By RJ Young
FOX Sports Writer
Halfway through the inaugural USFL season, a number of players have stood out above the rest.
And with the second half approaching quickly, featuring a Week 6 doubleheader on Saturday, it’s time to give them their due.
Here are my midseason All-Stars, position-by-position.
QB: J’Mar Smith (Stallions), Kyle Sloter (Breakers)
Sloter has proven to be the best passing QB through five games (1,226 yards), but Smith has been pivotal in each of the Stallions’ five wins to open the season.
While Sloter was always meant to be the Breakers’ QB1 — evidenced by being their No. 1 overall pick in the inaugural USFL Draft — Smith was thrust into action after starter Alex McGough suffered a first-half injury in the opening game of the season. Since then, he has found ways to lead the Stallions to a 5-0 start.
Smith ranks No. 3 in passing yards (784) despite starting just two games.
J’Mar Smith’s big day leads Birmingham over the Stars
J’Mar Smith passed for more than 200 yards in a win over the Philadelphia Stars in Week 5, keeping the Stallions perfect at 5-0.
RB: Mark Thompson (Gamblers), Darius Victor (Generals)
Thompson leads the league in rushing yards with 400 through five games, while Victor leads the league in rushing TDs with five.
Between the two of them, you could form the most dominant one-two punch in the backfield of the USFL. It’s also an example of how good players can find their way to the league regardless of their background.
While Thompson played college ball at Florida, Victor played at Towson. Each found a role in the USFL.
TE: Sal Cannella (Breakers), Bug Howard (Stars)
Each of these men have demonstrated an ability to create matchup problems for defensive backs with their size, and for linebackers with their speed. I wouldn’t be shocked to find out one or both get a call from an NFL team this summer ahead of training camp.
WR: Jay Adams (Breakers), Victor Bolden (Stallions), Tre Walker (Maulers)
Adams earned renown at Arkansas State as a dependable pass-catcher and has developed into the best contested-catch receiver in the league.
No one depends more on one receiver than the Stallions do on Bolden, who leads the league in targets and is also one of the best returners in the league.
Walker has been a bright light in an otherwise horrible start for the Maulers. Having played just four games, he leads the league in receiving yards (287).
OL: Calvin Ashley (Generals), Blake Camper (Stars)
OL: Fred Lauina (Bandits), Nick Buchanan (Gamblers)
C: Jared Thomas (Breakers)
EDGE: Davin Bellamy (Breakers), Chris Odom (Gamblers)
Bellamy and Odom have been terrors off the edge through five weeks. In many respects, showing an ability to block either consistently drew my attention to the offensive linemen listed above.
DT: Daylon Mack (Bandits), Kamilo Tongamoa (Breakers)
These men in the middle have absolutely made life miserable for guards and centers while keeping linebackers clean to make plays.
ILB: Donald Payne (Gamblers), Jerod Fernandez (Breakers)
No one has done more for their reputation as a pure football player than Payne. He leads the league in tackles (58) while playing on a defense with at least three other star players.
For most players, recording double-digit tackles is a rare occurrence. For Payne, it might feel like something’s off if he doesn’t. Through the first half of the season, he’s averaging nearly 12 tackles per game.
OLB: DeMarquis Gates (Stallions), Reggie Northrup (Gamblers)
Gates and Northrup have proven to be outstanding characters, as well as ballplayers.
Gates, who has taken to entering postgame press conferences with sunglasses on his face and a floss pick in his mouth, has proven to be a hell-raiser in opposing backfields. So has Northrup, who set social media ablaze when he appeared in a TikTok with a fake cigarette between his lips.
CB: Channing Stribling (Stars), Will Likely (Gamblers)
Stribling and Likely are the league’s best at picking off quarterbacks, with four interceptions each — Likely has done it in five games, Stribling in four.
Stribling has proven to be the best cover corner in the league, while Likely is just as likely to pick one off as run one back.
S: Shalom Luani (Generals), Arnold Tarpley (Maulers)
Luani has recorded three interceptions in three games. Tarpley has been the quarterback on a defense that would get more praise if the team managed to win more games. Both of these players are outstanding tacklers and ball-hawks.
Their play has been so good, in fact, that many believe that the league’s quarterback play hasn’t been bad, it’s just that the defensive backs are that good.
K: Nick Vogel (Gamblers)
Vogel leads the league in scoring (39 points) and has the highest field-goal percentage (85%) of any kicker to play more than one game this season.
P: Brandon Wright (Bandits)
Wright is averaging a league-best 47.8 yards per punt, including one that sailed 76 yards. He’s put nine of them inside the 20.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube. He is not on a StepMill.
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