This article is part of our DraftKings USFL series.
We've seen spring football leagues come and go in recent years, not entirely through their own fault as COVID-19 created challenges that no one foresaw. However, the USFL is now looking to sustain its success as it kicks off its second consecutive season Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EDT. Before we jump into some of the top plays, it's worth looking at some of the rules that are unique as compared to the NFL.
Like the XFL, special teams plays are considerably different from the traditional NFL format. Most impactful for fantasy purposes, there are three PAT options. The first is a traditional kick for one point, which is snapped from the 15-yard line — making it roughly a 32-yard attempt. Teams also have the option to go for a two-point conversion from the 2-yard line, or a three-point conversion from the 10-yard line. As for kickoffs, the ball is placed at the 20, with the kicking team lining up at the 19. The receiving team will have eight or nine players lined up between its own 30- and 40-yard lines. Neither team can move until the ball is fielded. A kick that goes out of bounds will be placed 30 yards from the spot of the kick, meaning in most cases midfield.
A few other rules that can be covered in less detail:
- A ball fumbled through the end zone is placed back at the spot of the fumble and the fumbling team will retain possession.
- The clock runs after incompletions in the first and third quarters. It also runs for the entire second and fourth quarters when there are more than five minutes remaining.
- The clock stops after penalties in the final two minutes of the second and fourth quarters as well as after first downs.
- There are two ways to retain possession after a score. First is a traditional onside kick. The other is a 4th-and-12 play from the scoring team's own 33-yard line.
- Overtime is a best-of-three shootout. Each team runs three plays from the two-yard line. The team with the most conversions wins. If tied after three rounds, overtime becomes sudden death.
- Defensive pass interference typically is a 15-yard penalty, same as NCAA rules. However, there are two exceptions. When a receiver is intentionally tackled beyond 15 yards while the ball is in the air, it becomes a spot foul. It will also be a spot foul if the penalty occurs within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage.
- The offense can complete two forward passes behind the line of scrimmage.
Contests are offered on DraftKings, so pricing and reference to roster requirements is specific to the site.
Case Cookus ($10,200) at Memphis
There was a bit of a learning curve when the XFL season began due to a relative lack of familiarity and information about the league. That will likely be true of the USFL as well, but Cookus and J'Mar Smith ($10,300) enter the season as the top two quarterbacks in the league. They are priced accordingly. Based on the projected quality of opponent, Cookus has the edge, though Smith does have the benefit of being more of a dual-threat option.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson ($8,300) vs. Pittsburgh
Bethel-Thompson has bounced all over in his professional football career, but he most recently won the Grey Cup with the Argonauts of the CFL. Lack of familiarity and rust could potentially be factors early in the season, so leaning on a veteran signal-caller could prove wise. He also has a strong pass-catching corps to take advantage of in what should be a matchup to take advantage of. Bethel-Thompson is a good option for those not looking to pay up all the way at quarterback.
Bo Scarbrough ($8,800) vs New Jersey
Scarbrough didn't pan out in the NFL, but he made a quick impact in the USFL last season and is back to lead the backfield for Birmingham once again. He closed out the team's postseason run in excellent form in 2022, with perhaps the most impressive part being his involvement as a receiver. He saw at least three targets in three of his last four games, which combined with his work as a rusher, gave him an excellent workload. New Jersey projects to be a tough matchup, but not to the point where Scarbrough has to be avoided.
Matt Colburn ($9,000) at Memphis
There are some decent value options at wide receiver, so in Week 1 the optimal build looks to be to pay up at running back. Colburn finished second in the league in touchdowns and fifth in yards in 2022 despite having a lesser workload than many of the players surrounding on the stats leaderboard. He was involved as a pass catcher as well, tallying 18 receptions for 150 yards for the Stars last season. It likely doesn't make sense to roster both Cookus and Colburn, because it's unlikely that both hit their ceiling in Week 1.
Also Consider: Madre London ($6,900) at New Orleans
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Derrick Dillon ($3,400) vs. Philadelphia
The Showboats have three talented receivers in Dillon, John Franklin ($8,600) and Rashard Davis ($4,900). It's not exactly clear in which order they'll be prioritized in the offense, but Franklin is priced among the elite wide receivers. That makes Dillon a particularly appealing value option, as he offers direct leverage off one of the highest-priced pass catchers on the slate. As for Dillon's play itself, he finished fifth in the USFL with 386 receiving yards, 11th in receptions and 14th in targets in 2022. It's a crowded receiving corps in Memphis, but even so, this appears to be a price to exploit.
Jonathan Adams ($7,700) vs. Pittsburgh
We shift to another talented receiving corps for our next selection, as Adams and teammate Johnnie Dixon ($9,000) are projected to be the top duo in the league. Last year, Adams finished within the top 10 in yards, targets and receptions. It's certainly possible that Dixon outperforms him this weekend, but the target distribution should be narrow enough that Adams has the chance to get there even if Dixon does as well. Both are strong options.
Corey Coleman ($7,500) at Memphis
Coleman has considerable NFL pedigree as he was selected 15th overall in the 2016 draft. Things didn't work out for him from there, but he is still a fairly significant influx of talent for the league. He most recently appeared on the Chiefs practice squad early in the 2022 season, but he will now have the chance to serve as the Stars' second wide receiver behind Jordan Suell ($9,100), who is questionable with a hamstring injury.
New Orleans Breakers ($4,600) vs. Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh had the worst offense in the league in 2022. Its coaching staff and quarterback have both changed, so there's no guarantee that it will be poor once again. However, this still appears to be one of the biggest mismatches available in the opening week, so it's worth paying up for the highest-priced defense on the slate.