OT Calvin Ashley 

OT Cam Carter

TE Marcus Baugh

DE Hercules Mata’afa

DE Anree Saint-Amour

LB Chris Orr

CB Channing Stribling 

DB Daniel Isom

FS Eli Walker

SS James Wiggins

K Chris Blewitt

The Stallions have enjoyed a prosperous run in the USFL winning all but three games they have played to this point. So far this offseason they had been pointed to as again winning the offseason bringing in NFL name after NFL name, and snagging some of the best USFL/XFL talent along the way as they returned from  NFL stints. 

Now after the first round of the 2024 Dispersal draft the Stallions can chalk up another victory. They came out of this first draft with some of the best players in the USFL in 2024. This included the 2022 USFL Interception leader, one of the top sack artists in the league in 2023, and a kicker who could be regarded as one of the best in either league. Let’s take a look at each player and their USFL contributions over the last two years. We will start with the trenches. 

Beginning on Offense

The Stallions had one of the better offensive lines in the USFL, but with four teams going away, there is a potential to bring in starting caliber players to compete with incumbents and make the entire unit stronger. This is precisely what we saw the Stallions do when they added two offensive linemen from the Generals in Calvin Ashley, and Cam Carter. 

Ashley is a solid player with versatility to play guard and tackle. In 2023 he made the All USFL team as the right guard for New Jersey. Having played with the Generals in 2022 as well the Stallions are getting a very valuable player who could start day one or add tremendous value as a swing tackle/guard who can step in and play at an among the best at the UFL level. 

Cam Carter 

The Birmingham boy gets to return back home and play for his local team. The 6’6 310 offensive lineman was born in Birmingham and spent most of his life there, attending Minor High School in Adamsville, Alabama. He went on to attend Murray State where he played in 38 total games over four seasons. Unfortunately he came out of college in 2020, and was affected by Covid. 

Coming out of college with a massive 81.5 inch wingspan the Left Tackle saw NFL interest from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While he didn’t make the roster this helped his level of interest in alternative options. He and Ashley formed a reliable and durable tandem for the Generals in 2023. Carter started 9 games for the Generals in 2023. He now has 42 starts on his resume.

Both linemen follow their former offensive coordinator Steve Smith who has joined the Stallions as their offensive line coach for the 2024 season. Smith will oversee a unit that has already seen several additions, adding two players that know him well can’t hurt in this transition period.

Defensive Line Additions

On the defensive line in 2023, the Stallions didn’t have a single player register more than 4 sacks. Now heading into the 2024 season, they added not one but two players that topped that mark in 2023. Hercules Mata’afa, and Anree Saint-Amour both had 6 sacks in 2023 instantly improving their ability to get after the quarterback, which should in turn help out their secondary.

Hercules Mata’afa, DE

Mata’afa is an interesting player. Typically, when you see a defensive end who is 6’2 254 pounds, that player is less likely to be known for their strength than they are their speed. Mata’afa however is a work out warrior who put up 26 reps of 225 pounds. He has never been known for his top end speed, but he does have a solid first step which has allowed him to find success as a pass rusher.

In 2022 Chris Dishman was Mata’afa’s coordinator, and he barely saw the field and didn’t register a single sack. In 2023, Dishman left for the XFL, and in came Ted Cottrell. Coach Cottrell, and his right hand man defensive line coach Dez Walker. Coach Cottrell has been coaching defensive line, linebackers, or coordinating defenses since 1973.

In terms of pass rushers, 2022 was just the prerequisite course for what they were about to learn under two men known for their ability to coach pass rushers. We saw this quite literally when Mata’afa, came out of nowhere to finish top 5 in the league in sacks after barely registering an impact in 2022. Now in 2023, he will play under Defensive Line Coach Marty Long, and John Chavis.

