Pro Football Newsroom’s Midseason All-UFL Selections | A.J. McCarron

Pro Football Newsroom’s Midseason All-UFL Selections

The UFL is already halfway through its inaugural season. It’s been an entertaining few weeks of football, to say the least. A merged USFLXFL league has lived up to expectations from a talent standpoint, as every team features dynamic playmakers, even if their record doesn’t reflect it.

In this piece, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the top performers through five weeks in the UFL. Truthfully, it is quite difficult to make these selections, just given the amount of players who deserve to have their names included. The UFL is, without a doubt, the best spring football we’ve ever seen. The product on the field has showcased exactly that.

With that in mind, let’s get into it.

Quarterback: A.J. McCarron

In mid-February, Battlehawks fans were thrilled to hear of the news: A.J. McCarron was coming back. The leading passer in the XFL in 2023 decided to run it back, and has now positioned himself as the top quarterback in the UFL.

Through five weeks, McCarron has been electric. He’s thrown for 1,051 passing yards (2nd), while tossing 10 touchdowns (1st) to just one interception (1st). A.J.’s decision making looks even better than a year ago. The St. Louis Battlehawks are true Championship contenders this year, and it’s largely due to the veteran presence of McCarron.

His Offensive Grade of 83.8 (via PFF) is second in the league for quarterbacks.

Honorable Mentions: Adrian Martinez & Matt Corral (Birmingham) – Given these two are splitting time, it would be tough to pick just one as the All-UFL selection. Both are playing at a high level in their own regard, when they get to start. McCarron wins this nomination purely because he starts every game.

Running Backs: Jacob Saylors & Wes Hills

Wes Hills has had some ups and downs this season, but is the UFL’s leading rusher (outside of QB Adrian Martinez), with 225 yards. He put his stamp on this position this weekend, totaling three rushing touchdowns against Memphis.

Hills has fit right into Marcel Bellefeuille’s offense in Michigan. He’s averaging 4.2 YPC, with a Run Grade of 72.7 per PFF. Wes led the USFL in rushing yards in 2023, and is once again proving why he deserves a legitimate NFL opportunity sooner than later.

Jacob Saylors, after missing a week of action, has been unstoppable. He’s second in the UFL with 224 rushing yards, solidifying himself as RB1 in St. Louis between weeks three and four. Jacob has added a pair of touchdowns on the year, and is averaging 5.6 YPC. If he can continue this production, he’ll be back in an NFL camp in no time.

Honorable Mentions: Ricky Person Jr. (Birmingham), John Lovett (San Antonio)

Wide Receivers

Marcus Simms | Michigan Panthers

Marcus Simms has been a revelation for the Michigan Panthers this season. He’s recorded three receiving touchdowns on the year – which are still the only receiving scores of any WR in Michigan so far. He’s averaging 21.2 yards per reception, proving to be a deep threat week in and week out.

Marcus wasn’t utilized much last year, but burst onto the scene down the stretch. Clearly, he impressed enough to make this 2024 roster, and has now become the go to guy for E.J. Perry and Danny Etling. Simms currently has 318 receiving yards (2nd).

Hakeem Butler | St. Louis Battlehawks

Hakeem The Dream is the leading receiver in the UFL through five weeks. After what was a surprisingly slow start for Hakeem, he’s been tearing it up for the Battlehawks the last few games. Butler has 344 receiving yards and three touchdowns, averaging 13.8 YPR.

Butler’s size and speed combination makes him a deep threat (which was evident against DC), but his versatility is what makes him such an important piece to Bruce Gradkowski’s offense. Butler is positioned to head back to the NFL after another productive year in spring football.

Jontre Kirklin | San Antonio Brahmas

Jontre Kirklin, when healthy, is arguably the best wide receiver in this league. Kirklin was leading the XFL last year prior to a season ending injury. In the UFL, Jontre has 314 receiving yards and two touchdowns – being a top target in A.J. Smith’s offense.

In fact, no other receivers in the entire UFL have more targets than Kirklin. He leads the UFL with 49, with Daewood Davis trailing with 42 in second place.

