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Houston Gamblers 2023 Draft Breakdown

The first USFL College Draft has now come and gone, and with it the Gamblers have gained the playing rights to 10 collegiate players that are eligible for the 2023 NFL draft. The players come from varying notoriety and likelihoods of joining the USFL. This article is to break down and grade each pick as well as give an overall grade of the Gamblers first college draft. The grades are based on a combination of player talent as well as the likelihood that the player will play in the USFL.


Pick 1: Chase Brice / QB / Appalachian State


Overview:

Brice is a talented QB who spent 2 years as a backup for Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, winning a national championship there. He spent 2020 at Duke with less than appealing result before transferring to Appalachian State and putting up 54 passing touchdowns to only 17 interceptions in his two years there. An aspect of his game to not overlook is his ability to run when necessary, scoring 7 touchdowns on the ground at App State. He shows tremendous touch and accuracy on his throws at all levels of the field. Brice excels on quick passes and passing plays that are 2 or less reads. His ability to tuck the ball and run the ball, along with his elusiveness in the pocket accent his quick passing game in a way that makes him look like a perfect quarterback archetype for Spring Football.


USFL Probability:

Brice is a projected third day or undrafted free agent signing in the NFL. At this point his most likely avenue to the USFL would be in the 2024 season after spending the 2023 season in the NFL on a practice squad. That is still not a guarantee as that is over a year from now and a lot could change with Brice's plans by then. This pick is most likely Gamblers GM Bob Morris thinking that he is comfortable with his quarterback situation in 2023, and was comfortable using his first pick on a QB that could possibly lead the Gamblers in 2024.


Pick Grade: B+

Pick 2: Justin Ford / CB / Montana


Overview:

A bit of a big fish in a small pond, Ford was a lockdown corner at Montana that the USFL Network had on their radar since it's first mock draft. At 6'2 and 201 lbs, he has great size for a predominantly outside playing cornerback. His best year was in 2021 with Montana when he had 9 interceptions, 2 returned for touchdowns, 20 pass break ups, 42 tackles, and a forced fumble. He slowed down a bit in 2022 while playing in 5 less games that 2021 having only 2 interceptions, 7 pass break ups, and 24 total tackles. Where For shines is in off man coverage, baiting QBs and showing his breaking speed and length to break passes up. His height gives him an advantage in zone coverage being able to cover wider areas. The main area he has a bit of trouble in is press coverage getting beat to the inside and off the line more than coaches would like.

USFL Probability:

Ford gained some draft buzz from his invite to play in the Hulu Bowl. His size and college stats raised eyebrows, but he is still most likely an undrafted free agent signing after the NFL draft. There is a chance after the draft that he decides the USFL could elevate his signing bonus rate and stock in the eyes of NFL scouts. As of now, Ford looks to be in the same category as Chase Brice as a player that could join the Gamblers in 2024, but with a higher probability than his QB counterpart.


Pick Grade: A


Pick 3: Joey Fisher / OL / Shepherd


Overview:

A very overlooked offensive lineman as he hails from Division 2 Shepherd University in West Virginia. Fisher has the size and strength NFL teams are looking for on the edges of the offensive line at 6'5 320 lbs. He shows flashes of greatness in run blocking absolutely imposing his will on defenders firing off the line. He has solid mobility for his size, but has struggled at times with speed rushers around the edge. He earned invitations to the Hula, NFLPA, and Reese's bowls. At the NFLPA bowl he gained draft stock and turned some heads. With some refinement, Fisher could be everything a coach wants in a tackle.

USFL Probability:

Before the NFLPA Bowl Fisher might have seemed like a lock for the USFL in 2023. After the scouts got better eyes on him, there is a chance he gets drafted on day 3 of the NFL draft. Even if he isn't drafted, he will almost definitely get a look at a camp on an undrafted free agent deal. Gamblers fans could have to wait until 2024 for Fisher, but he will be worth the wait.


Pick Grade: A+


Pick 4: Scott Matlock / DL / Boise State


Overview:

Matlock was a team leader at Boise State both statistically and socially. In his last season at Boise St he had 49 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 7 QB hurries. His 49 tackles led the entire defensive line, while his 7 tackles against Air Force were the team's single game high. Matlock is 6'4 300 lbs and is a perfect 4-3 defensive tackles build matching the Boise State scheme as well as the Houston Gamblers base scheme under new Defensive Coordinator Chris Wilson. While being over 300 pounds, Matlock moves with quick feet and great hand work to keep separation from interior OL and fill gaps rapidly.


USFL Probability:

A bit on the outside of the NFL fringe in this draft class, Matlock is the most likely player on this list thus far to be seen in the USFL before 2024. While he may land an undrafted free agent deal, he could benefit greatly from a dominant season in the USFL to help get more exposure outside of the state of Idaho.

Pick Grade: B

Pick 5: Jeffery Johnson / DL / Oklahoma


Overview:

Johnson was a key player in the defensive tackle rotation at Oklahoma in 2022 playing in all 12 games while only starting in 6. Ending his lone season at Oklahoma with 23 total tackles and 4 tackles for loss, he was a consistent player on an otherwise lackluster Oklahoma team. He is a great fit into Chris Wilson's scheme being similar size to Matlock the pick before at 6'2 305 lbs.


