A very intelligent coach once told me “I don’t have backups on my team. I have a roster full of starters one play away from their opportunity.” That coach has won back-to-back championships in his respective league. The Stars seem to live and die by a similar philosophy signing players they see as potential starting caliber players across the board.
This was put on display last season when the Stars were forced to play three different quarterbacks, and four different running backs. We saw it again when Adam Rodriguez the eventual team sack leader, and second in the league started the season as a back-up. All three positions not only required all of their initial depth but players brought in off the street to fill needs, like Kj Costello, and Dexter Williams.
With final cut downs coming there were sure to be some great players cut. In this instance the writing was on the wall for these three players but not due to their talent, but due to when they joined the team. One player in particular on this list was signed just six days before final cuts, and had a delay in his medical info coming back. By the time that info arrived he was being informed that he was let go due to final cutdown. That player was a former NFL free safety.
De’Vante Cross, Free Safety
Cross was placed in an uphill battle before he even signed with the team. Given that the Stars had brought back Cody Brown, Ladarius Wiley, Joshua Moon and Evan Worthington back. Even though Cross brings the necessary size (6’2 215 pounds) and speed (4.5 range) to dominate at this level.
After originally entering college as a quarterback he was first asked to play some wide receiver before settling in on defense. During his redshirt freshman season Cross, still listed as a quarterback, managed to see time on offense. Collecting 5 carries for 27 yards, 1 reception for 8 yards, and 3 tackles as Virginia figured out how to use him.
In his second season he was listed as a wide receiver but caught just 1 pass for 20 yards and a touchdown while collecting 13 tackles and 1 interception in his first experience on defense. Finally in 2019 his fourth season with the school, he would be moved to safety full time. He would immediately become a key contributor on defense for the Cavaliers. Playing in all 14 games he collected 60 tackles, 4 for a loss, 1 sack, 2 ints, and 6 passes deflected.
In 2020 playing in just 10 games his tackles dropped off but he still managed 30 total, 2 for a loss, 1 sack, 2 ints and 4 passes deflected. His final season saw more of the same. A late season injury prevented him from playing more than 8 games which resulted in his statistics dropping off he had 24 tackles, 1 interception, and 5 pass deflections. This late season injury prevented him from participating in the combine or running the 40 in his pro day.
I believe this directly resulted in him landing undrafted. This late injury and his lack of a pro day or combine appearance caused teams to shy away. Washington brought him in for their rookie minicamp, and later after being released he spent time with the Green Bay Packers. Signing with the Stars represented his best chance to showcase his skills since college, I expect Cross to land somewhere soon. In speaking with him he has his sights set on the CFL for now, but it wouldn’t shock me to see another USFL team, or an XFL team come calling looking for late season depth.
Devon Williams, Wide Receiver
Devon Williams might be a case of right player, wrong position. At 6’5 210 pounds he ran a 4.65 40-yard dash coming out of University of Oregon. He began at USC but transferred utilizing a redshirt when he arrived at Oregon. He spent two years on the field for the Ducks playing in 18 games. He managed to amass 50 receptions for 843 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Originally regarded as an athlete as a dual threat quarterback coming out of college, Williams never got the chance to fully develop as a wide receiver at the college level, and lacked the top end speed to really do the same damage he did in college. However Williams reminds me a lot of another Stars player coming out of college, Bug Howard. Howard was 6’5 221 pounds coming out of college in 2017. He ran a 4.58 40 yard dash and managed a 37.5 inch vertical. Considering Howard ran faster, and jumped higher while he weighed more than Williams and he moved to tight end, perhaps this is a move that Williams needs to entertain to save his career.
I believe Williams would be an asset as a tight end, and if you look at recent success converting wide receivers to tight end in alternative football leagues, Sage Surratt and Cody Latimer have paved the way for this path. If Williams even added 20-30 pounds he would be at 230-240 pounds and essentially be the same size as Howard. Maybe at some point we even see an alternative football team take a chance on Jj Arcega-Whiteside for the same reason.
My concern with Williams would be his current lack of strength to hold up in the run game as a blocker at tight end. He put up just 7 reps of 225 pounds at his pro day. To put that into perspective, Howard had 15. Hitting the weight room will be imperative for the success of this transition.
