The Philadelphia Stars are true believers in competition, during our conversation with quarterback Case Cookus, even he saw the writing on the wall at wide receiver realizing there was no way they could keep everyone who was on the roster. With names like Corey Coleman, Jordan Suell, Diondre Overton, and more atop the depth chart, there were sure to be odd men out, we just weren’t sure who they would end up being.
The picture at wide receiver has begun to take shape, as have a few other positions as well. With recent moves to release some players and begin to start shaving the roster closer to the season maximum, the Stars have certainly sent a message to the players on the roster.
Come with your “A game” or be cut in favor of someone else. Depth and competition is important to the Stars, and they have proven this time and again by stacking positions and letting the best men win out.
Devon Williams, Wide Receiver
On February 23rd, the Stars made a fairly under-the-radar move to sign wideout Devon Williams. Williams as stated above spent time at both Oregon and USC. Keeping true to form, Williams is yet another larger receiver standing 6’5 210 lbs, adding to a wide receiver room that already had the highest average height at wide receiver by a long shot. Looking at his draft projection, no one quite knew what to think of him coming out of college. A lack of production at the college level has left more questions than answers.
Playing in just 20 games combined in four seasons, he produced 55 receptions for 941 yards and 7 touchdowns. It wasn’t until 2021 that he saw the field in more than 5 games in a season, and he responded by setting career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. He would go on to the 2022 NFL combine where he ran a 4.65 40-yard dash, and just a 33-inch vertical leap, underwhelming in both categories. He did not participate in the bench press which I believe might have helped his stock a bit if he had shown the necessary strength to be used as a blocker out wide or in the slot.
He would sign with the Ravens out of the draft last season, and appear in just one preseason game catching one pass for 8 yards. He would end up released and languish on free agency for a while before the Stars came calling. The Stars certainly have a type at wide receiver, with six wide receivers standing 6’2 or taller.
The Butterfly Effect, and Roster Construction
It’s no secret that in football every signing, typically has a corresponding loss involved, whether due to an injury, release, or trade. So with each free agent signed, there is bound to be a move that happens in reaction to adding a previously coveted free agent. On the same day, the Stars signed Devon Williams, they also made two moves to trim their roster as well. With only 58 players allowed in camp, this is to be expected.
Kahlil Lewis, Wide Receiver
It appears Kahlil Lewis ends up being the direct causality of the move to bring in Devon Williams. Although Lewis signed with the Stars in late April last season, he never logged any statistics for the Stars in 2022 spending the season on the inactive list. At 5’10 190 pounds he doesn’t fit what the Stars tend to like in a wide receiver as was highlighted above. Due in part to the impression he had already left on the team last offseason, they felt comfortable moving on with the unknown of Devon Williams over Lewis.
Bradley Sylve, Cornerback
Sylve spent the 2022 season with the Stars after being selected in the 11th round of the USFL draft. An Alabama alum, he has been around the alternative football block so to speak. With time spent in the Alliance of American Football, the XFL 2020, and the USFL in 2022. During his time in these alternative football leagues, he collected 39 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 3 interceptions, one that was returned for a touchdown.
Unfortunately, most of those statistics came before he ever got to the USFL. in 2022 Sylve would produce just 8 tackles, and no interceptions on the season as a backup behind Channing Stribling, and Amani Dennis who combined for 9 interceptions on the season. With both of these players returning, as well as new faces also being added along the way, Sylve hasn’t been the only move at the position. They also let Marcus Lewis go, and he has since signed with the Generals.
Sylve was a solid contributor and an experienced one at that. It’s too bad he didn’t make enough of an impression during the 2022 season to stick around, but if the team has improved in any area, it’s cornerback where they have added multiple players that look very promising whether in the free agency period or via the first every college draft. Although the rookies likely will not join the team right away, they should still be considered potential additions and obvious upgrades.
Kelvin Harmon, Wide Receiver,
Harmon is a native of Monrovia, Liberia, migrating to the United States, and settling in New Jersey with his family at the age of four. He would grow into a four-star recruit during his high school career producing impressive numbers along the way with 165 receptions, 2,764 yards, and 36 touchdowns. This garnered him plenty of attention from colleges at the time. He would initially commit to playing for the South Carolina Gamecocks, before de-committing and deciding instead to attend NC State. This ended up being a solid decision for the young New Jersey Transplant.
At NC State he would contribute immediately as a freshman, producing 27 receptions for 462 yards and 5 touchdowns in 13 games. Headed into his sophomore season having proven himself as a freshman, Harmon took on a larger role. This would lead to an increase in his receptions and yardage. Harmon would top 1,000 yards receiving for the first time with 1,017 yards on 69 receptions scoring 4 times. It was clear Harmon was quickly developing into something of a deep threat for the team averaging over 15 yards per reception through two seasons. In his final year with the school, he had his best season yet with 81 receptions, for 1,168 yards, and 7 touchdowns on the season. This also was his highest reception per game average, and he just barely missed averaging 100 yards per game.
The Washington Redskins would go on to select him in the 6th round in the 2019 draft after Harmon decided to forego his senior season. As a rookie for Washinton he would play in all 16 games and catch 30 passes for 365 yards, he threw 1 pass for 11 yards
Carson Taylor, Defensive End
Taylor is the definition of a “tweener” a slang term known as a player that is somewhere in between body types and skill sets for two positions. In this particular case Taylor never really seemed to be a natural fit at defensive end, but he just kept producing. He began his college career at NAU redshirting before spending 2017 as a rotational member of the defensive line.
