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Notes: Top USFL players for Detroit Lions fans to watch

There are many former Lions and family members to root for in April.

New Mexico v Nevada Photo by Jonathan Devich/Getty Images

It’s understandable that many Detroit Lions fans may not be ready to go all-in on another professional football team in Michigan until they see some longevity and success. The color scheme is pretty cool for the local USFL franchise, but getting hyped for what history suggests will be aggressively .500 ball is a tough sell. Still, pro football in the spring is pro football in the spring! Now that completion of its supplemental draft this past Thursday established the USFL’s final rosters, we can scan the lists for interesting players to follow. For those looking for smaller storylines to watch, here are some players with Detroit Lions angles to focus on.

Wide receiver Victor Bolden was taken by the Birmingham Stallions in the 13th round on the second day of the USFL draft. Bolden arrived in Detroit at the tail end of the 2019 season but did not see the field that year. During the 2020 offseason, Bolden was one of the few veteran receivers signed to the team and thought to have a good shot at making the roster, but he was a surprise September cut and landed on the practice squad instead. The same happened in 2021, with Bolden positioned well to take on a bigger role but a muffed punt and dropped passes in the preseason ended his time with the Lions.

Tight end Brandon Barnes was picked in the 34th round by the Houston Gamblers. Originally an undrafted free agent signing by the Detroit Lions in 2017, Barnes was a practice squad player in 2017 and signed a futures contract in early 2018. By May of that year, he was injured and waived to make space for other players signed out of rookie minicamp. The former Alabama State tight end moved on to the Las Vegas Raiders in 2019.

In the 24th round, the Pittsburgh Maulers selected defensive tackle Olive Sagapolu. Signed to the Detroit practice squad late in 2019 and brought back on a futures contract, Sagapolu bounced on and off the 2020 preseason roster. He did not make the final 53-man roster and was not brought back to the practice squad that year. The former Wisconsin Badger signed with the Atlanta Falcons after their 2021 rookie minicamp.

One of the supplemental draft players taken this week was Houston’s eighth-round pick, wide receiver Teo Redding. Detroit Lions fans might remember Redding as a 2018 undrafted free agent who briefly looked like a great find. He had great athleticism but a thin frame, and ultimately did not make the final 53-man roster that year.

Former XFL sensation and 2021 Detroit Lion Jordan Ta’amu was selected second overall in the USFL draft by the Tampa Bay Bandits. The quarterback from Ole Miss was part of the practice squad in late 2020 but never made the active roster. Sadly, he was cut before the 2021 season even began, cheating me out of my best (ever?) opportunity to purchase a Lions jersey for a gameday player from Pearl City.

The Tampa Bay Bandits also selected defensive tackle John Atkins in the 26th round. Mainly a practice squad player, Atkins made it to the active roster for parts of 2018 and 2019, and was actually the first Detroit player to opt out of the 2020 season. Last offseason, the team waived Atkins before training camp.

Two USFL names that were never signed as members of the Detroit Lions are worth mentioning due to their family ties to players who are on the roster. Incredibly athletic safety Obi Melifonwu was selected by the Tampa Bay Bandits in the 18th round. The older brother of current Lions cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu, Obi recorded ridiculous Combine numbers and made a lot of fans’ wish lists in 2017.

The other brother of note in the USFL is the seventh-round supplemental pick of the Philadelphia Stars, Gabriel Sewell. The former Nevada linebacker is current Detroit Lions tackle Penei Sewell’s older brother. Unable to participate in a pro day in 2020 (it was canceled by Nevada), Oregon’s head coach Mario Cristobal invited Gabe to participate in their 2021 pro day with his brother.

Whether it’s following a former UDFA camp crush or rooting for siblings of Lions players, there’s a lot to watch in the USFL even if you’re not ready to adopt another pro football team. The USFL season kicks off in a little over a month with a primetime game on April 16:

Now, on to the rest of today’s Notes:

  • Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter will continue to serve as the NFLPA president: