United States Football League
USFL playoffs: Who NFL scouts will be watching this weekend
United States Football League

USFL playoffs: Who NFL scouts will be watching this weekend

Updated Jun. 22, 2023 4:17 p.m. ET

Skip Holtz, head coach of the USFL defending champion Birmingham Stallions, believes the league is helping players reach their dreams of one day playing in the NFL

"These wins are great, but ultimately isn't it what this is about — these young men getting another opportunity?" Holtz said. "I look at it and think what if the USFL wasn't here? And what if these 50 men I'm blessed to coach and spend time with this week, what if they didn't have this opportunity? What would they be doing now?"

The statistics through the first season of the spring league's second iteration show Holtz's vision for the league doing just that — providing another bite at the apple for players to show they deserve another NFL opportunity.

In all, the USFL had 69 players invited to NFL training camps last season. And 24 of those players either made the final, 53-man roster or stuck around on practice squads.


Some of the USFL players that remained with NFL teams include electric return man KaVontae Turpin (Cowboys), linebacker DeMarquis Gates (Bears), defensive lineman Chris Odom (Browns) and long snapper Tucker Addington (Patriots).

John Peterson, director of player personnel for the USFL, believes the talent in the spring league is even better this year.

"Obviously, our objective is to have as many more as we possibly can, and go past that number of last year," Peterson said. "But we feel very good about the quality of players that we have this year. At certain positions, we upgraded ourselves this year. Specifically, the quarterback play we feel we upgraded this year overall. We've made a lot of progress and development in the quality of that position."

After talking to scouts, coaches and general managers in both the USFL and the NFL, here are some players to keep an eye on in the playoffs who will have a chance to latch onto NFL rosters.

The Pittsburgh Maulers play the Michigan Panthers in the USFL North Championship on Saturday (8 p.m. ET on NBC), while the Birmingham Stallions host the New Orleans Breakers in the USFL South title game on Sunday (7 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

Birmingham Stallions

QB Alex McGough: Selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round of the 2018 draft, McGough, 27, also spent time in the league with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans. The Florida native is playing his best football as a pro and is the frontrunner to win this year's USFL MVP Award. McGough has shown improved decision-making, along with an ability to extend plays — making plays with his arm and feet — part of the evolution of the modern NFL quarterback. McGough has completed 67.4% of his passes for 2,104 passing yards, with 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

WR Davion Davis: The Sam Houston State product has been Birmingham's most productive receiver this season. The 26-year-old spent time with the Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans in the NFL. At 5-11 and 195 pounds, Davis totaled 39 receptions for 575 yards and four scores.

TE Jace Sternberger: A third-round selection by the Green Bay Packers in the 2019 draft, Sternberger earned All-USFL honors this season, finishing with 33 catches for 517 yards and a league-high seven touchdowns. Sternberger, 26, developed a good rapport with McGough, particularly in the red zone. But Sternberger could use some work as a run blocker to show he's a complete tight end.

Michigan Panthers

LB Frank Ginda: The instinctive inside linebacker led the USFL this season with 104 combined tackles, earning All-USFL honors. Ginda also grabbed three interceptions. The San Jose State product spent time in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins. At 6-0 and 225 pounds, the 26-year-old plays with good awareness and takes good paths to the ball carrier.

S Kai Nacua: At 6-1 and 205 pounds, the BYU product is a thumper in the run game. Nacua ran a 4.42-second, 40-yard dash. He plays fast and quickly fills the alley in the run game. Nacua totaled 31 tackles and a sack during the regular season. He spent time with six teams in the NFL before joining the Panthers this season.

QB E.J. Perry: Signed a few weeks ago by the Panthers after being released by the Houston Texans in May, Perry quickly made an impact with Michigan. In his first start last week for the Panthers, the Brown product threw for 121 yards and ran for 48 yards and a score, helping the Panthers reach the postseason. Perry, 25, ran a 4.65-second, 40-yard time at the NFL Scouting Combine last season and can make plays with his feet. 

New Orleans Breakers

QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson: The former CFL standout leads the league in passing yards with 2,433, completing 65.5% of his passes, with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. At 34 years old, Bethel-Thompson has done a nice job leading the top offense in the USFL and provides a calming influence on the field. 

DE Anree Saint-Amour: At 6-1 and 258 pounds, Saint-Amour has good speed coming of the edge, uses his hands well and plays with power. The Georgia Tech product finished with 30 combined tackles and six sacks this season, tied for third in the USFL. The 26-year-old spent time with the Minnesota Vikings and also played for the B.C. Lions in the CFL. 

RB Wes Hills: At 6-2 and 220 pounds, Hills was productive for the Breakers, totaling 679 rushing yards and 10 scores — good enough to make the All-USFL team. Hills is a big back who can move the pile but also possesses good speed to threaten the perimeter. The 28-year-old spent time with the Arizona Cardinals and the Detroit Lions in the NFL, and also spent time in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. 

Pittsburgh Maulers

LB Kyahva Tezino: The San Diego State product led his team in tackles with 94 combined tackles and also finished with two interceptions. At 6-0 and 235 pounds, the 25-year-old reacts quickly to the football and is a good tackler. Tezino was the leader of a Pittsburgh defense that held teams to a league-low 257.4 yards per contest during the regular season. 

CB Mark Gilbert: One of the top cover guys in the USFL, Gilbert led the league in interceptions with four. At 6-0 and 185 pounds, Gilbert has good catch-up speed and is a willing tackler in the running game. The 26-year-old Duke product spent time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions. 

LB Reuben Foster: The former first-round pick in the NFL showed he can still play, totaling 53 combined tackles and an interception in eight games played. The 29-year-old Alabama product helped Pittsburgh finish with a league-best 20 takeaways this season.

Other players around the league who could get a shot at the NFL: 

  • Stallions: K Brandon Aubrey, C.J. Marable, P Colby Wadman, OT Jahmir Johnson.
  • Houston Gamblers: RB Mark Thompson, TE Josh Pederson, OL Tyler Higby, WR Keke Chism, P Hunter Niswander, WR Justin Hall, LB J.T. Tyler, DE Isaiah Chambers, CB Jeremiah Johnson, S Manny Bunch.
  • Memphis Showboats: WR Derrick Dillon, CB Troy Warner, OT Jerron Jones, TE/FB Jay Jay Wilson, TE Daniel Helm, DT John Atkins, DT Jordan Williams, LB Anthony Butler.
  • Michigan Panthers: DE Breeland Speaks, Trey Quinn, TE Marcus Ball, OL Keith Williams, OL Brodarius Ham, Ethan Westbrooks, DT Garrett Marino.
  • New Jersey Generals: WR Alonzo Moore, DT Hercurles Mata'afa, LB Chris Orr, DT Toby Johnson, TE Braeden Bowman.
  • New Orleans Breakers: TE Sage Surratt, DT Keonte Schad, LB Vontae Diggs, LB Shaheed Salmon, WR Jonathan Adams.
  • Philadelphia Stars: QB Case Cookus, WR Corey Coleman, DE Alex Rodriguez, LB Gabe Sewell, K Luis Aguliar, Matt Colburn III, OL Jacob Burton, CB Armani Dennis.
  • Pittsburgh Maulers: WR Isiah Hennie, S Arnold Tarpley III QB Troy Williams, DT Boogie Roberts, DT Olive Sagapolu, TE Mason Stokke, K Chris Blewitt, P Matt Mengel.

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.


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