Four USFL stars with best chance to make NFL roster


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

So with acknowledgement that I may have buried the lead, let’s get right to it: Which USFL players will we see in the NFL this fall?

I went right to the source: Jim Popp, USFL Director of Player Personnel. Playing defensive back at Michigan State for Nick Saban in the mid-80s set up Popp for more than three decades in professional football personnel, primarily in the Canadian Football League, where he was a part of 11 Grey Cups, winning five of them.

“The NFL isn’t coming [to the USFL] looking for a starters,” Popp told me. “The potential for these players lies in the back end of an NFL roster, which is constantly being overturned.”

Popp followed up with two points to keep in mind when considering which USFL players might be in the NFL this fall:

• Because of Covid and the extra season of eligibility granted to college players, the pool of undrafted free agent rookies was larger than ever.

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

Since most of the players in the USFL have had an NFL cup of coffee, or two or three, they’re more expensive. They potentially fill the same roster spot and play the same role for more money.

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

So, who will get the chance to beat the odds?

Michigan Panthers RB Reggie Corbin led the USFL in rushing yards. (Getty Images)

Michigan Panthers RB Reggie Corbin

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

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

I also asked Corbin’s own coach, Jeff Fisher, an NFL head coach of 20 seasons, 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 at Illinois from 2016-19. But Corbin didn’t play in a game of any kind from 2020 until the USFL this spring.

His one and only NFL chance became a Covid casualty. The Seahawks flew in Corbin for a workout late in 2021, but when he tested positive for Covid upon arrival in Seattle. Instead of going to the facility to try out, he went to a hotel. For a week and half, he waited for the green light. The Covid cases were so high in the NFL at that point of the season, he was sent home, before he could even work out.

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

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

Houston Gamblers LB Donald Payne

Donald Payne came in with an NFL résumé that got my attention before the season started.

  • Four seasons in the NFL
  • 30 games played

In 2017 for the Jaguars, Payne was in the top three for special teams tackles in the NFL. He stuck 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 needed surgery on both feet after the season, and the Jaguars released him prior to the 2020 season. He spent some time on the Washington practice squad that year and went to training camp with San Francisco in 2021 but didn’t make the team.

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

“We all came to the USFL with different whys,” Payne told me. “Mine wasn’t to get back to an NFL camp. I’m on a mission to get back to an NFL 53.”

Two games into the USFL season, Payne served notice, racking up 34 tackles. By the end of the season, he was the only USFL player with over 100. “I needed the USFL to portray 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 as they eye roster spots in the NFL. But Johnston brought up a point to consider.

“Our guys are in football shape,” Johnston said. “That’s an advantage versus players who have been in shorts and have only done minicamps and OTAs. I’m excited to see what happens when the pads come on because they’re already used to it.”

New Jersey Generals WR/PR KaVontae Turpin

Turpin, the USFL MVP, led the league in receiving yards on a team that ran the ball more than any other in the league. And he showed his game-breaking abilities over the weekend with a punt return touchdown against Philadelphia in the semifinals.

In production meetings, New Jersey coach Mike Reilly spoke of how much fun he was having devising different ways to get Turpin the ball.

Popp almost ran out of ways to describe him: “Electric. Fast. Quick. Makes you miss. Can take a hit.”

I think Turpin is an excellent candidate to make a team as a fourth or fifth wide receiver, and primary punt returner.

Houston Gamblers DE Chris Odom

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

Odom is 27 and has NFL experience with Atlanta, Washington and Green Bay. When I asked him which of those stops made the biggest impression on him, he didn’t hesitate: Green Bay.

Odom was with the Packers for the 2017 season. He had always been a “hand on the ground” defensive end, but in Green Bay’s scheme, defensive ends Clay Matthews and Nick Perry stood up, often looking like outside linebackers. This gave Odom a whole new view of the offense and a compete skill set as a defensive end. He displayed that in dominating the USFL this spring.

Read more in the full Football Morning in America column

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft CB Rankings: Devon Witherspoon highlights loaded draft class


The 2023 NFL Draft is growing nearer, with just weeks remaining until teams make selections that could alter the future of their franchise forever.

A solid secondary is crucial to any team’s defensive prowess, and for the teams looking to tighten up in coverage, this year’s draft is the one to do so.

The 2023 NFL Draft cornerback class is an incredibly deep one, but which corner will be first off the board? Chris Simms unveiled his 2023 NFL Draft Cornerback rankings this week on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast, posting Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon at the top of his list of corners in this year’s crop.

But trailing Witherspoon very closely are four other potential NFL superstars, with Simms ranking Michigan’s DJ Turner at No. 2, Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez at No. 3, Maryland’s Deonte Banks at No. 4 and Georgia’s Kelee Ringo at No. 5.

The 2023 NFL Draft will begin on Thursday, April 27, and end on Saturday, April 29. The first round will take place on Thursday with rounds two and three airing on Friday and rounds four through seven on Saturday. Click here for Simms’ quarterback rankings,and here for his list of top wide receivers.

