A lack of NFL football, or football in general, is a terrible thing. But football is still hanging around, thanks to the USFL! And since DraftKings is offering DFS fantasy tournaments, it’s time to discuss the top plays and contrarian options so we can bink some USFL tournaments.
I’ll be going position by position, highlighting my favorite plays for tournaments, with a TL;DR included for those who don’t want to read my reasoning and just want the top-value plays. I’ll also include teams’ implied totals directly below, to help readers get a sense of the offenses Vegas thinks will put the most points on the board.
Houston Gamblers (16.75) @ New Orleans Breakers (22.25)
Memphis Showboats (18.5) @ Birmingham Stallions (26.0)
New Jersey Generals (19.5) @ Pittsburgh Maulers (17.0)
Michigan Panthers (19.75) @ Philadelphia Stars (22.75)
In the TL;DR, I’ll list out the top plays in order of value (according to me). This isn’t super strict, it does not factor in ownership, and in some cases, it’s sort of arbitrary. It also doesn’t matter nearly as much as my readers think it does. What does matter is maximizing the correlations within your lineups, and making sure you include at least a few players on each tournament team who should be on the lower end of ownership (I highlight a few in my write-ups). Get creative!
Plays ranked in order, with tier 1 in bold, and assumes notable questionable players suit up…
QB: Case Cookus, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Alex McGough, Kenji Bahar, Brady White, Josh Love
RB: Anthony Jones, Alex Collins, Madre London, Reggie Corbin, TJ Pledger, Darius Victor, Matt Colburn, Bo Scarbrough, Dexter Williams, Kingston Davis
WR/TE: Bailey Gaither, Jonathan Adams, Joe Walker, Diondre Overton, Isaiah Hennie, Sage Surratt, Davion Davis, Rashard Davis, Ishmael Hyman, Devin Gray, Joe Walker, Ryan McDaniel, Diondre Overton, Deon Cain, Devin Ross, Jordan Suell
Case Cookus ($10,600): Cookus is the “Mr. Reliable” of spring football, throwing for 212 yards and 3 TDs in Week 1 – while leading all QBs with 23.6 DraftKings points. Cookus has the advantage of a league-high pass rate (66% in 2022) and league-best ability (per my eye test). Not only that, but he probably has the best upside of any QB in spring football given he scored 48.7 DraftKings in Week 8 of 2023 (the greatest fantasy performance in spring football history).
You could certainly argue for other QBs because they are cheaper, or arguably better values. But, there isn’t a USFL QB I have more confidence in than Case Cookus. He’s my favorite QB play of the week and clear top option for those who want safety at QB.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson ($9,700): New Orleans threw the ball at the highest rate (69%) in the USFL last week. And Bethel-Thompson capitalized, throwing for 302 yards and a score, finishing the day with 20.7 DraftKings points (QB2). Bethel-Thompson has the advantage of both a secured role (100% snap share in Week 1), and a pass-happy coaching staff. I can’t trust him as much as Cookus (given he has just one spring football game under his belt), but I still feel comfortable using him in tournaments in Week 2.
Kenji Bahar ($7,800): Bahar had a bad game in Week 1, throwing for just 109 passing yards, 2 interceptions, and losing a fumble. He only averaged 9.4 DraftKings FPG in his three starts last year, so the 3.0 fantasy points he scored in Week 1 doesn’t add any confidence to the idea he could be a solid fantasy QB. Still, it’s encouraging (from a floor perspective) that Bahar wasn’t benched in his brutal outing – meaning he’s one of a small handful of USFL QBs who can be expected to play every snap in Week 2. Locked into a starting role at a reasonable price tag, I think you could do a lot worse than Bahar in a game where Houston is a 5.5-point underdog. He should be forced to throw, and he’s been willing to run in previous weeks (43.0 rushing YPG in Weeks 8 and 9 of 2022). I still think there is some decent fantasy potential here, but remember, the floor is as low as any starting QB in the league.
Anthony Jones ($8,600): Jones recorded an absurd 100% of backfield opportunities, amounting to 19 carries (1st among RBs) and 8 targets (1st among RBs) for 18.5 DraftKings points (3rd-most among RBs). His efficiency wasn’t great (2.4 YPC), but that doesn’t matter when you earn a McCaffrey-esque workload. Jones should be considered the top RB play of Week 2 given his elite usage in what’s expected to be positive gamescript this week as 5.5-point favorites.
Alex Collins ($8,500): Collins earned 88% of backfield carries (14) and a position-leading 8 targets in Week 1. He appears to be one of the league’s true bell cows, and I expect him to be one of the most efficient RBs in the USFL given his NFL pedigree (and the encouraging 4.5 YPC he averaged in Week 1). Birmingham gave up a league-high 197 rushing yards in Week 1 (granted, that was to run-happy New Jersey), and Collins receiving usage should help secure his floor even if the efficiency isn’t there. Collins is just barely behind Anthony Jones as the top RB play of the slate, with the only major separator being that Collins may not see positive gamescript as a 7.5-point underdog to the league’s best team.
