It is no secret the talent level in the USFL this year has been off the charts. Now that the regular season is complete, it is time to recognize the players and coaches whose achievements really stuck out.
Before I do that, though, let me acknowledge that because the league was so talented this year, it is impossible to adequately recognize every individual deserving of praise. Worthy players will necessarily be left off this list. Remember this is just one person’s opinion and required several tough judgment calls.
Without further ado, here is my All-USFL team for 2023 as well as my individual player and coach awards.
QB: Alex McGough (BHAM) RB: Mark Thompson (HOU) / Alternate: Wes Hills (NO) WR: Corey Coleman (PHI), Davion Davis (BHAM), Justin Hall (HOU) TE: Jace Sternberger (BHAM) OT: Josh Dunlop (MICH), Jarron Jones (MEM) OG: Shamarious Gilmore (PHI), Calvin Ashley (NJ) C: Nick Buchanan (HOU)
Quarterback: Alex McGough (BHAM)
Honorable Mention: McLeod Bethel-Thompson (NO), Case Cookus (PHI)
As good as several quarterbacks have been this season, this one was a no-brainer: Alex McGough set the league on fire in 2023. He led passers in almost every meaningful statistical category except yards. He also was one of the top rushers in the league, finishing with the third most yards per rush and rushing touchdowns.
Passer rating is one way to measure a quarterback’s performance. McGough’s passer rating is evidence of how dominant he was. A passer rating greater than 95 is considered very good for a game. McGough’s passer rating was below 95 only once this season. It was greater than 100 in 8 out of 10 games. He finished the regular season with a passer rating of 108.3. Remarkable numbers from a guy who was the backup entering week one.
A passer rating greater than 95 is considered very good for one game.
Alex McGough's passer rating was below 95 only once this season.
Honorable Mention: Wes Hills (NO), Darius Victor (NJ)
Mark Thompson, despite missing two games, still set a modern USFL record with 14 rushing touchdowns. He averaged the most rushing yards per game (81.6) and had the third most yards per carry among running backs (4.8). Thompson was nothing short of dominant this season.
Corey Coleman (PHI), Davion Davis (BHAM), Justin Hall (HOU)
Honorable Mention: Johnnie Dixon (NO), Joe Walker (MICH), Isiah Hennie (PIT), Devin Gray (PHI), Jonathan Adams (NO), Trey Quinn (MICH)
Corey Coleman, the former first-round NFL draft pick, used this USFL season to demonstrate he’s still got it. He set a modern USFL record with 669 receiving yards and had four touchdowns as well. For evidence of Coleman’s impact, look no further than the Stars’ week 10 game with the Panthers. The Stars put up 20 points in the first half—Coleman being a big part of that. In that half alone, Coleman (Cookus’s favorite target) had four catches for 55 yards (13.8 yards per catch) on seven targets, including a long of 26. Coleman got hurt in the second half. Without him, the Stars put up zero points.
Davion Davis left the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks before signing with the USFL’s Birmingham Stallions. In hindsight, it was the right move for him as it led to a stellar campaign that should catch NFL scouts’ eyes. Davis was right behind Coleman with 575 yards and averaged a whopping 14.7 yards per catch. Like Coleman, he also had four receiving touchdowns. His big play ability was on display throughout the season, including on a 71-yard catch, the second longest in the USFL this year.
Justin Hall got off to one of the hottest starts in the USFL, catching four touchdowns in the first three weeks. He was not able to find the end zone again the rest of the season, but he continued to have success as the Gamblers’ top receiving target. He finished the season with 515 receiving yards—a top-five mark. Hall was one of the best receivers in the USFL in space, finishing with 309 yards after the catch—tied for second most in the league.
Watch Gamblers WR Justin Hall score the first touchdown of the game, on an absolutely sensational catch and run. pic.twitter.com/EzOiKV3m1x
Before the season, Stallions fans voted Jace Sternberger the biggest off-season pickup for the team. With the season under our belts, it would be hard to argue with them now. The former Green Bay Packer was dominant all year long. He set a modern USFL record with seven receiving touchdowns. He also finished first among receivers with at least 15 catches with 15.7 yards per catch. He was fourth in the league with 517 yards. One of McGough’s favorite targets all year, Sternberger simply could not be stopped by opposing defenses.
