We have reached the mid-way point of the 2023 USFL Regular season. 20 USFL games have been completed, and 20 remain before a three-game playoff decides the league’s champion Saturday, July 1st, on NBC.
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 not lived up to expectations or have seen their 2023 campaigns end abruptly due to injury.
So many newcomers have shined this season that putting together a team like this is challenging.
The USFL has many standouts who have emerged in the first half of the season. And although this list could change significantly by season’s end. For now, here is my Midseason All-USFL 2023 team.
Midseason All-USFL 2023 Team: Offense
QB: McLeod Bethel-Thompson (New Orleans Breakers)
The focus in leagues like the USFL is always on standout young college football players who haven’t yet had a chance to shine on the pro level. To that end, The majority of the league’s players are in their early to mid-20s.
However, the USFL can also be an avenue for veteran players looking to revitalize or restart their pro careers.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson falls into that category.
After establishing himself as an All-Star quarterback in the CFL, the well-traveled 34-year-old quarterback is taking one last flyer on being a standout in American Pro Football. Mission accomplished so far for MBT. He has reunited with Breakers head coach John DeFilippo in the USFL. And the two have helped lead the Breakers to a 4-1 record.
Bethel-Thompson leads the USFL in passing yards with 1,332 while completing 66 percent of his passes and throwing for seven touchdowns. MBT’s toughness and leadership stood out immediately for the Breakers.
Despite having a long history of being overlooked and underappreciated, dating back to college. His unique style and personality have always won over teammates and fans alike. That has happened very quickly for Thompson in the USFL. If MBT keeps this up, he could be USFL 2023 MVP and maybe get what seems like, a longshot, on paper, because of his age, one last shot at sticking onto an NFL roster.
Honorable mention: Alex McGough (Birmingham Stallions)
There’s been a changing of the guard at quarterback in the USFL from a year ago. Stallions QB J’Mar Smith went down to injury in week one, and Alex McGough (League leader in passing touchdowns (10), has done a great job leading the way for a banged-up Birmingham bunch. He deserves praise.
Case Cookus has been the lone constant from last season. He is second in passing yards this season. However, he has underperformed due to circumstances around him, including an offensive line allowing 23 sacks in five games.
Houston’s Kenji Bahar was off to a promising start before being sidelined by injury. Other young quarterbacks in the USFL have recently emerged who could be league winners by season’s end. Pittsburgh’s dual-threat signal-caller Troy Williams and Memphis’s Cole Kelley are two developing players who have stabilized their respective team’s seasons.
RB: Wes Hills (New Orleans Breakers)
As proof positive that no stone in the pro football landscape should be left unturned, the Breakers have yet another talented CFL player helping lead the way for them as a standout in RB Wes Hills. The small school star from Slippery Rock hasn’t played professionally in the United States since 2019, and his last stint in the NFL was for the Detroit Lions three years ago.
Wes Hills has been running up that hill in Canada ever since. The 6’2, 218lb stud finally got a chance to shine in 2022 up north, averaging over 6 yards per rush for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Hills has picked up back in the States, right where he left off in 2022 in Hamilton. Thus far, he leads the USFL in rushing with 427 yards and eight touchdowns. Hills has also registered 20 receptions for 150 yards, despite not starting the season as New Orleans’s lead tailback.
Honorable mention: Mark Thompson (Houston Gamblers), Darius Victor (New Jersey Generals)
Before the season is over, Mark Thompson might be the league’s MVP. Thompson has been on a tear in only three games played, rushing for eight touchdowns.
Pound for pound, there may not be a more talented player in the entire USFL.
2022 USFL offensive player of the year Darius Victor is predictably helping lead the way for New Jersey’s league-leading ground attack. However, Victor is coming off his worst game ever, a three-fumble performance against Philly, and he has challengers to his throne as the league’s most explosive back this season. Nevertheless, Victor will bounce back from the minor setback and continue to be one of the USFL’s most exciting players to watch.
WR: Justin Hall (Houston Gamblers)
WR: Davion Davis (Birmingham Stallions)
WR: Corey Coleman (Philadelphia Stars)
The WR position in the first half of the USFL regular season has taken a backseat to the league’s many standouts at RB and TE. USFL teams have been spreading the ball around more in their passing attacks this season than in 2022. Also, another factor is the absence of some of last season’s standouts, league MVP KaVontae Turpin and Stallions stud Marlon Williams.
Justin Hall broke out immediately in Houston’s offense under long-time WR guru and head coach Curtis Johnson. The prolific pass-catcher from Ball State, one of the nation’s most productive receivers, made his presence known immediately in the USFL. His productivity has somewhat slowed down the last two weeks, but Hall currently leads all USFL wide receivers with 296 yards and four touchdowns.
The defending champion Stallions are the walking wounded and have lost some vital pieces to their offense in 2023. WR Davion Davis has stepped up to fill the void Marlon Williams and others left. The late-arriving FCS standout at Sam Houston State has twenty receptions for 290 yards and three scores.
Another newcomer to the USFL, former NFL 1st-round pick Corey Coleman, has blended in nicely in the USFL. Coleman has 24 receptions for 258 yards (3rd at WR) and one score after five weeks.
