As the 2023 USFL season kicked off, fans were treated to an action-packed Week 1 that showcased the league's top talent. While the stars on offence and defence grabbed headlines, it was the special team's units that made a significant impact on the games. Let's discuss that;
This is a reminder that we do not have enough data to accurately rank the players with just 1 Week of play. These Power Rankings will change next week, and this is an extremely early attempt at ranking these players. Take this with a pinch of salt.
Through Week 1 of the USFL season, Kickers went 11/14 (78.5%) on field goals. Let's discuss how each of the Kickers performed with a look at my (un)Official Week 1 USFL Kicker Power Rankings;
Nick Sciba (NJ) will round out the Top 3 with his solid performance this week, making his only field goal attempt from 25 yards out. Sciba also made his only point-after attempt to remain at 100% on the season.
Cole Murphy (MCH) also completed his only field goal attempt from 35 yards out, however, he ended up completing just 2 of his 4 PATs. This is what will keep him out of the Top 3 in the Power Rankings.
Luis Aguilar (PHI) was 0/1 on field goal attempts this week but it wasn't because he missed, his 50-yard attempt was actually blocked by the Showboats Coverage Team. He went 3/4 on PATs as well this week. His only "miss" came from yet another blocked kick. Philly has some kick protection issues to sort out for Week 2, that's for sure.
Nick Vogel (HOU) did not attempt any field goals this week and was 1/2 on point after attempts.
Nathan Hierlihy (PIT) went 1/2 on field goal attempts, making one (his first professional points) from 37 yards out but had his second attempt from 34 yards out blocked by the New Orleans Breakers. He also missed a PAT. I am not worried about the Maulers Kicker at this point in time. There is still a lot of football left to be played.
We saw Punters punt the ball 28 times this week for an average of 39 yards and 30.4 net yards per punt. 11 Punts landed inside the 20-yard line (39%) and even saw 3 stay inside the 10-yard line. We did see 6 touchbacks from the group, however, which is what is keeping their net average lower than expected. Let's discuss how each of the Punters performed with a look at my (un)Official Week 1 USFL Punter Power Rankings;
Matt Mengel (PIT) had an amazing day punting the ball 5 times for an average of 40.6 yards and 36.6 net yards per attempt. He had 2 punts land inside the 20-yard line, including this perfect punt that was pushed out of bounds on the 1-yard line! He also had 2 punts travelling over 50 yards, which leads the USFL through 1 week of play.
Colby Wadman (BHM) was the only other kicker to have 5 punts in Week 1, averaging 43.8 yards and 37.4 net yards per punt. Wadman had 2 punts land inside the 20-yard line, with one being downed at the opponent's 3-yard line by his long snapper. He showed off his big leg with 2 punts over 50 yards, with this 54-yard punt that was almost downed at the 1-yard line, however, his gunner ended up running into the endzone resulting in a touchback.
Luis Aguilar (PHI) punted 3 times for an average of 37.3 yards and 36.3 net yards this week. Aguilar had 2 of those punts remain inside the 20-yard line (67%), which leads the league.
Andrew Galitz (HOU) had a decent week, punting 4 times for an average of 45.3 yards and 29.3 net yards. Unfortunately, his net yardage is so low because he had 3 touchbacks. Galitz did, however, have 1 punt remaining inside the 20-yard line which, along with his high average yards per punt, will set him up in the Fourth Position.
Brandon Wright (MEM) punted just 1 time but it was a big one, travelling 55 yards before landing in the endzone for a touchback. Wright gained 35 net yards this week.
Kyle Kramer (MCH) punted 4 times for an average of 34.5 yards and 30.8 net yards this week. Kramer did have 1 punt that resulted in a fair catch inside the 20-yard line and another that travelled over 50 yards.
Brock Miller (NJ) punted 3 times for an average of 31.7 yards and 31 net yards. While his average yardage is not as high as I would like to see, he did have 2 punts landing inside the 20-yard line and 1 punt landing inside the 10-yard line. I think Miller will be climbing the rankings in the coming weeks but the punters all played really well in Week 1, making it difficult to rank them.