Josh Dunlop (MICH), Jarron Jones (MEM), Shamarious Gilmore (PHI), Calvin Ashley (NJ), Nick Buchanan (HOU)
Honorable Mention: Avery Gennesy (HOU), Darius Harper (BHAM), Jake Burton (PHI), Terry Poole (PIT), Paul Adams (NO), Evan Heim (NJ), Kirk Kelley (NO), Tyler Higby (HOU), Noah Johnson (MICH), Jake Lacina (NJ)
Josh Dunlop had a slow start to the season but settled in to become one of the better tackles in the league. Jarron Jones was a big part of an offensive line that only allowed 20 sacks all year.
The struggles of the Stars offensive line were notorious throughout the season, but they did have one of the best linemen in the league in Shamarious Gilmore. Through week eight, he had only allowed eight quarterback pressures and one sack. He was also a fantastic run-blocker for a team that otherwise struggled to run the ball.
The New Jersey Generals arguably had the best offensive line all year. They allowed the fewest sacks, and they had the most rush yards per game as well as the highest yards per carry. Calvin Ashley was a huge part of that.
Nick Buchanan anchored a solid Gamblers team up front, opening holes for the league’s best rusher in Mark Thompson.
DE: Breeland Speaks (MICH), Hercules Mata’afa (NJ) DT: Keonte Schad (NO), Toby Johnson (NJ) LB: Frank Ginda (MICH), Kyahva Tezino (PIT), Chris Orr (NJ) CB: Mark Gilbert (PIT), Amani Dennis (PHI) S: Cody Brown (PHI), Jarey Elder (NO)
Breeland Speaks terrorized opposing quarterbacks all season long, leading the USFL with nine sacks. The former second-round pick and Super Bowl champion should get another look from NFL teams after his season in the USFL.
Breeland Speaks is having a monster outing for the @USFLPanthers today.
Picking a second defensive end was difficult as several individuals were worthy of the recognition. I decided to go with Mata’afa because of his big play production. Not only was he tied for the third most sacks in the league with six. He also had three forced fumbles and three fumbles recovered—more than any other defensive lineman. His big play ability was on display in week nine when his strip sack and fumble recovery sealed the win for the Generals in a thriller against the Stars.
Honorable Mention: John Atkins (MEM), Willie Yarbary (BHAM), Boogie Roberts (PIT), Levi Bell (MICH)
Schad had an absurd 7.5 sacks as an interior lineman, the second most in the league behind Speaks. He also had a whopping nine tackles for loss, also good enough for second most in the league. The Breakers’ defense was quietly one of the best in the league all year, and Schad was a big part of that.
New Jersey defensive lineman Toby Johnson was All-USFL last year, and he picked up where he left off this year. Johnson led all interior defensive linemen with 42 tackles, including four tackles for loss. He added 3.5 sacks as well. Johnson was a force in the middle all year. For example, just look at the Maulers’ first offensive play this past Saturday.
Linebacker was one of the deepest groups in the USFL all year, and Frank Ginda was one of the best. The four-time USFL Defensive Player of the Week finished the year with crazy numbers: 104 tackles (league leader), three tackles for loss, a sack, three interceptions, five pass deflections, and two forced fumbles. Ginda tied the modern USFL record for tackles in a game with 18 against Birmingham.
…Week 6 is becoming legendary for USFL linebackers. On May 20, 2023, @USFLPanthers Frank Ginda ties the modern USFL record with 18 tackles in one game. @frankginda05 record-tying performance earned him his second Defensive Player of the Week award for the USFL’s second season. pic.twitter.com/7r0Ff88vbh
Kyahva Tezino, like Ginda, was on a tear all year. He ended up with 94 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two interceptions, six pass deflections, two forced fumbles, three fumbles recovered, and two touchdowns.
Kyahva Tezino continues his DPOY case with a pick on Josh Love. 2 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 TFL, and 1 INT already in the first quarter. He is the WOW factor. pic.twitter.com/ij76kwpqFI
Chris Orr struggled with injuries this year, only playing in nine games. He still registered 81 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two pass deflections, and a fumble recovery. He was the heart of a stout Generals defense.
