By Matthew Slinn

Last week on ‘Rookie Watch’, we took a look at how the league’s young debutants have performed who were selected in the 1st Round, the ‘blue chip’ prospects so to speak. Our journey through the round took us to some interesting places and the second round could be even more of a rollercoaster than the first. This round was populated by an eclectic mix of talent encompassing many positions, 12 on offense, 9 on defense. Let’s take a look at how they have fared so far, after 8 weeks of action.

Pick #22 – T-Roy Gaines, Running Back, Baltimore Vultures

After a fairly incognito start to the season, T-Roy Gaines has hit a rich vein of form, even catapulting himself into the conversation as Offensive Player of the Season. What makes the 240-pound rusher such an effective weapon is his ability to catch the ball as a receiver. Gaines has 59 catches for 280 yards and 3 touchdowns – the TD total being first amongst all running backs. The powerful runner also has solid numbers on the ground, rushing for 740 yards and 5 touchdowns, good for third compared with other rookies. Baltimore are getting the most out of Gaines and he is showing why he was considered by some as a first round talent.

(Gaines had a bye week in Week 9)

Pick #23 – John Blades, Wide Receiver, Las Vegas Fury

An hour or so after selecting a potential franchise quarterback in the first round, Las Vegas were on the clock again, choosing to bolster their offense further with John Blades, the first of 8 wide receivers taken in the second round. Slightly disappointingly for the Fury and for Blades, his production has been some of the weakest from this talented group. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Blades has played badly; 399 yards and 2 TD’s from 28 catches are play numbers, I just think Vegas gambled on those numbers being slightly higher. The 6’4 rookie is a player I’m banking on having a second-half breakout, especially as Thomas Ramen grows in confidence. That’s great news for the Fury.

(Blades had a very quiet game in Week 9, catching 5 balls for just 29 yards)

Pick #24 – Jon Gregory, Defensive End, Carolina Skyhawks (pick acquired from Sioux Falls (originally from Dallas))

Carolina clearly didn’t trust Jon Gregory to fall any lower, trading away 2 second rounder’s to move up and snag him. Gregory was clearly a player with talent, and was touted to fall somewhere in the early part of the second round. The question remains: was he worth giving away 2 second round picks for? My immediate answer is yes, and no. Gregory has posted 16 tackles, with 4 of them being for a loss and 2 of them being sacks. For a second round prospect, those aren’t bad numbers, but I think a bit more of a spark is needed to justify moving up in the draft. That being said, the defensive end is on one of the better defensive lines in the SFL, and he has shown he can beat a block. He’ll post solid numbers come season end.

(Gregory had a fairly quiet Week 9 game only making 2 tackles, although 1 of them was a sack)

Pick #25 – Tyrone Zeus, Defensive End, London Knights

Choosing to make it two defensive ends picked in a row, the Knights selected the much sought after, Tyrone Zeus. Zeus was touted as a first round talent who would only go in the second round due to the lateness in joining the league and many a team were disappointed that London took him off the board with the 25th pick. Judging on the impact he has had during his rookie season, you can see why alot of GM’s scolded themselves for not trying to trade up. The 6’7, 300-lb monster is terrorising offensive lines in the Eastern Conference, getting to the quarterback 12 times in total and also making 14 tackles for loss, good for first and second amongst rookies respectively (EJ DeCue has 15 TFL’s). Zeus could be on to an all-time great rookie season, and is definitely in the hunt for DROTS honours. Not bad for a second rounder.

Pick #26 – Colin Hart, Running Back, Sioux Falls Sparrows (pick acquired from Carolina)

Despite Tyrone Zeus having a stellar season, I hesitated to name him the steal of the draft, and that’s because of one man: Colin Hart. The Sparrows traded back TWICE in a quest to gather more draft picks (4 in total) and with their first selected the 5’10 back. Hart was slated to fall somewhere in the early second round, and Sioux Falls had a ‘Robert Redford-sized’ h9le to fill in their backfield, so the pick was nothing of a surprise. What has been a surprise though, is how elite Hart’s level of play has been. The 237 lb rusher has – wait for it – 19 total touchdowns to his name, with 17 of them coming on the ground (that’s more than all but 4 of the quarterbacks in the SFL). Hart is leading the entire league in rushing touchdowns, whilst also gaining 1166 yards at over 6 yards per touch. This little talked about rusher was seen as a complimentary piece in Sioux Falls. Now he’s clearly a face to build their franchise around.

