USFL standouts who could make NFL rosters: Kyle Sloter, Case Cookus highlight players to watch in 2022 playoffs

The USFL has made it further than any other spring football start-up has in recent history. Its postseason will begin on June 25 when the New Jersey Generals and Philadelphia Stars face off for the right to go to the USFL championship game.

Making it this far is a massive feat for the USFL. The next challenge the league will face once the season ends will be organizing its rosters for 2023.

It seems highly likely that the USFL will lose some of its current players to the NFL. These players aren’t sure-fire NFL stars; they are more likely to fill in as solid role players. Still, teams are always searching for 90-man roster depth during the offseason, so grabbing a few potential-packed projects with recent on-field playing experience should intrigue a handful of teams.

Who are the USFL’s most likely NFL prospects? Here’s a look at some of the best bets to make the jump.

MORE: Explaining how the inaugural USFL postseason works

Players to watch in USFL playoffs 2022

Below is a run-down of the top players to watch on playoff-bound USFL teams.

Kyle Sloter, QB, Breakers

Sloter has the best skill set of any quarterback in the USFL. He finished second in the league in passing yards with 1,798 and helped the Breakers become one of the league’s top offenses. Sloter had just nine touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions, but he was far more accurate to start the season before a groin injury bothered him down the stretch. He should get a chance to compete for a backup job in NFL camp after being named the quarterback of the All-USFL offensive team.

Case Cookus, QB, Stars

Cookus wasn’t the starter for the Stars at the beginning of the season, but once he took over for Bryan Scott, he showcased a solid arm and excellent accuracy. Cookus completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 1,334 yards, 12 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He hit his stride late in the season and demonstrated better-than-expected mobility. Like Sloter, Cookus has the potential to become an accurate, quality backup at the NFL level.

J’Mar Smith, QB, Stallions

Smith doesn’t have the same passing ceiling as Sloter and Cookus, but he has good mobility in the pocket and generally avoided turnovers. He passed for 1,573 yards and 10 touchdowns with just six interceptions. Smith should get a chance to compete for a roster spot and could be viewed as a developmental passer.

MORE: Full schedule for the 2022 USFL playoffs including dates, times, TV channels

Bo Scarbrough, RB, Stallions

The Stallions already had a good offense before they signed Scarbrough. After, they were one of the league’s most efficient units. Scarbrough averaged 4.2 yards per carry and used his big, physical frame to wear down defenses. He could be a solid rotational power back and big-time goal-line weapon at the NFL level.

Darius Victor, RB, Generals

Victor is 28, but he still has a lot of tread on the tires. He has demonstrated that while playing in the USFL, as he has been the driving force behind the Generals’ top-ranked rushing offense, racking up 577 rushing yards and a league-high nine rushing touchdowns. He is thickly built at 5-8, 209 pounds and has enough strength, shiftiness and speed to be a decent NFL running back.

Matt Colburn II, RB, Stars

Colburn has improved as the season has unfolded, just like the Stars’ offense. He has averaged 4.5 yards per carry and has generated eight rushing touchdowns as Philadelphia’s top back. He is a good pass-catcher and is the most explosive running back in the playoffs.

KaVontae Turpin, WR, Generals

Speaking of explosive, Turpin is a true playmaker and may be the best offensive weapon the Generals have. The 25-year-old led the USFL in receiving yards with 540 and was used in a variety of ways by New Jersey. Turpin, who was named the USFL MVP and an All-USFL return man, is a weapon with the ball in his hands and has potential as a gadget weapon and return man in the NFL.

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Maurice Alexander, WR/KR, Stars

Speaking of return men, Alexander should draw attention from NFL teams looking to upgrade their punt and kick return spots. Alexander averaged a league-high 31.5 yards per kick return and 12.6 yards per punt return. He has great vision and the quick-cut ability needed to find open lanes. He will probably be given a chance to prove himself at the NFL level, and some may see the former Florida International quarterback as a gadget-type player on offense, too.

Davin Bellamy, DE, Breakers

Bellamy burst onto the USFL scene by recording three sacks in the Breakers’ first game. He only recorded 5.5 total on the season, but he generated plenty of pressure and push to open up space for the Breakers’ terrific linebacker duo. He could be a nice rotational pass rusher in any defense thanks to his 6-5 size.

DeMarquis Gates, LB, Stallions

Scooby Wright III got a lot of attention in the early going for the Stallions, but Gates eventually established himself as the team’s top linebacker in racking up 62 tackles with a league-high 11 tackles for loss. Gates can play a variety of roles within a linebacker corps and has solid size at 6-2, 221 pounds. His playmaking ability will get him a look this offseason.

Vontae Diggs, LB, Breakers

Diggs is similar to Gates in that he has good athleticism and can be a flashy playmaker. He had the USFL’s first pick-six and totaled 75 tackles and seven TFL in the Breakers’ strong defense. Diggs is a great downhill playmaker and has proven that he can hold up in coverage thanks to his athleticism. If things don’t work out in the NFL, Diggs can always return to the CFL, where he has previously played with Edmonton.

Jerod Fernandez, LB, Breakers

Fernandez has the slight edge over Diggs when discussing New Orleans’ best linebacker. He racked up 86 tackles, nine TFL and 1.5 sacks as the key, glue player in the middle of the Breakers’ defense. He doesn’t do as well in coverage as Diggs-or at least doesn’t make as many plays-but at 6-1, 226 pounds, he can be a strong, downhill linebacker and special teams contributor.

Shalom Luani, S, Generals

Luani’s play throughout the 2022 USFL season is a big part of the reason that the Generals lost just one game. He has been a do-it-all playmaker at safety and ranks second in the league with five interceptions despite missing two games due to an injury. Luani made some big hits during the season and given his previous experience as a backup safety and special teams ace, he should get a chance to compete for an NFL roster spot.

Channing Stribling, CB, Stars

Stribling played in seven games for the Stars. He had seven interceptions in those contests, which was good for the USFL lead. Stribling has good instincts and great size at 6-2, 180 pounds, and he has been with four different NFL teams since going undrafted in 2017. Perhaps he will be able to stick around this time if his All-USFL-level performance has sharpened his ball skills as much as the numbers indicate.

MORE: USFL ticket prices for playoff games at Pro Football Hall of Fame

Other USFL players who could make NFL rosters

There are plenty of other talented players in the USFL who saw their seasons come to an end prematurely. Four teams didn’t make the USFL postseason, but at least a handful of their players should get a chance to prove themselves as part of 90-man NFL rosters during the offseason.

Below is a run-down of the players to keep an eye on as back-end roster depth and potential preseason stars.

Jordan Ta’amu, QB, Bandits

Ta’amu was the USFL’s leading passer, as he racked up 2,014 yards and 14 touchdowns in 10 starts for the Bandits. He was far from perfect – he threw 12 interceptions and completed just 57 percent of his passes – but he was often under pressure and showcased good mobility (365 rushing yards). An NFL team may look at him and see a player with developmental potential. A CFL team could do the same and sign him to serve as a short-yardage quarterback.

Reggie Corbin, RB, Panthers

Corbin was one of the most explosive running backs in the USFL. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry, which was second-most among running backs behind only Tony Brooks-James. Corbin, 26, had 519 rushing yards in just eight games (six starts) for the Panthers and would have led the league in rushing yards if not for a late-season injury. The home-run threat should find a home thanks to his shiftiness, though NFL teams will want to see if his apparent speed translates to the NFL.

Cheyenne O’Grady, TE, Bandits

O’Grady was one of the USFL’s best tight ends, as he tied for seventh in the league in receiving yards with 371 on 32 catches with two touchdowns. He is 6-4, 256 pounds and has the receiving skills NFL teams look for in their tight ends. The question is whether he can develop as a blocker.

Jarron Jones, OT, Bandits

Jones (6-6, 320 pounds) was an all-USFL selection at right tackle and drew plenty of praise from coach Todd Haley. NFL teams are always looking for quality offensive linemen, and given that Jones was solid at right tackle, he should get a chance to battle for a swing tackle job.

Chris Odom, DE, Gamblers

Odom won the USFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award and was arguably the league’s best overall player in 2022. He recorded a whopping 12.5 sacks in 10 games and was virtually unblockable throughout the season. He had eight TFL, six forced fumbles and got his hands on some kicks as well. Odom is 6-4, 262 pounds and had two sacks in four games with Washington in 2019. He looks like a great rotational pass rush option and NFL teams should be lining up to sign him.

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Donald Payne, LB, Gamblers

Payne is one of the few USFL players who could rival Odom as the league’s best defensive player. Payne racked up a league-high 117 tackles and did a little bit of everything for the Gamblers. He had six TFL, three interceptions, two sacks and a forced fumble. He was a true three-down linebacker for Houston and was a productive five-game starter for the Jaguars in 2019. As such, he may be the player most likely to stick on a 53-man NFL roster.

Frank Ginda, LB, Panthers

Ginda didn’t do a lot in coverage, but the former San Jose State star was an instinctive tackler for the Panthers. He generated 90 tackles on the season, good for the second-most in the league, and that included six TFL. Ginda is 6-1, 230 pounds so he is built to be a two-down thumper and special teams contributor.

Will Likely, CB/KR, Gamblers

The Gamblers had a stud at each level of their defense. Likely had four interceptions-good for the third-most in the USFL-and also generated a couple of forced fumbles on his 63 tackles. He has a nose for football and is ranked fourth in the USFL in punt return average at 12.2 yards per return. His combination of ball skills and returning skills make him an intriguing backup.

Cole Murphy, K, Panthers

Murphy’s 60-yard field goal didn’t stand as a USFL record for long, as Ramiz Ahmed of the Maulers made a 61-yard attempt in the final weeks of the season. That said, Murphy was more accurate than Ahmed, making 11 of 12 kicks for a USFL-best field goal percentage of 92, compared to Ahmed’s 14 of 22. Murphy’s accuracy and big leg make him an ideal target for teams looking for kicker competition. Don’t be surprised if you hear his name often during the preseason.

Brandon Wright, P, Bandits

Wright was the best punter in the USFL this season, as he averaged a league-high 48.4 yards per punt and placed 16 of his punts inside the 20-yard line, good for the third-most in the USFL. Wright was one of two punters with a net average of over 40 yards per punt (his was 41.1) and he also generated seven touchbacks on kickoffs, tied for the third-most in the league.

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