By Matthew Slinn

Half of Season 11 has come and gone, although the excitement of the SFL Draft seems like it came just yesterday. After six weeks of the regular season, I think it’s about time we looked at the rookies that came through that draft to assess how they have been getting on. As usually happens, some have excelled beyond expectation, while others have faltered under the weighty pressure on their shoulders. Let’s take a quick glance at each rookie, to see how they have fared. In this edition, we’ll be focusing on the first round only.

Disclaimer: Some of the analysis was written before the Week 7 games occurred, therefore a couple of the stats will be slightly different.

Pick #1 – Xander Gold, Quarterback, New Orleans Pharaohs

Xander Gold has found life tough during his first ‘half season’ of SFL action. Having the responsibility of leading an expansion team to success in your debut season is alot to bare, and a 62.2 QBR would suggest that. Gold has flashed quality at times, although 4 touchdowns in 5 games isn’t enough production in the SFL. Couple that with 9 picks, and you see a signal caller that is struggling to live up to #1. Gold is a diamond off the field, he needs to start backing that up on it.

(In Week 7 Gold had his best game of the season, passing for 249 yards, scoring 1 touchdown and throwing 1 interception)

Pick #2 – Aman Takess, Linebacker, Baltimore Vultures

Baltimore decided to go defense with their early pick,  choosing the outspoken Aman Takess to lead their linebacking corps. He has backed up his talk manfully, getting all over the field and making 53 tackles so far, which is tied for 6th amongst linebackers. Takess also sits in the Top 10 in tackles for loss (with 6) and has made one interception, showing his proficiency in coverage. So far, so good for ‘The Great Aman’. A shrewd move by Baltimore.

(In Week 7, Takess had a decent game, making 5 tackles, 2 for a loss)

Pick #3 – Thomas Ramen, Quarterback, Las Vegas Fury

Thomas Ramen has been a mixed bag so far this season, as many rookie quarterbacks are. The Las Vegas passer is on pace for over 2000 yards passing and double digits in touchdowns, with a better than average 7.1 yards per attempt. However, 10 interceptions through 6 games is a little too high. Picks occur more often in the SFL than in other leagues, but Ramen will still need to lower that turnover rate if he is going to earn his #3 spot.

(Vegas had a bye Week in Week 7)

Pick #4 – Junior Senior III, Wide Receiver, Dallas Lobos

The rebranded Dallas Lobos used their first round pick on the gifted Junior Senior III, and what great value that selection has proved to be. Senior is 3rd in the league in receptions, 4th in receiving yards and tied for 4th in touchdowns, catching 5 scores so far. In a high octane passing attack like Dallas’, that production is a fantastic return for a #4 investment. Senior’s yards per catch is fairly low compared to other receivers, but he can only run the routes his coaches ask of him. A lethal route runner with solid hands, Senior could see himself in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

(Senior III had a poor game by his standards in Week 7, only making 6 catches for 51 yards and zero touchdowns)

Pick #5 – Jessie Vick, Cornerback, Chicago Wildcats

Chicago only had one pick to make in the SFL Draft, and many were surprised to see them take Jessie Vick at cornerback on a copper value contract. Many across the league saw this pick as the first major reach of the draft, especially with the talent that was still on the board. Vick hasn’t done too much to silence those doubts, making 20 tackles, 4 pass deflections and 1 interception. Now don’t get me wrong, they are solid numbers for a guy on a low budget contract, but for a #5 pick, they don’t quite match up. It’s looking like Vick will have a decent career at corner, without ever living up to his high selection.

(Vick made 3 tackles and 1 pass deflection against the Vultures in Week 7)

Pick #6 – Jeff Melinyshyn, Strong Safety, London Knights

Another selection in the secondary that was seen as a slight reach was the choice of the London Knights picking strong safety, Jeff Melinyshyn. Melinyshyn was rated as a mid-first round talent, experiencing a steady rise up draft boards despite joining the process late. The Assistant GM for the Knights has proven to be a sure tackler, averaging 8.5 per game, second most amongst rookie safeties. He does need to start flashing more ability in pass coverage however. 1 interception and 4 pass deflections are a little low for a top 10 pick, although a kick return touchdown proves that he can be a playmaker. Melinyshyn just needs to be more lethal against the pass.

(Melinyshyn played well against Carolina, making 2 tackles and pulling in an interception)

Pick #7 – Julius Williams, Defensive End, Carolina Skyhawks

Julius Williams was the first defensive line player taken in the draft with the Carolina Skyhawks looking to beef up an already stacked front 4. Williams joined star defensive tackle, Chris Colon in the hope that this would turn into high levels of pressure on the quarterback. For Carolina this has proven successful, being 2nd in PaPG, however Williams hasn’t contributed to enough of that production. The edge rusher has made 5 tackles (1 per game) and 0.5 sacks so far this season. That needs to improve over the second half of the season. A top 10 pick shouldn’t be struggling this much against the SFL’s offensive lines. Unfortunately Williams is.

