How USFL’s different rules impacted the league


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.

Mike Pereira created a buzz for the USFL before the games even started. The USFL head of officiating rolled out the league’s own brand of rules that didn’t reinvent the wheel, but unapologetically put its own spin on things.

“We wanted our own tweaks to make it feel a little different,” said Pereira, former NFL vice president of officiating and current FOX rules analyst.


“We wanted kickoff returns back in the game,” Pereira said. “But how could we do it, AND make sure it’s safe?”

Pereira and his team took three measures to thread that needle.

• First, the USFL moved the kickoff back to the 25-yard line, quite a difference from the NFL’s 35, where 60 percent of the kickoffs end in touchbacks.

Mission accomplished, as 80 percent of kickoffs were returned during the USFL regular season.

• Second, regarding the “how to make it safe” issue, the technical definition reads like this in the USFL officiating manual:

III Rule 6b
“Kicking team players must have one foot within five yards of the kickers restraining line.”

111 Rule 6d
“Receiving team must align with a minimum of 8, and a maximum of 9 players, within 10 yards beyond the restraining line.”

Bottom line: The players on the kicking team and receiving team are closer together, similar to a punt. You don’t have the receiving team getting way downfield, gaining separation, with the time to set up and take on the kicking team charging at full speed.

The result: fewer, less severe collisions, and more potential for big plays.

• The third tweak was the most subtle, but also served its intended purpose. Once a kick went past 20 yards, it wasn’t a live ball. Basically, it became a punt: Only the receiving team could advance it. So the incentive to pooch or bloop kick with the hope of recovering the ball was removed.

Pereira was pleased see to see more kick returns, with safety in mind. “We loved having kickoff returns back in the game,” he said.


I always see the game through the lens of an ex-quarterback—I played QB at Purdue in 1989-93—and I’m mostly in favor of the passing-friendly rules that are abundant in the NFL.  But even I shake my head multiple times each Sunday at the flags thrown for breathing on the quarterback.

It’s okay for quarterbacks to get hit the moment after they throw the ball. That contact—if in the spirit of football, not in the spirit of injuring the quarterback—shouldn’t cost the defense 15 yards. And Pereira agrees.

“It sometimes doesn’t look like a foul, it doesn’t feel like a foul, but it’s still costs the defense a huge chunk of yardage,” he said.

So, the USFL installed a rule that all Roughing the Passer penalties could be reviewed. And if deemed non-vicious and didn’t involve a blow to the head, the flag was picked up.

It’s a delicate situation; no one wants the quarterback put in danger. He’s vulnerable in that moment right after release. But as Pereira put it to me, “If everyone in the world knows it’s an act that didn’t put the quarterback in danger” that flag should be picked up.

It happened numerous times throughout the USFL season, including on broadcasts I was calling. I enjoyed listening to Mike think out loud as he watched the plays in slow motion, explaining why the flag should or shouldn’t be picked up.

I thought this rule made the game better; a little more fair to the defense, while still reserving the right to protect the QB when needed.

And it wasn’t just Roughing the Passer; all Unsportsmanlike penalties were subject to review. If the call on the field didn’t hold up during a slo-mo review, the call didn’t survive. I think it worked.


This was known as the “4th and 12 Rule” or the “Make It/Take It.” Pereira and his team came to determine that converting 4th and 12 in the USFL was just as likely as recovering an onside kick.

The idea is that after a touchdown or field goal, instead of kicking off, the offense can opt for the “Possession Scrimmage Play.” That play is a 4th and 12 from their own 33-yard line.

If you convert, you keep the ball. If you don’t convert, whether the result was an 11-yard gain or an 11-yard loss, the opposing team takes over from where the play ended.

“We took a look at the normal success rate of an onside kick before the NFL implemented the restrictions in 2018,” Pereira said. “It was 10 to 12 percent.”

In the NFL, the average success of a 4th and 15 play is 11 percent. Factoring in the skill rate of USFL players is a little lower, the USFL decided to set the Possession Scrimmage Play at 4th and 12.

I called a few games where the Possession Scrimmage Play was called. I loved the excitement and energy it brought.

So, what rule adjustment would Pereira like to see find a home in the NFL?