Honorable Mention: D. J. Daniel (NJ), Nate Brooks (BHAM), Keith Gipson Jr. (PIT), Levonta Taylor (MICH)
“Gilbert Island” is not a place opposing receivers wanted to be this year. Gilbert led the league with four interceptions and a whopping 15 pass deflections—almost twice as many as the next player. He also finished with 32 tackles (29 solo) and two tackles for loss.
Amani Dennis was another lockdown corner. The Stars’ defense struggled at points this year, but Dennis was one of their standout players. He had two interceptions in week two and a pick six in week six. Dennis was tied for second in the league in interceptions with three and tied for third in the league in deflections with seven.
Honorable Mention: Troy Warner (MEM), Manny Bunch (HOU), Corrion Ballard (MICH), Eli Walker (PIT)
Cody Brown was one of the best safeties all year, doing it all for the Stars. He finished with 61 tackles, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and six deflections in coverage. He would have added an interception too if it was not for his own teammate.
Jarey Elder was another do-it-all player in the back end of the defense. He finished the season with 49 tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack, two interceptions, six deflections, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Honorable Mention: Matt Coghlin (NO), Luis Aguilar (PHI)
This was a tough choice as there were several solid kickers in the USFL this year. I was between Aubrey and Coghlin as both only missed one field goal all year and no extra points. However, I gave the nod to Aubrey because his only miss was from 50+ and because of his success kicking off. Aubrey averaged 70.1 yards per kickoff (second among kickers who kicked more than 10 times) and led the league with six touchbacks—quite the feat given the USFL moving the kickoff further back in the offseason.
Brock Miller was one of the best punters in the USFL last year, and he continued to excel this year. While his punt average and net average were not the highest in the league, Miller excelled at pinning teams deep. 16 of his 36 punts ended up inside the 20 (44.4%). And despite kicking close to the end zone so often, he only had one touchback all year. His long was a 78-yard boot that went the length of the field.
Derrick Dillon established himself as one of the most explosive players in the league this year. He was a great receiver for the Showboats, but an even better return man. He finished the year with a league-leading 32.7 yards per kick return, including one touchdown in week 10. Dillon’s most electric play, though, was a viral, record-setting 109-yard return on a missed field goal.
Honorable Mention: Justin Hall (HOU), Davion Davis (BHAM)
The best punt returner in the league by far was Pittsburgh’s Isiah Hennie. Hennie had the second-most returns in the league (17) and still averaged a whopping 17.47 yards per return. That was almost double the next-best return man with at least 10 returns on the year. A big part of that was Hennie’s 82-yard punt return for a touchdown in week one.
There were a few good candidates for this award, but I am going to give it to Mark Thompson. What Thompson accomplished this year was remarkable—only made more remarkable by the fact that he did not even play a complete season. If he had, he might have given McGough a run for his money for the MVP award.
Only 7 players in the history of spring football have rushed for more touchdowns than @InMarkWeTrust’s current season total of 13 👏
All 7 listed below played an 18-game regular season. Thompson has 13 rushing touchdowns through 8 Weeks 🏈🔥 pic.twitter.com/9IERHDRcLp
I am going to cheat and give this award to two players. There really is no way to pick between Ginda and Tezino. Both were the two best defenders in the league all year on two of the best defenses in the league. They were the heart and soul of their respective teams, and both deserve recognition.
Two amazing performances in Week 6, so we had to have co-Defensive Players of the Week 🤝
Special Teams Player of the Year: Derrick Dillon (MEM)
After a slow start to the season, Derrick Dillon ended up finishing as the league leader in all-purpose yards with 1,109. 754 of that came from kick returns. He had two return touchdowns and could literally change games with his big-time playmaking ability.
Holtz arguably could have won coach of the year last year, leading his team to a 9-1 regular season and eventually the USFL championship. This year was just as impressive. The team finished with a USFL-best 8-2 record despite losing seven starters or key contributors after week one and is the favorite to win it all again.
If you told me before week 1 BHAM would lose J'Mar, Bo, Bobby Holly, Marlon Williams, Scooby, JoJo Tillery, & Joe Jackson & STILL be the best in the league/first to clinch a playoff spot, I would have had a hard time believing you. Master class by @CoachSHoltz and @zachpotter434. pic.twitter.com/k7i6Oys6YT