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USFL 2022: Mike Mitchell’s Midseason All-USFL Team

The 2022 USFL regular season has reached the midway point, and twenty games have been played in five weeks. As a result, the new league and its eight teams have started rounding into shape.

The Birmingham Stallions (5-0) and New Jersey Generals (4-1) have stood out from the rest of the pack as two well-crafted and coached rosters. But every team has had several standout players emerge in the first half of the season.

There is still a lot of football left to be played, and new players continue to emerge as each week progresses. See quarterback Vad Lee, who helped the Pittsburgh Maulers get their first win this past weekend. But let’s look at who I believe are the USFL’s best players position by position in the first five weeks.

USFL 2022 Midseason All-League Team

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Kyle Sloter, New Orleans Breakers

  • 1st in passing yards (1,226), tied for 1st in passing touchdowns (7)

Even though Kyle Sloter has nearly 400 more passing yards than Jordan Ta’amu in second place (834), there is a reasonable argument against Sloter being first-team All-USFL. After all, he does lead the league in interceptions with seven. And if it weren’t for the Stars Bryan Scott’s injury. Perhaps, Sloter wouldn’t be leading the way in the two main passing categories.

Nevertheless, Sloter deserves praise because of how banged up he has been all season, and he’s been nursing several different injuries since week one. The Breakers have leaned on Kyle heavily, throwing the ball 192 times in five games.

Honorable Mention: Ja’Marr Smith, Birmingham Stallions, De’Andre Johnson, New Jersey Generals & Jordan Ta’amu, Tampa Bay Bandits

Running Back

Mark Thompson, Houston Gamblers

  • 1st in rushing yards (400), 4.8 yards per rush, second in attempts (84)

This was a challenging position to choose one player. Especially because Thompson has only one touchdown on the season. But the former Florida Gator has been the sole engine to Houston’s offense, displaying great power and athleticism every week. Thompson has over 270 yards after first contact, and that’s tops by any runner in the league. It’s also a testament to how poorly the Gamblers’ offensive line has blocked up front all season long. Thompson is consistently nearly tackled behind the line of scrimmage every time he touches the ball.

The 6’2 235lb tailback has had a bumpy road in his college and pro career, but he might get another shot in the NFL, based on how well he has played.

Honorable Mention: Darius Victor, New Jersey Generals, Jordan Ellis, New Orleans Breakers, C.J. Marable, Birmingham Stallions, Reggie Corbin, Michigan Panthers

Wide Receiver (5)

Victor Bolden Jr., Birmingham Stallions

  • 1st in receptions (29), 4th in receiving yards (259), 1st in kick/punt return yards (577)

Jonathan Adams, New Orleans Breakers

  • 2nd in receiving yards (273), 16.1 yards per reception, two touchdowns

Tre Walker, Pittsburgh Maulers

  • 1st in receiving yards (287), 2nd in receptions (27) in 4 games played

Isaiah Zuber, Houston Gamblers

  • Tied for 1st in receiving touchdowns (4), 5th in receiving yards (254), 16.9 yards per catch

Bailey Gaither, Pittsburgh Maulers

  • 3rd in receiving yards (267) in only three games played. Tied for 2nd in touchdowns (3)

Another challenging position to choose from, it’s hard to pick just four, especially considering the recent emergence of players like Bailey Gaither. Victor Bolden has been Mr. Everything in Birmingham. Isaiah Zuber and Jonathan Adams have been big-play threats every week. Tre Walker has produced at a high level.

Honorable Mention: Johnnie Dixon, New Orleans Breakers, Kavontae Turpin, New Jersey Generals, Derrick Dillon, Tampa Bay Bandits

Tight End

Sal Canella, New Orleans Breakers

  • 1st in receptions (19) and yards (230) among all tight ends.

Sal Canella has yet to see the end zone this season. But he is sixth amongst all pass catchers in the USFL in receptions and eighth in receiving yards.

Honorable Mention: Cheyenne O’Grady, Tampa Bay Bandits

Offensive Line

Center, Jordan McCray, Birmingham Stallions

Guards: Evan Heim, New Jersey Generals, Cameron Hunt, Birmingham Stallions

Tackles: Terry Poole, New Jersey Generals, Paul Adams, New Orleans Breakers

The line play in the USFL has been better than expected. It’s usually an Achilles heel in startup pro leagues. Perhaps, that’s no surprise with USFL Head of Officiating Mike Pereira admitting on FOX TV that referees have been instructed only to call blatant penalties.

Jordan McCray has been the top-rated center in both the AAF and XFL. So it’s no surprise that he is picking up right where he left off in his other journeys into Spring Pro Football. The Stallions have one of the league’s best overall offensive lines, and a significant reason for that is the guidance they have received from successful long-time coach Jonathan Himebauch. IOL Cameron Hunt has also been a steady presence for Birmingham.