Williams has spent time with the Baltimore Ravens, and the Philadelphia Stars but neither team had him move positions. It will be interesting to see if his next team does. As a tight end, Williams could be a matchup nightmare facing safeties and linebackers but as a wide receiver he struggles to create separation, lacks short area foot quickness, and is slow getting in and out of breaks against cornerbacks.
Jordan Scarlett, Running Back
Jordan Scarlett has the pedigree as a former NFL draft pick, but he doesn’t have the experience teams would like. Drafted in round 5 of the 2019 NFL Draft, Scarlett was originally selected by the Carolina Panthers to add depth to their backfield, and special teams units.
However by 2020 he had already been released, left to fight for a role with Detroit after signing with their practice squad in December of 2020. Less than a month later he signed a futures contract with Miami. He would stick with the Dolphins until final cuts before being released. He would bounce on and off Miami’s practice squad that season.
In 2022 he looked to other options originally signing with the Montreal Alouettes lasting just two months, Scarlett stayed in Canada and found a new team. Edmonton signed him a month after he was released, but he lasted just 11 days. Heading back to the United States in 2023. They had already brought back Matt Colburn, and Dexter Williams who were free agents, they also had Darnell Holland and Paul Terry. Bringing in Scarlett made for a much too crowded backfield and Terry was the first to go.
The Stars were never expected to carry four running backs, so it was only a matter of time before another name was released. After sitting on the open market for about 5 months, and signing with the Stars later in the free agency process, Scarlett became the odd man out. The Stars opted to move forward with Matt Colburn, and Dexter Williams as the 1-2 punch, and Darnell Holland as the change of pace and third down back.
Choosing Holland always meant Scarlett was likely the odd man out. On the surface it appeared that these two men were direct competition for each other. Holland had the upper hand having played for these coaches not only last season but in the TSL before the USFL was formed. This advantage proved to be all Holland needed.
Scarlett on the other hand could be a name to watch for other running back needy teams. Three NFL teams, two CFL, and one USFL teams have already given him a chance. That in itself should prove he belongs in the pros. I expect to see Scarlett end up signing midseason with another USFL team, or perhaps an XFL team late in the season. Given his special teams value, he is not just a running back to most squads, another reason why I expect him to be signed.
In other news the Stars lost their fourth and fifth players to the reserve list when defensive and Darius Hodge was added to the list. He joins tight end Bug Howard, quarterback Kj Costello, and offensive lineman Jahair Jones. The team also will miss Jordan more due to suspension to start the season.
Darnell Holland is the latest loss, announced that he was placed on the Injured Reserve list, this creates an interesting scenario in the run game. Do we see the Stars bring back Paul Terry, or Jordan Scarlett as RB3 or do we see the Stars turn to Chris Rowland who filled that emergency running back role at times last season? I would venture a guess we see the Stars bring back one of the backs that was cut, if I had to guess, I would lean towards Jordan Scarlett who was let go more recently than Terry. I am more than confident in Chris Rowland’s abilities as a runner, given his background as a running back in high school, and his experience running the ball in college as well.
Check out my more in depth article about Rowland’s abilities as a runner here:
The Stars were not yet done with cuts yet, and three more players faced the ax of the “Turk” as they call it. This ended up with three more players who have NFL experience being shed from the roster.
Kelvin Harmon, Wide Reciever
Kelvin Harmon is a receiver who spent three seasons in the NFL on an active roster with the Washington Commanders. At 6’2 215 pounds, he has the necessary size, and athleticism to be a big time contributor at the USFL level, however it appears it will not be with the Stars. The Liberian born wideout was a player I looked at a near lock in the receiver room because of how much he contributed early on in his NFL career.
Three seasons removed from his rookie year, Harmon has some work to do to convince teams he still has what it takes to continue playing at this level. I would not be shocked to see him surface in the CFL for their 2023 season given that the XFL is nearly over, and the CFL hasn’t entered camp as of yet. In fact I’m hoping the Ottawa Redblacks take a chance on Harmon. I believe Harmon can be a big time performer at this alternative football level. He only needs a chance.
It certainly wasn’t an accident that he was drafted in round 6 in 2019, and went on immediately to make an impact as a rookie. Targeted 44 times he caught 30 passes for 365 yards and produced 16 first downs. I would expect given the right offense, Harmon is at worst a #3 receiver in the USFL/XFL/CFL level.
