The USFL 2023 season arrives on Saturday, April 15th. The league returns with many of its top players from 2022. However, some new arrivals are set to take the USFL by storm. The same way Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl player and USFL MVP Kavontae Turpin did a year ago.
USFL 2023 Fantasy Football
Yes, there is such a thing as fantasy football for the USFL.
Chances are, if you are a diehard follower of the league, as I am now and was way back when. You played fantasy football last season. I am proud to state that my ‘Pizza Over Chicken Salad’ team went to a league championship in 2022. That joke is ancient now; Mr. Wilson is long gone. So I will definitely choose a different team name this season. That’s for sure. But it worked for a while in 2022.
Beyond any DFS outlets that have some level of dedication to spring pro football. There are two sites I will recommend for anyone who is interested in playing season-long fantasy football during the USFL season. The sites are far from perfect, but it’s what we have for now. There’s newshubfantasy.com and altfantasysports.com
Playing season-long fantasy in an eight-team pro football league can be tricky, and it’s definitely a different experience than participating in NFL fantasy because you have a limited amount of starting players at certain positions.
For example, although some USFL teams will rotate quarterbacks. Mike Riley says Hello. You really have only eight legitimate starters to choose from. So choose wisely and early. And from a strategy standpoint, you should consider handcuffing your starting QB if your bench space allows it.
Unlike NFL fantasy, you better not wait for a quarterback till later in the draft. Otherwise, you will end up with a player who is probably no longer in the league. The Toronto Argonauts Bryan Scott and Ben Holmes won’t help your team.
The same applies to the running back position, and you can’t start three running backs like you typically would in NFL fantasy.
Depending on how you want to customize your league settings. The best best, because there are only eight starting running backs, is to list only one weekly starter. How you choose to fill your flex position is up to you.
The Wide Receiver position is much easier to navigate and will provide the most depth. Simply because most teams feature three or more wideouts in their weekly game plan, and it will be less challenging to find talented players at the position before and even during the season.
From a fantasy perspective, the benefit of year two in the USFL is that several standout players from 2022 have returned. The same applies to the USFL’s top coaches. As a result, it makes it much easier to stack the top of your fantasy board.
Here are my USFL 2023 fantasy football rankings by position, from quarterback to kicker to defense.
With a little over a week until the season starts. And with no team depth charts available. This has a high probability of aging poorly. But here goes anyway;
USFL 2023 Fantasy Football Rankings
- #1: Case Cookus, Philadelphia Stars
- #2: J’Mar Smith, Birmingham Stallions
- #3: McLeod Bethel-Thompson, New Orleans Breakers
- #4: De’Andre Johnson, New Jersey Generals
- #5: Ryan Willis, Memphis Showboats
- #6: Josh Love/Carson Strong, Michigan Panthers
- #7: James Morgan, Pittsburgh Maulers
- #8: Kenji Bahar, Houston Gamblers
After the first four quarterbacks, who are must-have players in Fantasy, there’s a slight drop-off and some uncertainty with the rest of the league’s projected starting quarterbacks.
Case Cookus, who nearly hoisted the USFL championship trophy last season if not for a gruesome leg injury during the big game, can be a league winner for any fantasy player.
The Northern Arizona standout and cult favorite finally got his shot to play extended snaps on the pro level and shined brightly for the Stars last season. Throwing for over 1,300 yards and 12 scores after initially starting the 2022 season on Philly’s bench. As a result, Cookus got another NFL shot, finishing the 2022 season on the Los Angeles Rams practice squad. But he’s back in the USFL to finish what he started.
Fully healthy and recovered, Cookus has a chance to be an even better quarterback than he was in 2022 for Bart Andrus and Marcel Bellefeuille’s offense.
J’Mar Smith is also one of the USFL’s best stories from a year ago, after starring at Louisiana Tech as Conference USA’s offensive player of the year in 2019. Smith struggled to find his footing as a pro, and landing in the USFL with his former head coach Skip Holtz was the best thing that could’ve happened for him.
Although he struggled somewhat with accuracy at times last year. Finishing the season at 54% completion percentage. Smith got better and better as the 2022 USFL season progressed. He accumulated over 1,700 yards with the Stallions, rushing and passing, in nine games, including scoring 12 touchdowns.
The only concern with drafting Smith so high is the potential timeshare situation he has in Birmingham with Alex McGough.
