USFL Playoffs: 8 postseason players on the NFL’s radar
Several USFL players have grabbed the attention of NFL scouts. Eric D. Williams breaks down eight to watch in the playoffs.
By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports Writer
After coaching for 23 years in the NFL, Tampa Bay Bandits head coach Todd Haley knows a player with that caliber of talent when he sees one.
And for Haley, several of those types of players were on the field showing their wares during the USFL's regular season in Birmingham.
"There’s a decent group of players on this team that I think should have an opportunity to compete at the NFL level," Haley said. "Or at least get into camps and have an opportunity to make teams. That’s what this is about, just keeping that dream alive of playing the sport they love."
While Haley’s Bandits did not make the postseason, four other teams will have a chance to continue to pursue a USFL title this weekend at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
The top two teams in the North Division meet on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, when the New Jersey Generals face the Philadelphia Stars.
The Birmingham Stallions, the top team in the South Division, then face the New Orleans Breakers at 8 p.m. ET on NBC in the other semifinal.
The winners from those games will meet for the USFL title on July 3, at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
There will be several players in the playoffs who have a chance to make NFL training camp rosters in a month. FOX Sports talked to NFL scouts and other personnel in the league to get their view on some of those players the league will be trying to secure once the USFL season concludes.
Victor Bolden Jr., WR, Stallions
The Oregon State product has spent time in the league with the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, so he has an NFL pedigree.
Bolden led the Stallions in receptions (42) and yards after catch (193). He also finished with 645 kick return yards in the regular season. Bolden is just 5-9 and 175 pounds, but scouts like his sticky hands, versatility and ability to make something happen after the catch. Bolden led the league in all-purpose yards (1,209) and was selected All-USFL Offense as a receiver.
DeMarquis Gates, LB/Edge, Stallions
The Ole Miss product led the Stallions in tackles (62) and sacks (6.5) this season, earning All-USFL Defensive team honors. At 6-3 and 230 pounds, scouts described Gates as extremely instinctive, with an innate ability to find the football.
Gates has pass-rush ability, is athletic and an explosive hitter who can be effective as a run-and-chase linebacker or playing at the line of scrimmage as an edge defender.
KaVontae Turpin, WR, Generals
The TCU product was simply the USFL's most explosive playmaker this season. Think Tyreek Hill in the NFL, and that’s how Turpin looked playing in this league, consistently running by and away from defenders.
Turpin led the USFL with 540 receiving yards (including a USFL-high 316 yards after catch) and finished with four receiving touchdowns. Turpin also had a 71-yard punt return for a score. For his effort, Turpin earned the USFL's MVP Award.
KaVontae Turpin's season highlights
Darius Victor, RB, Generals
Victor finished with 577 rushing yards and a league-high nine touchdowns, earning the USFL Offensive Player of the Year award. Victor is a North-South runner who is strong, explosive and can deliver a blow on contact. One scout described Victor’s unique ability to move the pile as BYOB — Be Your Own Blocker.
At 5-8 and 209 pounds, some compared Victor to Maurice Jones-Drew or Mark Ingram in terms of size and running style. Victor also has good hands out of the backfield and is an able pass protector, making him a candidate as a third-down back at the next level.
Sal Cannella, TE, Breakers
The Auburn product was the best pass catcher among the tight ends this season, earning All-USFL Offense honors at his position. Cannella finished with 34 receptions for 368 yards and two touchdowns.
At 6-5 and 230 pounds, Cannella has a long wingspan and does a nice job of creating separation in confined spaces like the red zone. And he’s an able blocker in the run game.
Steven Rowzee, LG, Breakers
At 6-3 and 335 pounds, Rowzee is stout at the point of attack and an explosive blocker in the run game. Rowzee also earned accolades from scouts for his tough, physical play.
The Troy product helped the Breakers give up just 17 sacks on the season. Only the New Jersey Generals allowed fewer sacks (16). Breakers quarterback Kyle Sloter finished second in the USFL with 1,798 passing yards in nine games played.
Case Cookus, QB, Stars
The Northern Arizona product was the most consistent performer at the quarterback position this season. Cookus replaced injured starter Bryan Scott during the first half of the season, finishing with 1,334 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and just five interceptions in seven starts.
The 6-4, 205-pound signal-caller received kudos for his decision-making and ability to control the game from inside the pocket. His athleticism could be a concern at the next level, although Cookus does have a 79-yard touchdown run to his credit.
Case Cookus has a huge day through the air and on the ground
Channing Stribling, CB, Stars
The Michigan product led the USFL in interceptions with seven, and was named to the All-USFL Defense team. At 6-2 and 175 pounds, Stribling drew comparisons to Richard Sherman with his length and intelligence, baiting quarterbacks into bad throws.
Others to consider:
Birmingham Stallions: QB J’Mar Smith, OL Cameron Hunt, RB Bo Scarbrough, LB Scooby Wright, LS Ryan Larsen.
Houston Gamblers: DE Chris Odom, LB Donald Payne, CB Will Likely Jr., CB Micah Abernathy.
Michigan Panthers: RB Reggie Corbin, WR Lance Lenoir Jr., K Cole Murphy.
New Jersey Generals: LB D’Juan Hines, RB Trey Williams, LB Chris Orr, QB Luis Perez, S Shalom Luani, CB De’Vante Bausby, DL Toby Johnson.
New Orleans Breakers: QB Kyle Sloter, WR Johnnie Dixon, LB Vontae Diggs, LB Jerod Fernandez, LB Christian Sam.
Philadelphia Stars: RB Matthew Colburn II, WR Jordan Suell, WR Maurice Alexander.
Pittsburgh Maulers: K Ramiz Ahmed, DE Carlo Kemp, LB Kyahva Tezino.
Tampa Bay Bandits: QB Jordan Ta’amu, WR Derrick Dillon, OL Jarron Jones, LB Travis Feeney. P Brandon Wright.
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.