Five potential USFL MVP candidates to keep an eye on ahead of 2023 season
KaVontae Turpin was named the USFL MVP last season and is now a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Who will emerge as the MVP in the upcoming season?
By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer
The return of the USFL couldn’t have gone any better for former New Jersey Generals standout KaVontae Turpin.
The Texas Christian University product was the most explosive playmaker on the field in 2022, leading the league in both receiving yards (540) and yards after catch (316), while totaling four receiving touchdowns for the top-ranked offense during the regular season.
Turpin also contributed running the football, with 129 rushing yards and a score. He finished tops in the USFL in punt return average (15.3) and was the only player to score a touchdown on a kick return in 2022, a 71-yarder for a score against Michigan in Week 9 of the regular season.
Turpin’s impressive season caught the attention of the NFL, where he signed with the Dallas Cowboys and was able to make an immediate impact. The 5-foot-9, 153-pound return specialist was the only player in the NFL with both a punt return and kickoff return of 50-plus yards, earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors as a return man in his first season in the league.
Turpin’s success became an example of what the USFL can do for a player looking to make an NFL squad. But with Turpin now at the next level, who could emerge as the MVP in the USFL for the upcoming season?
We take a closer look at five potential MVP candidates for the 2023 season that starts in less than two weeks.
Philadelphia Stars QB Case Cookus: The Northern Arizona product wasn’t even the starter for Philadelphia at the beginning of the season last year.
Bryan Scott began the year as the starting quarterback for the Stars. However, a season-ending knee injury in Week 3 opened the door for Cookus, and he never looked back. The Stars won four straight games with Cookus as the team’s starter and had a chance to win it all in the USFL championship before he went down in the fourth quarter with a broken leg.
Cookus got healthy enough to join the Los Angeles Rams practice squad during the second half of the regular season in 2022. He now begins 2023 as Philadelphia’s unquestioned starter, as the Stars should have one of the most high-powered offenses in the USFL. Philadelphia had the highest-scoring offense in the league last season, averaging 26.2 points a contest.
Cookus finished 6-3 as a starter, including the postseason. He completed 62.5% of his passes for 1,334 yards, with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions during the regular season.
Birmingham Stallions QB J’Mar Smith
The dual-threat quarterback played big in clutch moments – one of the main reasons Birmingham finished 9-1 during the regular season and grinded out a championship.
The Louisiana Tech product completed 55% of his passes for 1,573 yards, with 10 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Smith also ran for 187 yards and two scores. Solid, but not spectacular numbers.
Birmingham head coach Skip Holtz said Smith will share time with quarterback Alex McGough again this season, so it might be hard for the dynamic quarterback to put up big numbers over the duration of the season to compete for MVP honors.
But Smith’s flair for the dramatic and Birmingham’s role as defending champs makes him a player to watch in the MVP conversation to start the year.
New Jersey Generals QB De’Andre Johnson
Speaking of two-quarterback systems, New Jersey head coach Mike Riley also employed a two-quarterback approach last season with quarterbacks Luis Perez and De’Andre Johnson.
However, with Perez not returning to the USFL, Johnson appears ready to handle the job on his own this season, taking over one of the most explosive offenses in the league in 2022.
Like Smith, Johnson is dangerous with his legs and his feet. He completed 72% of his passes for 772 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Johnson also rushed for 310 yards and four scores during the regular season last year.
Birmingham Stallions RB Bo Scarbrough
The University of Alabama product joined the USFL midway during the 2022 season, but still made a major impact on Birmingham’s championship run.
Scarbrough signed with Birmingham in Week 4, totaling 352 rushing yards and a touchdown on 84 attempts in six games, averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
He also played big in the championship game, finishing with 135 rushing yards on 13 carries, including a 70-yard run.
Starting the season with Birmingham for a Holtz-led offense that wants to run the ball, Scarbrough has a chance for a breakout season.
Philadelphia Stars WR Corey Coleman
The Baylor product’s talent is undeniable.
A consensus All-American for the Bears and winner of the 2015 Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football, Coleman was a first-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2016. However, Coleman failed to live up to expectations in the NFL, totaling 61 receptions for 789 yards and five scores in three NFL seasons.
But Coleman gets another chance to redeem himself with Philadelphia and should provide versatility, with his ability to contribute in the running game and as a returner.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
More on the USFL:
- 2023 USFL Draft: 80 players selected across 10 rounds
- The full week-by-week 2023 USFL schedule
- Michigan Panthers schedule | Interview with coach Mike Nolan
- Pittsburgh Maulers schedule | Interview with coach Ray Horton
- Birmingham Stallions schedule | Interview with coach Skip Holtz
- New Jersey Generals schedule | Interview with coach Mike Riley
- Memphis Showboards schedule | Interview with coach Todd Haley
- Houston Gamblers schedule | Interview with coach Curtis Johnson
- Philadelphia Stars schedule | Interview with coach Bart Andrus
- New Orleans Breakers schedule | Interview with coach John DeFilippo
- 2023 USFL schedule: Best early games, title odds and more!