And although some talented teammates surround him. It feels like Corey Coleman would be even more productive if not for the Stars’ massive pass-protection issues. Coleman is poised to have a better second half of the season if Philly can fix their issues.
Honorable mention: Devin Gray (Philadelphia Stars), Joe Walker (Michigan Panthers), Lee Morris (New Orleans Breakers), Anthony Ratliff-Williams (Houston Gamblers)
Arguably the league’s most talented WR duo, Jonathan Adams and Johnnie Dixon, miss this list, primarily due to a combination of factors, including other players emerging and injuries.
Lee Morris (17.9 yards per reception) has been one of the league’s best big-play receivers for the Breakers and has developed excellent chemistry with McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
Despite only having 11 receptions after five games. The Gamblers Anthony-Ratliff-Williams might be the league’s best overall player at wide receiver. ARW leads the league with 19.4 yards per reception.
To go along with 213 yards and three scores on only eleven catches. Ratliff-Williams has 564 all-purpose yards.
TE: Sage Surratt (New Orleans Breakers)
After five games, the league’s leading receiver in receptions (32) and yards (387) is Tight End, Sage Surratt.
It’s been a breakout season for the 25-year-old Breaker and former First Team All-ACC player at Wake Forest, who undoubtedly will get another shot in the NFL come July.
Honorable mention: Jace Sternberger (Birmingham Stallions)
A TE being fourth in the league in receiving yards (264, 3 scores) would not be excluded from first-team honors any other year. Jace Sternberger has had a tremendous season. Like Sage Surratt, I expect him to get another legitimate NFL shot when the USFL season ends.
OT: Avery Gennessy (Houston Gamblers)
OT: Darius Harper (Birmingham Stallions)
G: Shamarius Gilmore (Philadelphia Stars)
G: Kirk Kelley (New Orleans Breakers)
C: Nick Buchanon (Houston Gamblers)
Honorable mention: T Terry Poole (Pittsburgh Maulers), T Brodarious Hamm (Michigan Panthers), 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)
Houston and New Orleans have produced two of the most balanced offenses in the USFL. So it’s no surprise that multiple players from their offensive lines have made this list.
Surprisingly despite their great struggles this season upfront, the Stars have a standout performer in guard Shamarius Gilmore making this list.
The Five-time All-Sun Belt Conference selection, including first-team honors in 2020 and 2021 at Georgia State, has been a stud thus far in the USFL. Heading into Week 5, Gilmore’s 87.1 pass-blocking grade by Pro Football Focus topped all other offensive linemen. Across a league-high 174 pass-blocking snaps, he surrendered just three pressures — none of which were sacks. That’s quite the accomplishment on a team that has allowed nearly five sacks per game.
Midseason All-USFL 2023 Team: Defense
- Photo Credit: James Larsen, USFLNewsroom
DE: Breeland Speaks (Michigan Panthers)
DE: Ronheem Bingham (Houston Gamblers)
DL: Olive Sagapolu (Pittsburgh Maulers)
DT: Boogie Roberts (Pittsburgh Maulers)
DT: Toby Johnson (New Jersey Generals)
Honorable mention: EDGE Jeff McCollough (Memphis Showboats), DE Adam Rodriguez (Philadelphia Stars), DE Anree Saint-Amour (New Orleans Breakers), DE Ali Fayad (Philadelphia Stars), DT Daylon Mack (Memphis Showboats), DL Tyshun Render (New Jersey Generals), EDGE Greg Reaves (Memphis Showboats), DT Terry Beckner Jr. (Pittsburgh Maulers), DL Kenny Randall (New Jersey Generals)
Breeland Speaks has stood out as one of the most dominant players in Mike Nolan’s Panthers defense. He leads the USFL with 6.5 sacks. The former Superbowl champion was instantly a top USFL player when he stepped on the field. In a league with many newcomers taking the USFL by storm, Breeland’s high level of play speaks volumes.
It’s not a flashy position. However, after five weeks of play in the USFL, it can be argued that the defensive tackle spot is the strongest overall group in the entire league. Leaving names off this list is challenging, and I apologize in advance.
The Maulers’ entire defensive front can be included here.
Boogie Roberts has been an outstanding spring pro football player for quite some time. He’s elevated his game in 2023 and looks like a new person. The Boogie Man has been unblockable, and the stats don’t do his play justice. Terry Beckner and Olive Sagapolu have also had terrific seasons to this point.
Another veteran on top of his game in 2023 is returning league all-star Toby Johnson. The grizzled Generals vet, who has the unenviable task of clogging the trenches in a 3-4, has stood out on film. Coming into the midseason point, Johnson was one of the top three graded interior defenders by Pro Football Focus (80.7).
Ted Cotrell, the lifelong defensive line guru and former and current New Jersey Generals defensive coach, has gotten a lot of production out of players like Ken Randall and Tyshun Render this season.
