If anyone had any doubts that America loves football, they certainly don’t after this weekend. The AAF debuted on Saturday to remarkably high ratings that saw the new league top the Rockets-Thunder NBA match-up. These ratings might not last as the season drags on, but there was plenty to like about the product on the field.
Sure, there was some sloppy play, but overall the talent level is there. The league is filled with college players who weren’t quite NFL caliber as well as several NFL veterans. The coaching quality is there as well – with former 49ers coach/NFL Hall of Famer Mike Singletary at the helm of a team as well as legendary South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. Quality also exists in terms of legitimate NFL prospects with no league experience to date.
Overall though, one of the biggest draws in regards to opening weekend seemed to be the ex-NFL players. Some had nothing more than a cup of coffee in the NFL but others such as Rahim Moore and Trent Richardson had extended runs.
Here are 20 former NFL players who debuted in the AAF this weekend and how they fared.
Rahim Moore: Free Safety
Rahim Moore had a five year NFL run from 2011-15, mostly with the Broncos. He spent four years in Denver then signed a three-year contract with Houston only to be released a year later. Overall he recorded 212 NFL tackles with nine picks and 22 pass deflections.
At age 29 as of yesterday (happy birthday), Moore could be auditioning for another run at the NFL. He got off to a fairly decent start with four tackles, one of which was for a loss as well as one pass deflection. He also graded well defensively.
Steven Johnson: Linebacker
No, not that Steven Johnson. He goes by Stevie.
This Steven Johnson is a native of the Philadelphia area. Johnson spent parts of six seasons in the NFL from 2012-17. In that time-frame, he combined for 68 total tackles and forced four fumbles.
He is regarded as the best defender on the current Arizona roster and lived up to that billing on Sunday. Johnson was in on seven tackles total and had a clutch interception off of former Idaho QB Matt Lineham near the end of the 3rd. Johnson had one of the strongest individual defensive performances of the AAF debut weekend and recorded the most tackles.
Rashad Ross: Wide Receiver
Receiver play in the AAF will be intriguing to say the least. Rashad Ross is one of several receivers on AAF rosters who only had a limited run in the big show. The NFL is flush with talent at skill positions but that in no way means there aren’t several talented players on the bubble.
Rashad Ross is one of these guys and he proved he has something left in the tank. He finished action on Sunday with five catches out of seven targets for 103 yards and two touchdowns. The highlight of his day was a 36-yard touchdown reception from John Wolford. Ross also made a nice one-handed grab on an overthrown ball by QB John Wolford – who was overall outstanding.
Pro Football Focus gave Ross the highest grade for receivers in week one and included him on their team of the week.
Ross is best known in NFL for a kick-return touchdown he had against the Giants on Thursday Night Football.
Nick Folk: Kicker
Longtime NFL player Nick Folk was one of a few kickers playing who has a good chunk of NFL experience. The former Jet, Cowboy and Buccaneer has converted 245 NFL field goals on 305 attempts – giving him a conversion percentage of 80.3%.
A graduate of Arizona University, Folk got to suit up in front of his college crowd on Sunday. He converted two of the three field goals he attempted with a long of 53 yards. Folk is 34, but we’ve seen kickers stick around for a long time and 53 yards is just three off his NFL record. If Folk can keep this up, he might be getting some calls this summer.
Salt Lake Stallions
Branden Oliver: Running Back
Ex-NFL running back Branden Oliver suited up for Salt Lake on Sunday and had solid results. The former undrafted Chargers’ back rushed for 40 yards on eight attempts – giving him a solid yards-per-carry of 5.0. He also rushed for one two-point conversion (there are no extra points in the AAF). Oliver then hauled in one of three targets for six yards and caught another two-point conversion.
Oliver came into the league undrafted in 2014 and had a fairly successful rookie campaign. In weeks 5 and 6 he was named Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week. In each respective week, Oliver rushed for over 100 yards and a touchdown. He also hauled in over 80 receiving yards in that span.
