NFC West Writer
With the USFL reaching the midpoint of this season, it’s a good time to take a closer look at the league’s top MVP award candidates.
Every team has at least one loss heading into the second half of the year. The New Orleans Breakers have the best record at 4-1, but it can be argued that the Houston Gamblers are playing the best football, having won three straight games, including a win over the defending champs last week in the Birmingham Stallions.
Last year’s USFL MVP, KaVontae Turpin, now plays for the Dallas Cowboys, leaving an open competition for someone to take the trophy this season.
Here are the top 10 contenders with five games remaining:
New Orleans Breakers QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson: The former CFL standout has been a consistent influence for New Orleans on offense, playing efficient football from the pocket and minimizing mistakes. The Sacramento State product leads the USFL with 1,322 passing yards, completing 66.9 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
New Orleans Breakers RB Wes Hills: Breakers head coach John DeFilippo created a balance on offense with Hills’ hard-hitting running style. At 6-2 and 220 pounds, Hills leads the USFL with 427 rushing yards and eight scores, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Hills also has 20 receptions for 150 receiving yards.
Houston players RB Mark Thompson: The back emerged as the engine of Houston’s offense after missing the first two games of the season due to injury. Thompson has 292 rushing yards and eight scores in three games played, all wins for the Gamblers. He averages 5.8 yards per carry.
Birmingham Stallions QB Alex McGough: The Florida International product is Birmingham’s full-time QB after starter J’Mar Smith went down with a season-ending finger injury that required surgery. McGough has proven himself up to the task. He is third in the USFL in passing yards (972), with a league-leading 10 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. The speedy McGough also has 214 yards and two touchdowns.
Philadelphia Stars QB Case Cookus: Last year’s pleasant surprise in the USFL has had an uneven performance through five games, getting sacked a league-high 23 times with seven turnovers. However, Cookus is second in the USFL in passing yards (1,047). This is the point in last year’s season when Cookus and the Stars got things going, so there’s still time for the Northern Arizona product to turn things around.
Pittsburgh Maulers QB Troy Williams: Head coach Ray Horton’s team received a spark when he decided to go with Williams as a full-time starter. The Maulers are 2-1 with the Utah product anointed as the team’s starter in Week 3. Williams has completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 590 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for 207 yards and two scores.
Houston players WR Justin Hall: One of the league’s most electrifying players, Hall has 25 catches for 292 yards and a league-leading four touchdown receptions. The Ball State product is also third in the USFL with 86 punt return yards.
Michigan Panthers FROM Breeland speaks: The former second-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2018 draft leads the league with 6.5 sacks through five games. Speaks has two games with at least two sacks and has won USFL Defensive Player of the Week twice so far this season. Speaks also has 24 combined tackles on the year.
Birmingham Stallions WR Deon Cain: The Clemson product has returned two kicks for touchdowns this season and leads the league with 491 kick return yards on the year.
New Jersey Generals LB Chris Orr: Orr, who sets the tone for New Jersey on defense, leads the league with 51 combined tackles and also has 1.5 sacks on the year. New Jersey’s defense is allowing just 17.4 points per contest, second in the USFL.
Honorable Mention: New Orleans TE Sage Surratt, Pittsburgh Maulers WR Isiah Hennie, New Jersey Generals RB Darius Victor, Philadelphia Stars WR Corey Coleman, Memphis Showboats QB Cole Kelley, New Orleans Breakers kicker Matt Coghlin, Birmingham Stallions TE Jace Sternberger. QB De’Andre Johnson of the New Jersey Generals. Houston Gamblers QB Kenji Bahar. Philadelphia Stars WR Devin Gray.
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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