2024 UFL Power Rankings and Best Bets


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2024 UFL Power Rankings and Best Bets

The USFL and XFL have combined forces, leaving eight teams to compete for spring football glory in the United Football League (UFL), which kicks off on March 30th.

Our opening-week DFS written preview is already in the works and I’ll be starting the weekly (and free!) UFL Breakdown YouTube Show with Neil Orfield on March 29, but the only real action we can get on the league right now is by betting on a champion (thanks to DraftKings).

Consider this article a broad overview of each UFL team, its coaches, quarterbacks, strengths and weaknesses, and how it stacks up as a championship bet. I’ll rank teams in order of competitive strength and note the best overall value bets at the end of this piece. It’s also important to acknowledge the playoff format. The top-2 teams (by record) in each conference will battle each other in the conference championships (June 8 and 9) for the right to play in the UFL championship (June 16). So, we may have a situation similar to the 2023 XFL – where a team with a winning record doesn’t make the playoffs because they didn’t finish top-2 in their conference.

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UFL Power Rankings — The Favorites

1. St. Louis Battlehawks (+490 on FanDuel)

Although the Battlehawks didn’t make the XFL playoffs last year, it’s difficult to deny they were the best team in the 2023 iteration of the league.

The team is led by Anthony Becht (HC) and former NFL quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (OC), who rank among the sharpest coaches in the new league. Among the eight surviving spring football teams, the Battlehawks posted the highest pass rate when trailing (71%), 3rd-most yards per play (5.9), and the highest overall pass rate (64%). Even if those stats don’t sway you, the way St. Louis put up points (53, to be exact) in a must-win Week 10 game (with some convoluted tie-breaking incentives) should inspire confidence that this offense has real juice. Beyond coaching, it’s obvious where that juice comes from: St. Louis has – by far – the league’s best quarterback in AJ McCarron.

McCarron was the 2023 XFL MVP, pacing the XFL in passing TDs (23), completion percentage (69%), and passer rating (108.5), while ranking top-3 in every other passing efficiency stat that could possibly matter (Big Time Throw rate, adjusted completion percentage, YPA, etc.).

McCarron is really good – great by spring football standards – and his pass catchers might be even better. Hakeem Butler, Jahcour Pearson (on IR currently, but expected to return mid-season), Blake Jackson, Darrius Shepherd, and Marcell Ateman mark what I can safely call the best spring football receiving room in modern history. This group represents five of the top 20 (and three of the top 8) WRs in the 2023 XFL by receiving YPG. These five pass catchers collectively recorded 14% of the XFL’s receiving yards (2,491) last year – averaging more receiving YPG as a group than five XFL teams.

While I don’t have strong opinions on the St. Louis defense, this is the best offense in modern spring football since the 2020 Houston Roughnecks. Offense drives success in modern professional football, and until the title of ‘best offense’ is stripped from the Battlehawks, I feel (relatively) safe considering them the best team in the new league. Plus, the championship game will be held in St. Louis, giving the Battlehawks a natural home-field advantage (that’s likely worth 2.0 or 2.5 points to the spread) if they manage to advance to the title game.

2. Birmingham Stallions (+300)

Birmingham is undoubtedly the most consistent team in modern spring football history. Over the last two USFL seasons, Birmingham has played 24 games, winning 21 of them (88%), alongside back-to-back USFL championships.

Spring football has been marred by coaching and player turnover, but that hasn’t been a notable problem for Birmingham. HC (and co-OC) Skip Holtz enters his third season next to a staff with 260 seasons of combined coaching experience, including 43 seasons at the NFL level. It’s safe to say Birmingham will be one of the best-coached teams in the UFL, with (crucially) coach Holtz calling the offense for the third year in a row.

At the player level, Birmingham touts similar levels of experience. Mike Mitchell noted that Birmingham had more former NFL draft picks (18) on their 70-man training camp roster than any other UFL team. For comparison, the other three USFL teams that joined the new league collectively had 18 former NFL draft picks on their respective camp rosters. From a raw talent perspective, Birmingham is head and shoulders above the other teams in the USFL conference – giving them the best raw playoff probability of any team in the UFL.