Antwan Owens, Defensive Line
Antwan Owens is a player who was on the Stars last season, and a valuable one at that. His size and versatility to play inside or outside was tremendous for the Stars. Unfortunately for Owens he was not the only player on the roster looking to fill the role he was slated for. Owens having began his career at Georgia Tech, transferred to Jackson State and finished his career under Coach Prime.
A rookie in 2022, joining the team just months after his football season ended at Jackson State, Owens made an impact that can’t be quantified from a stat sheet. Although he collected just 12 tackles, he was tasked with eating up double teams on one side of the line in order to free up premier pass rushers like Adam Rodriguez on the other side.
At 6’4 265 lbs, Owens made sense as a strongside defensive end, however he had gained weight and was up to 280 pounds this offseason. Which in my opinion made him much better suited to play interior defensive line, while still being able to rush the passer from that position. Unfortunately for Owens, the Stars chose to move forward with Ralph Holley filling this role. The Stars currently hold 5 defensive tackles including Holley who could see snaps at defensive end despite playing at 285 pounds.
They also kept three pure pass rushers on the active roster, as well as Hodge on the reserve list. I am excited about the players at defensive end. Adam Rodriguez returns having collected the second most sacks in the USFL during the 2022 season with 9, while Ali Fayad, and Carson Taylor both bring the skillset needed to put the pressure on opposing passers all season long.
Dare Rosenthal, Offensive Tackle
Even after the move to release Rosenthal the Stars are carrying four tackles, 4 guards, and 2 centers. These are the exact numbers I would have expected to see on the offensive line as you can never have too much depth. Carrying a backup for each individual position is a move most NFL teams make when as well. This increases the success rate of these depth players when called upon.
Rosenthal is the exact type of player that needs a spring football league to get where he wants to be, which is of course in the NFL. Rosenthal committed to LSU as a 4 star defensive tackle before redshirting in the 2018 season and making the move to offensive line. Standing 6’7 327 pounds coming out of college he has the necessary size to dominate at the position if given the proper coaching.
During his first season after the position change he would play in 5 games at left guard. Starting three of those games. The following season in 2020, he moved to left tackle where he played in seven games, starting five, but missed multiple games due to injury and/or suspension that season. Not a good look at the time for a guy who needed the playing time to further develop as an offensive lineman.
After a tumultuous season in 2020 with LSU, he decided it was in his best interests to transfer out of the program. This landed him with University of Kentucky where he would start 12 games at left tackle for the school. With just two seasons of playing time as a left tackle, another handful of games at left guard, and multiple years playing defense before that, you can see why Rosenthal needs to continue his development.
He has all the necessary tools to develop into a future NFL offensive lineman, in fact he was expected to be picked as high as the 5th round of his athletic ability alone, but fell undrafted. He would spend some time with the Atlanta Falcons during the 2022 season but didn’t stick turning his focus instead to the USFL. While he didn’t stay with the Stars I would keep an eye on his name as a midseason free agent pickup following injuries.
Final Words about Final Cuts
The Stars have arguably one of the best rosters in the league. I will continue to echo these sentiments until the other teams in the league prove me wrong during the season. After watching how the Stars performed last season and seeing the moves they made this offseason I am encouraged that the team took the necessary steps and improved enough to collect their third championship victory, and fifth appearance in five tries.
All six of these players released spent time on NFL rosters at some point. They clearly have what it takes to play professional football. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see any of these three players turn up on another USFL roster, a XFL or CFL roster, or maybe even an NFL practice squad at some point in 2023. Perhaps one of the indoor teams come calling hoping to convince a guy to come play for a few weeks, and keep fresh.
If any league should be poaching these outgoing USFL and XFL free agents it should be the National Arena League. With no salary cap, and many of these players having experience playing both ways in college or before hand why not give them a look? Dare Rosenthal, and Rico Gafford in particular among this last set of cuts would make a lot of sense for the league given their experience playing both offense and defense in college.
If you’re a fan of the Stars check out our Interviews with Stars players including Case Cookus, Adam Rodriguez, Samuel Akem, Dexter Williams, and multiple coaches: