The Houston Gamblers finished as the fourth seed in the South Division during the inaugural season of the USFL. With that in mind, the team did feature plenty of talent, and were just a few plays away from having a winning record.
Throughout the season, Houston provided fans with plenty of entertainment, and boasted some of the USFL’s most elite athletes. Unfortunately, they just could not execute in crucial moments, which resulted in a 3-7 record.
Chris Odom, for example, turned out to be the defensive player of the year. He racked up 41 tackles, 12.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and a couple of blocked field goals. He was constantly making something happen, playing consistent football all year long.
While Odom won DPOY, Donald Payne had an excellent case for that award as well. Payne led the USFL with 117 total tackles – while also posting three interceptions, and two sacks. Defensively, he was a monster week in and week out, dominating opponents daily.
Both Payne and Odom made the All-USFL defensive team – along with Will Likely. Will was an exceptional cornerback for the Gamblers in 2022, making a name for himself after a pick six against Birmingham in week two. Likely wrapped up his season with 63 tackles, and four interceptions.
At the end of the day, Houston’s defense is what made them relevant in 2022. They were competitive, consistent, and aggressive – exactly what you would want to see from this type of group.
Now, this isn’t to say that Houston’s offense didn’t feature playmakers. For example, Isaiah Zuber was a tremendous wide receiver, who elevated the team to a new level every time he stepped out on the field.
Mark Thompson, while struggling with some injuries, was one of the league’s best running backs. His size and speed resemble power-backs like Derrick Henry. When Thompson was healthy, he was very difficult to stop.
Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Teo Redding, and Brandon Barnes all made important contributions when their names were called. While the Gamblers struggled to score on a consistent basis, they had plenty of depth at multiple positions.
To start with, Clayton Thorson underperformed in 2022, when all is said and done. He finished the year with 987 yards, and ten touchdowns – but also threw seven interceptions. Thorson was by no means a poor quarterback, but did not live up to the expectations that a first round pick has.
Meanwhile, Kenji Bahar filled in decently well towards the end of the year. To be fair, he did lead them to two straight wins in weeks nine and ten. His abilities to escape the pocket, and throw on the run make Bahar an enticing choice at the QB position.
However, Kenji wasn’t all that consistent either, and struggled to find a rhythm at multiple points throughout the season. The upside is there – but Bahar has some development to do, if he wants to make more of an impact as a quarterback heading into year two.
Late Execution: Nonexistent
Houston’s largest problem revolved around their late game collapses. Either their defense couldn’t get one final stop – or, their offense simply didn’t make enough plays to keep the defense off the field.
For example, in week three, the team blew a nine point fourth quarter lead against Tampa Bay, which led to a game winning field goal for Ty Rausa and the Bandits. Against New Orleans in week four, Houston gave up a last second touchdown to Kyle Sloter.
There were plenty of other instances where the Houston Gamblers could have capitalized on an opportunity, but did not. In week two, Thorson threw an interception on a potential game winning drive. The team was also beating Philadelphia in week seven at halftime, but squandered away that lead as well.
At the end of the day, Houston’s execution in the second half of games went downhill, and it’s what cost them a winning season. If they can improve upon this factor in 2023, this roster is certainly capable of competing for a Championship.
Houston had a boatload of talent in 2022, which sets the foundation for next year. While they will likely lose some players to the NFL (as Chris Odom, Domenique Davis, and others have already signed), the Gamblers have a lot to build upon.
Nick Vogel just kicked AND recovered the FIRST onside kick of the season 🔥😱
The @USFLGamblers roll the dice in the 3rd quarter and it pays off 🎲
Clearly, the team needs a quarterback with Championship caliber. For instance, someone with the talent of Jordan Ta’amu could certainly lead this team to the postseason.
As for special teams, both Nick Vogel and Andrew Galitz were serviceable at their respective positions. Vogel has been around in multiple spring leagues, and made several clutch kicks for the team this season.
GOOD FROM 50 YARDS 🎯@NickVogel5 makes it a 9-6 game at the half
Kevin Sumlin has room for improvement as a head coach, but settled in nicely as the season went on. Houston’s final two games were statement wins against New Orleans and Birmingham – showing just how good this team can be when everyone is on the same page.
Heading into 2023, Houston simply needs to add a couple of valuable pieces that can elevate the team to a postseason threat. With Robert Morris already actively scouting prospects for 2023, expect the Houston Gamblers to make major strides forward over the next several months.