Season 2 of the revived USFL has seen a new cast of players take the league by storm. While other standouts from 2022 have either duplicated or elevated their play from last season.
After countless viewings of every single USFL game this season. Here is my 2023 All-USFL Team, along with players who just missed the cut but deserve honorable mention. The league itself will be putting out its own official list in the future.
In the past, as ludicrous as it sounds, offensive linemen have been ignored by some USFL experts when doing an all-league list. Perhaps that’s an anomaly, but the one position that is typically cast aside and not mentioned is the long snapper. So for the sake of this, I am breaking from tradition and starting with special teams first. Followed by defense, offense, and coach of the year.
All-USFL 2023 Team
2023 All-USFL Special Teams
K: Matt Coghlin (New Orleans Breakers)
P: Brock Miller (New Jersey Generals)
LS: Turner Bernard (New Orleans Breakers)
KR: Derrick Dillon (Memphis Showboats)
Honorable mention: KR Deon Cain (Birmingham Stallions), K Luis Aguilar (Philadelphia Stars), Chris Blewitt (Pittsburgh Maulers), Brandon Aubrey (Birmingham Stallions), P Matt Mengel (Pittsburgh Maulers), P Brandon Wright (Memphis Showboats), P Colby Wadman (Birmingham Stallions), Returner Anthony Ratliff-Williams (Houston Gamblers), Returner Isiah Hennie (Pittsburgh Maulers) Returner Josh Simmons (Pittsburgh Maulers), LS Riley Lovingood (Pittsburgh Maulers), LS Ryan Navarro (Philadelphia Stars)
One of the strongest positions in the USFL in 2023 has been the kicker spot. Five of the league’s eight starting placekickers connected on 88 percent of their field goals or higher. Four are over 90 percent.
Matt Coghlin might not have gotten the headlines that Luis Aguilar did, thanks to an out-of-this-world eight-field goal performance in Week 5. But Coghlin was nearly perfect. He missed one kick all season. 94 percent conversion rate on field goals and without a blemish on extra points.
Long snappers are only noticed when something goes awry. Anytime you have a kicking game that nears perfection over ten games. The hidden MVP in that operation is always the player snapping the football. The Breakers Turner Bernard, along with several of his peers in the USFL, deserve NFL looks.
Punter is also strong position throughout the USFL. Any of the names listed here could easily get the nod. To me, I tend to look at the performance of punters that were put in the most adverse situations over the course of a season due to their teams’ offensive struggles.
The Generals Brock Miller not only led the league in the percentage of punts and kicks inside the 20 but had impeccable hang time. Although Miller ranked highly in all punting categories, the stat sheet doesn’t always tell the whole story.
Normally a player with two kick returns for touchdowns, like Deon Cain, would get the spot at kick returner. But Derrick Dillon also had two returns for touchdowns this season. However, one came on a missed field goal. The one in this equation, however, is one of the best football plays you will ever see from a return man. A 109-yard td return where he not only fields the football perfectly but manages to stay in bounds during the process. And oh yeah, then returns it 109 yards. Only three players in NFL history have accomplished that feat. Dillon joined them this year. He also averaged 32.8 yards per kick return this season. Best of the qualified bunch.
The two-headed Maulers tandem of Josh Simmons and Isiah Hennie could easily get top billing without anyone blinking an eye. The Maulers led the league in kick and punt return average thanks to that duo.
2023 All-USFL Defense
DE: Breeland Speaks (Michigan Panthers)
DE: Adam Rodriguez (Philadelphia Stars)
EDGE: Hercules Mata’afa (Houston Gamblers)
DL: Olive Sagapolu (Pittsburgh Maulers)
DT: Boogie Roberts (Pittsburgh Maulers)
DT: Toby Johnson (New Jersey Generals)
Honorable mention: EDGE Dondrea Tillman (Birmingham Stallions), DE Isaiah Chambers (Houston Gamblers), EDGE Jeff McCollough (Memphis Showboats), EDGE Ronheen Bingham (Houston Gamblers), DE Anree Saint-Amour (New Orleans Breakers), DT John Atkins (Memphis Showboats), DT Keonte Schad (New Orleans Breakers), DT Daylon Mack (Memphis Showboats), DL Tyshun Render (New Jersey Generals), EDGE Greg Reaves (Memphis Showboats), DT Terry Beckner Jr. (Pittsburgh Maulers), DL Kenneth Randall (New Jersey Generals) DL Jordan Williams (Memphis Showboats) DL Jordan Thompson (Birmingham Stallions)
Breeland Speaks, and Adam Rodriguez have been impactful players all season. Even though sometimes it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Speaks was a terror from day one. Rodriguez is one of the most consistent players in the USFL. His hustle level is unmatched.
The Maulers and Generals, two of the league’s best defenses, will be all over these honors.
Veteran players like Boogie Roberts and Toby Johnson stand out from the crowd. The way those two players continue to play at a high level in their pro careers. Boogie Roberts looked like a new man in 2023; he was in phenomenal shape and helped the Mualers have the league’s best run defense.
