UFL 2024: Versatile back CJ Marable among top offensive players to watch

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by Eric Williams | FOXSports.com

Birmingham Stallions head coach Skip Holtz must replace last year’s USFL MVP in quarterback Alex McGough, who signed with the Green Bay Packers last year and remains with the team.

For now, Holtz has a three-man competition to replace McGough at quarterback in 2022 starter J’Mar Smith and newcomers Matt Corral and Adrian Martinez. Holtz said all three evenly split reps with the starters during training camp and a starter will be announced on Thursday.

"It’s going to probably be a gut call because they’ve all been very even with their numbers and what they’ve been doing so far this camp," Holtz said. 

However, with the team’s best player no longer on the roster in McGough, Holtz will lean more on versatile tailback CJ Marable, who’s been with Holtz and the Stallions since the team’s inception.

"He’s been such a staple for us for the last two years," Holtz said. "He’s so solid at everything. He may not be the best running back in the league with the ball in his arm. He may not be the best guy catching balls out of the backfield. He may not be the best blocker.

"He may not be the best at any one thing, but I would argue as an all-around tailback he may be one of the best in the league." 

Marable finished with 760 scrimmage yards last year during the regular season, No. 2 in the USFL. And he played even better in the postseason, totaling 150 scrimmage yards in helping Birmingham secure a second straight USFL title.

"He’s extremely intelligent," Holtz said. "He’s got a great grasp of the offense. He can do a lot of things with the ball in his arm as a runner and as a receiver. And with blitz protections he has a lot of savvy. He’s had a great camp." 

Along with Marable, the Stallions return the team’s top pass catchers in tight end Jace Sternberger and return man Deon Cain. Those two join an explosive group of playmakers challenging for the top offensive award that include Houston Roughnecks running back Mark Thompson, St. Louis Battlehawks receiving duo of Hakeem Butler and Darius Shepard, San Antonio Brahmas tight end Cody Latimer and Michigan Panthers running back Wes Hills.

That said, let’s take a closer look at the offensive players to watch this year in the UFL. 

WR Hakeem Butler, St. Louis Battlehawks 

The 6-5, 230-pound Butler regularly was a matchup problem on the perimeter for opposing defenses. An All-XFL selection, Butler totaled 51 catches for 599 receiving yards and a league-high eight touchdowns on 73 targets in 2023. 

TE Sal Cannella, Arlington Renegades

The leading receiver for the Renegades last season, Cannella served as quarterback Luis Perez’s security blanket, finishing with 42 receptions for 415 receiving yards on 63 targets. 

RB Cam’ron Harris, D.C. Defenders

The Defenders like to run the football. And with last year’s XFL rushing leader Abram Smith potentially out for the season due to a knee injury suffered in training camp, Harris is the next man up. The South Florida native finished with 1,628 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns in three years at the University of Miami. 

RB Wes Hills, Michigan Panthers 

Hills led the USFL in rushing last season with 679 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, earning All-USFL honors. He joins a Michigan running back room that includes former Philadelphia Stars running back Matt Colburn, former NFL running back Raymond Calais and Nate McCrary. 

WR Cody Latimer, San Antonio Brahmas 

A former second-round pick for the Denver Broncos where he won a Super Bowl, the Indiana product has moved from receiver to tight end. At 6-3 and 220 pounds, Latimer led Orlando in receiving last season, finishing with 50 receptions for 593 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 2023, earning All-XFL honors. Paired with Alize Mack, the Brahmas have one of the best tight end duos in the UFL. 

RB CJ Marable, Birmingham Stallions

With the retirement of bruising tailback Bo Scarbrough, Holtz will use Ricky Person and Larry Rountree as bigger running backs to spell the versatile Marable. The Stallions averaged 116 rushing yards a contest as a team last season, No. 3 in the USFL. 

WR Darrius Shepherd, St. Louis Battlehawks

An All-XFL performer last season, Shepherd totaled 48 catches for 519 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He also earned XFL Special Teams Player of the year last season, leading the league with 907 kick return yards. 

TE Jace Sternberger, Birmingham Stallions 

An All-USFL selection last season, Sternberger finished with 33 receptions for 517 receiving yards and a league-high seven touchdowns. The 6-4, 251-pound pass-catching tight end spent time with the Buffalo Bills in training camp last year. 

RB Mark Thompson, Houston Roughnecks

The bruising running back finished as the Offensive Player of the Year in the USFL last season, totaling 653 rushing yards and a league-high 14 rushing touchdowns. However, Thompson suffered a knee injury in training camp, putting in question his availability for the season opener. 

RB Darius Victor, Memphis Showboats

The hard-charging runner created the slogan "Thick thighs save lives" while with the New Jersey Generals his first two years in the league. Victor now leads the running game in Memphis. Victor totaled 554 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 2023. 

Others to watch: WR Deon Cain, Stallions; TE Sage Suratt, Showboats, WR Justin Hall, Roughnecks; WR Isiah Hennie, Roughnecks; WR Jonathan Adams, Showboats; WR Trey Quinn, Panthers; WR Deontay Burnett, Renegades, WR Jahcour Pearson, Battlehawks.

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 at @eric_d_williams.

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