Deon Cain | Birmingham Stallions

Despite an off day this past weekend dropping a touchdown, Cain is a top wide receiver in the UFL which isn’t much of a surprise. His USFL Championship performance last year was stellar, with three scores in that win.

Since then, Deon has established himself as WR1 in Birmingham’s offense. He’s got 19 receptions for 297 yards and a touchdown so far this year.

Honorable Mentions: Marcell Ateman (St. Louis), Tyler Vaughns (Arlington), Javonta Payton (Arlington), Daewood Davis (Memphis), Justin Hall (Houston)

Tight End: Jace Sternberger

The race is very tight, no pun intended, between the All-USFL and All-XFL selections last year. Jace Sternberger dominated the USFL in 2023, while Cody Latimer dominated the XFL in 2023.

This season, both have been solid for their respective teams in Birmingham and San Antonio. Sternberger is leading all tight ends in yards and touchdowns, though, hence why he just edges Latimer out for this midseason selection.

Jace has 10 catches (20 targets) for 201 yards and two touchdowns this year. Latimer is just behind him, with 195 yards and a score. The main difference here is the usage % – Cody has eight more targets, and 12 more receptions than Jace.

Honorable Mentions: Sal Cannella (Arlington)

Offensive Line

C: Sam Tecklenburg | San Antonio Brahmas
OG: Liam Fornadel | DC Defenders
OG: Steven Gonzalez | St. Louis Battlehawks
OT: Matt Kaskey | Birmingham Stallions
OT: Juwann Bushell-Beatty | St. Louis Battlehawks

This section, in particular, could go in so many different directions. There are plenty of quality offensive lineman in the UFL, who deserve the spotlight. That said, here’s why these five were selected:

Sam Tecklenburg has done a tremendous job taking over for an injured Alex Mollette in San Antonio. Tecklenburg is one of the highest graded lineman in the UFL, with an 88.1 Pass Blocking Grade – allowing zero sacks this year. The cohesiveness on the offensive line in San Antonio wouldn’t be possible without his efforts.

Liam Fornadel and Matt Kaskey have been two key pieces to their respective teams the last couple of years. Fornadel is having a strong season, with a 72.9 Offensive Grade (61.6 Run, 88.0 Pass via PFF). He’s touted by personnel as one of the top NFL-caliber prospects in the entire league.

Kaskey has had another consistent campaign for Birmingham, and players like Ricky Person Jr. have seen success because of what the O-Line is accomplishing with the Stallions. Matt is versatile, playing at multiple positions from game to game.

The St. Louis Battlehawks feature arguably the top line in the UFL, with McCarron being given plenty of time to throw this year. Steven Gonzalez and Juwann Bushell-Beatty have both been two of the top performers in 2024, and belong on this list. Gonzalez’ Pass Blocking Grade of 83.1 is 4th in the league.

Honorable Mentions: C Noah Johnson (Michigan), C Jake Lacina (Arlington), G Jake Burton (Michigan), G Rashaad Coward (San Antonio), T Cam Carter (Houston), T Alex Taylor (Birmingham)

Defensive Line

DT: Carlos Davis | Birmingham Stallions
DT: Jalen Redmond | Arlington Renegades
DE: Breeland Speaks | Michigan Panthers
DE: Pita Taumoepenu | St. Louis Battlehawks
EDGE: Malik Fisher | DC Defenders

Carlos Davis is following in the footsteps of his brother, Khalil, who played for Birmingham last year. Carlos has been one of the top DT’s in the UFL since joining the league. He has 19 tackles, three TFL’s, and leads the UFL with five sacks. Truthfully, the entire Stallions D-Line has a case to be named to the All-UFL team.

While the Renegades as a whole have one of the worst defenses in the UFL, Jalen Redmond is balling. He’s got 18 tackles, four sacks, and five TFL’s. Jalen is consistently showing up for Arlington week in and week out, and has an astounding 90.3 Defensive Grade, according to PFF.

Breeland Speaks is on pace for another All-Star season. After leading the USFL in sacks a year ago, Breeland has 14 tackles, three sacks, and a league best six TFL. He’s been a key piece for Collin Bauer’s defensive unit, to no one’s surprise.