“I’d like to see the NFL adopt some form of our kickoff rule to get more returns,” he said. “I think fans miss them, and there are ways to make it safer without being too gimmicky.”

Pereira notes that any NFL rules changes wouldn’t take effect until the 2023 season. Standby.

Read more in the full Football Morning in America column

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft WR Rankings: Zay Flowers, Jaxon Smith-Njigba top list


The 2023 NFL Draft is just around the corner, and across all positions, fans are eagerly tracking the names to know to see what prospects can bolster their team in the upcoming season. A top-quality pass-catcher is on the wish list for more than a few franchises, and ahead of the draft on April 27th, Chris Simms broke down his picks for the top five wide receivers in this year’s draft class, starting with Boston College’s Zay Flowers, who’s been rumored to be of interest for both the Saints and the Patriots. Stay tuned to the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast for the next month as Simms breaks down his rankings for every position group, and read on for the rest of his wide receiver rankings.

RELATED: Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft QB Rankings: C.J. Stroud leads the way, and a tie at No. 5

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Rankings

Tier One

1. Zay Flowers, Boston College

2. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

Tier Two

3. Quentin Johnston, TCU

4. Michael Wilson, Stanford

Tier Three

5. Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

Chris Simms Top 5 2023 NFL Draft Wide Receivers

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

Simms Breaks Down 2023 Draft WR Rankings

The following are highlights from Simms’ WR 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 Zay Flowers (Boston College)

What Simms Said: “The position versatility – he can play inside or outside. Some of the best releases in the draft are from Zay Flowers. He is pedal to the metal every play, every cut, everything he does. The build, the style of running…I think he looks like Antonio Brown. He is an unbelievable route runner, along with the explosive athlete. You’re really getting a three-in-one here with speed burner on the outside, speed burner on the inside, and slot receiver inside. I wrote Jaylen Waddle, that’s a guy he reminds me of…(He) plays bigger than his measurables say. To me, he’s a top-20 pick.”

No. 2 Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

What Simms Said: “The speed is not blazing…but what’s off the charts good is the guy’s quickness and route running. His ability to come off the ball and be going 70% and almost jump in the air at the six-yard mark…it’s like Allen Iverson with an unbelievable crossover dribble. He’s got this unbelievable ability to change direction and then accelerate in a hurry. His ability after the catch…the first guy never tackles him…He reminds me of Jarvis Landry, to a greater version. This guy is about as high level of a route runner as you’re going to see in college.”

No. 3 Quentin Johnson, TCU

What Simms Said: “Tee Higgins-ish with more explosive ability than Higgins had coming out. He can catch the six-yard shallow cross and run 80 yards for a touchdown. His ability to jump – it’s a 40.5 inch vertical – plus he’s 6’3” and his arms look like they’re ridiculously long. He’s Drake London-ish from last year, except he doesn’t have the route running but has more of the straight speed…He’s one of the most physically impressive wide receivers in recent memory. You don’t see a lot of the route variety…but he shows the ability to change direction with the ball in his hands. He has better feet, quickness, and suddenness than most people with his size.”

No. 4 Michael Wilson, Stanford

What Simms Said: “This is where we’re going to go a little unconventional…But if you watch the film, you go, ‘There’s no doubt this is one of the best three or four receivers in this draft.’ There’s nothing he doesn’t do that’s top-notch…He ran a 4.58 at the Combine in the 40, (but) he plays way faster than that…The physical specimen is real, let alone the refined things you like to see in a receiver are real too. He can be another guy who could be inside or outside because he’s got the pure size and strength and speed to beat you outside but has the route running and it looks like the smarts to be that slot guy that catches your eye as well.”

No. 5 Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee 

What Simms Said: “If you like speed, then you like Jaylin Hyatt…This is a track start, straight-liner, DeSean Jackson-, Will Fuller-ish type of receiver. So, there’s going to be things about him that you love, there’s going to be some things about him that I’m not crazy about. He’s not a great route runner…I truly question whether he can do it, unlike the other guys where I try to piece things together. You can watch a bunch of catches and he never makes anybody miss, that’s not his game…If there’s a seam straight away, watch out…If he gets a free release or gets off the line of scrimmage the right way and you have a safety that doesn’t get back instantly, see ya. It’s going to be a 60-yard post for a touchdown. That’s where he’s special.”

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

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!