Injuries as well as the selection of Melvin Gordon in the draft severely limited his 2015 and an Achilles injury saw his 2016 season end before it even started. He barely played in 2017 and hasn’t appeared in the NFL since. At age 27, Oliver will be looking to prove he still has it despite an already crowded fee-agent RB class.
Matt Asiata: Running Back
The former Viking Asiata has a bit more NFL experience than Oliver but didn’t get as much usage. Asiata racked up the bulk of his NFL statistics after Adrian Peterson’s suspension in 2014. On Sunday, he carried the ball just four times for four yards and failed to haul in any of his three targets. Asiata still managed to salvage a touchdown out of a limited performance, however.
Asiata attended the University of Utah and like Folk, got to suit up in front of his college fan-base. Several players are signed with teams located near their alma maters.
Trent Richardson: Running Back
Trent Richardson was back in Alabama this weekend but this time he was playing for the newly established Birmingham Iron. Richardson of course won two championships with the Crimson Tide (09,11) and was selected third overall in the 2012 NFL draft by the Browns.
After a fantastic start to his career, things went downhill. He was eventually traded to the Colts where he saw his YPC drop below 3. The same issues plagued him this weekend – a performance that saw the power-back rush for 58 yards on 23 carries.
It was still an entertaining and productive outing for Richardson, however. He managed to pound the end-zone for two touchdowns – the first of which got the crowd going. Following the score, Richardson did a gronk-style spike that led to a penalty. It was all love from the crowd though and it was great to see him get that kind of reception in Birmingham.
Quinton Patton: Wide Receiver
Quinton Patton had a solid AAF debut in which he topped 100 yards receiving. All told, the former fourth round NFL draft choice had 107 yards on four catches. His longest catch of the day – a 39-yard grab at the start of the 4th- was controversial. The ruling of a catch was challenged and the ball appeared to hit the ground. The replay official didn’t see it that way, however, and the call was confirmed. The entire process was live-streamed for the fans to see, which was cool.
Patton played in parts of four NFL seasons with the 49ers. He had 73 receptions for 880 yards and one touchdown. He also earned the distinction of becoming the first AAF receiver to record 100 yards in a game with his performance on Sunday.
Jonathan Massaquoi: Linebacker
Jonathan Massaquoi started off his AAF career with a bang on Sunday. The Troy product had five solo tackles – three for a loss – to go along with two sacks. Massaquoi was in the backfield a whole lot, registering three total QB hits.
A former fifth round pick, Massaquoi spent parts of three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons where he was in on 70 tackles and recorded six sacks.
Nick Novak: Kicker
Nick Novak is another AAF kicker with lots of NFL experience. 38 in August, Novak has hit on 182 field goals in 222 attempts – giving him a percentage of 82%. Novak did most of his damage with the Chargers but he also spent time with Kansas City and Houston.
In his AAf debut, Novak was 4/4 on field goal attempts with a long of 47. He may have the “journeyman” label in the NFL, but for now he’s the best kicker in the history of this new venture.
Christian Hackenberg: QB
Unlike a-lot of players on this list, Hackenberg’s AAF debut did not go as planned. The former Penn State QB turned in an abysmal showing on Sunday that saw him complete just 10 of his 23 pass-attempts for 87 yards and a pick. The poor performance was enough to get him benched towards the end of the game.
The most entertaining part about Hackenberg’s AAF experiment was how he seemingly forgot he was mic’d up. He could be heard cursing several times throughout the game as his passes bounced at times. Tough scene.
Zac Stacy: Running Back
Zac Stacy’s NFL run was similar to Branden Oliver’s in a-lot of ways. Drafted 160th overall in 2013, Stacy had a decent rookie campaign that saw him rush for 100 yards in back to back weeks. Injuries then nagged and the Rams’ draft selection of Todd Gurley made him expendable. Stacy requested a trade and was shipped off to the Jets where an ankle injury further dampened his career. In February, 2017, Stacy announced his retirement from the NFL – citing injury concerns and a desire to care for his brother, who has Down Syndrome.