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Simms’ Top Five CB prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

Tier One

1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

2. DJ Turner, Michigan

3. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

Tier Two

4. Deonte Banks, Maryland

Tier Three

5. Kelee Ringo, Georgia

RELATED: 2023 NFL Draft order: Complete list of every pick from Round 1 through Round 7

Simms Breaks Down 2023 Draft CB Rankings

The following are highlights from Simms’ CB draft rankings. For Simms’ in-depth analysis, read below for a breakdown on each prospect and be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

No. 1: Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

What Simms said: “This guy is must-see TV. He’s up there with one of the most twitchy, sudden people I’ve ever seen in my life to the point where when he takes off, you’re like, ‘Wait, is that real? Did he really get to full speed in half a step?’ … Bump or off, both are phenomenol —  it’s rare to have that. He’s got very good play strength for a guy that’s 5’11” and a half at 181 lbs. He doesn’t know that, he thinks he’s 220 … It’s efficient and easy. He’s sudden and can see the ability to accelerate whether it’s downhill or sticking the foot in the ground and changing direction. As compared to my No. 2 and No. 3 guy, he might be a hair tighter in his hips, but his twitchiness and explosion and acceleration … you just start to go, ‘What does this guy not have, besides the fact that he’s not 6’2” or over 200 lbs.’ He’s phenomenol.”

No. 2: DJ Turner, Michigan

What Simms said: “To me, (DJ Turner is) the most technically sound corner in the draft. There’s nobody better at technique. Like Witherspoon, the ability to mirror receivers at the line of scrimmage, the quick feet, it’s phenomenol. His hips are better than Witherspoon … His ability to flip those hips, turn and break on the ball, it’s right up there. It’s actually more smooth hip-wise than it is for Devon Witherspoon … What more can you say about the guy? Start-stop ability, amazing. Make-up speed, amazing. Other than Witherspoon, I think he’s put in the second-most tough spots out of anybody I’ve watched in this. He plays man-to-man, in your face a ton against big-time receivers. He’s awesome defending double moves. He could be the best nickel or outside guy, and he’s also the fastest guy in the draft. He’s got it all.”

No. 3: Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

What Simms said: “There’s not much to pick apart here … He’s got a little more size and meat on his bones. The Tee Higgins of the world, the bigger receivers of the world, they’re gonna have a harder time pushing him around and doing that stuff. He’s got incredible ball skills … He looks prototype. He looks Darrelle Revis, Champ Bailey-ish in his uniform …  He just wasn’t as edgy as the other guys … He’s gonna match up better with DeAndre Hopkins than the other two. But I don’t know if he’ll match up better with Jaylen Waddle or Ja’Marr Chase than the other two … But his technique is real. He’s a top-20 pick. You talk size, technique and straight speed, of course this guy is one of the top corners in the draft.” 

No. 4: Deonte Banks, Maryland

What Simms said: “He has more measurables like Gonzalez. 6 foot, 197 lbs., there’s a thickness to him and a power and strength element that certainly jumps out. Let alone, speed is Real Deal Holyfield … man-to-man, great legs, runs easy … He’s comfortable in his speed. He’s never panicked. He’s comfortable in going, ‘You have a step on me? That’s fine, I’m good,’ … But he’s also incredible, like Witherspoon and Turner, at getting on top of people when they try to run a go-route. No one can ever really get around him for the most part … He’s sticky as hell, he’s got very good feet, but he doesn’t know how to use his hands at all yet. So he’s not really that great at jamming people at the line of scrimmage, but he’s never not there … I thought his ability to play the ball and create PBUs in those 50/50 situations where the quarterback tries to throw the ball back shoulder and all that, he’s got a great feel and vision to be able to cover and see the throw at the same time that I was very impressed with.”

No. 5: Kelee Ringo, Georgia

What Simms said: “When you turn on the film, you go, ‘What? This guy’s a corner, he’s not a safety?’ Because he has a prototype safety vibe … Against the bigger, straight-liner guys, nobody’s gonna push this dude around. That’s certainly not going to be an issue, that along with the straight speed. Hey, the change of direction stuff is not beautiful. He’s a little heavy-footed because he’s a bigger guy … but it’s not bad … When he opens up, he can really go; obviously with a 4.36 second 40 time … He’s very smooth as far as an athlete overall.” 

For more preview content of the 2023 NFL Draft, stay tuned to Chris Simms UnbuttonedProFootballTalk and NBC Sports EDGE for all the latest updates, player analysis and mock drafts.

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings: The top QBs, WRs, RBs, and more ahead of draft weekend


The 2023 NFL Draft takes place on Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 29 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here for the full first-round draft order to find out when your team is picking.

Ahead of this year’s draft, Chris Simms has already started analyzing the top prospects by position on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast. So far, Simms has revealed his highly anticipated list of the top 5 quarterback prospects and wide receivers. See below to find out who made the top 5 names for each position and be sure to check back for updates!

Be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for more on the 2023 NFL Draft as well as an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings:

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft QB Rankings:

  1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
  2. Bryce Young, Alabama
  3. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
  4. Anthony Richardson, Florida
  5. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA and Will Levis, Kentucky

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft WR Rankings:

  1. Zay Flowers, Boston College
  2. Jaxon Smith-Njibga, Ohio State
  3. Quentin Jonston, TCU
  4. Michael Wilson, Stanford
  5. Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

Chris Simms 2023 NFL Draft Cornerback Rankings

  1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
  2. DJ Turner, Michigan
  3. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
  4. Deonte Banks, Maryland
  5. Kelee Ringo, Georgia

How can I watch the 2023 NFL Draft live?

ESPN, ABC, and NFL Network will air all seven rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft.

What time does the NFL Draft start?

The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft will get underway on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Rounds two and three will commence Friday at 7 p.m. ET, with Saturday’s final rounds at 12 p.m.

Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2023 NFL Season and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!