If I may, I want to just preface this piece by stating that yes, I am a member of The London Knights. However, this does not mean that my assessments will be anything other than my own thoughts. Yes, there may be a vein of optimism running through this article that some might find obvious, but I will aim (where I can) to leave my bias off the page. And, without further ado…

IT’S ABOUT TO GET MEDIEVAL

The London Knights: an expansion team; an international team; a team that embodies just how far the Simulation Football League (yes, I used its full name for effect) has come. The English Lions are geared up for the season and ready to show their mettle, following the sound guidance of team owner, Sir Liam Crowter of Sussex (@HighFlyingDwarf). Sir Liam’s experience in the league spans one and a half seasons, all connected with the St. Louis Gladiators.

He joined the league mid-way through Season 8, taking up the roles of Lead Scout and Assistant Coach for the Gladiators. Even at that early stage, his potential as an eventual owner was obvious (says the rookie who only joined the league two months ago). Season 9 brought new challenges, as Crowter became Director of Scouting for St. Louis, only to upgrade his role to Offensive Coordinator, as the team struggled to an 0-6 start. Behind the offensive mind of their new offensive coordinator, the Gladiators finished Season 9 3-3 in their last 6 games (not bad for an offense with no wide receivers).

Dallas had seen potential, so came knocking with an offer for the position of defensive coordinator, but it was not to be. The football gods chose a different path for Sir Liam. They tasked him with a new quest; to take his twelve honourable ‘Knights of the Round Table’, and to lead them to glory.

Sir Liam has given one of his men, Slinn Shady (@SirShadyoftheRoundTable) the position of Assistant General Manager to assist him with recruitment and the general running of the team. Shady is also a member of the SFL’s talented beat writing team (yes, I realise I’m writing in third person here), bringing the perspective of an Englishman to the American continent.

Before I introduce the twelve sires who make up the London roster, a quote from Sir Liam about his team:

“We are flying under the radar, which is a good thing. Not a lot of people are really reckoning with us because they probably see where we’re based and think we don’t have the talent or heritage within the sport to compete with the big names in The East.”

THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE

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A Roster built on Solidity

The first word that springs to mind when looking over the London Knights’ roster is athleticism. Boy, are these men gifted athletes. The players that form the spine of London’s build are some of the fastest, strongest and most agile athletes at their position. Usually, this is followed by the phrase, ‘what they may lack in skill, they make up for in physical ability’, but that’s not the case here. A lot of the weapons the Knights possess come in the form of animations (special skills needed to gain that small advantage over your opposite number). Half of the players have one, spread carefully across offence and defence, and you can be sure come the end of the season that nearly every star will exhibit one or more of these gifts. This blend of technical and physical ability is what makes this London roster dangerous to any team despite their relative lack of experience in this league. A few thoughts from the owner on his build:

“I think a lot of people have me slated as a defensive minded coach but really I’m not, I’m more inclined towards offense. I just think the build that we’ve angled towards is based on the analytics of how previous teams have performed and where we could improve or take advantage of where other teams may be weaker or haven’t considered challenges against the build they have.”

The Tip of the Sword

At first glance, the London Knights’ offence may look limited, but each star player on this side of the ball is a playmaker in their own way. London is rolling with a quarterback, running back and two wide receivers; all four are rookies and all four are unknowns in the SFL. However, if you didn’t know them before, you’ll certainly take notice after this preview and when Week 1 is said and done. So let’s introduce the weapons in the Knight’s arsenal.

As history shows us, the most important position in any offence is the quarterback. An offence can never reach its full potential without a good quarterback to lead it; they are the arm that wields the sword. Luckily for London, it seems like they have found their leader for Season 10 in rookie Michael Martin.

Martin is probably the most well-rounded of, what I would call, the ‘2nd tier’ of quarterbacks in this league. He possesses some good arm talent combined with a quick release which should serve him well in The East, especially against a team like Tallahassee. Aiding this further is his ability to read most coverages quickly and get that ball out of his hands accurately and away from defenders. Many rookie quarterbacks struggle with a lack of composure and this is certainly Martin’s area for development, although he does start the season as one of the more composed quarterbacks in the league. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention; he can run. He is the second fastest signal caller in the league (behind Joey Langdon) and expect him to use this to extend plays by venturing outside of the pocket.

I like Martin for this team. He is a good, young quarterback who, with progression, could be challenging the ‘top tier’ guys as the SFL’s King of QB’s.

Martin’s two star targets on the outside come in the form of rookie wide receivers, Jockamo ‘JJ’ Jones and Andre Godspeed. The latter of these two has peaked some interest due to his sheer physical size. The man is 6’4 and 240 lbs. That’s 10 lbs heavier than the second largest receiver KL Barrett, who will also be playing in the East. What’s more, he exhibits surprising speed for his size and is as agile as most receivers in the SFL which should make stopping him after the catch a mammoth task for defenders. I’m sure many an owner across the league is intrigued to see how Sir Liam uses Godspeed this season. I managed to grab some thoughts from the big man as he hit me up on twitter. It read:

As a London Knight, quite honestly, I’m just glad to be here. We have a great coach and staff and I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates. The weight room is full of energy; practices are the most intense I’ve experienced in my life. This has made me feel mentally and physically prepared to go out there and perform at the highest level. I have a long way to go before I’m where I want to be for my team. We are here to make a statement and claim what’s ours. So it’s my job to go out there on game night and leave it all out on the field. This is what I was born to do and you can bet it’s what will happen. #LKALLDAY’

Where his teammate is known for his size, ‘JJ’ will be known for insane athleticism and elite hands. This guy is good. This guy is really, really good. For me, he’s the best athlete in the league at the wide receiver position. The combination of speed, agility and strength Jones possesses is scary. Couple this with the fact that he is a good route runner with some of the best hands in the game and you have one serious wide receiver. The 6’2, 200-pounder is set to have 1000+ yards and double-digit touchdowns in Season 10; I’m calling it here, first.

Supporting the passing game, and rounding out London’s offence, is workhorse running back, Spencer ‘Knightmair’ Mair. What can I really say? The clue is in the name. The 220-pound ball carrier is going to create havoc amongst opposition defences, especially against builds that are not focused much on stopping the run (I’m looking at you, Indianapolis). Mair is a ‘top tier’ back. He has top-end speed and strength compared to others in his position group and has clearly put work into his catching and blocking. A runner who carries fairly aggressively, he can break weak arm tackles and shouldn’t fumble much, if at all. Mair is going to be a force in this league. Ray Bentley is going to have to work to keep the title of ‘best running back in the SFL’.

The London Knights have a strong offense. It might be thin on the ground in terms of personnel, but you can’t say this offense has come at a ‘budget’ price. A lot of value has been placed on the heads of these players and if they perform, the defenses in The East had better bring some armour and a shield.

Building the Knight’s Armour

The London Knights defence looks like a formidable unit on paper and it has drawn the attention of some of the SFL analysts heading into Season 10. The general consensus is that London are going to be a team that’s tough to beat and with the way player value has been spread across the team’s 7 defensive stars, it’s hard to argue against that. The Knights will be battling against opposition offenses with 2 defensive ends, 2 linebackers, 1 cornerback and 2 safeties. This defence certainly looks capable of stopping both the run and pass in equal measure. It is well balanced, as it will need to be all season in a stacked Eastern Conference. The theme of this defence seems to be unity, with each plate of armour doing its part to create an impenetrable wall.

A player that I know is going to have a huge impact and with it a monster rookie season, is free safety, Jeffrey Daggs. I love this guy’s attributes at the free safety position. Not only is he part of the top echelon of safeties, he is one of the best pure athletes in the league. The 5’10, 207-pounder should be able to run with every receiver he’s matched up with and cover his side of the field quickly and efficiently. The man has range! If that wasn’t enough for you, he boasts top level coverage skills among safeties and is one of the better tacklers at the position. He is aggressive in coverage and shows the confidence and anticipation to make a break on the ball and pull down some interceptions during the season. I see playmaking ability running through Daggs’ blood and Liam Crowter will want to get him in the game as much as possible. That could be why he is also a return specialist for the Knights.

Joining him as stars in the secondary are rookies Donnie Mac and Cain Vasquez. Both are young players who will develop quickly, starting the season as part of the middle-to-low tier. Mac, playing as the Knights’ sole cornerback, is as athletic as most players at his position and is particularly adept at jamming the receiver at the line of scrimmage. Vasquez, London’s strong safety, is at base level for most of his attributes, but team staff have noticed he makes receivers nervous when they venture into his zone, causing a lot of shaky hands and dropped passes. With these two keen young men and the standout Jeffrey Daggs, London boasts a secondary to be wary of for Season 10.

Sliding slightly forwards along the defensive side of the ball, we come to the defensive general in the middle of this London front seven: inside linebacker, Slinn Shady. It’s quite simple really; you try and run on London, you’re going to have run in the Shade. This defensive wall of a player is in the right conference for sure. Ray Bentley, Ash Odom, BDG Hollewood, AJ Francis, Jaye Eniola. Four of the top 10 running backs in the SFL play for teams in The East, and it will be Shady’s job to stop them. It’s a good thing for London then, that he is the best all-round linebacker in the league.

(I’m not just saying this out of bias, he genuinely is the highest value linebacker in the SFL.)

Shady (6’3, 238 lbs) is a good athlete with seemingly endless reserves of stamina, something he will need chasing down these running backs. He has a good balance of aggression and shouldn’t let the big occasion get to him. Probably his greatest strength is the ability to tackle and stop the run. Shady seems to know when to go for the big hit and when to wrap and make sure the runner is down. Please, if you see him miss a tackle in a game, DM me because I don’t think there will be any. He’s also one of the better pass rushers in the SFL, although that is an area he could develop alongside his coverage skills. Slinn Shady could become one of the premier defensive players in the SFL and I’m excited to see what happens when he collides with the top-tier halfbacks in the Eastern Conference.

