Over 20 former USFL players are currently on NFL rosters. Daryl Johnston, the former Cowboys legend and current USFL president, is surprised that one USFL player is not currently employed by an NFL team.
When recently asked to name the USFL player he is most surprised is not currently signed by an NFL team, Johnston quickly pointed to Justin Hall, a receiver/returner who spent this past USFL season with the Houston Gamblers. An undrafted rookie last spring, Hall spent the 2022 preseason with Raiders and had a workout with the Dolphins last month.
"He's tough as nails," Johnston recently said of Hall during an interview with CBS Sports. "He was one of those guys that I just thought, with the direction the NFL is moving, he's that space guy. Doesn't have the quick twitch that KaVonte [Turpin] has, but he's got a toughness and a contact balance that's very impressive."
The 5-foot-8 Hall played collegiately at Ball State, where he caught 318 passes and 18 touchdowns. He also averaged 26.1 yards per kickoff return that included a 99-yard return for a score against Army.
Hall signed with Houston after not making the Raiders' 53-man roster. During his first season with the Gamblers, Hall was top five in the USFL in receiving yards, touchdown catches and punt return yards.
While Hall waits for his next opportunity, several other former USFL players are preparing for Week 1 of the NFL's regular season. Four former USFL players -- Cowboys receiver/returner KaVonte Turpin, Cowboys kicker Brandon Aubrey, Broncos long snapper Mitchell Fraboni and Panthers defensive tackle LaBryan Ray -- are currently on 53-man rosters. Quarterback Alex McGough, the USFL's reigning league MVP, is one of 17 former USFL players currently on NFL practice squads.
These players are part of the 100 former USFL players who signed with NFL teams over the past two years. All but one of the NFL's 32 teams have signed a USFL player over that span.
"I couldn't be happier for these guys," Johnston said. "It's what we talk to them about and what we strive for as a league. I always remember Jeff Fisher saying it's not about getting them to the NFL, because a lot of them have already done that. It's about getting them the opportunity to stay in the NFL."
Not surprisingly, a considerable number of USFL players who jumped to the NFL have come from the two-time defending champion Birmingham Stallions. Two members of the Stallions' 2022 championship team -- Bears linebacker DeMarquis Gates and Ravens cornerback Tae Hayes -- are beginning their second consecutive seasons on NFL rosters. Six members of Birmingham's most recent championship team are currently employed by NFL teams.
Despite that turnover, Johnston feels that Birmingham will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in 2024. He said that the trust that's developed between Stallions coach Skip Holtz and GM Zach Potter is one of the reasons why.
"He's got great connections. He's always trying to turn the roster over to get better," Johnston said of Potter. "I think Birmingham is always going to be tough. Depending on what happens with Alex. Alex was the difference-maker in our league last year. He was just outstanding."
As far as the USFL is concerned, Johnston feels that the league will eventually be a better alternative for players than college football when it comes to preparing to play in the NFL.
"What we're providing with the USFL is invaluable because it allows these guys to get into a professional atmosphere, work on the day-to-day grind, work on the details of the position, get better at their craft," he said. "We really feel like, once we get the momentum behind us, we're going to be the better alternative."