LB: Kyahva Tezino (Pittsburgh Maulers)
LB: Frank Ginda (Michigan Panthers)
LB: Vontae Diggs (New Orleans Breakers)
LB: Chris Orr (New Jersey Generals)
Honorable mention: Rueben Foster (Pittsburgh Maulers), Quentin Poling (Birmingham Stallions), D’Juan Hines (New Jersey Generals), Khalan Tolson (Houston Gamblers), Gabriel Sewell Jr. (Philadelphia Stars) Shaheed Salmon (New Orleans Breakers)
Pound for pound, linebacker might be the most talented position in the USFL this season, especially at the top end. The fact that Rueben Foster has earned an honorable mention rather than first-team after having a great comeback season in the pros tells you all you need to know.
Many who follow the league will also place Stallions LB Quentin Poling as a surefire All-Star. While his numbers do not compare to other players in his category. In terms of overall tackles, sacks, forced turnovers, etc. There’s no denying the fact that Poling stood out big-time this season, helping replace two productive players on that defense in Scooby Wright and DeMarquis Gates.
Kyahva Tezino should be an NFL linebacker. He shouldn’t play another snap in the USFL after this season. It would be a crime if he did. The knock on him coming out was his physical traits. Tezino is a genuine every-down linebacker who can play in the trenches or make plays deep in coverage. He’s as smart as any defender in the USFL. Just watch the tape.
What a season Frank Ginda had. He’s been playing spring pro football at a top level for a long time now. But he raised his game to another level this year. Ginda’s instincts and effort level stand out on film.
Vontae Diggs and Chris Orr have been playmakers all over the field for their respective defenses. Neither of those units would be the same without them.
CB: Brian Allen (Birmingham Stallions)
CB: Josh Butler (Michigan Panthers)
CB: Mark Gilbert (Pittsburgh Maulers)
S/LB: Kai Nacua (Michigan Panthers)
S: Shalom Luani (New Jersey Generals)
FS: Kyree Woods (Memphis Showboats)
Honorable mention: CB Amani Dennis (Philadelphia Stars), CB Levonta Taylor (Michigan Panthers), CB Nevelle Clark (New Orleans Breakers), CB Keith Gipson Jr. (Pittsburgh Maulers), CB Lorenzo Burns (Birmingham Stallions), S Cody Brown (Philadelphia Stars), CB D.J. Daniel (New Jersey Generals), S Dravon Askew-Henry (New Jersey Generals), CB Adonis Alexander (New Orleans Breakers), S Arnold Tarpley III (Pittsburgh Maulers), CB Channing Stribling (Philadelphia Stars), S Eli Walker (Pittsburgh Maulers)
Through the hard work of Ben Cooper and Pro Football Focus, Safety Kyree Woods has consistently been the highest-graded player in the league when healthy. The Showboats DB has had a phenomenal season. He should get a shot in the NFL based on the film he has provided.
Kai Nacua and Shalom Luani are intriguing hybrid players. They do so much damage inside the box. For the second year in a row, Luani has been one of the league’s most impactful defensive backs. Nacua is effectively an extra linebacker. He could be an All-Star at that position as well.
Not much has changed since my midseason All-Star list at cornerback. Brian Allen, Josh Butler, and Mark Gilbert have all had terrific seasons in coverage. There are several players at cornerback who played at a very high level this season.
All-USFL 2023 Team: Offense
Quarterback: Alex McGough (Birmingham Stallions)
Honorable mention: Case Cookus (Philadelphia Stars), McLeod Bethel-Thompson (New Orleans Breakers)
Although McLeod Bethel-Thompson has led the league in passing yards all season, the league’s best quarterback and arguably best player in 2023 has been Alex McGough. It would be shocking if he isn’t anointed league MVP.
Alex McGough has improved leaps and bounds from the player he was in 2022. He has evolved as a quarterback. A year ago, McGough started three games, played in seven, and completed 52 percent of his passes for Birmingham with three interceptions to go along with three touchdowns.
In 2023, McGough has completed 67 percent of his passes, amassing over 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air and on the ground combined. He has helped lead Birmingham to the playoffs as the favorite to win it all again.
MBT deserves credit for what he did on his journey back home from the CFL. He seamlessly made the transition back to the American game and displayed great leadership.
All things considered. Case Cookus had an amazing season. He stood up to a lot of abuse during the season, being sacked and hit more than any other starter in the USFL. Somehow he made it to week 10 in one piece.
Running Back: Mark Thompson (Houston Gamblers)
Honorable mention: Darius Victor (New Jersey Generals), Wes Hills (New Orleans Breakers), C.J. Marable (Birmingham Stallions), Reggie Corbin (Michigan Panthers)
There might not be a more explosive athlete in the league than RB Mark Thompson. The 6’3 235 stud tailback has never come up small in the talent department. Dating back to his college days. Despite missing some this season, Thompson has torn up the league using his terrific blend of speed, power, and agility.