So many things favor the well-traveled McLeod Bethel-Thompson in New Orleans with the Breakers. He is reunited with longtime NFL QB coach and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. The two spent time together with the Philadelphia Eagles. So Thompson knows the system, and New Orleans also has one of the league’s best-receiving corps—two major pluses for Bethel-Thompson.
MBT, who is fresh off of winning a Grey Cup with the Toronto Argonauts, and leading the CFL in passing, is undoubtedly the USFL’s most seasoned signal-caller. Bethel-Thompson has a chance to make a name for himself in the United States in what could be his swan song as a quarterback. Just in case MBT doesn’t produce. The Breakers have two promising young quarterbacks behind Thompson, in Aqeel Glass and Davis Cheek.
The player who, if he puts it all together, could be USFL MVP in 2023 is New Jersey Generals quarterback DeAndre Johnson. Although he started only four games a year ago, playing in nine of them. It can be argued that Johnson was easily one of the five most exciting players to watch in the league last year. The former Last Chance U star had nearly 1,100 yards of total offense in 2022, scoring six touchdowns. despite dealing with injuries and being a part-time player.
There’s no guarantee that Todd Haley rides with Ryan Willis in Memphis. But the former Spring League MVP has the background and is a fit in Haley’s pro-style offense. Hometown favorite Brady White could also get the nod. Cole Kelley is an intriguing talent who was a standout player in the FCS, not just because of his 6’7 frame. A year ago, Haley’s system produced the league’s top passer statistically. It could happen again.
The Panthers’ situation at QB bears watching. Very quietly last season, despite winning only two games. Under returning offensive coordinator, Eric Marty, Michigan had a very productive passing attack in 2022, leading the league in pass yards per game (191.4). The touchdown to interception wasn’t great (13-12), and it comes with the caveat of leading the league in pass attempts. However, anytime you have a team that has a propensity for throwing a lot. You have to pay attention to whoever their starting QB is.
Josh Love could have a leg up because of his experience in the system from last year. However, the upside play is talented rookie Carson Strong. The Nevada standout had a fall from grace after initially being heralded as a potential starting NFL QB. But he has all the tools to be a breakout candidate and should have a chip on his shoulder to succeed. In his last season of college football at Nevada in 2021, Strong threw for 4,175 yards and 36 TDs. Anytime a player produces those kinds of numbers, you can’t be dismissive, the way NFL teams have been.
The Maulers James Morgan has the NFL draft pedigree (2020 NFL 4th round selection) and a couple of quality pass targets to work with in Pittsburgh.
Kenji Bahar has some upside with Houston. The former Big South offensive player of the year had some ups and downs in limited play last season (61% 541 yards, 2 TDS, 2 ints). But perhaps, the added experience in 2022 will help him grow this coming season.
- #1: Bo Scarbrough, Birmingham Stallions
- #2: Darius Victor, New Jersey Generals
- #3: Reggie Corbin, Michigan Panthers
- #4: Matt Colburn, Philadelphia Stars
- #5: Mark Thompson, Houston Gamblers
- #6: Trey Williams, New Jersey Generals
- #7: Alex Collins, Memphis Showboats
- #8: Madre London, Pittsburgh Maulers
- #9: Wes Hills, New Orleans Breakers
- #10: Anthony Jones, New Orleans Breakers
- #11: C.J. Marable, Birmingham Stallions
- #12: Stevie Scott, Michigan Panthers
Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough only played six regular season games last season for the Stallions in the USFL. But very few players had the impact that he did on a per-game basis. Scarbrough had the third most rush yards per game (58.7), and that’s only because he didn’t start one of his six regular season games. In the Championship game, Scarbrough dominated with 135 yards rushing.
The Generals Darius Victor won USFL offensive player of the Year in 2022. The absurdly thick-thighed runner led the league in rushing touchdowns with nine, and if not for his teammate Trey Williams, would likely have led the league in rushing. The dynamic Generals duo combined for 1,156 yards rushing in ten games. They finished second and third in the league, respectively. Roster both of them if you can.
Reggie Corbin and Matt Colburn are two of the league’s most well-balanced running backs. Both players have big-play ability. Corbin averaged 5.5 yards per rush, and, and Colburn had eight scores on the ground at 4.5 yards per clip.
Pound for pound, Mark Thompson may very well be the league’s most explosive runner. For large stretches of 2022, he was the Gamblers’ best and sometimes only reliable option.
