The Bugman is back ladies and gentlemen. Jonathan “Bug” Howard one of the biggest free agents left on the market for the Philadelphia Stars has returned for the 2023 season. Howard may be listed as a tight end, but he lead the team in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2022. With Howard in tow, there is just one big name remaining to return for the 2023 season.
Tight End or Wide Receiver?
With a body type closer to the former NFL great known as Megatron, Howard is part wide receiver, part tight end which makes him an absolute matchup nightmare. Standing 6’5 228 lbs, Howard once ran a 4.58 40-yard dash, also managing a 37.5-inch vertical leap. This showcases the kind of athlete Howard is, and it certainly helped him record 30 receptions, 471 yards, and four touchdowns and start to receive interest from the NFL. Namely, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Howard would ink a contract with the Bucs to join a squad that ironically had befallen a similar fate to Howard’s Stars.
In 2021, the Buccaneers fresh off a Super Bowl Victory the previous season lost to the eventual Super Bowl champions in the divisional round of the playoffs. With another tight end, Oj Howard, leaving in free agency the Bucs sought out an athletic Player that could come in and serve a similar role to OJ. Bug Howard fit this mold, but unfortunately, he would suffer an injury in training camp. This would result in a trip to injured reserve before being released a week later.
When looking at these two players, they are basically the same player athletically. Howard carries a bit more weight to him, but Howard is a bit quicker off the snap.
Oj Howard: 6’6 251 lbs, 4.51 40-yard dash, 30-inch vertical, 3-cone drill 6.85 seconds, 4.16 20-yard shuttle
Bug Howard: 6’5 228 lbs, 4.58 40-yard dash, 37.5-inch vertical, 3-cone Drill 6.95 seconds, 4.14 20-yard shuttle
Waiting on the NFL to Call
Despite Howard’s performance in the USFL, he received no other offers during the season, which likely had a lot to do with questions about his health and viability in the blocking game. While he watched teammate after teammate re-sign with the Stars for the 2023 season, Howard simply sat and waited. I assume that Howard knew he could always return to the Stars and was waiting out every last NFL opportunity.
Now fully healthy, and having waited out the NFL Futures deal signing period, Howard returns to the USFL for 2023. This could be a huge motivating factor to help them convince Case Cookus to come back as well. With Howard now back in the fold for 2023 the Stars have had unbelievable success bringing back their players from 2022. Although they have lost a few players to the XFL, the vast majority of players that received XFL interest have ultimately shown loyalty to their team and returned to the USFL in 2023.
With names like Sean Brown, Matt Colburn, Dexter Williams, Jordan Moore, Te’Von Coney, Devin Gray, and many more returning it has been made very apparent this team has unbreakable bonds tying them together. If we look back at the historically great teams we’ll find a few obvious factors that aid their success. A stable coaching staff, great leadership, and a bigger purpose. In New England winning regular season games was just an appetizer to the main course, and in Philadelphia, the standards are far higher than most cities the USFL represents.
Philly is a Football City
The Eagles have had two straight decades where losing seasons were the exception to the rule. Somehow they have done so amidst coaching changes, quarterback moves, and key injuries. With two Super Bowl appearances in just five years, the Stars will be expected by true Philadelphia football fans to follow this lead. Given the Star’s storied history dating back to the original USFL, which has included a trip to every USFL Championship game, Bart Andrus knows the stakes and will bring out the best in his players in 2023.
In order to do so, you need to be able to build on last season’s success, not be forced into making wholesale changes to your roster and coaching staff. With teams like New Orleans, Birmingham, and New Jersey experiencing a lot of change there are questions about how the teams will respond to new coaches and new teammates on a wide scale. Meanwhile, the Stars have simply plugged in a handful of key free agents.
Bug Howard is a guy I look at as one of the potential alternative league Hall of Fame candidates someday. The former Atlanta Legend now stands at 47 receptions for 591 yards and 4 touchdowns averaging 12.6 yards per reception in Spring Football. He and Sal Cannella took over the league as “move” tight ends in 2022. With Canella now gone, Howard could be the most productive tight end in the league in 2023. This move puts the Stars at just 55 players on the roster with a cap of 58 for camp. Two of those roster spots will most likely be filled by quarterbacks. Do those names include Case Cookus, Kj Costello, or even the recently radioactive Bryan Scott?