Pita Taumoepenu, the XFL’s DPOY in 2023, is putting on a show for the Battlehawks this year. Anthony Becht was thrilled to bring him to St. Louis, and it is clear to see why. His motor is one that rivals that of NFL defensive ends. Pita has 12 tackles, four sacks, and four TFL’s this year.

I had to include Malik Fisher in this piece simply because he’s been doing it all for DC. Fisher, who was an under the radar prospect coming into the UFL, has 21 tackles, five TFL’s, and is tied with Davis for a league best five sacks. Every week, Fisher’s name is being called time and time again on the broadcast. More folks need to start talking about the things he’s doing in DC. He’s been fantastic.

Honorable Mentions: DT Jordan Thompson (Birmingham), DT P.J. Hall (Memphis) DL Ethan Westbrooks (Houston), DE Adam Rodriguez (Houston), DE Jonathan Garvin (Birmingham), DE Dondrea Tillman (Birmingham), DE Wyatt Ray (San Antonio), DE Tim Ward (San Antonio)

Linebackers

Mike Rose | St. Louis Battlehawks
Tavante Beckett | San Antonio Brahmas
Kyahva Tezino | Birmingham Stallions
Frank Ginda | Michigan Panthers

Mike Rose, while missing two games due to injury, has been the top graded player not just defensively, but across the board by PFF (93.3). Rose perfectly fits Donnie Abraham’s defense, with 19 tackles, two interceptions (2nd), and two PBU’s on the year – all in just three active games. He’s a cornerstone of a defense that is, statistically, one of the best in the entire league.

Tavante Beckett is a tackling machine. He leads the UFL with 40 tackles (4 TFL), and has also forced two fumbles. He’s got a Defensive Grade of 86.2 per PFF, and is one of the top performers in every single category. Those who watched Beckett last year with Houston shouldn’t be surprised by his playmaking abilities on full display in San Antonio.

The Birmingham Stallions lost Scooby Wright for the season, which means that Kyahva Tezino has had to step up as the leader in the middle of that defense. He’s done an excellent job over the last few weeks, and has 35 tackles on the season (6th).

Frank Ginda, not surprisingly, is leading the Michigan Panthers defense with 31 tackles. The USFL’s DPOY from 2023 surpassed 200 career tackles with the Panthers this year. His intelligence and IQ is what makes him a quality football player, according to HC Mike Nolan. Ginda currently holds a Defensive Grade of 73.3 via PFF.

Honorable Mentions: Anthony Hines III (DC), Jordan Williams (San Antonio), Willie Harvey (St. Louis), Reuben Foster (Houston)

Defensive Backs

CB: Lorenzo Burns | Birmingham Stallions
CB: Darius Phillips | San Antonio Brahmas
S: Kai Nacua | Michigan Panthers
S: Kenny Robinson | Birmingham Stallions
Flex DB: Kyree Woods | Memphis Showboats

This is Lorenzo Burns’ third year with the Stallions, and it might be his best campaign yet. Burns is stellar in coverage, with an 87.2 Coverage Grade via PFF (87.4 Defensive, 2nd among DB’s). Lorenzo is second in the league with five PBU’s, and 24 tackles on the year so far. Lorenzo spent time with the Cleveland Browns this past preseason, and is well on his way back to the NFL.

Darius Phillips, the former NFL starter, has been excellent for Will Reed’s defense in San Antonio. He’s been stuffing the stat sheet: 14 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PBU’s, 1 INT, 1 FF, and 2 FR’s. Phillips has a Defensive Grade of 87.2 via PFF – he’s been elite.

After dealing with injuries a year ago, Kai Nacua is emerging as the top defensive back in all of spring football. Nacua leads the UFL in interceptions (3), and PBU’s (6). He’s also one of the leading tacklers in the league with 29. His 80.5 Defensive Grade is well above average, which is evident when watching him play. Nacua’s ability to read the quarterback is unreal.