He decided to come back, however, and is now a member of the Memphis Express. The former Ram rushed for 58 yards on 12 carries thus giving him a YPC of 4.8. He saw no looks in the pass-game.
Terrence Garvin: Linebacker
Garvin had what was probably the best AAF debut on the defensive side of the ball. The West Virginia product was in on 8 tackles, batted down two passes and intercepted two more. He also returned one of this picks for a touchdown to round out a terrific outing. Pro Football Focus had him as the best linebacker in week one.
Undrafted in 2013, Garvin latched on with the Steelers and spent time with them as well as the Redskins. He has a total of 77 combined NFL tackles to go along with one sack and two forced fumbles. At 28, he might be able to find his way back to the NFL if he continues this level of production.
Will Hill: Strong Safety
Will Hill once looked like a promising NFL prospect. The high points of his career include a field goal return touchdown on Monday Night Football and a BCS Championship win with Florida.
Sadly, his NFL career was cut short following a PED suspension in 2016. The Ravens ended up releasing Hill and he hasn’t played in the NFL since.
On the surface, his week 1 AAF performance looks rather pedestrian. Hill had five tackles to go along with one pass deflection on the day. However, PFF graded him an 84.8 and featured him on their team of the week. He will be 29 in March and started 32 games over his four year NFL career with the Ravens and Giants.
Ed Reynolds: Safety
Ed Reynolds was a fifth round pick out of Stanford in 2014. Selected by Philadelphia, Reynolds appeared in 10 games from 2015-16 and combined for 61 tackles. The most notable moment of Reynolds’ NFL career was a game-clinching interception against the Bills in 2015. He started a total of ten games between the Eagles and Browns.
Reynolds started off his AAF debut with four tackles but his team was torched for 40 points and close to 300 yards through the air.
Denard Robinson: Running Back
Denard Robinson was an entertaining college QB at Michigan but was converted to a running back in the NFL by Jacksonville. In parts of four seasons with the Jaguars, Robinson rushed for 1,058 yards and averaged 4.0 yards per carry. He also hauled in 47 passes for 310 yards.
Despite his NFL service time, Robinson saw limited usage this weekend. He ended up with only three yards on five attempts and one catch for five yards.
San Diego Fleet
Gavin Escobar: Tight End
When the Cowboys selected Gavin Escobar in the second round of the 2013 draft, the tight-end out of San Diego State was seen as a potential heir to Jason Witten. Despite sticking around for a few seasons, it never materialized and he saw limited NFL action. His four-year run with the Cowboys amounted to 30 catches for 333 yards and eight touchdowns.
After turning 28 last week, Escobar had a strong week one performance. He brought in four of his six targets for 66 yards. Escobar was in camp with the Dolphins last summer so the NFL still seems to still be on his radar.
Damontre Moore: Defensive End
Like Escobar, Moore is another former NFL player who was drafted quite high. He was selected 81st overall by the Giants in the 2013 NFL draft.
After a three year run with them, he has bounced around the league – appearing in a handful of games with the Cowboys, Seahawks and finally the Raiders towards the end of last season.
As for his AAF debut, Moore was in on five tackles and recorded a sack. He also had the most quarterback pressures in the league with nine. If he keeps this up, it is safe to say that he will prove he belongs in the NFL.
San Antonio Commanders
Kurtis Drummond: Safety
Undrafted in 2015, Drummond had a three year run with the Texans in which he combined for 34 tackles, forced two fumbles and had one sack. Most of his action came in 2015 before being hampered by injuries. He just turned 27 in January, which means he is young enough to give the NFL another run.
He batted down one pass and had two tackles in his first AAF action.
Nick Rose: Kicker
Rose is yet another group of NFL veterans at the kicker position who made an impact. He has 11 career NFL field goals in fourteen attempts across ten games between Washington and the LA Chargers.
He will be just 25 when the season starts and connected on all three of his field goal attempts. After the “double-doink” incident (which was referenced in the broadcast), NFL teams will be taking a good look at their kicking needs and Rose could be in the mix.
AAF action resumes this Saturday at 2 P.M. Eastern with Salt Lake taking on Birmingham.