Helping Shady keep the front seven tight are defensive ends, Eyal Rushinek and Josh Mack, as well as outside linebacker Garrett Roland Sr. These three stars are all at the lowest value for their position, which some may see as a weakness on London’s part, but it would be naïve to think so. Whether they are low tier guys or not, they are still stars in this league. That means that London has three star pass rushers rampaging against offensive lines trying to harass the quarterback. Opposition quarterbacks had better expect to have a rough day when facing the Knights, especially at Queensway.

The London Knights have a fairly balanced defence that looks good for combating the run and passing games during Season 10. Critics will point to the lack of a second cornerback and having three bottom tier players in the front seven. I would argue that the quality of free safety, Daggs, makes up for the lack of corner and that the front seven should develop very quickly, but that’s just me. I expect London to have, at least, a top 10 defence at the end of the season.

Before I finish this rather elongated roster overview, I have to mention the kicker, Zach Daggs. Kickers are people too and Daggs is going to be mightily important to London’s cause this year. In a conference where games will be tight, it could well be Daggs’ excellent leg that decides the game. Only time will tell.

On January 7th, the Crusade Begins

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The London Knights, as an expansion team, could not have been placed into a harsher environment than the Eastern Conference. This conference is stacked with big teams with a lot of history. Former champions, conference winners, playoff contenders: they’re all here, crammed into one conference. Season 10 is going to be a 12-week war for the Knights, but then again, that’s what Knights do best. I managed to get a few thoughts from Sir Liam about the schedule coming up.

“We need to get off to a good start against Atlanta. They’re really the baseline of where we need to be. They are a playoff challenging team and probably outperformed people’s expectations of them last season. Once we’ve seen our build and playbook perform we can decide whether or not we need to make minor tweaks or if we have to go back to the drawing board.”

I have to say, I agree with Liam. Atlanta is the benchmark for London if they want to do well. It is probably quite fitting then that they play Atlanta, in The Hive, Week 1.

Quarterback, Michael Martin, also had a thing or two to say about Week 1 and the coming season.

“I believe we got placed in a very tough division. Starting off with Atlanta as our first game as a franchise is going to be tough as I believe they are very underrated and a very well coached team. Obviously, we have troubles ahead in having to play Mexico City twice but I think we can surprise people. Once again, this is probably the toughest conference in the SFL and I don’t think anyone is going to give us a chance against most of these very good teams, but if we do what we have been coached to do, we will turn a few heads.”

Personally, I believe London can take Atlanta at least once this year, probably in Week 7 when they visit Queensway. I’m just not that high on their build and I think they will struggle to get wins this year in such a tough conference.

Week 2 sees London welcome the Vancouver Legion on Monday night primetime Twitch TV. This is going to be a barnburner. Vancouver will come to London packed with confidence but, judging on their 0-4 start last year, I think they should reign it in a little. The Knights will be ready for them. The second inter-conference game the Knights play comes in Week 6 as they travel to Indianapolis. This game carries extra intrigue as former coaching mates, Sir Liam and James Richards come face to face as owners for the first time.

The rest of the schedule is just like taking an uppercut from Anthony Joshua’s massive fist. Tallahassee twice, Mexico City twice, and a resurgent Carolina twice. These games make up the meat in London’s schedule sandwich and boy is it meaty. If the Knights can get through that with a record above 500. then they’ve had one hell of an opening season. Strong safety, Cain Vasquez also gave his views on London’s packed schedule.

“Looking at our conference and schedule, all I can think of is the saying, ‘iron sharpens iron.’ I think we’re going to come away from this season a better team. Playing the defending champs and former champs will give us a good measurement of where we are as a team and what we need to do to get to that level. Just have to stay on top of our prep and strive to be the best team we can be and demand perfection from each other to not be looked at as ‘just some expansion team’ as I know people do.”

Did I forget somebody? I’m sure there’s one team I haven’t mentioned. Oh yes, the Queen City Corsairs, just to make things easier I suppose…

London plays Queen City twice in the last three weeks of the season and a hell of a lot could be riding on these games. Playoff contention, national pride, and family bragging rights all hang in the balance. One thing is for sure, the London Knights’ season is going to go out with a bang.

A Quest Fit for a Knight

Whatever way you look at it, Season 10 is going to be an exciting one for the London Knights. They get to compete for the SFL Championship and they have to beat the best talent in the league to do so. What better way is there to do it?

It has been an absolute journey putting together this preview and I’m sure it’s felt like that reading it. I can’t wait to see the trail that this team shall take and the tales it shall leave behind.

For Queen and Country!

Until next time…