UFL Training Camp Quarterback Breakdown: USFL Conference

With UFL training camp rosters finalized, it was high time to break down each quarterback room in the USFL conference. Please note that all “projections” are educated guesses and not concrete. Rosters are also subject to change during training camp.

* denotes projected starter 

Birmingham Stallions quarterback J’Mar Davis-Smith (6) throws a pass against the New Jersey Generals during the first half of a USFL football game Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Birmingham Stallions quarterback J’Mar Davis-Smith (6) throws a pass against the New Jersey Generals during the first half of a USFL football game Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Birmingham Stallions

  • J’Mar Smith*
  • Matt Corral*
  • Adrian Martinez*
  • Jalen Morton

Who can predict who will win this quarterback battle, frankly, because it will be too tightly contested. J’Mar Smith, who guided the Stallions to the USFL Championship in 2022 as their starting quarterback, missed nearly every game in 2023 due to an injury. Smith faces stiff competition from newcomers Matt Corral and Adrian Martinez but has the leg-up with his experience in Birmingham’s system.

Corral and Martinez are both young quarterbacks who were standouts at the collegiate level just a couple of years ago.

Corral was a two-year starter at Ole Miss and threw for 8,281 yards and 57 touchdowns with a 67.3% completion rate in 37 career games. He also rushed for 1,338 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on 334 attempts. The Carolina Panthers drafted him in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. However, he suffered an injury that knocked him out his entire rookie campaign. Carolina released him at the end of training camp in 2023. 

Martinez spent his collegiate career at Nebraska and Kansas State, where he threw for 9,752 yards and 51 touchdowns with a 63.6% completion rate in 49 career games. He also had 619 rushes for 2,928 yards and 45 touchdowns on the ground. While his 14-24 record with the Cornhuskers wasn’t too impressive, he went 6-3 as a starter with the Wildcats after transferring for his final collegiate season – leading them to a Big 12 Championship. 

Jalen Morton, who spent the 2023 USFL season with the Stallions as a backup, appears to be the odd man out in this situation. Unfortunately, his pedigree doesn’t quite compare with the other guys at his position. 

San Antonio Brahmas quarterback #17 Reid Sinnett in a game against the Arlington Renegades at The Alamodome on March 19th, 2023 in San Antonio, TX.
San Antonio Brahmas quarterback #17 Reid Sinnett in a game against the Arlington Renegades at The Alamodome on March 19th, 2023 in San Antonio, TX. (© Alonso Ramirez/XFL)

Houston Roughnecks

  • Reid Sinnett*
  • Jarrett Guarantano
  • Nolan Henderson

All three players who make up the Roughnecks’ quarterback room are newcomers for Houston. Each of them will be vying for the starting job during training camp. 

While Jarrett Guarantano has a strong case with his success from his collegiate days at Tennessee and Washington State, my prediction is that Reid Sinnett will ultimately win the competition. 

Sinnett brings the most NFL experience to the Roughnecks’ quarterback mix – having been part of four different NFL organizations since going undrafted out of the University of San Diego in 2020. Initially, he served as Jack Coan’s backup on the San Antonio Brahmas at the beginning of the 2023 XFL season. However, Sinnett took over starting duties in week five due to Coan’s struggles, but sustained a season-ending injury during his first game. Over the summer, he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals and made their practice squad. Unfortunately, he was released on Oct. 2, midway through the 2023 season. 

Guarantano spent five seasons with the Vols, including his redshirt campaign in 2016, before transferring to Washington State for his final collegiate season. In 43 career games, he recorded 6,478 passing yards and 39 passing touchdowns on a 62.5% completion rate. He spent some time with the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2022. 

Nolan Henderson threw for 6,429 yards and 56 touchdowns over his five-year collegiate career at Delaware. He was a two-time All-CAA selection and entered his final collegiate season in 2022 on the Walter Payton Watch List – coming off a season-ending abdominal injury that limited him to just four games in 2021. While he’s young and has great potential, he can afford to be a backup and develop behind Sinnett and Guarantano – at least for this season. 

