Four USFL Stars With Best Chances Of NFL Selection

Peter King is on vacation until July 18, and he’s lined up some guest writers to fill his spot on Monday Football morning in America† Today’s guest is Paul Burmeister, a play-by-play voice and studio host for NBC Sports.

So acknowledging that I may have buried the lead, let’s jump right in: Which USFL players will we see in the NFL this fall?

I went straight to the source: Jim Popp, USFL Director of Player Personnel. In the mid-1980s, he played defensively at Michigan State for Nick Saban and helped Popp spend more than three decades on the professional football staff, primarily in the Canadian Football League, where he was part of 11 Gray Cups, of which he won five.

“The NFL Isn’t Coming” [to the USFL] looking for a starter,” Popp told me. “The potential for these players lies in the back of an NFL roster, which is constantly being destroyed.”

Popp continued with two points to keep in mind when considering which USFL players could be in the NFL this fall:

• Due to Covid and the extra season awarded to college players, the pool of undesigned free agent rookies was larger than ever.

• The abundance of young, available, and willing players would cost teams less than recruiting USFL players. According to Spotrac, the minimum salary for rookies this season is $705,000; sophomore players $870,000; third-year players $940,000.

Since most players in the USFL have had an NFL cup of coffee, or two or three, they are more expensive. They may fill the same place on the list and play the same role for more money.

Those hurdles are a reality this summer. But they are not barriers. They won’t stop the USFL’s best from getting a chance.

So, who gets the chance to beat the odds?

Michigan Panthers RB Reggie Corbin

Corbin was the first name out of Popp’s mouth. The declining Panthers led the USFL in rushing yards per game.

I called his last regular season game against the Pittsburgh Maulers last week. Pittsburgh’s head coach is Kirby Wilson, who spent 23 seasons as the NFL running back coach. With his RB expertise, I asked, “Which running back has impressed you the most this season?” He answered quickly: Reggie Corbin.

I also asked Corbin’s own coach, Jeff Fisher, a 20-season NFL head coach, which of his Panthers players belonged in the NFL. He started with Corbin.

Corbin, 26, is still waiting for his first shot in the NFL. He averaged 6 yards per carry in rushing for over 2,000 yards in Illinois from 2016-19. But Corbin didn’t play in any game from 2020 until the USFL this spring.

His one and only NFL chance was becoming a Covid victim. The Seahawks flew into Corbin for training in late 2021, but when he tested positive for Covid on arrival in Seattle. Instead of going to the facility to try it out, he went to a hotel. He waited a week and a half for the green light. The Covid cases were so high in the NFL at that point in the season that he was sent home before he could even train.

“Heartbreaking” was the last word he said to me about that experience.

So now he’s waiting for a call, confident it will come. “I’m thankful for the USFL,” Corbin told me.

Houston Gamblers LB Donald Payne

Donald Payne came in with an NFL resume that caught my eye before the season started.

  • Four Seasons in the NFL

  • 30 games played

In 2017, Payne was in the top three for special team tackles in the NFL for the Jaguars. He stayed with Jacksonville in 2018 and in 2019 he started the last five games of the season. Payne produced at an eye-opening level, recording at least 12 tackles in all five games.

But Payne had to have surgery on both feet after the season and the Jaguars released him before the 2020 season. He spent some time on Washington’s practice squad that year and went on training camp with San Francisco in 2021, but failed to make the team.

The USFL gave Payne a chance to prove he was healthy, as well as remind NFL scouts that even as an undersized middle linebacker (6-0, 225), he wouldn’t be gobbled up inside, 330-pound linemen could fend off and run back down.

“We all came to the USFL for different reasons,” Payne told me. “Mine wasn’t about going back to an NFL camp. I am on a mission to return to an NFL 53.”

Two games into the USFL season, Payne filed a warning with 34 tackles. By the end of the season, he was the only USFL player to exceed 100. “I needed the USFL to show that I’m still the same Donald I was in 2019,” he said. “I did what I had to do.”

The odds are against Payne and his USFL comrades if they’re on the list in the NFL. But Johnston raised a point to consider.

“Our boys are in football form,” Johnston said. “That’s an advantage over players who have been in shorts and have only done mini camps and OTAs. I’m excited to see what happens when the pads go on because they’re already used to it.”

New Jersey Generals WR/PR KaVontae Turpin

Turpin, the MVP of the USFL, led the league in receiving yards on a team that was more on the ball than any other in the league. And he showed his groundbreaking skills over the weekend with a punt return touchdown against Philadelphia in the semifinals.

At production meetings, New Jersey coach Mike Reilly talked about how much fun he had coming up with different ways to deliver Turpin the ball.

Popp had almost no way of describing him: “Electric. Fast. Fast. Makes you nauseous. Can take a beating.”

I think Turpin is a great candidate to team up as a fourth or fifth wide receiver, and primary point returnee.

Houston Gamblers DE Chris Odom

Odom led the league in sacks and forced fumbles. Not bad for a player whose calling card stopped the run before going to the USFL.

Odom is 27 and has NFL experience with Atlanta, Washington and Green Bay. When I asked him which of those stops impressed him the most, he didn’t hesitate for a moment: Green Bay.

Odom was with the Packers for the 2017 season. He had always been a ‘hand on the ground’ defense, but in the Green Bay plan, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry stood up in the defense points and often looked like linebackers from the outside . This gave Odom a whole new take on offense and a competitive skill as a defense target. He showed that by dominating the USFL this spring.

Read more in the full Football Morning in America column

Four USFL Stars With Best Chances Of NFL Selection originally appeared on

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