It was announced former Philadelphia Star Maurice Alexander was offered and signed a futures deal with the Detroit Lions. Alexander was a dynamic kick returner for the Stars in 2022. Now he looks to solidify a roster spot in Detroit long-term.
2022 USFL Season
Maurice Alexander was used in several ways for the Stars in 2022. Ironically for a long time, he was even the de facto backup quarterback behind Case Cookus. When the USFL had rules limiting teams to just 45 roster spots and 2 quarterbacks, the Stars attempted to keep Bryan Scott by carrying him on their roster all season long. It wasn’t until Kj Costello was signed that Alexander was no longer the emergency quarterback.
His biggest impact on the Stars came on special teams. He had 25 kick returns for 787 yards or just over 31 yards per attempt, with a long of 66 yards. He also returned punts with 13 attempts for 165 yards or 12.6 yards per return, with a long of 30 yards. Although he never scored a touchdown he was a crucial part of Philadelphia’s success giving them better-than-average field position every time he touched the ball.
On offense despite his background and status as a former quarterback, he never attempted a pass and carried the ball just once for 0 yards. He did do his part in the receiving game with 20 receptions for 234 yards and 2 touchdowns. All said and done he amassed 1,185 yards in ten regular season games for the Stars.
Roster Gymnastics in Detroit
Alexander was cut and re-signed on what felt like a near-weekly basis. With a total of 3 trips to the waiver wire. Shout out to @NFLQBTalk for that info. This was in an attempt to get him involved without limiting themselves by carrying him on the active roster or losing their call-up attempts allotted for any one practice squad player (3). This led to Alexander spending the entire season with Detroit.
He would appear in just four games catching one pass for 7 yards, and returning 6 kicks for 146 yards (24.6 yards per return), he didn’t, however, return punts for the Lions. Alexander now will get an opportunity to prove himself with the Lions for the second straight training camp with a season of absorbing the offense to aid his attempt to make the active roster. This highlights a bigger point about how these fringe NFL players and top-end USFL players can make an NFL roster.
Special Teams Viability is Key
Kavontae Turpin and Maurice Alexander saw action in more NFL games than any other USFL players in the 2022 season. Their abilities in the return game were the separating factor from others. Turpin would play in an insane 28 straight games, with 142 total touches, with 2,435 all-purpose yards, and 7 touchdowns. As if this super-human-like performance wasn’t enough…Turpin still has to play in the 2022 NFL Playoffs as well. There is a very good chance we see Turpin play in 30 games hitting 150 touches, and 2,500+ yards.
Alexander played in 12 USFL games, (10 regular season games, 1 playoff game, and the championship game) and four NFL Games. Playing in a total of 16 games in 2022 Alexander didn’t make the same impact in the NFL, that Turpin did. However he still managed 77 total touches for 1,620 yards and 3 touchdowns.
I have to wonder if the NFL wasn’t paying close attention to the North Championship Game in the USFL. Featuring the Stars, and the Generals in a 19-14 game, Alexander and Turpin put on a show for the crowd. Turpin had 1 punt return for 78 yards and a touchdown, Alexander had 1 punt return for 87 yards, 1 touchdown, and added 3 kick returns for 77 yards a 25.3 yard average as well. This could be a game shown in special teams meeting rooms across the world for years to come because of how much damage these two return men did in a crucial playoff game.
Next Man Up
Both of these men were dynamic return men who could also add value on offense. This is the path to NFL success coming out of the USFL for skill position players. There is a worn-out coach’s saying that goes something like “I can find 1 million 6 foot 200 lb athletes that can catch a football tomorrow, what makes you special?”
That would be the ability to be versatile, to aid your team in many different ways. Serve as an emergency quarterback or a guy who can simulate mobile QBs for the scout team. Return kicks or punts, serve as a gunner on punt team or kick-offs, and/or block on any number of other units. This is what sets these guys apart.
So with that in mind it would stand to reason a guy like Cam Echols-Luper could be the next man up for the NFL. The former quarterback turned wide receiver was the kick returner for the New Jersey Generals in 2022 and stands as the most likely man to fill the role in 2023 as well. Could he be the next man up to the NFL based on his versatility and special team acumen?