USFL 2023: Key players to know with training camps in action

USFL 2023: Key players to know with training camps in action

Mar 20

By RJ Young
FOX Sports Football Analyst

With USFL training camps underway, here’s a look at some of the players you should watch ahead of the 2023 season.

Birmingham Stallions (9-1 last season, 2022 champions) 

Returners to know: QB J'Mar Smith (Louisiana Tech), QB Alex McGough (Florida International), WR Adrian Hardy (Louisiana Tech), WR Marlon Williams (UCF), LB Scooby Wright (Arizona), RB Bo Scarbrough (Alabama).

A midseason addition in the 2022 campaign, the former national champion Scarbrough added a bruising presence to Birmingham coach Skip Holtz’s backfield, averaging just over four yards per carry.

Wright returns as the leader of Holtz's defense. The former unanimous All-American was dynamic when healthy and had the game-clinching pick-six in the USFL title game, a 33-30 victory against the Philadelphia Stars last July.

Newcomer to watch: Former Texas A&M tight end Jace Sternberger, who earned consensus All-American honors in 2018 after catching 47 passes for 804 receiving yards with TDs.

Houston Gamblers (3-7)

Returner to know: RB Mark Thompson (Florida).

Newcomers to watch: RB T.J. Pledger (Utah), WR Joshua Moore (Texas), DE Eli Howard (Texas Tech), LB Isaiah Pryor (Notre Dame), QB Terry Wilson (New Mexico).

With stops at Oregon, Garden City Community College, Kentucky and New Mexico, Wilson is perhaps the most intriguing player the Gamblers brought in for training camp.

As a sophomore at Kentucky in 2018, Del City, Oklahoma’s own led the Wildcats to their first 10-win season since 1977. When he left Kentucky for New Mexico, he did so as the only player to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a career.

Memphis Showboats (4-6 as Tampa Bay Bandits)

Returners to know: QB Brady White (Memphis), WR John Franklin III (FAU), WR Derrick Dillon (LSU).

Newcomers to watch: DE Big Kat Bryant (UCF), RB Alex Collins (Arkansas).

Collins became the first true freshman in SEC history to rush for a total of 300 yards in his first three games at Arkansas in 2013. He finished with 1,026 on 190 carries, earning SEC Freshman of the Year. After ending his career at Arkansas in 2015, he played five years in the NFL and will be a welcome addition to Todd Haley’s backfield.

Michigan Panthers (2-8)

Returners to know: RB Reggie Corbin (Illinois), WR Whop Philyor (Indiana), LB Frank Ginda (San Jose State).

Corbin rushed for 519 yards last season at 5.5 yards per carry, both the fourth most across the USFL. Corbin also provides a threat as a kick returner, adding 296 yards in the return game.

Newcomers to watch: DT Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss), QB Carson Strong (Nevada).

Nkemdiche looks to emerge as an intimidating presence for defensive line coach Connor Bauer. He was a first-round NFL draft pick in 2016 for the Arizona Cardinals and played six seasons in the NFL before signing with the Panthers in January. 

Strong offers a chance for the Panthers to find stability at QB, a position that plagued them last season. In his last season of college football at Nevada in 2021, Strong threw for 4,175 yards and 36 TDs.

New Jersey Generals (9-1)

Returners to know: QB DeAndre Johnson (Texas Southern), DE Hercules Mata'afa (Washington State), S Shalom Luani (Washington State), RB Darius Victor (Towson).

Victor led the league in rushing TDs (nine) and was the thunder to running back Trey Williams’ lightning for a Generals team that built an identity around its ability to rush.

Newcomer to watch: QB Dakota Prukop (Oregon).

A former FCS first-team All-American and Grey Cup winner, Prukop threw for 3,025 yards with 28 TDs against 10 INTs at Montana State before transferring to Oregon, where he eventually lost the starting job to future NFL first-rounder Justin Herbert in 2016. At UO, Prukop threw eight TDs and just two INTs. Expect Prukop to push Johnson for the starting job not just in camp but for the duration of the season with one of the game’s great QB coaches as his head coach in Mike Riley.

New Orleans Breakers (6-4)

Returners to know: WR Johnnie Dixon (Ohio State), WR Jay Adams (Arkansas State), LB Jordan Brailford (Oklahoma State), S Greg Eisworth II (Iowa State).

While Dixon and Adams were the top two receiving threats for the Breakers last season, All-Big 12 performers Brailford and Eisworth look to fortify a defense that reached the divisional round of the USFL playoffs last year.

Newcomers to know: QB Aqeel Glass (Alabama A&M), QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson (Sacramento State).

Both Bethel-Thompson and Glass can be stars in the USFL. Glass, a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder, led Alabama A&M to its first HBCU football national title in the spring of 2021 — and first SWAC title since 2006.

With more than a decade of experience as a pro in the NFL and CFL, Bethel-Thompson has quarterbacked on two Grey Cup-winning teams (2017, 2022), led the CFL in passing yards (4,731) and passing TDs (23) as the starter for the Toronto Argonauts. He's thrown for 4,000 yards or more in two of his last four seasons.

Pittsburgh Maulers (1-9)

Returners to know: WR Bailey Gaither (San Jose State), WR Tre Walker (San Jose State), S Tre Tarpley (Vanderbilt), LB Kyahva Tezino (San Diego State).

Newcomers to watch: WR Jalen McCleskey (Tulane), QB James Morgan (Florida International).

In 2018, Morgan won Conference USA Newcomer of the Year after passing for 2,727 yards with 26 TDs against seven INTs. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Bad quarterback play plagued the Maulers for most of last season, and with the kind of defensive dominance Pittsburgh is capable of, even middling quarterback play might be enough for the Maulers to compete in the North Division.

Philadelphia Stars (6-4)

Returners to know: QB Case Cookus (Northern Arizona), WR Jordan Suell (Southern Oregon), RB Matt Colburn (Wake Forest), CB Channing Stribling (Michigan).

Cookus will begin camp at No. 1 on the depth chart but is coming off a season-ending injury to his left leg in the USFL Championship last summer. He came off the bench last spring to help Bart Andrus’ team charge to the title game behind 1,334 pass yards, 12 pass TDs and just five interceptions. Stribling led the league in INTs with seven last season and figures to return to the USFL as its best boundary cornerback.

Newcomer to watch: WR Corey Coleman (Baylor).

Coleman earned consensus All-American honors and was crowned the best receiver in the sport after winning the 2015 Biletnikoff Award at Baylor. He was selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns and is capable of being one of the better deep threats in the league in 2023.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The Number One College Football Show." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube.

More on the USFL: