Last week, we looked at the quarterbacks the Birmingham Stallions have rostered heading into 2023. Today, we will consider two other positions: wide receiver and tight end. The Stallions enter 2023 with a whopping nine wide receivers on the roster. We will consider them first before looking at the Stallions’ two rostered tight ends.
The Stallions’ biggest shoes to fill on the offensive side of the ball this season are at wide receiver. Last year’s USFL Championship MVP Victor Bolden initially earned a spot on the Arizona Cardinals before being picked up by the Denver Broncos. Bolden was All-USFL last year as both a receiver and returner, and it would be hard to overstate how pivotal he was in the Stallions’ championship run. He outpaced stars KaVontae Turpin and Maurice Alexander to lead the league in all-purpose yards, contributing over 1,200 in the regular season with an additional 324 in the postseason (1,533 total yards in 12 games). Bolden was clutch in the postseason, scoring critical touchdowns in both the semifinal and championship. Bolden’s numbers will be hard to match, but the Stallions are going to have to try. In addition to Bolden, the Stallions have to replace their third-leading receiver, big-play threat Osirus Mitchell, who contributed 333 yards and three touchdowns last year. Where should we expect the Stallions to look for similar production in 2023?
The man to watch is Mobile, Alabama native Marlon Williams. Despite Bolden’s brilliance last year, Williams actually led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns (603 yards and 5 touchdowns). Williams didn’t receive the same fanfare and praise that Bolden did, but he was just as electric—if not more so. In the regular season, he was second to only KaVontae Turpin in receiving yards per game, had the second-longest catch of the season, was tied for second in receiving touchdowns, and was third in the league in total receiving yards and yards per catch. He was also a key contributor in the postseason, finishing second among all teams in catches and yards with a big touchdown grab in the championship game. With Bolden gone, expect Williams to be the feature wideout in the Stallions’ passing game. I am predicting a huge year for Williams, and I believe we could see him leading the league in almost every receiving category by the time the season ends.
Other than Williams, the Stallions currently have eight other wide receivers on the roster. Four of them return from last year: Michael Dereus, Adrian Hardy, Peyton Ramzy, and Jeffrey Thomas. Of that group, the player to watch is Adrian Hardy. Hardy played for Holtz at Louisiana Tech along with Stallions’ quarterback J’Mar Smith. Hardy was Smith’s favorite target in 2018 when he threw for 3,160 yards and 15 touchdowns, 1,145 yards and 6 of those touchdowns going to Hardy. The Stallions signed Hardy mid-season last year, and his first catch was a 27-yard touchdown from Smith. He finished his short season with eight catches on eight targets for 128 yards and two touchdowns. In the postseason, he added another six catches on eight targets for 79 yards, making him the Stallions’ second-leading receiver in the playoffs behind Williams. The connection between Smith and Hardy immediately paid off, as the Stallions had a remarkable 87.5% completion percentage when throwing Hardy’s way. Expect Hardy to have a breakout season in 2023.
Take another look at this GRAB by Adrian Hardy 🔥🔥🔥
The Stallions signed four wide receivers this offseason: Rico Gafford, Myron Mitchell, Austin Watkins, and, as of yesterday, Deon Cain. Mitchell and Watkins are local products, playing and graduating together from UAB. Mitchell, an Alabama native and two-time All C-USA honorable mention selection, was with the Vikings the past two seasons. Watkins, an All C-USA second team selection as a junior and first team selection as a senior, has bounced around the NFL and CFL the past two years. Both will have the opportunity to play in Protective Stadium again in 2023, and they could help fill the void left by Bolden and Osirus Mitchell.
Myron Mitchell went full extension for the catch 😯 @Vikings
Gafford is also a nice pickup for the Stallions. Gafford is lightning fast, once running a 4.19 hand-timed 40. He has bounced around NFL rosters for the past five seasons, but he will finally get a chance to show what he can do in the USFL. Expect the Stallions to try to utilize his speed.
The Stallions made a splash yesterday when they announced the signing of wide receiver Deon Cain. ESPN ranked Cain, a five-star recruit, as the number two wide receiver in the 2015 high school class. He committed to play for Dabo Swinney at Clemson, where he had a stellar career. Cain was able to translate his size (6’2, 200) and speed (4.43 40) into big play production. In three seasons at Clemson, he caught 130 passes for 2,040 yards (15.69 yards per catch). He finished tied for fourth in Clemson history with 20 touchdown receptions. His efforts helped Clemson win the 2017 National Championship game against Alabama and Bo Scarbrough (his new teammate). In that game, Cain had five catches for 94 yards, including a big 43-yarder. The Indianapolis Colts drafted Cain in the sixth round of the 2018 draft, but Cain tore his ACL in his preseason debut, ending his rookie season prematurely. He had his best NFL season in 2019 when he caught nine passes for 124 yards in 13 games. For the past two seasons, he has been on the Eagles’ practice squad. Playing a full season with the Stallions will give Cain the opportunity to prove he can still be a dominant weapon on offense.
The Stallions had two tight ends last year: Cary Angeline and Sage Surratt. The Los Angeles Chargers picked up Surratt after the USFL season, but he was injured and dropped a month later. He returned to the USFL but not to the Stallions, signing with their rival, the New Orleans Breakers, instead. In his place, the Stallions signed tight end Jace Sternberger this offseason.
Angeline is a big, athletic tight end with great hands. He was a top target for the Stallions in their season opener against the Generals, catching two passes for 28 yards and a touchdown. However, a promising season was derailed by injuries, and Angeline only ended up playing in six games. He still finished with nine catches for 152 yards. His 16.9 yards per catch was higher than any of the league’s leading receivers. Given his big play potential, I expect Angeline to be a key part of the Stallions’ offense this year if he can stay healthy.
TIE GAME IN BIRMINGHAM!
Cary Angeline leaps across the goal line and we are knotted at 21.
Jace Sternberger was a standout player at Texas A&M, setting a school record for touchdowns by a tight end and finishing second in the nation in receiving yards among tight ends in 2018. He was a semi-finalist for the John Mackey Award, a consensus first-team All-American, and first-team All-SEC. The Packers drafted him in the third round of the 2019 draft. He had his best season in 2020 when he caught 12 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He was cut from the team in 2021. Since then, he has bounced around from team to team in the NFL. He ended up signing with the Stallions in January and will have an opportunity to prove what he can do in the USFL. He certainly could be a welcome addition to the Stallions’ offense.
Despite losing key contributors Victor Bolden and Osirus Mitchell, the good news for the Stallions is they did not lose everyone. Players like Marlon Williams, Adrian Hardy, and Cary Angeline were critical to the Stallions’ championship run last year, and they are coming back to defend their title. Key offseason additions such as Deon Cain and Jace Sternberger should help the Stallions to replace what they lost. Expect a solid season from this group, but especially keep your eye out for Williams. If he has the season I think he will, this could be his last year in the USFL before an NFL franchise comes calling.