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  • Writer's pictureJed

The Tragic Cycle of USFL Talent

General Managers aren’t exactly people like everyone else. Some of them are historically weird ( ). But they do, like the rest of us, have specific strengths and tendencies. And, also like the rest of us, some of their tendencies don’t work in their favor; some of their strengths turn out to be disguised weaknesses.

In my article from last week I brought up three specific USFL guys who had been signed to NFL 90-man rosters; I predicted that two would be tragic roster bubble guys—ie cut—and predicted that one would stick around and find success this year. As of today—one day before the deadline for the 53-man roster—all three have been cut. So my prediction rate does not look especially good. But in my defense, my prediction of success was based on faulty premises: I thought Jace Sternberger had been signed by San Francisco, not Buffalo. Look, I read a website wrong. There are lines everywhere, you know?

Buffalo Bills tight end Jace Sternberger (83) warms up before practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Pittsford, N.Y., Sunday, July 30, 2023. Adrian Kraus - freelancer, ASSOCIATED PRESS

I console myself for this error thus: it makes no sense for the Bills to have signed Jace Sternberger. Just like it made no sense for the Eagles to have signed Deon Cain or Olive Sagapolu. Let’s go over why quickly and see what we can learn about this for the big picture of the two leagues.

Why should someone other than the Bills have picked Sternberger up? Well, Dawson Knox, who has had close to fifty receptions and five hundred yards receiving each of the past two years, for one reason, and Dalton Kincaid, who the Bills drafted in round 1 back in April, for another reason. The team has too much invested in pass catching tight ends for a USFL guy, no matter how talented, to have a real shot at the roster.

Bills starter Dawson Knox (left) tweeted out a strong message after Buffalo moved up to select Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid.

It’s the same story with the Eagles players: in front of Deon Cain were Devonta Smith (1st rounder), AJ Brown (traded a 1st rounder to get), blindingly fast Quez Watkins and new, tricky ‘enforcer’ fourth receiver Olamide Zaccheaus—all of whom have strong NFL resumes—before you get to the likes of Britain Covey, Jadon Haselwood, and Devon Allen (who is an Olympic-level hurdler on his off days).

In front of Sagapolu? How about back to back first round picks Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter, Eagles hero Fletcher Cox, sneaky good Milton Williams and free agent Kentavius Street—that, again, before you get to seventh rounder and training camp hero Moro Ojomo and guy who sticks around for some reason Marlon Tuipulotu. That’s a huge number of huge human beings. Sagapolu had approximately a 0% chance from day one of making the final roster.

I will remain on record as saying that all three of these guys look like good football players in the right circumstances. Sternberger would make a devastating second TE in heavy sets, Cain can make contested catches all day long, and Sagapolu can growl at people extremely effectively. But each of them were placed in circumstances totally unfavorable to their long term success. What does this mean for the NFL? For the USFL?

For the NFL, I think it just means what I said above. People and teams get tendencies; scouting departments are no different. A team with an above average position grouping tends to keep adding there. Unfortunately, that rarely leaves any room for the guys at the bottom of that position grouping to shine. But this then creates a cyclical narrative that those guys weren’t good enough for the NFL period, rather than good enough for one specific NFL team whose interests did not coincide with those players’ success. USFL fans hoping for a long and productive interplay between the USFL and NFL have to hope the GMs in the league will start looking outside their own positional comfort zones and addressing real areas of need with USFL talent. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more KaVonte Turpins in years to come (hopefully just not all on Dallas).

We all make mistakes. Some of us misread websites. Some of us get our teams stuck in ruts that potentially stalemate professional careers. We all need to grow.


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