(Williams assisted on 3 tackles against London in Week 7)

Pick #8 – Ethan Kye, Strong Safety, St. Louis Gladiators

When you only have one pick in a draft, it’s crucial that you don’t miss, even better if you find a stud. That’s exactly what St. Louis have done. Kye has played very well against both the run and the pass, making 7.5 tackles per game (including 1 for a loss) and intercepting the ball 4 times, returning the picks for 37 yards. Those interception totals are second most amongst strong safeties in the SFL. Kye hasn’t joined the elite yet, but he’s not far behind. The safety looks like an excellent investment for St. Louis for seasons to come.

(Kye played well in Week 7, making 6 tackles and grabbing himself a pick)

Pick #9 – Kody Hill, Running Back, Vancouver Legion

At first glance, you look at Hill’s yardage numbers compared with other rookie running backs and think ‘was this the guy who all the hype was about? The player who was considered The steal of the draft?’. Hill has only rushed for 446 yards over 6 games, with only one rookie ball carrier selected in the draft producing less. However, one big argument in Hill’s favour is the fact that he has only rushed the ball 80 times. Vancouver’s offensive scheme has struggled all season and they have clearly favoured the passing game. Looking deeper, you’ll notice that Hill has a YPC of 5.6, fourth in the entire SFL. He clearly is a special playmaker. Vancouver just need to use him.

(Hill showed up in Week 7, gaining 118 yards and a TD on just 6 carries, whilst also catching the ball 16 times)

Pick #10 – Marcus Dunhill, Quarterback, Atlanta Swarm

Marcus Dunhill quite possibly came into the mist difficult situation out of all the rookie quarterbacks. Atlanta have had historically bad quarterback play, stunting them from being as successful as they should have been. The Swarm missed the playoffs in Season 10 and it was down to Dunhill to lead them to the post season once again. Despite his understandable ‘rookie inconsistencies’, you can’t say that Dunhill hasn’t improved the Swarm’s passing game. Developing a connection with fellow rookie Siege Falco, Dunhill has thrown for over 1800 yards and 9 touchdowns. 14 interceptions is too many though. It’s clear that when Dunhill plays well, he’s up there with the best; when he’s off form, he can cost his team.

Pick #11 – Chad Guy, Linebacker, San Francisco Sharks

Chad Guy going to San Francisco seemed like one of those picks where a franchise fall for a player early and roll with him. Guy wasn’t too high on the big rookie draft board, but fitted a definite need for the Sharks as they selected by team need rather than best player available. Guy has shown a natural ability to be where the ball is against the run, using excellent pursuit angles and powerful tackling technique. He is leading all defensive rookies with 9.7 tackles per game and has also produced 9 tackles for loss including one sack. Coverage skills need some work, but Guy looks like a dependable piece for the Sharks’ defence.

Pick #12 – J W Doyle, Running Back, Oklahoma City Renegades

JW Doyle proved to be a polarizing figure leading up to the SFL Draft, with some commenting that his character off the field led him to falling to the Renegades at the 12th pick. Nowadays, Doyle appears to have developed into a good locker room presence, doing most of his talking, on the field. The halfback has a stat line of 488 yards, at 3.3 yards per carry and 4 touchdowns. As part of a primarily passing team, these numbers are more impressive than they look. Still, as a first round talent, many may expect a little more support for his quarterback. Maybe Doyle can explode in the second half of the season.

Pick #13 – Jarrod McChesney, Running Back, Denver Nightwings

During a run of picks that seemed risky or slightly out of left-field, Denver selected Jarrod McChesney, a player many analysts saw as a second round talent. McChesney has big boots to fill, effectively replacing Jason German, the multi-year star rusher for the San Antonio Vaqueros (the previous incarnation of the Denver team) and it looks like he has taken the job seriously. McChesney is an old school rusher. He hasn’t  been a factor in the passing game, but he has quietly used his speed and tackle breaking ability to rush for 686 yards, second amongst all rookie running backs. One thing that plagued the Denver halfback was a lack of touchdowns, although a Week 7 4-touchdown performance put a stop to that. Denver knew what they were doing when they took McChesney earlier than expected.

Pick #14 – E.Z Tempel, Defensive Tackle, Indianapolis Red Devils

The first defensive tackle taken in the draft, E Z Tempel was considered a Top 5 talent who’s stock dropped simply due to the needs of different teams (luckily for Indianapolis). Tempel has rewarded the Red Devils with 7 total sacks, 3rd amongst all rookies and 4th in the SFL amongst players on a d-line with no other stars. Those are great numbers for a first year DT in a conference that likes to run the ball. I would like to see Tempel increase his tackling stats (17 total so far) but room for development isn’t always a bad thing. Next season, he could be elite.