Reggie Corbin ($7,900): Corbin didn’t lead the Panthers backfield in rushing, earning just 9 carries (43% of backfield carries). This was surprising after he was the league’s most efficient rusher in 2022, leading all RBs in YPC (5.4). That said, Corbin did lead the way in backfield receiving with 4 targets (80% of backfield targets), suggesting he could have a little more fantasy juice in negative gamescript. And I’d certainly expect negative gamescript in Week 2, with Michigan listed as a 3.0-point underdog to Philadelphia. I imagine I’ll end up overweight Corbin in Week 2 as his big play ability is virtually unmatched, especially in a script that should lead to more receiving work.
Jonathan Adams ($8,900): Adams earned 6 targets in Week 1 (4th among Breakers pass catchers), and a team-leading 2 of those targets came at least 20 yards downfield. Last season, he ranked 11th in deep targets (12) and 6th in red zone targets (7), demonstrating strong usage both downfield and near the end zone. Plus, it appears this New Orleans offense is a much more favorable passing attack for fantasy purposes, given their 69% Week 1 pass rate (resulting in a league-high 302 yards passing). Last year, New Orleans threw just 49% of the time and averaged just 195.2 passing YPG. So, Adams isn’t just one of my favorite talents in the USFL, he also plays for one of the top two or three best passing offenses for fantasy purposes. He’s a priority play for me this week, alongside similarly-priced teammate Johnnie Dixon.
Jordan Suell ($8,800): Suell is probably overpriced, but he’s still a full-time starter in the league’s best passing offense. He earned just 1 target last week, finishing with 1.9 DraftKings points. But last season, Suell averaged 5.4 targets per game (1st among Stars’ players), 37.6 receiving YPG (1st), and 9.2 DraftKings FPG. Not eye-popping numbers, sure, but they are drastically better than the box score results in Week 1. I like Suell quite a bit in GPPs this week as a high-end ‘flop lag’ candidate.
Bailer Gaither ($7,800): Gaither earned a 26% target share (5th-most) and 7 total targets in Week 1, solidifying his role as Pittsburgh’s WR1. And remember, Gaither is really, really good – at least if his 2022 numbers are any indication…
Only 2 players in the USFL have a YPRR over 3.0:— Jake Tribbey (@JakeTribbey) June 8, 2022
3.48 - KaVontae Turpin (best fantasy WR in the USFL)
3.07 - Bailey Gaither (benched by Kirby Wilson)
Before his benching in Week 7, Gaither averaged 8.0 targets per game, 74.0 YPG, and 19.9 DraftKings FPG – all top-5 numbers among USFL pass catchers. The only thing that could get in the way of Gaither’s success is Pittsburgh’s own incompetence, as the team threw for a league-low 82 passing yards in Week 1. And while a total offensive collapse is a risk, Pittsburgh playing from behind (which is expected in Week 2) should push their pass rate up over 60%. If that happens, Gaither is one of the only WRs who has the potential for double-digit targets.
Ishmael Hyman ($5,000): Hyman earned the 2nd-most targets (5) of any Michigan Panthers player in Week 1. And while it only resulted in 8.2 DraftKings points, there is a solid argument that Hyman is simply too cheap, given his role and the expected gamescript for Michigan in Week 2. The Panthers are 3.0-point underdogs in the 2nd-highest total game of the slate (42.5), and we’ve seen the Philadelphia Stars put up points game after game – they scored at least 30 points in 33% of their games last season. If the Stars show up offensively, Michigan will be forced to throw early and often, which could earn Hyman 6 to 8 targets in Week 2. He’s a solid value who I expect to go under-owned, given his middle-of-the-road price tag.
Derrick Dillon ($4,300): Dillon scored just 3.9 DraftKings points in Week 1, securing 2 catches for 15 yards. Not great, but my money is still on Dillon being the Showboats’ top WR, or at worst, their WR2, as the season continues. He was the leading receiver for the Tampa Bay Bandits last season, averaging 9.3 DraftKings FPG while finishing 14th among all players in targets (44), 6th in receiving yards (387), and 13th in deep targets (11). Assuming he is one of the top WRs in Memphis, it should be obvious he’s simply too cheap at $4,300, especially with the showboats listed as massive 7.5-point underdogs to Birmingham. Dillon is my favorite way to save salary at WR this week.
Sage Surratt ($4,200): Surratt saw awesome usage in Week 1, earning 9 targets (2nd-most among all players), 85 receiving yards (2nd-most), and 13.5 DraftKings points (11th-most). And we probably shouldn’t be surprised, given he’s replaced Sal Cannella within this offense. In 2022, Cannella earned the 5th-most targets (57), 10th-most receiving yards (368), and the 7th-most deep targets (14) of any pass catcher. So, there is a real chance that Surratt could see top-12 usage (if judged as a WR), meaning he’s obviously far too cheap. Surratt is right there with Derrick Dillon as the top salary-saving option at WR/TE – but I give a slight lean to Dillon overall as I think he offers better upside.