Houston Roughnecks 2024 UFL Season In Review | JJ Molson

Houston Roughnecks 2024 UFL Season In Review

The Houston Roughnecks transitioned into a completely different organization this offseason, and ultimately, it wasn’t for the better. During the USFL-XFL Merger, the Houston Gamblers of the USFL took on the branding of the Roughnecks from the XFL. However, at its core, this team was comprised of Gamblers players and personnel.

This led to what was a tumultuous season for Houston football fans. The Roughnecks won just one game in 2024, losing their final six outings of the year. Their 1-9 record was the worst across the UFL.

Throughout this season, a lack of stability offensively greatly hurt the potential of this team. Combine that with a boatload of mental mistakes and injuries, and the end result of a 1-9 campaign is understandable. Let’s take a closer look at what went wrong this year for Houston, and where this team can go in the offseason.

Quarterback Carousel

Heading into the season, Coach C.J. Johnson had a decision to make at the quarterback position. Through the merger, they completely revamped the QB room, bringing in three new faces: Jarrett Guarantano, Reid Sinnett, and Nolan Henderson.

Sinnett was the only quarterback who had previously been in spring football (San Antonio, 2023). He was claimed by Houston after the Brahmas released him. Guarantano and Henderson were both offseason additions, out of NFL camps.

The Roughnecks ultimately rolled with Jarrett Guarantano to start the season. He didn’t play horribly, but clearly needed some time to develop. That wouldn’t come to fruition, as he left week two’s matchup against DC with a rib injury – and was placed on injured reserve.

This led to Reid Sinnett taking the reins, and he saw the majority of the snaps for the rest of the season. He threw for 1,136 yards and five touchdowns in 2024, while tossing four interceptions. In week four, it felt like Houston may have found their stride, picking up a home win against Arlington. Reid played well in that outing, and the return of RB Mark Thompson was a spark that was desperately needed.

However, in the following games, this team couldn’t find ways to make the plays necessary to win. Sinnett wasn’t bad by any means, but his average statistics weren’t enough to lift this team over the hump.

In week seven, Guarantano returned off of IR, and was given the start once again. This was the last we’d see of Jarrett, who injured his wrist – and ultimately had to take the rest of the year off. One has to wonder how things would have looked for Houston if Guarantano wasn’t dealing with injuries every time he played.

The last few weeks saw a mix of Reid Sinnett and Nolan Henderson at the helm. Henderson was arguably the most exciting quarterback Houston put in the pocket all year long. His dual threat capabilities brought a new element to OC Eric Price’s offense, and brought life to the organization.

Nolan ended up throwing for 529 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 142 yards and a score. Unfortunately, Nolan wouldn’t secure a win with Houston this year – but, it felt like the Roughnecks may have found their QB of the future with him at the helm.

Mark Thompson’s Injury

Something that greatly impacted the outlook of this season was the injury to RB Mark Thompson in Training Camp. A knee sprain kept him sidelined for the first three games, and when he returned, it was clear that he wasn’t at 100%.

Mark did show flashes of what we saw from him in the USFL when he won Offensive Player of the Year, but it wasn’t the same. It seemed like Coach Johnson didn’t want to utilize him as often as he did a year ago, partially because Thompson wasn’t fully healthy.

Thompson finished the UFL season with 225 rushing yards and five touchdowns, averaging 3.4 YPC. Hopefully, Houston can get him back next year, with a knee that is 100% healthy.

The Roughnecks dealt with injuries all year long. Star RB/WR Kirk Merritt went down in week two, and wasn’t able to return until the final week. Coach Johnson spoke throughout the year on how important he was to the offense, and how losing him took away play calls they wanted to run with Kirk.

They also lost DT Olive Sagapolu a few weeks into the year, along with DT Toby Johnson. TE Woody Brandom and LB Gabriel Sewell were also casualties midseason.

Undisciplined Mistakes = Losses

Throughout the year, the Houston Roughnecks had countless mental errors and mistakes that are inexcusable in professional football. There are plenty of examples we could look at as to why they finished with a 1-9 record, but a few things in particular stick out.

For example, across the first three weeks of action, the Roughnecks allowed three of their own punts to be blocked. Every week there was a missed assignment that resulted in a block. It’s these little mistakes that tend to add up, and in turn, can cause the issues to snowball. Houston already wasn’t playing quite well on either side of the football, and this didn’t help matters much.

Week seven was a clear illustration of the struggles Houston had in trying to close out a football game. Up 12-3 over San Antonio, with firm control in the fourth quarter, the Roughnecks managed to let it slip away. San Antonio scored a touchdown, and converted on the three point try to tie it up.

On the ensuing kick return, Reggie Roberson Jr. fumbled the football, giving the Brahmas fantastic field position with little time left. With their backs up against a wall, a Roughnecks defense that played tremendous football in that game couldn’t get a final stop, and Ryan Santoso walked it off for San Antonio.

