The Houston Gamblers quarterback situation has been the largest question mark this season. "Will Clayton Thorson return?" "Will Coach Sumlin want Thorson back?" "Is Kenji Bahar the new starter?" These are all questions that have been asked in basically every place the USFL is covered online. The easy answer is that the situation is fluid, and the players are staying quiet on whether or not they will be back. From things that have been said, it seems all three quarterbacks are set to return as of now. Instead of guessing at who will return officially and who will the team sign/draft, what are the actual stats, and what does season 2 looks like if the three quarterbacks from the Gamblers roster all come back as they would in a normal professional football league.
Thorson was the 5th quarterback taken in the inaugural USFL draft, creating a juxtaposition with his being picked in the 5th round of the NFL draft in 2019. There were high expectations set for the 5 year starter out of Northwestern seeing as he was the most winning quarterback in the schools history, and is the top of basically every record involving passing the school has. These expectations were brough back to reality once the season started.
Thorson started 7 of the 10 games for the Gamblers and had 987 yards in the air. This was 7th best in the USFL which only consists of 8 teams. His completion percentage was 57%, and he averaged 141 yards/game which was actually 7th in the league as well. There is reasonable excuse for the lackluster statistics in passing as Kevin Sumlin utilized a heavy run offense in season one of the USFL. That being said, there is plenty of room to improve as far as yardage and completion percentage are concerned.
The area where Thorson was surprisingly in the top half of the league was in touchdown passes. He threw 10 touchdowns in his 7 games played, tieing the eventual USFL champion quarterback J'Mar Smith who played in 9 games in season 1. While Thorson may not have been overly consistent in the passing game as a whole, the one thing you could count on was that once a game he would throw a perfectly accurate spiral about 40 yards for a touchdown to Isaiah Zuber or Anthony Ratliff-Williams. In the below video the 8th play of the top 10 plays of week 2 is a perfect example of one of his "NFL caliber touchdown" throws as Skip Bayless stated on Undisputed on FS1.
To sum up Thorson going into season two of the USFL, he has the skills. It may be that Thorson just needed to settle into a new league and modified Kevin Sumlin offense for more than 7 games. The offensive line played their best snaps with Thorson under center, and from the free agency signing up to this point, the offensive line should only improve into season two. Kevin Sumlin said in his interview with the USFL Network on the USFL Discord that he is excited to implement his full playbook and fast paced offensive schemes in season two with the expanded roster. It is completely within the realm of possibility that Clayton Thorson could be a top 3 quarterback in 2023 with these changes.
Bahar was the second quarterback taken in the USFL draft by the Houston Gamblers. Bahar was an undrafted free agent in the NFL out of Monmouth University in New Jersey, so he was a big fish in a small pond. There was little talk about Bahar in the USFL until the struggles of Thorson became apparent, and many fans were calling for the young strong arm quarterback to get the starting job. To Kevin Sumlin's credit, he never waivered on his decision to start Thorson, and brought Bahar in when Thorson went down to an elbow injury that required surgery.
Bahar started 3 games, but made appearances in 7 total. Due to his short appearances due in light of small injuries to Thorson in 4 games, Bahar's stats are a bit skewed, so this article will be evaluating him on a 3 game basis according to his full starts in games 8-10 of season 1. Averaging 180 yards per game in the air, he gained 541 yards total in the air and 87 on the ground in his starts in the USFL. He tops Thorson in most passing categories including completion percentage after completing 61% of his attempts. The one category he was beaten handily in by Thorson was touchdowns as he threw 2 total with zero touchdowns on the ground. It is also fair to note that in his 3 starts, Bahar was sacked 14 times. Whether the sacks were due to the strong defensive lines in the southern division gaining complexity late in the season, or due to inconsistency on the offensive line in the latter half of the season, they didn't help Bahar's chances of standing in the pocket and hitting deep passes.
Kenji may not have aired it out for the impressive deep touchdowns as much as his predecessor on the team, but the one time he did was a show-stopper to Isaiah Zuber which led to Bahar becoming the only quarterback to defeat the Birmingham Stallions. The touchdown pass can be seen at time marker 6:56 in the below highlights of the week 9 matchup between the Gamblers and Stallions.
Kenji Bahar has everything that is necessary to successfully run the Sumlin offense that was seen at the University of Houston and Texas A&M. He has the strong arm and mobility of past quarterbacks who have excelled in the fast paced run and gun offense, such as Case Keenum. With season one under his belt, and more opportunity, Bahar may be the quarterback most set to have a breakout season in 2023.
Most team in the USFL took the opportunity to sign a third quarterback to the roster with the roster size expansion mid-season, and the Gamblers were no exception. On May 27th 2022, the Gamblers signed Terry Wilson, the stand out quarterback from Kentucky and New Mexico. Wilson is the only quarterback in Kentucky history to have over 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards. In his last season before moving to the professional level, Wilson passed for 1,058 yards and 7 touchdowns. Wherever Wilson played, he proved that he was a playmaker, and without injury may have had a better shot at a spot on an NFL roster.
If Kenji Bahar is the more mobile version of Clayton Thorson, then Terry Wilson is the more mobile version of Kenji Bahar. With a 40 yard dash time of 4.58s, when Wilson decided it was time to run, he was gone before the defensive lines even realized. When he did become a runner, he looked the part by using blockers successfully downfield and showing a surprising amount of power when lowering his shoulder. It is no surprise that he was invited to the Cowboys camp in 2022, which is most likely where Gamblers GM Robert Morris caught wind of him.
Wilson didn't get any play time with the Gamblers, but if he is to return in season 2 of the USFL, he could be electric to watch. He fits into the Sumlin offense as well as Kenji Bahar, but when Bahar fits the Keenum at Houston role, Wilson fits the Manziel at Texas A&M role. He is the dark horse in this race, and if he plays his cards right, both he and the Gamblers could hit the jackpot.
As of now, all three quarterbacks are set to return in season 2 of the USFL. What do you think of the three quarterbacks on the Gamblers roster? Which of the three are you hoping will lead the Gamblers to a playoff birth in 2023? Let us know in the official USFL Discord in the Fan Media Network channel!