USFL’s plan to keep growing after first season


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.

After what we’ve seen with alternative spring leagues in the recent past, making it to this point is no small task. Job well done.

But making it to season two in a better place will require development. Being a better league for the players and coaches, as well as having a better product on television, will require strategic fixes and enhancements.

Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: The XFL will debut next winter. Who knows what kind of quality it will have out of the gates. But in the abstract, it’s hard to imagine two spring leagues thriving, let alone surviving.

So I reflected on year one with Johnston, with the goal of learning where growth is most needed for year two. Four topics emerged:

Longer Training Camp

Training camp was incredibly brief by preseason football standards. It lasted only two weeks, and wasn’t preceded by any form of OTAs or minicamps. That’s not nearly enough time for any facet of the game to develop, especially the one that most everyone wants to see the most: the passing game. And because of that, the offensive execution for the first part of the season suffered.

Johnston shared his hope for next season is a training camp “of at least three weeks.” Early season efficiency in the passing game will benefit most. When passes are completed and first downs are made and points are scored, the league wins.

More Players On Rosters

The initial roster concept during the season looked this way: 38 players active on game day, 45 total on the roster.

Thirty-eight is minuscule for a game day roster. Consider the NFL has 53, and many coaches will tell you how difficult the game day math can be for certain positions, especially offensive line.

Twenty-eight percent fewer players to play a four-quarter football game was aspirational, to say the least. I recall calling one game when two offensive lineman went out with injuries on the same drive, and all I could think was “38?”

The coaches voiced this concern from day one; to the credit of the league, an adjustment was made. The game day roster increased to 40, with the roster total moving to 50.

Discussing it all with Johnston, it sounds like the jump from 38 to 40 was just a start. No specific number was given as a target, but it was clear that moving beyond 40 is a high priority.

More players also will allow for more efficient and better practices. Coaches and players spoke during the season about their reluctance to have contact in practice due to small numbers and the risk of injury. What a well organized coaching staff can accomplish, through volume, difficulty and efficiency of work, increases exponentially with more players.

Opportunities For Undrafted Players

There’s also a plan for how to inject youth and talent into each roster next spring, and it relates to the NFL draft.

Each spring there are hundreds of quality players who believe they will be drafted, only to have draft weekend come and go with no call.

The best of that group will become high priority free agents, with a decent chance to make a roster, and a better chance to land on a practice squad. But most who sign with a team as an undrafted free agent face long odds to stick.

Johnston sees an opportunity with this group, one he describes as “a non-traditional route to get where you want to go.”

He remembers fondly his own pre-draft process as a fullback coming out of Syracuse in 1989, and doesn’t want to interfere with or interrupt that time. Johnston wants all the players to commit to that process and enjoy it. But if the time comes and goes without a good opportunity to be on an NFL roster, he wants those players to sign with the USFL.

“Understand how many undrafted free agents make it and how many don’t,” Johnston said. “It’s a tough hill to climb. Get to us as soon as you can, play 6 or 8 games, and force the NFL to change their opinion of you.”

The USFL dabbled in this area a little bit this season, and quarterback Eric Barriere is a prime example.

At Eastern Washington as a freshman in 2017, Barriere told me he would walk by the trophy case each day and see the Walter Payton Award that Cooper Kupp won as the most outstanding offensive player in the FCS, and think how cool it would be to win that award himself one day.

As a senior in 2021, Barriere did win it by throwing for over 5,000 yards and 46 touchdowns.

But he didn’t hear his name called in the NFL draft. And no team offered him a contract to be an undrafted free agent. The Denver Broncos did fly him in for a rookie minicamp tryout, but it didn’t end with an offer to come to camp.

So Barrier came to the USFL late in the season, signed with the Michigan Panthers, and earned some playing time in the final two games of the regular season. Had he come earlier, he potentially could have started a handful of games, and “demanded a re-evaluation,” as Johnston explains.

Barriere’s example is one Johnston hopes many more will follow in 2023.

More Fans, One More Stadium

If you tuned into any of the USFL games this season, you noticed the fans. Or lack thereof.

For most games, all of which were played in Birmingham, the attendance was minimal. It was impossible not to notice.

This is unless the Birmingham Stallions were playing. Thousands of people attended Stallions games, and the energy difference was night and day. The broadcasts for Stallions games were automatically, distinctly better. It’s affected planning for 2023.

“We should afford a team in the North Division the same luxury that Birmingham had,” Johnston said.

Would that be Michigan, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or New Jersey? No word on a front runner. But Johnston and the league are motivated to give one of those teams the opportunity Birmingham had this season. The USFL and its broadcasts would be better for it if they can make it happen.

As for keeping at least half the games in Birmingham? Johnston said: “I hope so. It sure would be a waste to go somewhere else (in the south) and start again.”

One of the parts that won’t change is the schedule. The games started in mid-April and the championship is next weekend. Johnston likes the USFL’s home on the sports calendar. “We don’t compete with March Madness, we’re not immediately after the Super Bowl,” he said. “We’ll target the weekend after The Masters.”

The separation from the NFL season, with game one targeted approximately two months after the Super Bowl, is key.

“I want our fans to get to the point of the off season where they say ‘I miss football,’” Johnston said.

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!