Matt Coghlin (NO) will start the year in the Eighth Position after being asked to punt for the first time in his career. Matt White, NOLA's starting punter, went down with an injury on his first punt. Speaking with White earlier this week revealed that he has a pretty bad ankle sprain and may not be 100% for Week 2. This seems to be backed up by the Breakers Media Team releasing footage of Coghlin practising his punting before Week 2. I'm hoping for a speedy recovery for White, as he is one of my favourite players in the USFL. Coghlin didn't have a horrible night, all things considered, punting 3 times for an average of 29.7 yards. He had 1 punt remaining inside the 20-yard line. Coghlins net average suffered on this punt return touchdown that happened because the Breaker's coverage team didn't check if the returner had signalled for a fair catch.
Kickoffs work a bit differently in the USFL. This year, the league changed the kickoff spot to the 20-yard line in an effort to increase the percentage of kickoffs that are returned. This means that Kickoffs need to travel 80 yards for a touchback, which will still bring the ball out to the 25-yard line. It is also important to note that Kickoffs travelling out of bounds are penalized with the ball coming out to MIDFIELD! That rule actually had a direct impact on this week's games. Let's discuss how each of the Kickoff Specialists performed with a look at my (un)Official Week 1 USFL Kickoff Power Rankings;
Matt Coghlin (NO) excelled in kickoffs this week, kicking off 7 times for an average of 64.4 yards, with 42% of his kickoffs remaining inside the 35-yard line! This is going to be hard to sustain, with the average kickoff return coming out to the 40-yard line, but Coghling deserves some credit here anyways.
Brandon Wright (MEM) Kicked off 5 times for an average of 62.8 yards per attempt. He had 2 kickoffs remaining inside the 35-yard line, which is the reason he will be in the Second Position. The " In. 35Y %" stat will be extremely important in evaluating kickoff specialists moving forward.
Brandon Aubrey (BHM) kicked off 6 times for 413 yards, or an average of 68.8 yards per attempt. He had 1 kickoff remaining inside the 35-yard line.
Nick Vogel (HOU) kicked off 3 times for an average of 62.7 yards per attempt. I was talking to Vogel before the season started, discussing what would happen if a touchback occurred and unfortunately, it doesn't look like any rule was posted officially by the USFL. Nick did me, and every other specialist fan, a favour and kicked off 80 yards for a Touchback! The touchback can be seen here, at the 00:48 second mark for those interested.
Nick Sciba (NJ) kicked off 3 times for an average of 65 yards per attempt and 1 kickoff remaining inside the 35-yard line.
Cole Murphy (MCH) kicked off 6 ties for an average of 63 yards per attempt. All of his kickoffs came out further than the 35-yard line this week.
Nathan Hierlihy (PIT) is probably one of the best kickoff specialists through Week 1, but this is a complex case. He kicked off 4 times for an incredible 75.3 yards per kick, which is just insane. For comparison, a kickoff in the NFL that travels 75 yards is going to land 5 yards behind the endzone! With a leg like that, it isn't hard to see why he was only the second kicker to accrue a touchback in Week 1. Remember when I said the kickoff penalty rule came into play this week? Well, when Hierlihy kicked the ball 75 yards in the Fourth Quarter against the Breakers this week it landed at the 5-yard line and rolled 4 1/2 yards out of bounds at the 1-yard line. This means instead of the Breakers starting at their own 1-yard line for a game-winning drive, they were handed the ball at midfield. They eventually went downfield and won the game. Personally, I am not a big fan of this rule as it penalizes kickers for no good reason.
Luis Aguilar (PHI) kicked off 5 times for an average of 62 yards per attempt this week.
While tracking return stats for the XFL, I noticed that only ranking a top 8 usually left out 1 or 2 returners who really deserved to be on the list, so moving forward I will be ranking the Top 10 returners. Each team will have at least 1 return specialist on the list, but this will allow us to spotlight a couple of guys who otherwise wouldn't have made the Power Rankings cutoff.
Kickoff Return Specialists
If kickoff returns are what the USFL wanted, they got it! According to the league, over 93% of the kickoffs were returned! Returners averaged about 24.5 yards per return and brought the ball out to the 40-yard line over 50% of the time. Let's discuss how each of the Kickoff Return Specialists performed with a look at my (un)Official Week 1 USFL Kickoff Return Power Rankings;
Derrick Dillon (MEM) will be gifted the First Position after returning 5 kickoffs for an average of 26 yards per return. He had a long of 32 yards and had 2 returns over 30 yards, which leads the league.