QB play could be argued as a concern for Birmingham, but I’d expect something approximating league-average QB play from J’Mar Smith. Smith appeared in nine games for Birmingham in the 2022 iteration of the USFL, ranking 3rd among USFL QBs in YPA (6.6), passing TDs (10), and passing yards (1,573). I’ve never been terribly impressed with Smith, but the Stallions clearly have confidence in him – he was Birmingham’s Week 1 starter in 2023 before an injury that eventually resulted in backup Alex McGough starting the rest of the year and winning the 2023 USFL MVP (McGough is now with the Green Bay Packers). If Smith showed enough to convince the Stallions’ staff he was better than McGough last year, he should be good enough to be (at least) average in the UFL.

Smith won’t need to carry this team. The Stallions have put together one of the most well-rounded rosters (from a coach and player perspective) in the entire league. They may not be as explosive offensively as St. Louis or as stout defensively as other UFL teams, but if there’s one thing you could say about Birmingham, it’s this: they just win.

3. DC Defenders (+380)

DC looked like they were destined for a 2023 XFL championship before being upset by Arlington. Given the team's coaching and player continuity heading into the UFL, it’s no surprise they are considered among the best teams in the new league.

The Defenders' offense stole the show in the 2023 version of the XFL. Led by OC Fred Kaiss, DC averaged 29.8 PPG – representing the best offensive output by a spring football team since the 2020 Houston Roughnecks (31.6). DC is the epitome of a run-first offense, posting a 45% pass rate in the 2023 XFL regular season – the lowest pass rate in modern spring football history. I expect DC to keep pounding the rock as we head into the inaugural UFL season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the team turned slightly more pass-heavy this year after the recent loss of RB Abram Smith (ACL), who accounted for 56% of the team’s rushing yards in 2023.

That said, I have little concern that DC can air the ball out if they need to. Jordan Ta’amu returns for his third consecutive season of spring football and second season as DC’s quarterback. Despite a historically low pass rate last season, DC still averaged more passing YPG (206.2) than 63% of the UFL did in 2023. Ta’amu has been rather streaky throughout his spring football career – but despite some absolutely brutal games over the last three seasons – he finished 2023 strong, recording an 84.2 PFF passing grade in his final seven games.

Beyond the offense, I would consider this defense one of the more interesting in the UFL. Sure, they gave up 24.0 PPG last season (3rd-worst in the 2023 XFL), but the defensive roster has a ton of talent – and a hyper-aggressive coordinator in Gregg Williams. This secondary features two former Round 1 picks at CB in Deandre Baker and Gareon Conley, 2023 All-XFL selection Michael Joseph, with NFL veteran DJ Swearinger at safety. I still expect plenty of volatility from this defense week-to-week, but a defensive backfield this talented should be able to lock down opposing WRs in man coverage – which is crucial given how much Cover 0 Gregg Williams runs.

I see a slightly wider range of outcomes for DC than the first two teams I’ve noted in my rankings, but they safely round out the top tier of talent in the new league.

UFL Power Rankings — The Contenders

4. Arlington Renegades (+475)

The 2023 XFL champions aren’t as talented as last year’s finish implied, but this team is still very capable.

HC Bob Stoops returns for his second season with the Renegades, and Chuck Long (last season’s co-OC) will handle play-calling duties. This offense was pretty brutal to watch in the 2023 regular season, averaging just 14.6 PPG (last among all 16 USFL and XFL teams in 2023).

However, there was a notable shift in offensive efficiency and scoring output once the team traded for QB Luis Perez, who has already been named their starter for the inaugural UFL season. The injection of Perez into the offense increased scoring by 71%, passing YPG by 56%, and took the team’s passing YPA from a rather pathetic 6.0 to 7.9 (2nd in the XFL over the full season). His impressive passing down the stretch won this team the 2023 XFL championship.

Beyond Perez, I’m not super impressed with the team’s skill players. I don’t think the unit is particularly bad, but it’s tough to make a bull case for a WR group who would all be on the cut line if they played for St. Louis. I’d expect around (or maybe slightly below) league-average play from the team’s pass catchers, alongside quality power running from workhorse RB De’Veon Smith.

Factor in an impressive defense (the 2nd-toughest among all 16 USFL and XFL teams in 2023 by YPG allowed) that just added Vic Beasley in the dispersal draft, and we have what I’d consider to be a pretty good, but likely not great, team.

