitner, Villanova

G Tyler Higby, Michigan State; Terrone Prescod, NC State

C Kristjan Sokoli, Buffalo; Nick Buchanan, Florida

Additions:

T Bamidele Olaseni, Utah; Na’Ty Rodgers, Houston; Taylor Tappin, Sacramento State

C Braylon Jones, Houston

Losses:

T John Yarbrough, Richmond

G Erick Browne, Merrimack; Braxton Webb, Angelo State

Even though the offense struggled as a whole in 2022, they do have the benefit of being one of the only teams that had almost all their starters come back on the Offensive Line. The only starter they lost was Tackle John Yarbrough who will be playing for the other Houston team, the Roughnecks. They also had one of my favorite signings of this offseason in Bamidele Olaseni. Olaseni was a tackle who went undrafted in 2022. He’s a project as he’s relatively new at football coming to America from England but he’s got all of the tools. He stands at 6’8 330 and if he’s able to put it all together he could very easily be a one and done in this league and head straight back to the NFL. Overall, you can never have enough offensive Lineman but it’s far from their biggest need.

Defensive Line

Returning:

DL Cory Thomas, Mississippi State; Ikenna Onwuasoanya, CSU-Pueblo

EDGE Andrew Ankrah, James Madison; Isaiah Chambers, McNeese State

Additions:

DL Dion Novil, North Texas; Chigozie Nnoruka, Miami

EDGE Reggie Walker, Kansas State; Eli Howard, Texas Tech

Losses:

DL Dominique Davis, North Carolina Pembroke; Tomasi Laulile, BYU; Joey Ivie, Florida

EDGE Chris Odom, Arkansas State; Ahmad Gooden, Samford

The heart and soul of this team in 2022 was Defensive Player of the Year Chris Odom. Odom terrorized Quarterback but with him signing with the Browns the terror is in who they are going to replace his production. He’s not the only loss as the other three staters are gone as well, defensive tackle Dominique Davis signed a futures contract with the Bengals, DT Tomasi Laulile is yet another player going to play for the Arlington Renegades, and the other edge rusher Ahmad Gooden is swapping team to the Breakers to stay closer to home. Houston has signed a hand full of players but none of them have significant time in the NFL. This is definitely a place that where the Gamblers could use a high pick in if the right player fell to them.

Linebacker

Returning:

Additions: Ronheem Bingham, Arkansas State; Brandon Payer, CSU-Pueblo; Jordan Young, Old Dominion; Khalan Tolson, Illinois

Losses: Donald Payne, Stetson; Reggie Northrup, Florida State; Tegray Scales, Indiana; Drequan Lewis, Central Oklahoma; Drew Lewis, Colorado; Beniquez Brown, Mississippi State

Another group that this offseason didn’t treat well. The Gamblers lost 4 linebackers to the XFL including All-USFL LB Donald Payne. They have none of their linebackers from 2022 returning as the rest were cut or opted out. None of the signings to replenish this group have any NFL experience and Jordan Young is the only one to even get a UDFA contract. I believe they should add at least one or two more Linebackers to this room before camp.

Secondary

Returning:

CB Bydarrius Knighten, Auburn

S Jeremiah Johnson, Concord; Andrew Soroh, Miami; Manny Bunch, Tulsa

Additions:

CB Brandon Brooks, Regina; Nick Grant, Virginia; Nazir Streater, Indiana (PA); Malcolm Washington, Northern Iowa; Donald Rutledge Jr., Georgia Southern

S Stefan Claiborne, Western Michigan; Dayan Lake, BYU; Trey Hoskins, Weber State

Losses:

CB Will Likely, Maryland; Jamar Summers, UConn; Jerry Cantave, William Jewel

S Micah Abernathy, Tennessee; Alijah Holder, Stanford

This secondary was a big reason for the Gamblers league leading 13 INTs during the 2022 season. Once again Houston is going to have to start over in 2023. Losing Micah Abernathy to the Falcons and then All-USFL CB Will Likely to the XFL is going to be tough to recover from, and on top of that the other starting Corner Jamar Summers opted out of year 2. Two of their signing have limited NFL experience in Donald Rutledge Jr. and Dayan Lake but it remains to be seen if they can put together a secondary that can lead them to the places they want to go. Overall, I think they need at least another player or two in this area before the season.

Final Thoughts

I’m going to be honest; this is the team that seems the farthest away from winning in 2023. They have a lot of turnover in their coaching staff and they were a team that relied on a solid defense, but they lost almost all of the key contributors on that side of the ball. Maybe some of these under the radar signings step up to help this team compete but they could use upgrades at quarterback, receiver, defensive line, linebacker, and secondary to make me feel better about how this team will look in a few months.

What are your thoughts on the Houston Gamblers going into the 2023 USFL Draft? Let us know down in the comments below or join the conversation on Discord.

Fubo