The Pittsburgh Steelers mined the XFL this offseason, snapping up three former spring league players in wide receiver Hakeem Butler, cornerback Luq Barcoo and long snapper Rex Sunahara.
But the XFLers weren’t the only ones playing this spring, and with the USFL season set to end with Saturday’s Championship Game, another batch of players is set to become available.
Might there be some options for the Steelers in the latest group of spring ballers?
Let’s take a look at the top players from this USFL season that might make sense for the Steelers to take a deeper look.
Wes Hills, RB, New Orleans Breakers
Hills made it to the NFL after playing his final collegiate season in 2018 at Slippery Rock, and after one season split between the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions, and two summers with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL, he finally found a team that would give him a workload in the Breakers.
Hills was the biggest workhorse back in the USFL, leading the league with 180 carries over 10 games. He did not necessarily turn heads with his 3.78 yards per carry, but he did show a nose for the end zone. His 10 total touchdowns finished second in the league.
At 6-foot-1, 218 pounds, Hills represents a bigger, more durable back when compared to the Steelers top options for their No. 3 currently, Anthony McFarland (5-foot-8, 193 pounds), Jason Huntley (5-foot-9, 195 pounds) and Alfonzo Graham (5-foot-9, 195 pounds).
The Steelers No. 3 will likely be one of those speedsters, but if they’re looking to put a No. 4 on the practice squad that could be more of a direct replacement for Najee Harris or Jaylen Warren in case of injury, Hills could fit the bill.
He also showed dramatic improvement in his receiving ability with the Breakers, catching 38 passes for 278 yard, eclipsing his total from his five-year college career with Delaware and Slippery Rock.
Chris Orr, ILB, New Jersey Generals
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Steelers could have interest in a former Wisconsin defender that has deep family ties to the NFL.
Orr played for the Badgers from 2015-19, playing alongside Keeanu Benton, Nick Herbig, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Joe Schobert and T.J. Watt on the Wisconsin defense. His father is two-time Super Bowl winning Washington Redskins tight end Terry Orr. His brother Zach Orr is the Baltimore Ravens inside linebackers coach after a three-year playing career in Baltimore and his other brother Nick Orr also played pro ball.
Orr was one of PFF’s highest-graded USFL players on the New Jersey defense with an 89.9 rating, and that included the second-fewest yards allowed per coverage snap of all USFL linebackers.
The Steelers inside linebacker corps has plenty of run stuffers, but lacks players with the ability to turn and run in coverage, and Orr could provide that dimension from a place of serious comfort for the Steelers in terms of fit.
Breeland Speaks, OLB, Michigan Panthers
Speaks had seven sacks in his senior season at Ole Miss in 2017, which helped propel him to the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, where the Kansas City Chiefs grabbed him.
Speaks had a promising rookie season, with 1.5 sacks and 24 tackles while playing a minor role. In 2019, things fell apart. He suffered an injury and was placed on IR, then was suspended four games for violating the substance-abuse policy.
He was cut by the Chiefs the following summer. Speaks then bounced from the Las Vegas Raiders practice squad to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, a futures contract with the New York Giants, another stint on the Cowboys practice squad and a short stint on the Buffalo Bills practice squad in 2021.
He was out of football altogether last season before catching on with the Panthers, and the time away seems to have done him some good. In 10 regular season games with the Panthers, he racked up nine sacks to lead the USFL as well as 53 total tackles, which was second on the Michigan squad.
The Steelers have shored up their depth at outside linebacker by brining in Markus Golden and Herbig, but Speaks has the talent to make an impact if he can stick around somewhere in the NFL.
Reuben Foster, ILB, Pittsburgh Maulers
Foster is another former top prospect that was looking for a renaissance in the USFL. The No. 31 overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2017, despite a failed drug test at the NFL Combine and being sent home from testing after getting into a argument with a hospital worker.
He was suspended after multiple arrests in 2018 and released by the 49ers, catching on whit the Washington Redskins. There, he sat out one seasons while dealign with his legal issues, then tore his ACL, costing him the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
Foster did not return to football until he signed with the Maulers this January, and he had a strong season, posting 52 tackles, one interception and one-half sack in eight games.
Foster has also graded out among the top pass-coverage linebackers in the league, per PFF.