DETROIT (WOOD) — For the second year in a row, the Michigan Panthers held the first overall pick in a United States Football League draft and decided to fortify the offensive line with some homegrown talent.
Michigan State’s Jarrett Horst was the No. 1 overall pick to the Panthers. The left tackle started seven games for the Spartans this past season after starting his collegiate career at Arkansas State. In 2021, Horst was named an All-Big 10 Honorable Mention.
Horst wasn’t the only offensive lineman taken in this year’s draft for the Panthers. Miami’s DJ Scaife Jr., Chim Okorafor from Benedictine College and Eastern Michigan’s Sidy Sow were all taken in subsequent rounds.
The need for a deeper offensive line may be the message new head coach Mike Nolan is trying to give off just three weeks into the job.
Scaife, who was selected 24th overall, has plenty of experience at the Division I level, having played significant time in his five years with the Hurricanes. What Okorafor lacks in name recognition, he more than makes up for in size as he stands at 6-foot-6 and weighs 320 pounds. Sow was instrumental for the Eagles in his time at EMU being named to the All-MAC First Team in 2021 and Third Team in 2020.
In the second round of the draft, the Panthers took another chance on a quarterback with an early pick. Last year, the Panthers drafted two quarterbacks in former Michigan Wolverine Shea Patterson and former NFL first-round pick Paxton Lynch. Neither of them is currently on the Panthers’ roster.
Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan looks to be the front-runner for the starting quarterback spot with Eric Barriere and Josh Love serving as backups. Morgan is the Golden Gophers’ all-time leader in career wins with 33, passer rating of 151.0 and completion percentage at 62.2%.
The Panthers also selected a weapon for the new signal caller in EMU’s Gunnar Oakes. The Ohio native played with the Eagles from 2017 to 2022 and recorded more than 600 yards receiving, two touchdowns and 56 total catches. His 6-foot-5 frame will allow him to serve as a security blanket for Michigan.
Six of the 10 picks in Tuesday’s draft for the Panthers were on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense seems to have gotten some improvements up front.
In the third round, Michigan selected Santrell Latham out of Southern Mississippi who spent his time with the Golden Eagles wreaking havoc. In just 54 games, the linebacker tallied 236 tackles, 9.5 sacks and six forced fumbles.
Two rounds later, another linebacker was drafted in DaShaun White out of Oklahoma. White’s three seasons with the Sooners saw him nab an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention and account for 169 tackles in 36 games, 27 of which he started.
Texas State’s Levi Bell was the next selection by Michigan. On top of national accolades during his final year with the Bobcats, the defensive lineman also owns the school record for most tackles for loss in a single season.
Another defensive lineman, Andrew Farmer, is also joining the Panthers this season after finishing his career at Lane College. Farmer tallied 114 tackles his last two seasons and even caught a touchdown for the Dragons as well.
The draft is the first opportunity for the Panthers to fill needed positions as they try to improve from their 2-8 record a year ago. Only the Pittsburgh Maulers finished with a worse record.
A few other notable players were drafted out of the state of Michigan. EMU’s defensive lineman Jose Ramirez was drafted by the Philadelphia Stars, who will also be playing their home games at Ford Field alongside the Panthers.
The reigning USFL champions, the Birmingham Stallions, selected Quinton Barrow out of Grand Valley State University. The 6-foot-6 offensive lineman spent his time at GVSU dominating the trenches, leading the Lakers to an average of 412 yards per game in 2021.
MSU’s Jacob Slade was taken with the 65th overall pick to the Maulers. In 42 games in East Lansing, Slade notched 88 tackles, four sacks and even blocked a kick.
The USFL season officially kicks off April 16. The Panthers will take on the Houston Gamblers in Memphis at noon.