On paper, the Michigan Panthers underperformed during the USFL’s 2022 season. They finished with a 2-8 record, enough to secure third place in the North Division. Considering the team’s early aspirations, it was a disappointing storyline for Jeff Fisher’s squad.
Let’s take a look back on Michigan’s 2022 tenure, and how the team can approach 2023 to effectively maximize their chances of reaching the Championship.
Shea Patterson Saga
Let’s begin where it all started: Shea Patterson. Patterson was the first overall pick in the USFL draft, and seemed to be Fisher’s guy. Unfortunately, the hype did not transfer to the field, as Shea couldn’t find much of a rhythm. Under his leadership, the team went 1-5, failing to find ways to win when they needed to.
Now, this isn’t to say that it was all bad. Patterson did showcase his abilities to throw on the run, and create something out of nothing. However, his style of play just did not fit Jeff Fisher’s system, and he made too many mistakes for a first round pick.
To start with, Josh Love nearly led the Panthers to a clutch victory over New Orleans. After playing a spectacular game, Love injured his hand, and that came back to bite Michigan as they lost in overtime.
Eric Barriere showed some major upside in his debut against New Jersey. Despite throwing the final interception to lose, Barriere looked sharp, and can certainly be a valuable weapon in the USFL next season.
Interestingly enough, Paxton Lynch started in weeks eight, and ten. Week eight wasn’t a terrible performance, but Philadelphia pummeled the Panthers in that second half. In their final game against Pittsburgh, though, Lynch was sensational – and Michigan ended the season on a high note.
Even though the Panthers were 1-4 through the final five weeks, the QB play improved week in and week out – something that can encourage Michigan fans heading towards 2023.
Reggie Corbin: Most Underrated Player?
Someone that flew under the radar is Reggie Corbin, who was exceptional for Michigan all year long. Corbin finished the season with 519 yards, averaging 5.5YPC. He holds the USFL record for the longest rushing touchdown, going 88 yards to the house against the Stars in week four.
What made Corbin so special, was his ability to generate so much offense for the Panthers, despite the messy quarterback situation. Outside of week ten against Pittsburgh, Corbin put on a show against every team he played, making defenders look silly time and time again.
If Michigan can retain him heading into 2023, they will be in excellent shape. Reggie was easily a top three running back in the league this year, and can only improve as the offense fills itself out.
Could Never Close The Deal
Ultimately, Michigan’s season revolved around their inability to finish off opponents. While they sport a 2-8 record, the Panthers are much more talented than that number reflects. Quite simply, the team always found a way to lose, even when it seemed impossible.
Take, for example, their week four loss against Philadelphia. It certainly appeared as if things were in their hands – and it was. Well, for a moment, anyways. You all know the story by now: P/K Michael Carrizosa shanked a 21 yard field goal, and Michigan lost.
Fast forward to week seven – a must win game against New Orleans. Up 27-24 late, Jeff Fisher decides to send out Cole Murphy for a long field goal, instead of punting. Murphy missed, and New Orleans took advantage of the short field to force overtime. An injured Love just couldn’t get the job done, and Michigan lost again.
The first overtime best of three shootout of the season was 🔥🔥🔥
Another example would be in week five, when Michigan faced off against Tampa Bay. After a back and forth affair, the Panthers had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. However, Cameron Scarlett fumbled, and Michigan never got the ball back.
This storyline essentially told the tale of Michigan’s entire season. The whole time, they were right there. Victories were theirs for the taking. Unfortunately, poor coaching, and untimely errors cost the team their playoff aspirations.
Holes To Fill
A glaring issue that Michigan faces in the offseason is their defense. This unit saw an up and down year in 2022, never truly finding their identity, which resulted in sloppy performances during crucial moments. Whenever Michigan desperately needed a stop, it seemed like something went wrong.
It all starts with their front seven, who struggled to be consistent. Now, don’t get me wrong – Michigan has plenty of talent in this area. Frank Ginda and Cavon Walker, for example, are excellent pieces to build around.
But, for large chunks of the season, the Panthers gave up way too many big plays. Michigan should look to draft/trade for playmakers who can strengthen the secondary. What they need are a couple of ballhawks who can lead and direct this unit in 2023.
On top of that, they could use a strong defensive line. Birmingham and New Orleans were excellent in this category, and that contributed to a lot of their success. The Panthers never found their go to guys up front, leading to a lack of cohesiveness defensively. It didn’t help that Fisher had drama with Chase DeMoor, who was cut in the first few weeks.
Speaking of drama, the team had multiple breakdowns between players and coaches during the season. This is very rarely a positive thing, and those instances clearly hurt Michigan’s chemistry as a team. Moving forward, this is an issue that has to be addressed across the board – and it starts with Jeff Fisher.
Quarterback Room Controversy?
One final piece of information to take into consideration, is Michigan’s approach to their quarterback room in the offseason. To be honest, Love, Barriere, and Lynch all performed well when their name was called.
At the end of the day, it comes down to what Fisher’s offense needs. Looking at the big picture, Paxton Lynch certainly seems to fit the bill. Only time will tell, and there could be other quarterbacks that come into play in 2023.
The @PaxtonLynch Game: 275 yards, 3 TD | Week 10 vs. Pittsburgh
That being said, assuming that Michigan retains most of their current roster, Lynch is a quarterback that Fisher can absolutely construct his offense around.
While 2022 was an underwhelming year for both the team, and their fans, Michigan’s future is looking up. They have plenty of offensive weapons (Reggie Corbin, Lance Lenoir Jr., Joe Walker, etc.) – and also hold the first draft pick in every round for 2023.
It will be quite interesting to watch everything unfold over the next several months. Will Jeff Fisher return? Can Lynch stay healthy? What pieces can the team draft to strengthen their core? We’ll have to wait and see. If things fall into place, the road ahead will be bright for the Panthers.