The Intense Race For USFL Defensive Player Of The Year

The Intense Race For USFL Defensive Player Of The Year

While there’s plenty of commotion surrounding the USFL and the MVP race, not enough attention has been given to the outstanding defenders we’ve seen in the league this year. The Defensive Player Of The Year award is going to be quite tough to determine, simply due to how many athletes deserve it.

With two weeks left in the USFL regular season, fans have been treated to excellent football, especially over the past few weeks. The level of talent in the league this season is at an all-time high, featuring some of spring football’s top notch performers.

We’ve seen several sensational defensive outings over the course of the 2023 USFL season. Let’s take a look at some likely candidates for this award, and the impact they’ve had for their respective teams so far.

Front Runners

LB Frank Ginda | Michigan Panthers

Frank “The Tank” Ginda has been doing it all for the Michigan Panthers in 2023. While it hasn’t been a consistent season for Michigan as a whole, Ginda has shown up week in and week out, absolutely dominating the opposition.

Through eight weeks, Ginda has compiled:

79 tackles (2nd)
3 INT (T-1st)
0.5 sacks
2 FF
4 PD

His remarkable performances haven’t gone unnoticed. Ginda has won defensive player of the week not once, not twice – but three times in just eight games.

As the “signal caller” on Michigan’s defense, Frank is the leader of that unit. Leading by example is exactly how to describe his game, as HC Mike Nolan calls him an “intelligent football player”.

Despite a loss against New Orleans, Frank led the team with 11 tackles, 2 TFL, and an interception that came at an opportune time.

One of his top performances came in week six, where he racked up 18 total tackles – yes, you read that right – in a loss to the Birmingham Stallions. Ginda is a tackling machine. In addition, his three interceptions are tied for first in the USFL, showcasing how versatile he is at the linebacker position.

Considering his excellence over two USFL seasons, Frank Ginda should be in an NFL camp once this season is over. If he can add the DPOY award to his resume, that could solidify him getting an NFL call.

LB Kyahva Tezino | Pittsburgh Maulers

Daryl Johnston recently mentioned in a press conference that he was surprised by the fact that Kyahva Tezino didn’t get an NFL invite after season one. This will likely change soon, as Tezino has been sensational for the Pittsburgh Maulers.

Kyahva leads the USFL in total tackles, with 80. Tezino’s high powered motor allows him to fly around the field at will. So far, Tezino has posted:

80 tackles (1st)
8 TFL (2nd)
2 FF
3 FR (1st)
2 TD (1st)
2 PD

In week six, Kyahva Tezino split the DPOW award with Frank Ginda. In that game, Tezino had 16 tackles (including 11 solo), and two TFL.

These types of stat-lines have been a staple of Tezino’s dominance this season. In week two, he posted 15 tackles and 2 TFL in a loss against the New Jersey Generals.

Tezino is currently averaging 10 tackles a game, which is ridiculous. Considering how impressive he’s been in the USFL this season, odds are NFL teams are closely analyzing Tezino heading into the offseason.

When it comes to linebackers, it’s a tossup between Ginda and Tezino. Their stats are nearly identical, with both shining in multiple areas for their respective teams. The final two weeks might just decide who has the edge, so it should be quite intriguing to watch.

DE Breeland Speaks | Michigan Panthers

Breeland Speaks has been a monster in the trenches for Michigan. Speaks and Ginda are a double-edged sword, slicing through opponents weekly.

For a defensive end, Breeland has done just about everything Michigan could ask for:

43 tackles
5 TFL (4th)
8 sacks (1st)
1 FF
1 FR

Breeland’s 2023 campaign certainly has him on the NFL’s radar once again. Even in games where his numbers aren’t popping off the charts, all the little things he does don’t go unappreciated. As Mike Nolan said a couple weeks ago, Speaks simply “wants it more”, and is looking to get back to the next level.

His diligence and determination has led to such a successful tenure in the USFL. Speaks’ eight sacks have him far and away in first place. In the world of football, there are certain players who have that “special factor”. Breeland is one of those, as his sheer effort results in so many impactful and meaningful plays.

If one of the aforementioned linebackers doesn’t win the award, Breeland should certainly be next in line. Speaks has won DPOTW twice already, meaning that Frank and Breeland have combined for over 50% of the defensive awards so far.

With how consistently dominant Speaks has been, there’s no doubt that he’ll be getting some NFL looks. Hopefully, Breeland can use his USFL success to propel him back to where he belongs.

Honorable Mentions

LB Chris Orr | New Jersey Generals

Had it not been for an injury, Chris Orr might be the frontrunner to win defensive player of the year. He led the league in tackles through five weeks, but had to sit out two games which pushed him down the list.

With that being said, Orr has put it all on the line for New Jersey time and time again this year. He’s got 64 tackles, 5 TFL, and 1.5 sacks in just six games.

In addition, he played through a lot of pain this past week. Despite not being 100%, Orr led the Generals with 12 tackles, and two TFL. New Jersey sports one of the best defenses in the USFL, and clearly can do some serious damage when Chris is in the lineup.

DB Amani Dennis | Philadelphia Stars

One of the most consistent corners in the USFL has been Amani Dennis, playing at an elite level throughout the year. Dennis leads the USFL with three interceptions, including a pick six against New Orleans which ultimately led to the clutch win.

Through eight weeks, Amani has posted:

26 tackles
3 INT (T-1st)
2 FR
7 PD (2nd)

Considering some of the injuries Philadelphia has dealt with in the secondary (Mazzi Wilkins, Channing Stribling), Dennis has stepped up in a major way. He’s often taken the toughest assignments for the Stars, and continues to shine in those matchups.

Heading into week eight, Amani was in PFF’s top five for the Philadelphia Stars, with a grade of 73.7. If Dennis continues to play at this pace, it would not be surprising to see him land in the NFL in the fall.

DB Mark Gilbert | Pittsburgh Maulers

The Pittsburgh Maulers boast an elite defense, leading the USFL in multiple categories. In addition, some of the league’s toughest defenders are found in this unit.

Mark Gilbert has been a lockdown corner all year long. He leads the USFL with 11 PD, shutting down some of the USFL’s top wideouts weekly. Mark also has 30 tackles and 2 interceptions.

According to Pro Football Focus, heading into week eight Mark had a grade of 79.1, which placed him at fourth on the team. Gilbert has impressed on so many levels, and hasn’t gotten enough credit for what he’s done for Pittsburgh this year.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of defensive players in the USFL who are deserving of recognition. While Frank Ginda, Kyahva Tezino, and Breeland Speaks lead the way, there are many names who are likely to see NFL interest in the offseason, such as:

DE Boogie Roberts, Pittsburgh Maulers (28 tackles, 2 sacks)
DT Toby Johnson, New Jersey Generals (35 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 sacks)
LB Isaiah Chambers, Houston Gamblers (24 tackles, 11 TFL)
S Arnold Tarpley III, Pittsburgh Maulers (35 tackles, 2 INT)
LB Adam Rodriguez, Philadelphia Stars (24 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR)
DE Anree Saint-Amour, New Orleans Breakers (23 tackles, 6 TFL, 4.5 sacks)
S Manny Bunch, Houston Gamblers (50 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT)
LB Khalan Tolson, Houston Gamblers (65 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack)

With two intense weeks of football coming down the pipeline – as playoff berths hang in the balance – expect plenty of dominant efforts from multiple defenders across the league.

What are your thoughts on who should win USFL Defensive Player Of The Year? Do you agree with the players on this list? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!