Quarterback Case Cookus, USFL Philadelphia Stars.
Quarterback Case Cookus, USFL Philadelphia Stars.

Memphis Showboats

  • Case Cookus*
  • Cole Kelley
  • Troy Williams

On the outset, Case Cookus looks like the favorite to be the Showboats’ starter based on what he has done over the past two seasons with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars. 

Cookus took over as the starter for the Stars midway through the 2022 USFL season and shined – leading them to a USFL Championship berth. During his first season, he threw for 1,334 yards and 12 touchdowns with a 62.5% completion rate in seven games started. He impressed during the championship but the outcome was ultimately out of his control. He suffered an injury during the fourth quarter, and his team went on to lose by a score of 33-30.

Cookus’ 2023 campaign saw a notable statistical improvement, as he started all 10 games. He finished second in the USFL in passing yardage (2,294) and passing touchdowns (15). However, the Stars missed the playoffs with a 4-6 record. The lack of protection from the offensive line was arguably Philadelphia’s biggest issue during the season. 

Cole Kelley and Troy Williams were both starters with their respective USFL teams last season as newcomers. With that in mind, however, neither of their spring football resumes surpass what Cookus achieved with the Stars. 

Kelley, the two-time All-FCS All-American and 2020 Walter Payton Award winner, became the starter for the Showboats in week three and held that role for the rest of the regular season. He helped them to a 5-3 record in the games he started, but the Showboats still didn’t make the playoffs. While he performed well with Memphis, I just don’t see him at the same level as Cookus from an arm talent standpoint. 

Williams started eight games for the USFL runner-up Pittsburgh Maulers last season. Overall, he recorded 1,414 passing yards and six touchdowns with a 65.0% completion rate. While the Maulers made the 2023 USFL Championship, Williams was more of a game manager along the way and relied a lot on Pittsburgh’s star-studded defensive unit to help win games. 

Quarterback E.J. Perry, 2023 Michigan Panthers
Quarterback E.J. Perry, 2023 Michigan Panthers

Michigan Panthers

  • E.J. Perry*
  • Brian Lewerke
  • Danny Etling
  • Davis Cheek

E.J. Perry stepped in when it mattered most for the Panthers last USFL season – making his first start during Michigan’s week 10 do-or-die matchup versus the Philadelphia Stars. In the game, Perry threw for 121 yards and scored a six-yard rushing touchdown during the fourth quarter, which was the difference-maker in the Panthers’ 23-20 playoff-clinching victory. In the next game, the USFL North Championship, Perry threw for 370 yards and two touchdowns. But the Panthers fell short in overtime by a score of 31-27 to the eventual 2023 USFL runners-up, the Maulers. 

While the Panthers’ 2023 USFL campaign didn’t finish the way they had hoped after Perry took over, his performance was more than promising for the future. He had stints with the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars over the offseason but is now back with Michigan. He is ready to see what he can do with a complete cycle of training camp and games. It goes without saying that he is a heavy favorite to retain the Panthers’ starting quarterback job. 

Meanwhile, Brian Lewerke, Danny Etling, and Davis Cheek are expected to be competing for backup roles. 

Brian Lewerke was a standout at Michigan State over his five-year collegiate career from 2015 to 2019. He ranked first in program history in total offense with 9,548 career yards in 41 career games. Last year, he spent training camp with the XFL’s Seattle Sea Dragons but was released as part of final roster cutdowns. He landed on his feet with the Panthers, who picked him up midway through the 2023 USFL season. 

Former LSU quarterback Etling was selected by the New England Patriots in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft and has since been part of seven different NFL organizations. He also spent time with the CFL’s BC Lions in 2021. Hew threw for 4,586 yards and 27 touchdowns on a 59.7% completion rate over two seasons as a starter at LSU.

After the merger, Davis Cheek landed with the Panthers via the Dispersal Drafts process. He spent the 2023 USFL season with the New Orleans Breakers but saw no action. He’s unproven out of Elon University and will be competing against former power-five stars for a roster spot on the Panthers.

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