Last year’s offensive player of the year, Darius Victor, returned to form again as one of the league’s toughest and most exciting runners to watch. Wes Hills, a newcomer to the USFL, had a terrific season on the ground and as a pass catcher for New Orleans. C.J. Marable impressed as well with his all-around versatility in 2023. And was an important part of Birmingham’s attack when Bo Scarbrough went down to injury.
WR: Trey Quinn (Michigan Panthers)
WR: Davion Davis (Birmingham Stallions)
WR: Corey Coleman (Philadelphia Stars)
Honorable mention: Justin Hall (Houston Gamblers), Devin Gray (Philadelphia Stars), Joe Walker (Michigan Panthers), Jonathan Adams (New Orleans Breakers), Johnnie Dixon (New Orleans Breakers), Isiah Hennie (Pittsburgh Maulers)
Two NFL imports with name recognition, Trey Quinn and Corey Coleman, did not disappoint in their USFL debut seasons. Both players got better as the season progressed.
Stallions WR Davion Davis stepped up big time with Birmingham losing stud receivers Marlon Williams and Victor Bolden.
In a season that saw teams feature tight ends heavily. There weren’t very many standouts at receiver. But Davis, Quinn, and Coleman definitely stood out from the pack.
TE: Sage Surratt (New Orleans Breakers)/Jace Sternberger (Birmingham Stallions)
Honorable mention: Cole Hikutini (Michigan Panthers)
Perhaps there’s a bit of rule-bending involved in listing two tight ends. But in USFL 2023, it feels appropriate to make that exception.
Sage Surratt and Jace Sternberger were two top-ten receivers in the entire league. Week to week, they took turns leading the USFL in receiving yards and touchdowns. You could argue that Surratt and Sternberger were two of the top three receivers in the entire league period.
As the season progressed, Cole Hikutini rose to the forefront. He could be a larger factor next season if the NFL doesn’t come calling.
OT: Avery Gennessy (Houston Gamblers)
OT: Marquis Lucas (Memphis Showboats)
G: Shamarius Gilmore (Philadelphia Stars)
G: Kirk Kelley (New Orleans Breakers)
C: Nick Buchanon (Houston Gamblers)
Honorable mention: C Noah Johnson (Michigan Panthers), T Josh Dunlop (Michigan Panthers), T Terry Poole (Pittsburgh Maulers), T Brodarious Hamm (Michigan Panthers), T Darius Harper (Birmingham Stallions, G Calvin Ashley (New Jersey Generals), G Paul Adams (New Orleans Breakers), T Jarron Jones (Memphis Showboats), T Marquis Lucas (Memphis Showboats), C Jake Lacina (New Jersey Generals), G Evan Heim (New Jersey Generals)
Unlike last season, this position was a lot more challenging to evaluate. Some notable top talents left the USFL during the offseason. Three of them were first-team All-USFL players in 2022.
Shamarius Gilmore and Kirk Kelley were the two highest-graded guards by Pro Football Focus this season. They played at a top level all year.
Nick Buchanon and Avery Gennessy were consistent forces for the Houston Gamblers upfront.
Marquis Lucas had a fine season protecting from the outside for quarterback Cole Kelley and opened up run lanes for the Memphis ground attack.
Although they finished the year as the league’s worst offense, that didn’t stop Terry Poole from playing at well for the Maulers once the Generals surprisingly cut him loose; at the mid-season point, Poole was given a 54.8 overall grade by PFF. But his play improved as the season progressed.
USFL Head Coach Of The Year: Skip Holtz (Birmingham Stallions)
Honorable mention: Curtis Johnson (Houston Gamblers)
Skip Holtz is a no-brainer choice as coach of the year after he was snubbed last season. He’s done an amazing job in year two with Birmingham. The Stallions endured a lot of defections in the offseason and injuries to start the year. Holtz’s work with Alex McGough and the quarterback’s development must be commended.
Curtis Johnson did a very nice job in the high chair, improving Houston’s fortunes in 2023. The Gamblers were an unknown because of so many key losses in the 2022 offseason.
USFL GM Of The Year: Zach Potter (Birmingham Stallions)
Honorable mention: Matt Boockmeier (New Orleans Breakers), Robert Morris (Houston Gamblers)
Zach Potter deserves his roses. For the second year in a row, he’s put together a great roster that fits his coaches’ schemes. Birmingham had to deal with some significant losses to their roster, losing front-line starters. But the Stallions’ depth stood out and up.
Matt Boockmeier did a great job retooling the Breakers. He added several key pieces throughout the roster. The pickup of Sage Surratt, along with QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, and RB Wes Hills, made a difference.
A significant part of the story for year two of the revived USFL was how returning teams would reshape their rosters and unearth new stars.
The teams that did saw significant dividends. New stars emerged. Young players and veterans alike. The USFL continues to be a great avenue for football players looking to start, advance, and continue their pro-playing careers.