5. Memphis Showboats (+800)

The Showboats weren’t a compelling watch in 2023, but it’s easy to see that changing this year under the direction of HC John DeFilippo and OC Doug Martin, who joined Memphis after leading the New Orleans Breakers in 2023.

And the 2023 Breakers offense offers up plenty of optimism. Among all 16 USFL and XFL offenses in 2023, New Orleans ranked 5th in total YPG (333.5), 3rd in passing YPG (243.4), and 6th in PPG (23.7). That offense was led by QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson (now in the CFL), and I think new Showboats’ QB Case Cookus is – at worst – a lateral move, and possibly an upgrade.

Cookus threw for the 2nd-most passing yards (2,259) and posted the 4th-best completion percentage (63%) in the 2023 USFL. None of his box score stats are particularly eye-popping, but my own eye test gives me confidence he can push to be a league-average QB, which may be all this offense needs to make a serious playoff push. I find myself largely unimpressed with the team’s skill players, but these same coaches took a similar-looking skill group to a 7-3 record in the 2023 USFL, so a mediocre group on paper is far from a death knell when it comes to UFL title prospects.

I have a difficult time coming to any profound conclusions about the quality of this defense – Memphis gave up the 3rd-most YPG (309.3) and 3rd-most PPG (21.3) in the 2023 USFL, and while they kept 2023 DC Carnell Lake, there is a lot that feels up in the air with this unit.

Still, I have some confidence in the offense Memphis should put together, which makes them a semi-interesting futures bet, given the overall weakness of the USFL conference after Birmingham.

UFL Power Rankings — The Long Shots

6. San Antonio Brahmas (+1400)

It’s inarguable that the UFL merger was a bit confusing and convoluted as it was happening, and I’m not sure that’s embodied by anything more than the last-minute change in the Brahmas coaching staff…

Regardless, this is one of the coaching groups in which I have the most faith. HC Wade Phillips has a lifetime of NFL experience, and OC AJ Smith orchestrated a Roughnecks offense in 2023 that averaged an absurd 30.5 PPG and 340.0 YPG in Weeks 1-4 before poor QB play (mainly due to injury) derailed their offensive success.

If there is one thing I am sure about, it’s that Smith is right there as the most creative offensive mind in spring football history…

Smith has plenty of talent to work with on the offensive end. 2023 XFL MVP candidate (prior to injury) Jontre Kirklin and TE/WR hybrid Cody Latimer both ranked top-4 in XFL receiving YPG in their healthy games, setting up one of the best pass-catching units in the league.

QB play could be argued as a question mark, but I have decent optimism for Quinten Dormady, the (likely) starter. While he toiled on the bench last season, Dormady’s Orlando Guardians averaged a putrid 12.3 PPG, but with Dormady under center, the team managed 23.9 PPG (a 94% improvement in scoring). His 65.7 PFF passing grade, 7.3 YPA, and 74% adjusted completion percentage from that 2023 XFL season suggest he’s a capable starter in the new league. Granted, with some potential for disaster – as evidenced by the 2.8 YPA he averaged on 22 dropbacks in Week 9 of last season.

Update: Chase Garbers has been named the Week 1 starter for the Brahmas. This adds a unique rushing element to the offense (1,560 career rushing yards for 5.7 YPA in college), but otherwise leaves my Brahmas’ QB analysis largely unchanged – quarterback play remains the key to unlocking what should be a rather talented and extremely creative air raid offense.

This defense could be among the best in the league. Phillips led the 2023 Roughnecks to the best PFF grade of any XFL defense (86.2), the second-fewest PPG allowed (18.2), and the fewest yards per play allowed (5.1). He should bring some of that success over to the Brahmas – who were already a top-3 XFL defense by nearly every metric that matters to me.

This team has a ton of potential. My only notable concerns are QB play and the overall difficulty of playing in the XFL conference. It’ll be an uphill battle for San Antonio to make the playoffs, but it’s easy to see them finishing as one of the best teams in the new league.

7. Michigan Panthers (+1300)

The Panthers weren’t fun to watch during most of last year’s regular season, but head coach Mike Nolan has ushered in the change necessary for this team to compete for a playoff spot in the UFL.