Chris Rowland (PHI) returned 3 kickoffs for an average of 33 yards per return. Rowland had the longest return in the USFL, running a kickoff back for 46 yards!
Deontez Alexander (HOU) returned 3 kickoffs for 72 yards with a long of 32 yards.
Johnnie Dixon (NO) returned 2 kickoffs for 63 yards with a long of 36 yards.
Cam Echols-Luper (NJ) returned 2 kickoffs for 61 yards with a long of 32 yards.
Tre Walker (PIT) returned 7 kickoffs for 139 yards, averaging 19.9 yards per return. He did have a 31-yard return in there as well. He, unfortunately, fumbled the ball on 1 return which will hurt his positioning in the Power Rankings.
De'Morney Pierson-El (NJ) is our second player from NJ to make the list, returning 1 kickoff for 37 yards.
Corey Coleman (PHI) is our second player from PHI to make the list, returning 2 punts for 54 yards, with a long of 34 yards.
Deon Cain (BHM) returned 3 kickoffs for 71 yards this week, averaging 23.7 yards per return with a long of 26 yards.
Reggie Corbin (MCH) struggled for the Panthers, returning 1 kickoff for just 18 yards.
Punt Return Specialists
While we saw an increased number of kickoff returns this week, we only 7 punt returns, which is incredibly low. Let's discuss how each of the Punt Return Specialists performed with a look at my (un)Official Week 1 USFL Punt Return Power Rankings;
Isiah Hennie (PIT) had a great week, returning 2 punts for 84 yards, including this crazy 82-yard punt return touchdown! It's easy to see why he is in the First Position this week.
De'Morney Pierson-El (NJ) returned 1 punt for 12 yards.
Rashard Davis (MEM) returned 1 punt for 3 yards.
Davion Davis (BHM) returned 1 punt for 2 yards.
Justin Hall (HOU) returned 1 punt for 8 yards but fumbled the ball.
Joe Walker (MCH) fumbled the ball on his only punt return.
NO Breakers - Did not return any punts.
PHI Stars - Did not return any punts.
Through Week 1 of the USFL Season, coverage teams allowed 109 yards on 7 punt returns (15.6 average yards allowed) and 872 yards on 36 kickoff returns (24.2 average yards allowed). We saw 9 penalties, however, we also saw 3 blocked kicks! Let's discuss how each of the Cover Teams performed with a look at my (un)Official Week 1 USFL Coverage Team Power Rankings;
The Houston Gamblers allowed 0 yards on 1 punt return and 31 yards on 2 kickoff returns (15.5 average yards allowed). They had the best week of any coverage team, allowing the least amount of yards total and accruing no penalties.
The New Jersey Generals allowed 2 yards on 1 punt return and 71 yards on 3 kickoff returns (23.7 average yards allowed). They were also not penalized this week.
The Birmingham Stallions allowed 12 yards on 1 punt return and 139 yards on 6 kickoff returns (23.2 average yards allowed). They received 1 penalty this week.
The Michigan Panthers allowed 8 yards on 1 punt return and 146 yards on 6 kickoff returns (24.3 average yards allowed). They received 2 penalties this week.
The New Orleans Breakers allowed 84 yards on 2 punt returns (42 average yards allowed) and 139 yards on 7 kickoff returns (19.9 average yards allowed). While they allowed 1 punt return touchdown, they were extremely efficient at limiting kickoff returns and even had 1 blocked kick. This will keep them in the Top 5.
The Philadelphia Stars allowed 3 yards on 1 punt return and 130 yards on 5 kickoff returns (26 average yards allowed). They received 2 penalties this week.
The Memphis Showboats did not have any punt returns, with their only punt travelling into the endzone for a touchback. They allowed 153 yards of 5 kickoff returns (30.6 average yards allowed). While they struggled on kickoff return coverage, they did manage to block 2 kicks, which will keep them out of the Eighth Position.
The Pittsburgh Maulers allowed 63 yards on 2 kickoff returns (31.5 average yards allowed). They also received 2 penalties. I am looking forward to seeing how their punt return coverage unit plays this year, as Matt Mengel has a history of whipping the team into shape when he's the starting punter.
Special Team Tackle Leaders
Here is a list of Special Teams Standouts. These players are the guys who are playing their hearts out and deserve a shout-out as well!
As you come to the end of this article, I hope that you have found it informative and engaging.
Thank you for taking the time to read my work.