In 2018 he became a starter at defensive end where he would start all 10 games. He would come up with 40 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 interception, and 4 pass deflections. In 2019 NAU changed defensive schemes, after replacing longtime defensive coordinator and current Sacramento State head coach Andy Thompson with Jerry Partridge. There was also a change in head coach when Jerome Souers announced his retirement replaced by Chris Ball. This meant a position change for Taylor who shifted to outside linebacker. This experiment lasted 5 games before he moved back to the end to finish the season. He then stayed there to finish his career.
His best season came in 2021 when he played in 8 games, collected 30 tackles, 10 for a loss, 6 sacks, 3 passes tipped, and 2 forced fumbles. He would finish his career with 36 tackles for a loss, 19 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, and 1 interception. He would declare for the 2022 NFL Draft but find himself unselected before signing with the Chicago Bears. He would play in one preseason game but get released during the first wave of cuts from 90-85. At 6’4 250 lbs, he is a perfect fit for what the Stars like at defensive end and has the burst and top-end speed to be an amazing pass rusher when you allow him to pin his ears back and operate in space. His 1.70 10-yard split, and 4.59 40-yard dash display exactly what kind of athlete he is, his 19 reps on the bench don’t hurt either. This is one pass rusher to keep an eye on.
Ali Fayad, Defensive End
Fayad, hailing from Western Michigan is a native of Dearborn, Michigan, and gets to play in front of his home crowd at Ford Field this year. Staying close to home and attending Western Michigan for college, the 6’2 250 pound edge rusher fits the profile for the Stars’ likes at defensive end.
A near-spitting image of Carson Taylor, Adam Rodriguez, Darius Hodges, Fayad doesn’t have an easy path to making this roster but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable. The second-year player spent the 2022 NFL Training Camp with the Philadelphia Eagles. He stuck until mid-August before he was released. This led him to seek a job up north with the Toronto Argonauts, who of course went on to win the 109th Grey Cup. A former collegiate teammate of Ralph Holley, the two will try and pair once again to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
In 55 collegiate games, Fayad had 56.5 tackles for a loss, 33.5 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, and 4 recoveries. Playing in 4 CFL games he collected 5 tackles, 4 on defense, and 1 sack. While he spent time with both the Eagles and Giants he didn’t log any NFL statistics. However in 59 career games, he has created so many impact plays, and he is nearly a must-have player at end, however, the same could be said about most of the defensive ends the Stars have right now, there is simply an embarrassment of riches.
Shamarious Gilmore, Guard
On March 8th the Stars brought in Gilmore to compete on the offensive line, the following day we found out who was released to make room. Offensive lineman Paul Nosworthy was let go in favor of Gilmore. A five-year starter at left guard for Georgia State set records for games played and started with 60, and 59 respectively.
This included a streak of 51 straight starts, and 4 bowl game appearances also a record for the school. During his time at Georgia State, the team had an unprecedented run on offense including team records for rushing yards per game (241.6), points per game (33.3), and total offense per game (439.8). He also managed All-Sun Belt all five seasons.
If you want strength to push the pile in the run game look no further as Gilmore managed 36 reps in the bench press. This showing helped him land a UDFA deal with the Seattle Seahawks. We watched the Stars use an approach similar to that of the Howie Roseman and Andy Reid-led Eagles loading up on offensive and defensive linemen. Despite being able to carry just 58 players the Stars currently have 20 linemen on their roster 10 on each side of the ball or an astounding 34% of their roster spots.
Vad Lee, Quarterback
Vad Lee is well-traveled, to say the least. With stops in the NFL, CFL, TSL, and USFL with two different teams, experience is not lacking with Lee. The question here is where does he fit? Is he competing with Kevin Thomson as the presumed QB2? Or is it a foregone conclusion that he and Costello are fighting for that QB3 spot? Well it appears we got our answer within days of Lee inking a deal.
Three players were placed on the inactive list with little to no explanation from the team. Given that the team just reported to camp I assume that this is injury related and not related to a refusal to report, or being signed by an NFL team. Losing Bug Howard, and Jahair Jones are big hits, but Costello is an underrated loss as the only backup with prior knowledge of the offense. The move to sign Lee is telling for one of two reasons;
Either Costello’s injury is severe, or Lee has a real chance at replacing Costello long-term. If he didn’t, why not just go sign a player who is a bigger unknown? Someone you’ve never seen up close and personal like you have Lee who last played in the North Division with the Cross-State rival Pittsburgh Maulers. This move makes it appear that Costello could be on his way to missing the season whether due to injury or release.
Jordan Moore, Linebacker
Moore returned to the USFL after playing with the Stars in 2022. He was one of the more consistent performers at linebacker and was expected to resume that role in 2023. Now there might be a delay before he sees the field. Placed on the suspended list, Jordan Moore could be faced with the prospect of missing games this season. As of right now no word back from the league as to what caused this suspension or when he will return. This could be a huge blow or could lead to his outright release if he will miss extended time.
Players Have Reported to Camp
Players are in camp, and I expect more transactions to come over the next few weeks as they continue to tweak their roster to make sure they are ready to make another run at the Championship game, which would keep their streak of appearing in every championship game in USFL history. Dating back to the original league in 1983, the Stars appeared in all four championship games played by the USFL. Given that their first appearance ended in a loss to the Michigan Panthers 24-22, and their most recent loss came by just 3 points, the Stars have been just 7 points removed from winning every USFL championship game ever played. Something tells me they have every intention of trying to avenge their tough loss in 2022. One thing is for sure. Case Cookus is ready saying he hopes to play 12 more games in 2023 for the Stars.