Anree Saint-Amour, DE

Opposite of Mata’afa will likely be Saint-Amour. Saint-Amour has had stints in the NFL, CFL, TSL, before landing with the New Orleans Breakers in round three of the 2022 USFL Draft. If you were impressed by the coaches that Mata’afa was tutored by, you may be surprised to hear the list of mentors Saint-Amour has had in his professional career. His first taste of the professional ranks came with the Minnesota Vikings in 2019 under then head coach Mike Zimmer.

Zimmer is regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators of the 90’s and 00’s. His defensive line coach Andre Patterson had been coaching at that point for over 3 decades, and the following year in 2020, added co-defensive coordinator to his titles. After being let go by Minnesota he joined the BC Lions which had renowned defensive coordinator Rich Stubler, and Defensive Line Coach Chris Ellis, a former NFL/CFL player in his own right. He would spend time on the practice squad with BC before an opportunity to make an impression came in the TSL.

By 2021 he was working under another well-known defensive mind, Jerry Glanville with The Conquerors of The Spring League before being selected in 2022 by the Breakers under then head coach Larry Fedora, Defensive Coordinator Jon Tenuta, and former NFL defensive lineman Paul Spicer as his defensive line coach, only in 2023 to be turned over to another former NFL pass rusher in Cornell Brown. Ironically he set a career high in sacks in 2023 having previously never collected more than 4 in his college career, or previously in the USFL.  Nothing will come easy in Birmingham when it comes to playing time, but adding two players of this caliber certainly can’t hurt an already stout defense.

Marcus Baugh, TE

Marcus Baugh was just placed in a very solid position to succeed in 2024 despite being drafted by a team with a clear cut number 1 tight end in Jace Sternberger. Baugh steps into an offense that uses two, and three tight end sets more than any other team in spring football. They also traditionally use a fullback, the player who filled that role the past two seasons was left unprotected and could wind up selected by another team…(DC?)

This is significant because Baugh at 245 pounds, could certainly fill that role if it came to it. Even if his sole purpose on this roster is as the number 2 tight end, he could easily still have a career season statistically. As it stands, Baugh set a career high for receptions in 2023 with 18, for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns. 

In season one of Holtz’s offense, targets were split evenly between Sage Surratt and Cary Angeline 20 a piece. In 2023 that shifted with Sternberger seeing 50 targets by himself, and 14 targets going to his backups. 

I expect that target share to trend just slightly back toward the splits in 2022. The Stallions want to run the ball and impose their will on other teams, and that means we should see a very healthy dose of Marcus Baugh in 2024. 

Secondary Help Seems to Have Been a Priority 

The Stallions went out and addressed their secondary in a big way adding four players to their unit. The biggest names being Channing Stribling, and Eli Walker. They also added Daniel Isom, and James Wiggins. They essentially added the necessary players to replace their entire starting secondary if they chose. 

Channing Stribling, CB

Stribling is one of those players that will always have a home in spring football. He has played in the NFL, AAF, CFL, XFL, and USFL. He has played in ever major spring football league since 2017 and for good reason too. 

Stribling is a turnover machine, and this was put on display in 2022 when he led the league in interceptions with 7, having only played 7 games. Even his defensive coordinator sometimes sat back and just marveled at the player Stribling was. His size, strength and knowledge setting him apart from the pack. 

The truth is Stribling had a down year in 2023 but this was a flukey year in an otherwise stellar career. Stribling has 9 interceptions in 31 games of regular season spring football, and you could argue he just joined the most talented roster he has ever been on in a spring football setting. 

Eli Walker, FS

Walker previously was the starting free safety for the Pittsburgh Maulers. Now headed into 2024 he will compete for time at free safety, but could end up just a depth piece on this defense depending on how things work out. 

Walker turned into one of the more reliable defenders on the Maulers defense and will now be reunited with Kyahva Tezino one of the top linebackers in the league and one of his Maulers teammates in 2023. Walker will compete with Tj Carter. Also in the mix could be Kenny Robinson, Jojo Tillery, and Daniel Isom. Although I expect Robinson to get the nod at strong safety.  