It’s been difficult to judge the New Jersey Generals’ offensive line because they are so run-heavy and benefit from having a dynamic runner like De’Andre Johnson. After all, New Jersey plays a very simplified attack. But Terry Poole and Evan Heim have stood out. And anytime you are leading the league in rushing and total yards per game. The monsters up front deserve some roses.

The Breakers have thrown the ball 192 times in five games, and Kyle Sloter has undoubtedly taken some big hits in the pocket. But New Orleans’s offensive line has only allowed five sacks in five games, and veteran OT Paul Adams deserves some shine for how well he has played.

Honorable Mention: Tejan Koroma, Michigan Panthers, Marquez Tucker, Birmingham Stallions, Avery Gennesy, Houston Gamblers, Blake Camper, Philadelphia Stars, Damien Mama, Tampa Bay Bandits, Calvin Ashley, New Jersey Generals

Special Teams

Kicker

Nick Vogel, Houston Gamblers

  • 1st in field goal percentage 11/13 (85%), 1st in scoring (39pts), Long 53 yards, 1st in kickoff touchbacks (7)

Honorable Mention: Brandon Aubrey, Birmingham Stallions

Punter

Brandon Wright, Tampa Bay Bandits

  • 1st in punting average (47.8), tied for first in punts inside the 20 (9)

Honorable Mention: Matt White, New Orleans Breakers

Kick Returner

Maurice Alexander, Philadelphia Stars

  • 1st in kick return average (34.0), 3rd in punt return average (12.5)

Honorable Mention: Victor Bolden Jr., Birmingham Stallions

Long Snapper: Ryan Langan, Birmingham Stallions

Long snappers don’t receive a lot of love. And the only time they are noticed is when something goes wrong. You know that they are doing their jobs if the kicker and punter are having success. Like former soccer player turned pro kicker Brandon Aubrey.

Don’t scoff at the potential of long snappers using a league like the USFL as a springboard to the NFL. The XFL from 2020 has three former long snappers who have earned permanent NFL jobs. Scott Daly (Lions), Nick Moore (Ravens), and Christian Kuntz (Steelers).

Defense

Edge Rushers

Chris Odom, Houston Gamblers

  • 1st in sacks (5.5), 1st in forced fumbles (3)

Davin Bellamy, New Orleans Breakers

  • 2nd in sacks (4.5)

Dondrea Tillman, Birmingham Stallions

  • 1st overall in pressures (31)

In the first half of the season, Odon and Bellamy have been unstoppable at times. Tillman isn’t just getting enough publicity on a talented defense. But he has been the most consistent pass rusher in the league. Tillman’s 31 pressures in five weeks haven’t translated to gaudy stats. Twenty-one tackles, 1.5 sacks. But no other defender in the USFL has more pressures than him this season.

Honorable Mention: Carlo Kemp, Michigan Panthers, Adam Rodriguez, Philadelphia Stars, Greg Reaves, Tampa Bay Bandits

Defensive Tackle

Toby Johnson, New Jersey Generals

Daylon Mack, Tampa Bay Bandits

Jaquan Bailey, Michigan Panthers

Run-stopping defensive tackles rarely fill up the stat sheet. But it’s the play upfront of space eaters like Toby Johnson, Jaquan Bailey, and Daylon Mack that has enabled the linebackers behind them to run freely and make plays unimpeded. New Jersey and Michigan have the top two run defenses in the league. And Johnson and Bailey are significant reasons for that.

Honorable Mention: Shakir Soto, New Orleans Breakers, Freedom Akinmoladun, Philadelphia Stars, Boogie Roberts, Pittsburgh Maulers

Linebacker

DeMarquis Gates, Birmingham Stallions

  • 31 total tackles, 21 solo, four sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery

Scooby Wright, Birmingham Stallions

  • 36 tackles, 16 solo, two sacks, two forced fumbles

Donald Payne, Houston Gamblers

  • 1st in tackles (58), 1st in solo tackles (33)

Donald Payne has been the hardest-hitting and most productive linebacker in the league. But the two most impactful linebackers in the league have been Stallions teammates DeMarquis Gates and Scooby Wright. The two Spring pro league veterans who were both standouts in the AAF and XFL are picking up right where they left off in those leagues. Gates and Wright are complete players rushing the passer, defending the run, and in coverage.