Pick #15 – Achilles Franke, Free Safety, Queen City Corsairs

The most decorated franchise in SFL history are often compared to the NFL’s New England Patriots. Relatively quiet in the off-season, not many fireworks in the draft, but an absolute juggernaut on the field. The Corsairs almost silently went about their business during the draft, drafting Achilles Franke a little earlier than expected and signing him to an unspectacular, bronze contract. Franke has been anything but unspectacular so far this season. The planning safety is the top rookie in the interception charts with 6, flashing great hands and ability to pursue the ball in the air. He also has 7 pass deflections and 45 tackles, proving he can bring down a ball carrier effectively. For me, he’s up their for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Pick #16 – Gib Leedoo, Defensive End, Tulsa Desperados

I for one know that Gib Leedoo was high on alot of draft boards heading into the final 1/3 of the first round and alot of teams were disappointed Tulsa stepped in when they did. Tulsa only needed to make one selection, and gave Leedoo a nice bronze contract to join Griffin Brown on their defensive front (Brown has since been replaced by Rhett Sawyer). Leedoo has struggled to maximise his effectiveness in that time, only getting to the quarterback once in 7 games and making a below average 2.4 tackles per game. He has flashed good penetration against the run, bringing ball carriers down 5 times behind the line, but that’s not enough overall production for a first round talent, playing like a second rounder.

Pick #17 – Kentez Johnson, Quarterback, Houston Hyenas

Every man and his dog knew where Houston were going with this pick. Johnson had pretty much been a lock for the Hyenas for a couple of weeks, with his outspoken nature scaring off the other teams needing a quarterback. Ryan Michaels wanted to take on the challenge of honing Johnson’s attitude into something positive on the field, and on current evidence, he is succeeding. For me, the Houston QB has shown the most out of all the rookie passers so far. He has thrown 1673 yards at a 72% clip and has more touchdowns that interceptions (rare for a rookie in the SFL). Houston may be on a bit of a dull streak, but in Johnson, they could have a franchise star.

Pick #18 – Royce Robbins, Running Back, Dallas Lobos (via a trade with Sioux Falls)

Pick #18 saw the first trade of the Season 11 Draft, with the Lobos gaining their second, 1st-rounder and Sioux Falls dropping to the early 2nd round. Dallas selected Royce Robbins to beef up their running game, although the contract on offer as fairly low for a first round pick. With Dallas running a pass heavy offense, Robbins was only ever going to be a supplementary ball carrier, although he hasn’t shown much to suggest he was worth trading up to get (especially when you see who Sioux Falls selected). 2.9 yards per carry and zero touchdowns is pedestrian at best and the Lobos coaches aren’t likely to give Robbins more opportunities if that continues. He has the talent. I’m rooting for him to break out towards the end of the season.

Pick #19 – EJ DeCue, Defensive Tackle, Tallahassee Pride

After the surprise loss of Mike ‘Fats’ Johnson to Las Vegas, Tallahassee needed to complete their monstrous defensive line that ravaged teams in Season 10. They did this by selecting highly touted EJ DeCue with their late 1st-round pick. DeCue had a huge hole to plug in that front 4, but as stepped up to the plate superbly. Don’t look now, but the rookie has virtually identical stats to the big man in Vegas, the one difference being that DeCue has 9 sacks to Johnson’s 8. I didn’t think the Pride would be able to replace Johnson, but they may have even found an upgrade.

Pick #20 – Jason Williams, Fullback, Alaska Storm

Fullbacks have always been a bit of a joke position in the SFL, almost down their with kickers and Ref 62. Not anymore. The way Max Paul and the Alaska Storm have used Williams has been a revelation, and the rookie has brought a violent running style not seen since Ray Bentley’s Season 9 performances. Williams is a first down machine. I can’t say I’ve ever seen him go backwards. 575 yards and 8 touchdowns (2 receiving) is an excellent return for a player selected at the end of the first round. If Alaska keep hitting home runs like this one, they may need to apply to join MLB.

Pick #21 – Tank Bennett, Strong Safety, New Orleans Pharaohs

In what was seen as THE steal of the first round, New Orleans jumped on Tank Bennett to be their starting strong safety, giving him a huge silver contract to boot. The main reason why Bennett fell so far was rumoured to be his stubbornness to accept a lower value contract, but with talent like his, I don’t blame him. Bennett has been a bright spark on an average Pharaohs defence, making 9 tackles per game and pulling in 4 interceptions, one of which was a game winning pick six to give New Orleans their first win in franchise history. Bennet could become one of the greats.

Next week we shall take a look at the second round of the draft, which could turn out to be even more interesting than the first. Stay tuned.