This all goes back to Houston’s inability to score points efficiently. The Roughnecks kicked four field goals in this game. They finished with the worst offense in the UFL, averaging just 15.8 points per game. Their 255 yards per game was 7th in the league.

Week eight also featured some similar issues. Towards the end of the first half, Birmingham was punting the ball away, but Christian Sam jumped offsides. This resulted in the Stallions earning a first down, and they scored a touchdown on this drive. Birmingham would eventually win this game by seven points.

Positives From 2024

For a 1-9 team, it’s tough to find the silver lining. That said, there were a few things this team did well. Firstly, Nolan Henderson, as previously mentioned, seems like a potential candidate to lead this team to success in 2025.

Defensively, the Roughnecks had a lot of talent. Even with all of the injuries, Chris Wilson’s unit found a way to keep this team within arm’s reach week in and week out. Gems such as Markel Roby, Kiondre Thomas, Chris Odom, and others proved to be some of the best defenders in the UFL.

Special Teams didn’t play much of a factor this year with the issues offensively, but Kicker JJ Molson showed he has a big leg. He made 15 of his 18 field goal attempts, with a long of 62 yards. Punter Hunter Niswander finished with excellent statistics, even with three blocked punts (which were not his fault).

Throughout the season, we saw flashes of the potential that this team had. Their wide receiver core was one of the fastest in the league, but didn’t get as involved as they should have. For example, WR Justin Hall was utilized inconsistently, which made little sense. He should’ve been a staple in their offense from the get go.

After their week ten loss to Memphis, C.J. Johnson gave his thoughts on the season as a whole, noting the struggles this team faced:

“It was disappointing…this was a season full of winters. Nothing moved, everything was pretty much stagnant. One thing I told the team is that we improved in increments. I think we found a quarterback [Nolan], we got some guys that made some plays. [Justin] Hall always comes to play. Kirk Merritt, we saw what we can do. Defensively, we just don’t have the stamina. So, some of the things were good, but too many mistakes and too many miscues.”

It feels pretty clear that Houston will have to move in a vastly different direction this offseason. There were a few positives, but they were greatly outweighed by the negatives in 2024.

Standout Talent

WR Justin Hall: Justin Hall was an absolute star once again. He was spectacular with the Gamblers a season ago, and continued that strong campaign in the UFL with 603 receiving yards (3rd) and three touchdowns. Even with the less than ideal usage rates in certain games, Hall had some big performances and really kept this offense somewhat relevant.

WR Keke Chism: Keke Chism made some of the most impressive catches of the year by any UFL receiver. His big-bodied frame allowed for any of Houston’s quarterbacks to throw it his way, and he’d find a way to come down with it. Chism posted 353 receiving yards and a touchdown this season.

S Markel Roby: Roby emerged as one of the top defenders in the UFL this year, flying around to the football. Markel led the Roughnecks with 58 tackles, while totaling three interceptions, a sack, and several PBU’s. He’s a candidate who should receive some NFL interest.

LB J.T. Tyler: With all of the injuries defensively, J.T. Tyler stepped up and made some serious plays for Houston. He finished the season with 52 tackles, a TFL, and two PBU’s. Throughout the year, Tyler proved to be a leader in the middle of that defense, with Gabriel Sewell and Reuben Foster both missing time.

DE Chris Odom: The former USFL Defensive Player of the Year made his grand return to spring football in 2024. Odom had excellent numbers, posting 32 tackles, eight TFL’s (4th), and five sacks. He was named to the All-UFL Defense this year as well.

DE Ronheen Bingham: Bingham had another solid year, leading the Roughnecks with 29 quarterback pressures. He consistently made an impact coming off the edge, with 23 tackles, four TFL’s, and 1.5 sacks.

Final Thoughts

With 2024 now in the rearview mirror, General Manager Lionel Vital and HC C.J. Johnson will have plenty of decisions to make this offseason. They have some talented pieces, but it feels like the organization as a whole needs a facelift in order to turn things around in 2025. Additionally, the coaching staff was also a let down across the board; at least for the most part.

The potential is there with Nolan Henderson. What they need is more consistent offensive line play. Their group allowed 26 sacks this year, which was 7th worst in the UFL. Defensively, there was a lot of talent – but, injuries and a lack of closers hurt the overall impact that group had on the team’s record.

The fans got the short end of the stick throughout this merger. They were forced to give up a 7-3 team led by Wade Phillips, and in return were rewarded with a 1-9 Roughnecks group that was inept for large chunks of the year. As Coach Johnson put it: the mistakes and miscues were present far too often, and they ended up defining the 2024 season for the Houston Roughnecks.

What are your thoughts on this Houston Roughnecks 2024 season in the UFL? Which players do they need to move on from? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!