This week is the official start to the preseason and since I plan to put out weekly articles on how USFL and XFL players are doing around the league, it felt right to start off by giving my take on who on paper is in a great position to make a 53-man roster by the end of August. As of 8/8/2023, there are 21 USFL players from 2023 rostered and another 14 from 2022 are still kicking it around the league (15 if you include WR Darrius Shepherd who played in the XFL this year).
This list will rank my 5 favorite opportunities, but I will exclude any players that are essentially locks which obviously excludes WR Kavontae Turpin, but also eliminates LS Mitchell Fraboni who is the only long snapper Denver has at the moment.
Also be sure to check out my XFL version of this article on XFL Newsroom.
5. TE Jace Sternberger, Buffalo Bills
Sternberger’s NFL career took a while to get off the ground. The Texas A&M product was a third-round pick for the Green Bay Packers but would only last 3 seasons there before bouncing around the league with stops in Seattle, Washington, and Pittsburgh. After failing to make the Steelers roster in 2022, Sternberger signed to the Birmingham Stallions and put up a great stat line with 50 catches for 517 yards and 7 TDs during the regular season and 1 USFL championship to top it all off.
After that performance, Sternberger would sign a contract with the Buffalo Bills where he is today. The opportunity is pretty solid for Sternberger as the tight end position in Buffalo has 2 absolute locks in Dawson Knox and Dalton Kincaid but beyond those two, there are 2 others fighting for a TE3 role. The incumbent in that position is 2021 UDFA Quintin Morris who beat OJ Howard for the spot last year but only has a career stat line of 8 catches for 84 yards and a TD. The other is UDFA Joel Wilson from Central Michigan who was cut by the Saints for a failed physical then was quickly picked up by Buffalo. He’ll need to win it, but Sternberger has a fighting chance.
4. EDGE Carlo Kemp, Los Angeles Chargers
Carlo Kemp uses his quickness to beat the left tackle inside. Breiden Fehoko cleans it up for the tackle for loss. pic.twitter.com/GDvuTEPCqS
The First 2022 player on this list. Carlo Kemp started his professional career by being a UDFA pickup by the Packers and once he missed out on that roster, spent his rookie season on the Broncos Practice Squad. Kemp decided to join the USFL for its inaugural season for the Pittsburgh Maulers and had a quietly good season with 51 tackles and 5 sacks in 10 games. This led to Kemp getting an NFL opportunity with the Chargers last camp and he’d spend the whole 2022 season on the practice squad. Looking forward to 2023, Kemp is part of a edge group with 4 players locked into spots with Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Chris Rumph, and 2023 2nd round pick Tuli Tuipulota but beyond them, there are openings.
The other edge rushers are Ty Shelby who was a part of the Chargers last preseason but was wavied with an injury designation and re-signed with a futures deal in February, and 2 UDFAs in Brevin Allen from Campbell and Andrew Farmer from Lane College who were both interestingly taken in the USFL draft back in February (Allen by Memphis and Farmer by Michigan). The door is wide open to proofing that Kemp is the 5th edge rusher on the Chargers and that might be enough to make the roster.
Brandon Aubrey doesn’t have a very typical story before joining the Stallions in 2022. Aubrey was a defender for Notre Dame, as in the soccer position and he was able to go pro in soccer playing for Toronto FC and Bethlehem Steel before being totally out of soccer in 2018. He then started training to become a kicker and in 2022, the Birmingham Stallions took a chance on Aubrey drafting him to take on that role. The kicking league wide in 2022 was rough and Aubrey was able to rise above that going 18 for 22 and earning a spot on the All-USFL team as the kicker. He followed that great season up with another going 14 for 15 and winning back-to-back championships.
This finally put him on the radar for the NFL and Aubrey became the first USFL player to sign to the NFL after season 2 getting a contract with the Dallas Cowboys. To start camp Aubrey was in a kicking competition with NFL vet Tristan Vizcaino but Vizcaino was released on Monday leaving Aubrey by himself. This doesn’t mean that Aubrey is out of the woods yet, as the Cowboys can always bring in competition but Aubrey will get every look in the preseason and has a great opportunity to impress this coaching staff.
2. S Micah Abernathy, Atlanta Falcons
Micah Abernathy just joined the @Packers and is immediately making a strong impression. 🔥 @Cover22_
Micah Abernathy’s most interesting fact is that he is the grandson of civil rights leader and close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy. Micah Abernathy wasn’t supposed to be in this situation this camp. He was a UDFA in 2019 who bounced around with the Vikings, Buccaneers, and Colts before joining the 2020 version of the XFL for the Dallas Renegades where he had 18 tackles in 5 games before Covid killed the season. He’d finally get another opportunity in 2022 with the rebirth of the USFL. Abernathy would start all 10 games for the Houston Gamblers and get 68 tackle and 2 Ints.
This led to a camp invite with the Packers where he’d ball out in the preseason and make that roster before getting cut and ending the season on the Falcons roster where he is today. Abernathy has only 3 players undeniably in front of him this training camp with Jessie Bates, Richie Grant, and Jaylinn Hawkins all locked in but beyond that, it’s wide open. There are 3 other safeties on the roster, DeMarcco Hellams who was a 7th round pick this year, Lukas Denis who was a St. Louis Battlehawk this year, and Clifford Chapman who is a UDFA. If Abernathy can prove useful on special teams, he could have a roster spot locked up fairly easily.
I know this is a shock to no one reading this article, but Alex McGough has the best opportunity to make a roster. McGough started as a 7th round draft pick for the Seahawks in 2018 but didn’t stick and ended up bouncing around the league before deciding in 2022 to join the USFL. There he’d be the 1st selection for the Birmingham Stallions but 2022 didn’t go the way he planned as injuries and poor play kept him on the sideline in favor of J’Mar Smith, but he was able to finish strong coming in during the 3rd quarter and winning the first USFL championship. This year was the opposite as Smith would be ruled out for the season in week 1 and McGough took the opportunity and ran with it becoming the 2023 USFL MVP and winning a second championship. This led to McGough getting the chance to sign with the Green Bay Packers before camp and the QB competition is wide open for the backup role.
Just like Aubrey, McGough’s main competition in Danny Etling was cut which leaves him in a QB competition with 5th round pick, Sean Clifford for the backup spot for first year starter Jordan Love. A good preseason would put McGough on the roster, a great one could put McGough as the true backup and maybe even playing time if Love falters or gets hurt.
What are your thoughts on these USFL to NFL athletes? Who will make the NFL rosters? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!