UFL MVP candidates: Renegades' Luis Perez leads talented group of QBs

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by Eric Williams | FOXSports.com

Quarterback Luis Perez, the catalyst who helped ignite a magical run by the Arlington Renegades to an XFL title last year, spent his first training camp with the team this offseason learning the intricacies of head coach Bob Stoops' offense.

That said, the reigning XFL Championship Game MVP should be even better in his second year with the Renegades.

"It helps a lot," Stoops said. "Of course, he galvanized our locker room and was a major reason we were able to win the championship last year. He’s a natural leader, a guy people love to be on the field with. He’s got great respect from his teammates in the locker room, so he’s definitely a key part of what we’re doing."

Perez and Stoops will get an opportunity to take the field for the first time in the United Football League when Arlington hosts the Birmingham Stallions, the reigning USFL champions, on Saturday (1 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

Stoops says Perez, one of four starting quarterbacks returning to lead their respective teams, is the total package and will show how much he has grown in the season opener.

"He [has] got a great arm," Stoops said. "He’s incredibly smart. He’s great at reading defenses and getting us in the right plays. He’s like a coach on the field. He’s an incredibly bright guy and a great leader."

Perez is among a handful of signal-callers who have a chance to win the inaugural UFL MVP award. Last year, D.C. Defenders QB Jordan Ta’amu was named XFL Offensive Player of the Year, while Stallions QB Alex McGough — the USFL MVP last season — moved on to the NFL's Green Bay Packers. Head coach Skip Holtz has yet to announce his replacement in a three-man competition between returnee J’Mar Smith and newcomers Matt Corral and Adrian Martinez.

Cal product Chase Garbers takes over as the starter for the San Antonio Brahmas, while Jarrett Guarantano is at the helm for the Houston Roughnecks. The Memphis Showboats have a new man under center in Case Cookus.

"He’s a magnificent quarterback," Roughnecks head coach Curtis Johnson said about Cookus. "You’ve got to say he’s the best quarterback in the league. He runs the show."

Let’s take a closer look at the other MVP candidates to watch this year in the UFL.

QB A.J. McCarron, St. Louis Battlehawks 

McCarron, perhaps the most heralded quarterback in the league, was surgical in the way he performed for St. Louis last season, leading the XFL in touchdown passes (24), completion percentage (68.8%) and passer rating (108.4). The Battlehawks finished second in the XFL last season, averaging 24.9 points per game. McCarron also spent time with the Cincinnati Bengals last year, subbing in for Jake Browning in Week 14 against Indianapolis.

QB Matt Corral, Birmingham Stallions

The former third-round selection of the Carolina Panthers in 2022, Corral was a second-team All-SEC selection at Ole Miss and should get a chance to perform this season. Holtz says he plans to run a dual QB system at times this season.

QB Jordan Ta’amu, D.C. Defenders

Ta’amu is a dynamic, dual-threat quarterback. He totaled 1,894 passing yards and 14 touchdowns with just three interceptions in 10 starts last season. Ta’amu also ran for 298 yards and three scores. Like Perez, Ta’amu should be familiar with coaches and schemes from his time in the USFL two years ago with the Tampa Bay Bandits. 

QB Case Cookus, Memphis Showboats

Cookus, who played his first two USFL seasons with the Philadelphia Stars, now teams up with head coach John DeFilippo with the Showboats in Bluff City, Tennessee. The Northern Arizona product also checks in as a team captain for Memphis. Cookus finished with 2,294 passing yards and 15 touchdowns in 2023, but he also threw nine interceptions. Cookus has good mobility, rushing for 278 yards last season, but was the second-most sacked QB in the USFL last season (29). 

QB Luis Perez, Arlington Renegades

In five games with Arlington last season (including the postseason) after a trade in Week 7 from the Las Vegas Vipers, Perez completed 69% of his passes for 1,307 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions for a 103.7 passer rating. He finished 4-1 as a starter. The 29-year-old San Diego native should benefit from playing in the USFL two years ago, having some familiarity with some of the coaches and schemes.

QB E.J. Perry, Michigan Panthers

The Brown product joined the Panthers late last year, helping to lead Michigan to the postseason. Perry brings top-notch athleticism and strong playmaking abilities to head coach Mike Nolan’s offense. In two games last season, he finished with 491 passing yards and two touchdown passes with one interception.

QB J’Mar Smith, Birmingham Stallions

Smith missed the 2023 season after suffering a finger injury in the first quarter of the Stallions' season opener. However, Smith led the Stallions to the 2022 USFL title, totaling 1,573 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Smith, who was named USFL Championship Game MVP that same year, can make plays with his arm and his feet. He ran for 191 yards and two touchdowns in 2022.

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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