Honorable Mention: Chris Orr, New Jersey Generals, D’Juan Hines, New Jersey Generals, Jerod Fernandez, New Orleans Breakers, Frank Ginda, Michigan Panthers, Vontae Diggs, New Orleans Breakers

Cornerback

Will Likely III, Houston Gamblers

  • 1st in passes defended (8), tied for the league lead in interceptions (4)

Channing Stribling, Philadelphia Stars

  • Tied for first in interceptions (4), second in passes deflections (7)

Josh Shaw, Birmingham Stallions

  • One of two defensive players to receive a defensive grade north of 90.0 by Pro Football Focus in three games this season. In Week Five, the former NFL vet Shaw allowed only two completed passes for five yards.

Jameson Houston, Michigan Panthers

  • Top cornerback on the league’s #1 pass defense (144 yards allowed per game). 3rd in the league with six passes defended.

Honorable Mention: De’Vante Bausby, New Jersey Generals, Brian Allen, Birmingham Stallions, Manny Patterson, New Orleans Breakers, Keith Washington II, New Orleans Breakers

Safeties

Shalom Luani, New Jersey Generals

  • 2nd in the league in interceptions with three in as many games played.

Arnold Tarpley III, Pittsburgh Maulers

  • 1st in tackles at safety (33) and solo tackles (19)

Sean Williams Jr., Michigan Panthers

  • 29 tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception, two passes defended on #1 pass defense

Micah Abernathy, Houston Gamblers

  • Tied for first in solo tackles (19) among all safeties. Thirty overall stops, involved in three turnovers, with four passes defended.

The safety play has been solid across the league. The USFL has quite a few players who are tweeners playing the position. Luani, Abernathy, and Tarpley have been fierce hitters in the box. Navy product Sean Williams Jr. has been one of the league’s headiest players in the secondary.

Honorable Mention: Dravon Askew-Henry, New Jersey Generals, Anthony Cioffi, Tampa Bay Bandits, Orion Stewart, Michigan Panthers, Aashari Crosswell, New Orleans Breakers

USFL Midseason Team Final Thoughts

As of press time, the league hasn’t officially released an official All-USFL team list. So this is just one person’s take on the players who have impressed the most, as a lifelong advocate of spring pro football leagues, dating back to the original USFL. I have always enjoyed and appreciated the existence of these entities in the football landscape.

I have watched all 20 of the USFL’s games at least twice each. I have been covering the New Jersey Generals for USFLNewshub. So the number of multiple viewings for them has exceeded that.

One of the most talked-about and fascinating elements of non-NFL pro leagues is the potential of players finding a way back onto a pro team roster in the summer/fall, and it’s a selling point for the USFL and other leagues in this realm.

The USFL 2022 season will end for most teams in June, and ultimately all of them by July 3rd. The window for players to latch on to NFL rosters is smaller during that timeframe, and since most NFL teams have already formed their 90-player rosters after the draft.

However, please make no mistake; the NFL and their respective scouting departments are watching all of the USFL games. Spring pro football leagues like the AAF and XFL have produced multiple players who are still on NFL rosters long after both leagues closed up shop prematurely.

At the bare minimum, I would expect at least a dozen USFL players to get a shot to make an NFL roster. Perhaps more. Nothing beats game experience and actual film. Age and fatigue coming off of a ten-week season could work against some USFL players. But there are plenty of deserving players in the league, as evidenced by the first five weeks of the season.

Quarterbacks Kyle Sloter, and Jordan Ta’amu, who are no strangers to living on the fringe of NFL rosters, should be on team’s shortlists and radars before and during the NFL season.

Making the back end of an NFL roster could be difficult for two dynamic players like RB Mark Thompson and WR Jonathan Adams. Because typically, those are spots reserved for special team contributors. Therefore, a versatile player like WR/KR Victor Bolden Jr. could find his way back on a practice squad at the very least.

DeMarquis Gates and Scooby Wright have proved for several years now that they are undoubtedly worthy of a spot on an NFL roster. Not shocking, after all, both players have now dominated in three spring pro football leagues: the AAF, XFL, and now the USFL. The ‘Shark Dog’ himself, Wright is a fun player to watch. Gates has shown his versatility in all three phases as a linebacker. Both Stallions deserve another shot.

DB Shalom Luani, DT Daylon Mack, and DB Josh Shaw are three veterans who could also get one more NFL look. All three are former NFL draft picks. Age (30) could work against Shaw, but he has been fantastic. Mack is, as advertised, a space-eating monster, and perhaps being perceived as a one-trick pony could work against him. But Mack is stellar at his best trait.

Shalom Luani plays with a reckless nature. Luani has been fun to watch. He’s putting it all on the line in what could be his final bid for the NFL. However, it’s cost him a couple of games on the injured list. But watching players like Luani go all-in in the USFL has been a treat.

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