Since returning to the spring football scene this year, Kenny Robinson is proving why he belongs in the NFL. Robinson leads all safeties with an 84.6 Defensive Grade, and has generated big plays weekly when Birmingham needs them. Robinson currently has 16 tackles, 4 PBU’s, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

Kyree Woods makes his way onto the list, simply because he’s versatile and can play corner or safety. Woods, despite Memphis’ defensive struggles, has played well. He’s got a 77.5 Defensive Grade via PFF, posting 14 tackles, 2 TFL’s, 1 PBU, and a forced fumble.

Honorable Mentions: DB Mark Gilbert (Birmingham), DB Michael Joseph (DC), DB Chris Payton-Jones (St. Louis), DB Ajene Harris (Arlington), S Dravon Askew-Henry (St. Louis), S Kedrick Whitehead (Michigan), S Santos Ramirez (DC)

Special Teams

K: Jake Bates | Michigan Panthers
P: Sterling Hofrichter | St. Louis Battlehawks
LS: Jordan Ober | Michigan Panthers

The UFL’s most popular player in week one? A kicker. Not just any kicker, though. Jake Bates burst onto the scene for Michigan this year, and since then everyone has heard the stories of what he’s accomplished. For someone to hit a 64 yard field goal – a game winner at that – after not attempting a field goal since before high school, is ridiculous.

Bates has made 7 of his 9 field goal attempts this year. His two misses? From 58 and 62 yards out, in poor conditions in Memphis. Other than that, he’s been spot on, with four made kicks of 50+ yards (including two from 60+). The NFL interest in Bates is real, and for good reason.

Sterling Hofrichter is having an underrated campaign in St. Louis. He’s got the highest net average of any punter in the UFL, at 39.1 yards per punt. He’s got six punts inside the 20 yard line, which is tied for league best. Actually, 55% of his attempts went inside the opponents’ 20. None of his punts have gone out of bounds, or resulted in touchbacks – which is so important given the strange punting rules in the UFL.

Jake Bates and Brock Miller are two of the top specialists in the UFL. Their success wouldn’t be possible without Jordan Ober, who has been spot on through five weeks this season. Ober makes this unit into a well oiled machine, and has proven himself to be effective in high pressure situations (i.e. week one).

Honorable Mentions: K Matt McCrane (DC), K Andre Szmyt (St. Louis), K JJ Molson (Houston), P Brock Miller (Michigan), P Brad Wing (San Antonio), LS Rex Sunahara (San Antonio), LS Ryan Langan (Birmingham)

Returners

KR: Darrius Shepherd | St. Louis Battlehawks
PR: Amari Rodgers | Birmingham Stallions

Darrius Shepherd, who was the XFL’s Special Teams Player of the Year in 2023, continues to impress as a returner. He’s a valuable wide receiver, but is arguably even more important on special teams. He was certainly missed this past weekend with an injury. Despite missing a game, Darrius is 3rd in the UFL with 462 kickoff return yards, on 16 attempts. His longest this year so far is 60 yards.

Amari Rodgers, the former NFL draft pick, has found a role in Birmingham as a punt returner. He has the most punt returns of any player in the UFL, with 14 for 174 yards. There isn’t anyone who has necessarily jumped off the screen this year at the punt returner position, hence why Amari takes this spot given his league leading statistics.

Honorable Mentions: KR Juwan Manigo (Arlington), KR Chris Rowland (DC), KR Isiah Hennie (Houston), PR Marquez Stevenson (San Antonio)

Team Selection Breakdown

St. Louis: 9
Birmingham: 7
Michigan: 7
San Antonio: 4
DC: 2
Arlington: 1
Memphis: 1
Houston: 0

Final Thoughts

Without a doubt, the UFL boasts incredible talent. There’s a reason why the TV Ratings have impressed this year – fans are enjoying the product on the field. The General Managers for each team, and various personnel within the league, have done an excellent job of ensuring that the UFL is featuring the best players available.

The good news: we have seven weeks left of UFL action. We’re only halfway through the regular season, with three playoff games to follow. Expect these teams – and players – to only continue to improve as the postseason race heats up.

Week six of the UFL kicks off on Saturday, with the Memphis Showboats hosting the Birmingham Stallions at 12pm ET on ESPN.

What are your thoughts on this All-UFL team midway through the year? Which players did I overlook? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!