YouTube video

James Wiggins, SS

Speaking of strong safety, James Wiggins was selected in the initial dispersal draft while the Stallions chose to protect Jojo Tillery and not Tyree Robinson who started in the Championship game. Tillery, and the aforementioned Kenny Robinson known for playing in the XFL before being drafted by the NFL, will also be competing for snaps at strong safety. 

Wiggins is extremely sought after currently, after 3 games with the Breakers in 2023 that saw him collect 9 tackles, 2 interceptions and 1 forced fumble. With the uncertainty in the USFL, Wiggins chose to sign with the Edmonton Elks about 3 weeks ago. Could he play in both the UFL, and CFL in 2024 or did he simply remove himself from consideration before the Stallions could select him? 

Daniel Isom, DB

Daniel Isom was added to the Stars roster in October of 2023. Meaning he has yet to play a snap in the USFL. In fact, he has yet to play a snap in any regular season game for any professional football league to this point. Isom is a safety by trade, but has the ability to drop down and play some nickelback as well. He is versatile in his ability to play either safety position, and hold his own in the slot as well, which makes him extremely valuable on the smaller roster of the USFL.

Isom a St. Louis native finds himself in Birmingham with a stacked secondary regardless of which position he is considered as. With as many as six safeties currently on the roster, you have to assume at least two players will be let go. Isom technically hasn’t had a chance to prove himself at this level yet, and the Stallions are drafting him based on his potential at the UFL level of play.

Isom is a 4.4 defensive back with the speed to make plays all over the field playing from the single high, or the strength, and fearlessness to drop down in the box and play strong safety and stop the run or rush the passer when needed. He has all the tools needed to be a quality player, but with this much depth at his position group, one has to wonder if he wouldn’t have been better off on another team’s roster.

YouTube video

Chris Orr

Another former General player finds his way onto the Stallions roster for the 2024 season. Orr finds himself With the most talented linebacker group In the league with Scooby Wright inside, and Tezino opposite of Orr. The Stallions have drastically improved their defense on every level heading into 2024.

Orr was an All USFL selection in 2023 after a season that saw him collect 82 tackles and 2.5 sacks for the Generals defense. This was the third most tackles in the league behind Frank Ginda, and his new teammate in Birmingham Kyahva Tezino.

I am honestly quite surprised that Orr didn’t receive an NFL contract after the 2023 season he had in the USFL. Occasionally you see guys in the USFL who are there because they aren’t the athlete that the NFL is looking for and they simply produce when they play which got them a look.

Orr is NOT that guy, this is an elite level athlete at the linebacker position. In 2020 at his pro-day after not getting a combine invite Orr put up top ten numbers in nearly every major category that matters. He put up the fastest 20 yard shuttle of any linebacker, fifth fastest 3-cone drill, and the eighth highest vertical jump per SI.com. He also ran a 4.65 laser timed 40-yard dash, and 20 reps in the bench press. The one thing you can point to with Orr is his height at 6’0 that is slightly undersized in the NFL, but many linebackers under 6’3 have found success in the NFL, including some of the best in the history of the game.

Solidifying Special Teams

Chris Blewitt, K

We have all watched as Brandon Aubrey made it through 17 weeks in the NFL without missing a field goal attempt, before missing a couple in week 18. It became apparent early on that he had solidified a home in Dallas for the foreseeable future, and that Birmingham needed a kicker. Given the chance to pilfer the four squads being dismantled, the Stallions chose to go with Chris Blewitt.

Blewitt was on the other side of the field in the 2023 USFL Championship game having played with the Maulers in 2023. The Stallions watched closely as he went 4 of 5 on the day, and kept the Maulers alive in the process. Kudos to Blewitt, and the special teams coordinator for the Pittsburgh Maulers, Mark Hull, who by the way also oversaw the linebacker unit that saw Tezino, and Reuben Foster see NFL interest. Hull also recently posted about his availability should a program need some help in 2024.

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Sam Just

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