That change started with hiring Marcel Bellefeuille to coordinate the offense. Bellefeuille comes over from the Philadelphia Stars, where he served as their WRs coach and passing game coordinator. For those unfamiliar with the now-defunct Stars, they were the only air raid team in the old USFL – meaning Bellefeuille is almost certainly bringing that offense with him to Michigan – further evidenced by Michigan selecting four former Stars’ WRs, and a former Stars’ RB in the UFL dispersal draft.

QB EJ Perry only started two games last season, but I am optimistic about his future in this league after he threw for 370 yards, 9.7 YPA, and 2 TDs in the semifinals against a very tough Pittsburgh Maulers’ defense. In that contest, he demonstrated excellent execution of quick-game concepts (crucial in an air raid offense) alongside what I can only call above-average ability for a spring QB. I feel (somewhat) safe calling Perry the most underrated starter in the new league.

I don’t have many strong takes on this defense. They were a slightly below-average defense in the 2023 USFL, so – with plenty of room for variance – that’s roughly what I assume they will be in the UFL.

Michigan feels pretty similar to San Antonio in terms of raw potential – with one crucial advantage – they play in the USFL conference, which is significantly weaker overall (per my power rankings) than the XFL conference. While I think San Antonio is a slightly stronger team, it’s difficult to deny that Michigan has a better chance to sneak into the playoffs.

8. Houston Roughnecks (+650)

It’s important to note that this team is the Roughnecks in name and uniform only — otherwise, this team is the continuation of the 2023 Houston Gamblers of the USFL.

HC Curtis Johnson and OC Eric Price returned from the 2023 Gamblers, and I’d argue this offense has some potential if the team can find a QB. They did manage 22.3 PPG (3rd in the 2023 USFL) and 308.9 YPG (3rd), largely on the back of an elite rushing attack (119.0 rushing YPG, 3rd-best among all 16 USFL and XFL teams in 2023) led by bruising RB Mark Thompson. No team in the 2023 USFL called more rushing plays per game than Houston (24.6), and I wouldn’t expect that to change much as we enter the 2024 season.

But QB play is a massive question mark, and that is the primary reason I consider Houston the worst team in my power rankings. Don’t take my word for it — even HC Johnson has no idea who the long-term answer at QB is for the Roughnecks…

Reid Sinnett is probably the favorite to win the job outright, but it’s tough to argue he will lead Houston to a championship after a pedestrian performance in his lone start (5.1 YPA, 69.1 PFF passing grade) for the Brahmas last year. Jarrett Guarantano was a highly-touted recruit in high school, but his college career never quite lived up to the hype – as he threw for fewer than 1.0 passing TDs per game in his 40 career starts at Tennessee and Washington State. And Nolan Henderson is entering his first season of pro ball after a semi-impressive career at Delaware (FCS) that didn’t provide the eye-popping numbers we generally see from professionally successful FCS QBs.

So, this QB room is a real toss-up. It wouldn’t be shocking to see one of these players emerge as a competent starter, but we have to acknowledge this is very likely the weakest QB group in the UFL, and that will cost Houston in these power rankings.

Update: Jarrett Guarantano has been named the Roughnecks starting QB.

Last year’s Gamblers’ defense got shredded through the air (USFL-worst 218.9 passing YPG and 7.2 YPA allowed), while being otherwise mediocre, so I can’t claim that they can save this team. I feel safe saying Houston has the lowest floor outcome and likely the lowest median outcome of any UFL team – but talent emerging at QB could quickly change that assessment.

TL;DR (Best value bets in order):

1. St. Louis Battlehawks (+490 on FanDuel)

2. Michigan Panthers (+1300)

3. San Antonio Brahmas (+1400)

Tier break

4. Birmingham Stallions (+300)

5. DC Defenders (+380)

6. Memphis Showboats (+800)

Tier break

7. Arlington Renegades (+475)

8. Houston Roughnecks (+650)

Jake Tribbey is the 2022 FSWA Football Writer of the Year and the leading Spring Football expert in the fantasy industry. He is a lifelong football fan obsessed with extracting every edge possible from DFS, Best Ball, and player props/futures.