A lengthy list of former New England Patriots players made XFL rosters in February, and the connections continue in the USFL this April.
The latter league included defensive tackle Jeremiah Pharms Jr. last spring before he landed in Foxborough prior to training camp. It also included another eventual member of the practice squad in converted offensive tackle Hunter Thedford. And it even included defensive back Will Likely, a 2017 rookie signing who was among 13 past Patriots chosen in the inaugural draft en route to 2022 All-USFL honors.
With another 10-week regular season set to kick off on Saturday and Sunday, here’s rundown of the familiar faces in the fold between the eight teams.
J’Mar Smith, quarterback — After amassing 759 completions for 9,523 yards and 51 touchdowns at Louisiana Tech, the 2019 Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2020. Smith was waived as training camp opened that July amid the NFL’s Covid-19 roster restrictions. A deal with the The CFL’s Tiger-Cats followed before he was taken in the 2022 USFL draft. The 26-year-old started seven games last campaign for Birmingham on the way to the winning the championship.
Scooby Wright III, linebacker — Selected in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL draft out of Arizona, Wright’s itinerary has gone on to feature the AAF, XFL, The Spring League and USFL. A former All-American, he joined the Patriots late in the 2019 preseason and spent time on the New England’s practice squad after clearing waivers. The 28-year-old linebacker totaled 62 tackles through nine appearances for the Stallions last season, notching three sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception returned 46 yards for a touchdown.
Nate Brooks, cornerback — Undrafted in 2019, Brooks signed with New England’s practice squad that September after being waived by the Arizona Cardinals. Three months later, the North Texas product agreed to depart for a spot on the Miami Dolphins’ 53-man roster. Brooks signed with Birmingham last December following 2022 stops with the Las Vegas Raiders and Tennessee Titans. The 26-year-old has appeared in four NFL games, starting two in the secondary.
Malik Gant, safety — Currently on the inactive list for Birmingham, the 25-year-old Gant entered the NFL with New England as an undrafted free agent out of Marshall in 2019. His rookie run ended on injured reserve after sustaining a leg injury in the preseason finale. After being waived by New England the subsequent summer, Gant spent time in The Spring League before returning to Foxborough during training camp in 2021.
Jordan Steckler, offensive tackle — The 2020 undrafted offensive lineman via Northern Illinois spent the second half of his rookie season on New England’s practice squad. That stay came after a tour with the New Orleans Saints. Now a Gambler at age 26, Steckler has also been a member of general manager Nick Caserio’s Houston Texans.
Dayan Lake, safety — After stepping into the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams as a rookie free agent in 2020, Lake stepped into The Spring League. He then logged six days on New England’s practice squad that December. The 25-year-old from BYU later returned to Los Angeles before agreeing to terms with the Gamblers last fall.
Ross Reiter, long snapper — Reiter originally signed with the Patriots as part of the organization’s 2022 undrafted class. The 23-year-old Colorado State product was waived as the calendar turned to July, leaving incumbent long snapper Joe Cardona on the depth chart of one.
John Atkins, defensive tackle — Arriving in New England as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Atkins was waived at the conclusion of his rookie training camp. The 30-year-old nose out of Georgia went on to appear in 14 NFL games through stints with the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons. He was selected by the on-hiatus Tampa Bay Bandits in the 2022 USFL draft before being transferred to the Showboats for 2023.
Devin Ross, wide receiver — Undrafted out of Colorado in 2018, Ross made his way to New England’s practice squad in October 2019 and remained until October 2020. He would go on to re-sign the next summer after participating in Patriots mandatory minicamp on a tryout basis. The 27-year-old wide receiver spent last spring with the Panthers of Michigan and reunited this spring on the heels of being released by the XFL’s San Antonio Brahmas.
Ron’Dell Carter, linebacker — The 25-year-old Carter signed on with Michigan in March. Prior to then, his most recent NFL service came with New England from midway through October to November of last season. A transfer from Rutgers to James Madison, Carter went undrafted in 2020 and signed his first NFL contract with the Dallas Cowboys. He has appeared in four career games.
NEW JERSEY GENERALS
Trey Williams, running back — Undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2015, Williams was claimed off waivers by New England in December of his rookie campaign. He returned to waivers nine days later yet stayed at Gillette Stadium on the practice squad. Since 2019, the 30-year-old running back has been a San Antonio Commander, Seattle Dragon, Calgary Stampeder and Toronto Argonaut. And in the inaugural USFL draft, Williams became a General, tallying 579 yards rushing, 126 yards receiving and three touchdowns last season.
D.J. Daniel, cornerback — From Georgia Military College to the University of Georgia, Daniel joined New England’s practice squad in January 2022. He did so after entering the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 24-year-old defensive back landed with the Generals last season.
NEW ORLEANS BREAKERS
McLeod Bethel-Thompson, quarterback — Well-traveled, Bethel-Thompson’s pro career began in the Arena Football League after going undrafted out of Sacramento State in 2011. And in 2014, he signed to the Patriots’ practice squad at its formation before being released nine days into September. The 34-year-old quarterback went on to win two Grey Cups and led the CFL both in passing yards and touchdowns. His Breakers tenure began in February.
Kyahva Tezino, linebacker — The Carolina Panthers were awarded Tezino off waivers back in July 2020, when his previous club reduced from 90 to 80 players instead of splitting squads. The 25-year-old linebacker had originally signed with New England as an undrafted free agent that spring out of San Diego State. He recorded 86 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one interception last campaign with the Maulers.
Corey Coleman, wide receiver — Chosen by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, Coleman found himself in New England two years later. The former Biletnikoff Award winner out of Baylor resided on both the active roster and practice squad that September prior to being released. Now 28, Coleman signed with the Stars in February following a stint with the Kansas City Chiefs last fall.
Ryan Izzo, tight end — The final pick in the 2018 Patriots draft class, Izzo got the call at No. 250 overall. The tight end from Florida State spent his Super Bowl LIII rookie season on injured reserve before playing in 18 games for New England, starting 16, and catching 19 passes for 313 yards with one touchdown. Traded to the Texans in exchange for a seventh-round selection during the 2021 offseason, Izzo has since spent time with an additional four NFL teams. The 27-year-old entered the USFL ranks in January.