USFL playoffs: Eight postseason players on the NFL radar

By Eric D. Williams
FOX sportswriter

After coaching for 23 years in the NFL, Tampa Bay Bandits Head coach Todd Haley knows a player with that caliber of talent when he sees one.

For Haley, many of these types of players were on the field to show off their skills during the USFL regular season in Birmingham.

“There’s a decent group of players on this team that I think should have the opportunity to compete at the NFL level,” Haley said. “Or at least go to camps and have the opportunity to form teams. That’s what it’s all about, just keeping that dream alive of playing the sport they love.”

While the Haley Bandits didn’t make the playoffs, four other teams will have the chance to continue chasing a USFL title this weekend at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.

The top two teams in the North Division meet at 3 p.m. ET Saturday on FOX, when the New Jersey Generals take on the Philadelphia Stars.

The Birmingham Stallions, the top team in the South Division, will next face the New Orleans Breakers at 8 p.m. ET on NBC in the other semifinal.

The winners of those games will face off for the USFL title at 7:30 p.m. ET on July 3 on FOX.

Several playoff players will have the chance to make NFL training camp rosters in a month. FOX Sports spoke with NFL scouts and other league staff to get their thoughts on some of the players the league will try to secure once the USFL season is over.

Victor Bolden Jr.WR, Stallions

The Oregon State product spent time in the league with the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, so he has an NFL pedigree.

Bolden led the Stallions in receptions (42) and receiving yards (193). He also finished with 645 punt return yards in the regular season.

Bolden is just 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, but scouts love his sticky hands, versatility and ability to shake things up after the catch. Bolden led the league in all-purpose yards (1,209) and was selected All-USFL Offense as a receiver.

ByMarquis GatesLB/Edge, Stallions

The Ole Miss product led the Stallions in tackles (62) and sacks (6.5) this season, earning All-USFL Defensive Team honors. At 6-3 and 230 pounds, scouts described Gates as extremely instinctive, with an innate ability to find the ball.

Gates has a rush pass ability, is athletic and is an explosive hitter who can be effective as a rushing linebacker or play on the line of scrimmage as an edge defender.

KaVontae TurpinWR, Generals

The TCU product was quite simply the most explosive playmaker in the USFL this season. Think Tyreek Hill in the NFL; that’s how Turpin looked to play in this league, constantly running alongside defenders.

Turpin led the USFL with 540 receiving yards (including a USFL-high 316 receiving yards) and finished with four receiving touchdowns. Turpin also had a 71-yard punt return for a score. For his efforts, Turpin won the USFL MVP award.

Highlights of the KaVontae Turpin season

Highlights of the KaVontae Turpin season

Check out highlights from New Jersey Generals star KaVontae Turpin, USFL MVP.

Darius VictorRB, Generals

Victor finished with a league-high 577 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, earning the USFL Offensive Player of the Year award. Victor is a North-South runner who is strong and explosive and can land a blow on contact. A scout described Victor’s unique ability to move the stack as BYOB: Be Your Own Blocker.

At 5-8 and 209 pounds, Victor earned comparisons to Maurice Jones-Drew or Mark Ingram in height and running style. Victor also has good hands out of the backfield and is a capable pass protector, making him a candidate as a third back at the next level.

Salt CinnamonTE, Circuit Breakers

The Auburn product was the leading passer among tight ends this season, earning All-USFL Offense honors at his position. Cannella finished with 34 receptions for 368 yards and two touchdowns.

At 6-5 and 230 pounds, Cannella has a long wingspan and does a good job of creating separation in confined spaces such as the red zone. And he’s a capable blocker in the running game.

Steven RowzeeLG, Circuit Breakers

At 6-3 and 335 pounds, Rowzee is solid at the point of attack and an explosive blocker in the running game. Rowzee also received praise from scouts for his physical and challenging play.

The Troy product has helped the Breakers give up just 17 sacks this season. Only the New Jersey Generals allowed fewer sacks (16). Breakers quarterback Kyle Sloter was second in the USFL with 1,798 passing yards in nine games played.

Cookus caseQB, Stars

The Northern Arizona product has been the top performer at quarterback this season. Cookus replaced injured starter Bryan Scott in the first half of the season, finishing with 1,334 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and just five interceptions in seven starts.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound flagger received accolades for his decision-making and his ability to control the game from inside the pocket. His athleticism could be a concern at the next level, although Cookus has a 79-yard touchdown to his name.

The Cookus case counts five DT

The Cookus case counts five DT

Case Cookus threw for 247 passing yards and four touchdowns in the Philadelphia Stars’ 46-24 win over the Michigan Panthers. He also rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown.

Channing StriblingCB, Stars

The Michigan product led the USFL in interceptions with seven and was named to the All-USFL Defense Team. At 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, Stribling has drawn comparisons to Richard Sherman with his length and intelligence, baiting quarterbacks into bad throws.

Others to consider:

Birmingham Stallions: QB J’Mar Smith, OL Cameron Hunt, RB Bo Scarbrough, LB Scooby Wright, LS Ryan Larsen.

Houston players: DE Chris Odom, LB Donald Payne, CB Will Likely Jr., CB Micah Abernathy.

Michigan Panthers: RB Reggie Corbin, WR Lance Lenoir Jr., K Cole Murphy.

New Jersey Generals: LB D’Juan Hines, RB Trey Williams, LB Chris Orr, QB Luis Perez, S Shalom Luani, CB De’Vante Bausby, DL Toby Johnson.

New Orleans Breakers: QB Kyle Sloter, WR Johnnie Dixon, LB Vontae Diggs, LB Jerod Fernandez, LB Christian Sam.

Philadelphia Stars: RB Matthew Colburn II, WR Jordan Suell, WR Maurice Alexander.

Pittsburgh Maulers: K Ramiz Ahmed, DE Carlo Kemp, LB Kyahva Tezino.

Tampa Bay Bandits: QB Jordan Ta’amu, WR Derrick Dillon, OL Jarron Jones, LB Travis Feeney. P Brandon Wright.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for over 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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