Who Was the Best Player Ever to Come Out of the USFL?

Mike Mamula, Steve Young
(Steve Young photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)

Talk of Fame Network

The USFL lasted just three seasons in the 1980s but made a lasting impression on the NFL for two reasons.

First, it drove up the price for the players. Suddenly they had a career option. They didn’t have to accept what the NFL was offering. They could go seek a better offer elsewhere – and many of them did in the USFL.

Second, it became a breeding ground for future NFL Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers.

The USFL was a spring league that gave established college players a stage to display their talents _ Heisman Trophy winners like Doug Flutie, Mike Rozier and Herschel Walker _ and also gave unheralded players a chance to prove themselves worthy of a professional contract — like Bobby Hebert, Sam Mills and Nate Newton.

Jim Kelly was a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills who chose to sign with the USFL Houston Texans. He’s now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So are Steve Young, Reggie White and Gary Zimmerman. Kent Hull, Anthony Carter, Gary Clark and Sean Landeta all became Pro Bowlers.

But when the league decided to move its schedule to the fall in 1986 and go head-to-head with the NFL, the USFL went belly up. And a lot of great players moved on from USFL teams to NFL startdom. So in this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll, we ask who was the best player ever to come out of the USFL.

Here are the choices:

Anthony Carter, WR, Michigan Panthers. Selected to the all-time All-USFL team and went on to become a three-time Pro Bowl pass catcher with the Minnesota Vikings.

Jim Kelly, QB, Houston Gamblers. Kelly was the USFL Rookie of the Year in 1984 who went on to quarterback the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls.

Herschel Walker, HB, New Jersey Generals. The 1985 USFL MVP when he set a professional football record with 2,411 yards. Walker went on to become a Pro Bowl running back with the Cowboys and was the focal point of one of the largest trades in NFL history — a five-player, six-draft pick deal with the Vikings.

Reggie White, DE, Memphis Showboats. Played two seasons in the USFL, recording 23 ½ sacks in 36 career games. He went on to collect 198 sacks in the NFL, second most in league history, and was named to the league’s 75th anniversary team.

Steve Young, QB, Los Angeles Express. Signed a record (at the time) 10-year, $40 million USFL contract and his most notable achievement was becoming the first player in football history to pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 in the same game. He would go on to win six NFL passing titles and a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers.

Vote now:

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  1. Rasputin
    September 9, 2015

    Reggie White and Steve Young ultimately had the best NFL careers of that bunch, but Herschel Walker may have been the best in the USFL. Walker won the USFL rushing title 2 out of 3 years, and finished with 5,562 career USFL rushing yards, over 1,500 ahead of second place. In 1985 he rushed for a pro football record 2,411 yards in 18 games, for an insane 133.9 y/g average. Again, no one else was close. He added 1,484 receiving yards in his USFL stint for a total of 7,046 yards from scrimmage and 61 tds in three years. While not directly equivalent to NFL stats it’s still extremely impressive as the league was filled with great players, like you mention. I’ve always thought Walker has an unusual but legitimate HoF case, especially since it’s called the “Pro Football” HoF and not the “NFL” HoF. Herschel Walker is the pro football total purpose career yardage leader with over 25,000 yards. Period. There’s something wrong with the PFHOF when the all time yardage leader isn’t enshrined. Even his NFL only stats are arguably HoF worthy. He excelled at rushing, receiving, and (kick off) returning, and is the only player to gain at least 4,000 yards in three different ways. He retired #2 all time in purely NFL history with 18,168 all purpose yards, and still sits at #9, slightly behind Barry Sanders and ahead of HoFers like Marcus Allen and Curtis Martin. Everyone else in the top 12 who’s eligible is already in the HoF except for Brian Mitchell, who was more of a pure returner and wasn’t the versatile threat Walker was. In the NFL Walker added another 61 rushing and 21 receiving tds, becoming one of only a small group of elite players to exceed 60 rushing and 20 receiving tds, for a pro career total of 145 tds. He led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 1987 with 1,606 and made his first NFL Pro Bowl despite splitting time with Tony Dorsett, exceeding that in 1988 with 2,019 offensive yards. He also led the league in all purpose yards in 1990 with 2,051. When one examines his full career with an open mind it’s clear Walker is one of the greatest football players of all time and definitely belongs in the HoF.

  2. December 20, 2015

    I agree with the last post. This is why I created a USFL Forever YouTube Channel to remember this once great league.


    • March 16, 2017

      Beautiful dude! Love it also! Invaders forever! Michigan Panthers best uni’s ever!

  3. Anonymous
    January 21, 2017

    How could anyone with these numbers not be recognized more? This is simply about the NFL and their bullshiz tactics. The PRO FOOTBALL HOF isn’t the NFL HOF. Walker is clearly iconic in his play

  4. M. Bish
    January 21, 2017

    How could anyone with these numbers not be recognized more? This is simply about the NFL and their bullshiz tactics. The PRO FOOTBALL HOF isn’t the NFL HOF. Walker is clearly iconic in his play

  5. Doug H
    February 11, 2018

    John Corker was initially drafted by Houston but after a couple of unproductive seasons went to the Michigan Panthers. He was by far the GREATEST defensive player in the USFL. The I augural season alone he had 28.5 sacks, 117 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 FR W/TD, 6 PD, he was everywhere doing everything. He was the leader or among the leaders in nearly every defensive category. He just couldn’t do it in the NFL. He shouldn’t be forgotten.

    • Rick Gosselin
      February 17, 2018

      I covered the first USFL title game, and John Corker was easily the best defensive player on the USFL champion Michigan Panthers. He was to the USFL in 1983 what Lawrence Taylor was to the NFL that season.

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