Todd Haley was desperate to add a runner after his QB in 2022 led the team in rushing. Veteran NFL RB Alex Collins, a highly productive runner between the tackles in his collegiate and pro career, should provide the Showboats with plenty of tough inside running. Collins has a chance to be among the league’s leaders in goalline scores.
Madre London didn’t quite light the world on fire in 2022 the way he did in the European League of Football. But perhaps a change in coaching staff could unlock the cheat code he was overseas two years ago.
A player to watch for closely is power back Wes Hills in New Orleans. He will likely be sharing time in the Breakers backfield. But he was a very productive and impressive-looking runner, albeit in a part-time role in Canada for the last two years. Hills averaged nearly six yards per rush in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The 6’1, 220lb bruiser really started to come on late last season, cementing himself with a 132-yard rushing game last October.
- #1: Jonathan ‘Jay’ Adams, New Orleans Breakers
- #2: Johnnie Dixon, New Orleans Breakers
- #3: Marlon Williams, Birmingham Stallions
- #4: Derrick Dillon, Memphis Showboats
- #5: Jordan Suell, Philadelphia Stars
- #6: Deon Cain, Birmingham Stallions
- #7: Corey Coleman, Philadephia Stars
- #8: Rashard Davis, Memphis Showboats
- #9: Alonzo Moore, New Jersey Generals
- #10: Bailey Gaither, Pittsburgh Maulers
- #11: Tre Walker, Pittsburgh Maulers
- #12: Trey Quinn, Michigan Panthers
- #13: A.J. Richardson, Michigan Panthers
- #14: De’Mornay Pierson-El, New Jersey Generals
- #15: Teo Redding, Houston Gamblers
- #16: John Franklin III, Memphis Showboats
- #17: Davion Davis, Birmingham Stallions
- #18: Devin Ross, Michigan Panthers
- #19: Marcus Green, New Jersey Generals
- #20: Chris Rowland, Philadelphia Stars
Four of the USFL’s top six receptions leaders from last season are not back with the league. Most notably, New Jersey Generals megastar KaVontae Turpin. And overall yards leader and championship game MVP Victor Bolden.
The void left by those two players will create openings for others to step up. And make no mistake; players will emerge and shine.
The Stallions have a stud in WR Marlon Williams and some other intriguing receiver prospects like the absurdly fast Rico Gafford. But Deon Cain is a player to watch closely for Birmingham. He has the pedigree to break out after being mostly on the NFL level as a fringe option.
Who will fill the massive shoes of Turpin in New Jersey? The Generals are a run-dominant team. However, there are a lot of targets up for grabs. Especially if you include the loss of Darrius Shepherd. Returning vet Alonzo Moore and new arrival De’Mornay Pierson-El could factor in. But Marcus Green is a sleeper candidate to break out. The former first-team All-Sun Belt player and sixth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2019 was a prolific returner in college and has great tools in the open field. Sound familiar?
The Breakers have the most talented receiving tandem in the league with Jonathan Adams and Johnnie Dixon. The 6’3, 220-pound Adams was fifth in the league in receiving yards a year ago. And has a chance to put up even better numbers this season. Dixon was fourth in the USFL in receptions in 2022.
On paper, Corey Coleman might be the sexiest new acquisition in the USFL. The Baylor standout and former NFL first-round draft choice has picked the perfect team to join in the Philadelphia Stars. Coleman will team with one of the league’s most physical receivers, 6’5 Jordan Suell.
The Showboats have a very underrated trio of receivers in John Franklin III, Rashard Davis, and Derrick Dillion. The latter is one of the league’s best runners after the catch. Dillon has legit 4.2 speed and was second in the USFL in YAC, behind only KaVontae Turpin.
Two players who could be PPR mavens this season are the returning Bailey Gaither with Pittsburgh. And new league arrival Trey Quinn with Michigan. The Panthers showed a propensity last season to throw the football at a high rate, and Quinn or any of Michigan’s other pass catchers have a chance to gobble up a ton of targets in that setting.
