With the USFL reaching the midpoint of this season, it’s a good time to take a closer look at the top candidates for the league’s MVP award.
Every team has at least one loss heading into the second half of the year. The New Orleans Breakers have the best mark at 4-1, but it can be argued the Houston Gamblers are playing the best football, having won three straight games, including a victory over the defending champs last week in the Birmingham Stallions.
After 60 USFL players signed NFL contracts following the 2022 season, including last year’s USFL MVP KaVontae Turpin, who is now playing for the Dallas Cowboys, the competition to grab the MVP trophy this season is wide-open.
Here are the Top 10 candidates with five games left:
New Orleans Breakers QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson: The former CFL standout has been a steadying influence for New Orleans on offense, playing efficient football from the pocket and keeping mistakes to a minimum. The Sacramento State product leads the USFL with 1,322 passing yards, completing 66.9% of his passes for seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
New Orleans Breakers RB Wes Hills: Breakers head coach John DeFilippo created balance on offense with the bruising running style of Hills. At 6-2 and 220 pounds, Hills leads the USFL with 427 rushing yards and eight scores, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Hills also has 20 receptions for 150 receiving yards.
Houston Gamblers RB Mark Thompson: The big back emerged as the engine for Houston’s scuffling offense after missing the first two games of the season due to injury. Thompson has 292 rushing yards and eight scores in three games played, all wins for the Gamblers. He’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
Birmingham Stallions QB Alex McGough: The Florida International product is Birmingham’s full-time QB after starter J’Mar Smith went down with a season-ending finger injury that required surgery. McGough has proved up to the task. He’s third in the USFL in passing yards (972), with a league-leading 10 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. The fleet-footed McGough also has 214 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Philadelphia Stars QB Case Cookus: Last year’s pleasant surprise in the USFL has had an uneven performance through five games, getting sacked a league-high 23 times with seven turnovers. However, Cookus is second in the USFL in passing yards (1,047). This is the point in the season last year when Cookus and the Stars got things going, so there’s still time for the Northern Arizona product to turn things around.
Pittsburgh Maulers QB Troy Williams: Head coach Ray Horton’s team received a spark when he decided to go with Williams as his full-time signal caller. The Maulers are 2-1 with the Utah product anointed the team’s starter in Week 3. Williams has completed 62.6% of his passes for 590 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 207 yards and two scores.
Houston Gamblers WR Justin Hall: One of the more electrifying players in the league, Hall has totaled 25 catches for 292 yards and a league-leading four touchdown receptions. The Ball State product also is third in the USFL with 86 punt return yards.
Michigan Panthers DE Breeland Speaks: The former second-round selection of the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2018 draft leads the league with 6.5 sacks through five games. Speaks has two games with at least two sacks and earned USFL defensive player of the week twice so far this season. Speaks also has 24 combined tackles on the year.
New Jersey Generals LB Chris Orr: A tone-setter for New Jersey on defense, Orr leads the league with 51 combined tackles and also has 1.5 sacks on the year. New Jersey’s defense allows just 17.4 points a contest, second in the USFL.
Honorable mention: New Orleans TE Sage Surratt, Pittsburgh Maulers WR Isiah Hennie, New Jersey Generals RB Darius Victor, Philadelphia Stars WR Corey Coleman, Memphis Showboats QB Cole Kelley, New Orleans Breakers kicker Matt Coghlin, Birmingham Stallions TE Jace Sternberger. New Jersey Generals QB De’Andre Johnson. Houston Gamblers QB Kenji Bahar. Philadelphia Stars WR Devin Gray.
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.