USFL Probability:

Earning an invitation and playing in the NFLPA bowl, he has a chance to be in an NFL camp come the Fall. The USFL could be the best avenue for a more under the radar defensive lineman like Johnson, so we theoretically could see him before the end of the 2023 season depending on how many calls he gets post draft.


Pick Grade: B-


Pick 6: Keenan Isaac / CB / Alabama State


Overview:

Being the lone HBCU signing for the Gamblers, his exposure outside of the HBCU fanbase is lacking. Despite his lack of media exposure, he is a long and tall corner at 6'3 190 lbs with a lot of upside. With 4.6s speed he isn't blazingly fast and can get beat deep especially in man coverage, but in zone he has elite route recognition and closing speed underneath. The biggest question is how Isaac will add up against talent at the professional level coming from the FCS.


USFL Probability:

While Isaac could benefit highly from time in the USFL, he hasn't shown any interest yet in the league. Once the NFL draft process has come and gone we may see some more interest from the young corner, but until then he is an unknown.


Draft Grade: C


Pick 7: Alex Jensen / OT / South Dakota


Overview:

A fairly under the radar offensive tackle out of the University of South Dakota with impressive physical attributes at 6'7 and 300 pounds. Jensen moves incredibly well for his size while having dominant power in run blocking. Last season the Coyotes offense was 32nd in the nation in rushing yards per game with Jensen starting every game without injury proving his use and durability. With his invite yo the Hula Bowl he was able to get in front of scouts, but the biggest question mark on him is how he will stack up with professional talent or even FBS talent at that. There is no doubt that he could benefit from solid tape in the USFL to get him on an NFL practice squad or into a camp.

USFL Probability:

Jensen is most likely not on any NFL draft boards to no fault of his own. He is a great talent from the FCS that could enter the USFL as soon as training camp.

Pick Grade: B+


Pick 8: Brady Russell / TE / Colorado at Boulder


Overview:

Russell fits multiple skillsets at the tight end position which makes him a great fit for the Gamblers. While being an above average pass catching tight end, he has turned more heads with his blocking ability in his senior year making some scouts view him as a fullback candidate at the next level. HC Curtis Johnson has already talked about wanting to add a fullback to the roster, and with Russell they could have a two birds one stone situation. Much like returning Julian Allen and new signing Clint Sigg, they are fierce blockers who can be dangerous up the seam. Russell fits the archetype of H-Back tight ends that have become the Gamblers norm perfectly.

USFL Probability:

With most NFL scouts looking at him as more of a fullback or H-back candidate, they may be weary of taking a chance on a player who hasn't fully played that position yet. Russel is a great candidate to join the USFL in 2023 and make an impact this season rather than being a player the Gamblers wait on in 2024 to reload.


Pick Grade: B


Pick 9: Jason Taylor II / DB / Oklahoma State


Overview:

It is no secret that Jason Taylor II is a legitimate talent at safety as he is invited to the NFL Combine and is projected as a day 3 pick or undrafted free agent signing. Taylor has tremendous instinct and great coverage skills in both zone and man. His wingspan is tremendous for being 6'0 tall helping him make plays he wouldn't necessarily make with his speed. This pick was definitely a hopeful one at the second to last pick for the Gamblers, hoping that if Taylor isn't able to make a practice squad this season in the NFL he will improve his game in the USFL in season 3. Why not swing for the fences late in the draft?


USFL Probability:

There is little chance we would see Taylor enter the USFL before 2024 at the earliest. This league isn't on any players minds who are invited to the combine, but possibly down the road, which is most likely what GM Bob Morris had in mind.

Pick Grade: B+


Pick 10: Colby Reeder / LB / Iowa State


Overview:

An FCS standout who made his graduate transfer to Iowa State impressed in his final season. With a 40 time towards the back end of what you'd want at the NFL level, his football IQ and knack for playmaking set him apart from other linebackers with his build. While playing smart in coverage, he has the ability to fill gaps and play an important role in stopping the run. Earning an invitation to the Hula Bowl, Reeder has a chance at moving up to the next level.


USFL Probability:

Reeder is another hopeful pick as he will most likely get an undrafted free agent deal and be in an NFL camp during the 2023 USFL season. If he did make the move in 2024, he would be a welcome addition to the Gamblers defense that has earned a reputation of having the best linebacker play in the league.


Pick Grade: A


Total Draft Grade: A-

The Gamblers GM Robert Morris attacked this draft in a strategic way. Impressive that he was able to acquire the playing rights to talented players that fit the Gamblers schemes while having a good blend of players that are likely to join the USFL in the future, as well as some more hopeful picks that could end up in the league eventually. The reason that this overall draft grade is not an A or A+ is that a few picks including Jason Taylor II and Chase Brice are much less likely to eventually join the USFL than others. For the first draft of its kind in the USFL, it is impressive that Morris was able to execute this draft on such short time with such a large list of names to choose from.

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