- #1: Jace Sternberger, Birmingham Stallions
- #2: Sage Surratt, New Orleans Breakers
- #3: Bug Howard, Philadelphia Stars*
- #4: Brandon Barnes, Houston Gamblers
- #5: Ryan Izzo, Philadelphia Stars
- #6: Woody Brandom, New Jersey Generals
- #7: Daniel Helm, Memphis Showboats
- #8: Artayvious Lynn, Pittsburgh Maulers
- #9: Marcus Baugh, Michigan Panthers
- #10: Pro Wells, Philadelphia Stars
By far, the most challenging position to handicap. There have been a couple of departures from last season. Some top performers at TE, such as Sal Canella and Cheyenne O’Grady.
There’s also uncertainty right now with Bug Howard, who is on the Stars’ inactive list. Philly has some quality TEs behind Bug, though, in Izzo and Wells. However, Howard was arguably the league’s most productive TE (not named Canella) down the stretch of 2022.
Sage Surratt and Jace Sternberger have high-end pedigrees and could translate into top performers at their position.
Brandon Barnes is vastly underutilized and is as good as any TE in the league. The Gamblers’ new staff needs to feature him more.
- #1: Brandon Aubrey, Birmingham Stallions
- #2: Nick Sciba, New Jersey Generals
- #3: Cole Murphy, Michigan Panthers
- #4: Luis Aguilar, Philadelphia Stars
- #5: Nick Vogel, Houston Gamblers
- #6: Matt Coghlin, New Orleans Breakers
- #7: Nathan Hierlihy, Pittsburgh Maulers
- #8: Alex Kessman, Memphis Showboats
For whatever crazy reason, an NFL team did not sign All-USFL kicker Brandon Aubrey after his starring turn last year in Birmingham. That’s the Stallions’ gain that he is back for year two. Birmingham took a gamble on the former soccer player, and it paid off handsomely.
Nick Sciba should solve the Generals’ placekicking woes from last year. The Wake Forest standout set the all-time record for accuracy at 89.9%. He also made all 193 of his extra point attempts, for a total of 433 points, on his way to becoming the all-time leader in scoring in school history.
For all the issues pro teams, specifically, spring league teams, typically have with kicking. The USFL had some specialists who survived the carousel last year and were fantastic.
Back at it again this year is Michigan’s, Cole Murphy. The Panthers kicker connected on 92 percent of his kicks last season and had a long of 60 yards. Inside the confines of Ford Field, Murphy might be able to surpass that number.
A kicker to watch out for, who also has a strong leg and boomed a 2022 USFL long of 61 yards, is Ramiz Ahmed. He is currently a free agent after spending last season with the Green Bay Packers. But if another opportunity to kick in the NFL doesn’t come. The USFL and its teams might be hitting Ahmed up to return.
USFL Defense/Special Teams
- #1: Birmingham Stallions
- #2: Philadelphia Stars
- #3: New Jersey Generals
- #4: New Orleans Breakers
- #5: Michigan Panthers
- #6: Memphis Showboats
- #7: Pittsburgh Maulers
- #8: Houston Gamblers
There are a lot of quality defensive players and kick returners who haven’t returned for the 2023 USFL season.
Some of the standouts are currently on NFL rosters. KaVontae Turpin, Chris Odom, DeMarquis Gates, Maurice Alexander etc
The Stars still have two dynamic returners on their roster, Chris Rowland and Darnell Holland.
Philly’s defense gave up a lot of yards last season, but the trade-off was that they forced a lot of turnovers. The Stars have added MAC defensive player of the year, Ali Fayad, to bolster their pass rush, and have brought back Channing Stribling.
John Chavis had the most aggressive defense a year ago. The Stallions allowed the second-fewest points in the USFL and led the league in sacks and fewest yards allowed per game.
The Generals have had some changes on the defensive side of the ball. Grizzled veteran coach Tedd Cottrell takes over as DC. He should help in the transition.
The addition of Ruben Foster should be a huge boost to the Maulers’ defense. But it will take more than one star player to fix an entire unit that allowed the most points per game in the USFL.
The Michigan Panthers have made some significant improvements to their defensive front. With the additions of Robert Nkemdiche, Walter Palmore, Ron’Dell Carter, Breeland Speaks, and the notorious Garrett Marino. If the Panthers’ defense can play better on their back end, they could take a giant leap from 2022.
What a difference a year makes. The Gamblers had one of the league’s best defenses in 2022. But they were killed by departures to their roster and coaching staff this offseason.
On the surface, it would appear that losing so many key contributors would be a death knell. But that’s the thing about a new season. There will be players who emerge to be the next Donald Payne, Chris Odom, etc.
The fun of finding out who will is right around the corner.