LB: Kyahva Tezino (Pittsburgh Maulers)
LB: Reuben Foster (Pittsburgh Maulers)
LB: Vontae Diggs (New Orleans Breakers)
LB: Chris Orr (New Jersey Generals)
Honorable mention: Frank Ginda (Michigan Panthers), D’Juan Hines (New Jersey Generals), Khalan Tolson (Houston Gamblers), Gabriel Sewell Jr. (Philadelphia Stars), Scooby Wright (Birmingham Stallions)
Although he’s missed action, unfortunately, due to injury, Reuben Foster made an immediate impact as a superstar defender immediately for the Maulers. Foster remains the USFL’s highest-graded linebacker in run defense (93.7). His Pittsburgh partner Kyahva Tezino has had the same impact, and he’s second in the league with 46 tackles.
Vontae Diggs has had a terrific season for New Orleans as a true every-down linebacker in space. His 90.1 coverage grade leads the position, as he’s allowed just 38 yards on eight targets.
Chris Orr, the Wisconsin standout, has been a constant and consistent force in the USFL. He leads the league in tackles with 51. Pro Football Focus has him as the league’s highest-graded overall player (91.0). He leads the league in run stops (15) and has graded out very highly against the run and pass.
CB: Brian Allen (Birmingham Stallions)
CB: Josh Butler (Michigan Panthers)
CB: Mark Gilbert (Pittsburgh Maulers)
S: Warren Saba (Michigan Panthers)
S: Shalom Luani (New Jersey Generals)
Honorable mention: CB Amani Dennis (Philadelphia Stars), CB Nevelle Clark (New Orleans Breakers), CB Keith Gipson Jr. (Pittsburgh Maulers), 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)
Brian Allen and Josh Butler have been two of the highest-graded cover cornerbacks in the USFL. But Duke CB Mark Gilbert has stood out for the Maulers. Gilbert has an unreal ten pass deflections to go along with two interceptions in five weeks of play.
You can put anyone of Pittsburgh’s starting secondary players on this list without batting an eye.
Safety Warren Saba doesn’t have flashy stats (15 tackles, one int) but has been terrific in coverage. The ECU standout looks like a cornerback (5’9 189) and covers like one.
Shalom Luani and Dravon Askew-Henry are as good of a safety tandem as you will find in pro football. The Generals’ duo complement each other so well on the back end of their secondary.
Midseason All-USFL 2023 Team: Special Teams
K: Luis Aguilar (Philadelphia Stars)
P: Brock Miller (New Jersey Generals)
LS: Turner Bernard (New Orleans Breakers)
KR: Deon Cain (Birmingham Stallions)
Honorable mention: K Matt Coghlin (New Orleans Breakers), 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), LS Riley Lovingood (Pittsburgh Maulers), LS Ryan Navarro (Philadelphia Stars)
Until Week 5, The Breakers Matt Coghlin was a lock to get first-team honors despite the USFL having several standouts at placekicker. After all, Coghlin has been Mr. Perfect, connecting on all 15 of his kicks this season.
However, after the history-making 8 for 8 field goal performance by Luis Aguilar on Sunday, who is also the Stars punter, how do I not give him his flowers?
For the second season in a row, Generals’ punter Brock Miller has stood out from the pack. Thanks to the specialists ‘ brilliant hang time, he leads the league in punts inside the 20 and in net average per return. The Showboats Brandon Wright has had a fantastic season as well. There’s no denying his leg strength, which has undoubtedly been an asset for Mepmhis on punts and kickoffs.
Deon Cain, another newcomer to the league, made a tremendous splash, returning two kicks for touchdowns in his first four games before getting injured.
Isiah Hennie, who leads the USFL in punt return average (18.7), seems poised to steal the show as special teams performer of the year. He is a second-half breakout candidate on offense and special teams.
Anytime you have kicking games, that are perfect. You deserve some shine as a long snapper. It’s a position that only gets noticed when something goes wrong. The Breakers Turner Bernard, the Stars’ Ryan Navarro, and the beautifully named Riley Lovingood of the Maulers deserve some love and recognition. Perfection for kickers like Chris Blewitt, Matt Coghlin, or Luis Aguilar doesn’t happen without perfect play by their long snappers.
Final All-USFL Team Thoughts
The great thing about USFL 2023 is all the new stars that have emerged. It’s brought an exciting change in year two of the revived USFL.
It’s reflected in the standings too. The Gamblers are one of the league’s surprise teams, and the Maulers are building momentum after being a laughingstock a year ago. Teams like the Stallions and Stars have taken a step backward due to talent losses/injuries/production. It’s opened the door for new players to emerge and teams to succeed.
The USFL has not only provided a pathway for young players to get NFL opportunities and star as KaVontae Turpin did as Pro Bowler with Dallas. But it’s also become an avenue for reclamation projects to rekindle their careers. We have seen that with McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Corey Coleman, Reuben Foster, and others in the first half of the season.
The early returns of USFL 2023 bode well for believers in the long-term viability of an alternate non-NFL pro football league in the United States when you see new stars emerge every season.
The fear with these leagues from season to season is the constant turnover of losing superstars to the “big league.” But the current USFL season shows that there’s always excellent football talent available every new year in the football landscape.