Pick #27 – Markem Lopez, Free Safety, Vancouver Legion

The first secondary player taken in this round of the draft, Markem Lopez was another rookie with big boots to fill, slotting into Vancouver’s defence where Mahmoud Ajlouni used to play. Season 10’s interception leader had moved to Atlanta and the Legion needed another playmaker at safety. What Vancouver has in Lopez is a dependable guy who has proven to be good value for where he was drafted. Lopez is 7th amongst rookie safeties in tackles with 52, whilst also snagging 1 interception and stopping a ball-carrier in the backfield for a loss on one occasion. Despite the lack of interceptions, Lopez has shown good ability in pass coverage, recording 8 breakups in 8 games. Vancouver’s defense has been good this season and Lopez is a dependable piece of that.

Pick #28 – Siege Falco, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Swarm

The first in a run of four wide receivers picked at this point in the draft, Atlanta man Siege Falco has proven why he was chosen earliest out of the crop of second round receiver talent and perhaps shown that he is the most able receiver from this draft. The big-play specialist has been ‘laying Siege’ to opposition secondaries,  torching the league for 1050 yards at a whopping 16.9 yards per catch. That’s good for 3rd in the SFL. There is a nagging concern about his touchdown production (only 2 so far) but that should come with time. Falco has identical yardage numbers to Optimus Cline: Not bad company to be with.

Pick #29 – Mickey Martino, Wide Receiver, San Francisco Sharks

The third receiver taken in the second round was the 6’0, 200lb Mickey Martino. Slightly undersized for a Reviee in the SFL but bursting with talent, Martino seemed to inexplicably fall on draft night from a mid-1st round player to pick #29. Leading up to the draft, Martino was picked to potentially be the first receiver taken off the board, but that wasn’t the case. San Francisco saw an opportunity to give star wide receiver Gabriel Manning a partner on the outside, with Martino eligible to accept a high silver contract. The rookie hasn’t been able to match his illustrious teammate in many areas, although he has scored 4 touchdowns to Manning’s 3. Martino is also 3rd amongst first year receivers in yards with 582 off 59 catches. Good numbers for a second round pick, although the high contract may see San Francisco demanding more.

Pick #30 – Hunter Jones, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma City, Renegades

Seeming to jump on the wide receiver bandwagon, Oklahoma City added more talent to their already playmaking offense with Hunter Jones, a small-bodied receiver to join pro-bowler, Deezer Powell on the outside. Jones was another player to fall down draft boards further tjan expected, giving the Renegades the chance to give Jones a near max rookie contract. The 180lb talent has played well, catching 36 balls for 451 yards, showing an ability to find the endzone with 5 scores so far. Jones’ production may look disappointing to some, but when you’re competing for catches with Powell and Tybeerious Bovine, league leading numbers are hard to come by.

Pick #31 – Ken McCarro, Wide Receiver, Denver Nightwings

After seeing three-straight wide receivers fly off the board (a couple of which I’m sure they had as a target) the Denver Nightwings put their faith in Ken McCarro, a player who had flown under the radar during the off-season. McCarro was a perfect fit for Denver, who wanted a third recevier to complement Jockamo Jones and Logan Keel. McCarro is doing a decent job of keeping pace with other 3rd string receivers in the SFL, coming up big on short yardage catches, making 38 grabs for 348 yards and a solitary touchdown. Just over 9 yards per catch is fine for a player like McCarro, although with Denver being 3-6, coaches will look for the rookie to increase his potency in the redzone.

Pick #32 – Keith Swearingen, Running Back, Indianapolis Red Devils

The middle of the second round saw a number of extremely talented offensive players go off the board, with a good portion of them achieving unexpectedly good numbers so far this season. Running Back Keith Swearingen, picked by the Red Devils, was another one. Indianapolis had a hole at halfback following the exit of Matthew Mitchell, and wanted to invest in a rusher that would add a spark to the offence in conjunction with newly signed quarterback, Tom Pepper. Swearingen’s season has mirrored that of his team, starting out strong then slowly petering out with each passing week. The bulky half back’s effectiveness appears to be on a downward trend, although solid numbers show that Swearingen has a high ceiling. 701 yards is middle of the road for SFL backs, although 3.6 yards per carry and 2 touchdowns is a little conservative, summing up the Red Devils’ offense this season. I can see Swearingen being a big part of Indy’s plans going forward. He needs to stick at it.

Pick #33 – Dupree Hudson, Wide Receiver, Queen City Corsairs

Dupree Hudson’s situation is one where a great fit with a great team allows a solid player to shine. Hudson has proven to be a good compliment for the experienced Chris Curtis, making nearly fifty catches so far to take the pressure off of the pro bowler. AJ Caswell appears to be having a slight down season, but Hudson has still played solid ball. 547 yards and 3 touchdowns are decent numbers for a #2, wideout, and the rookie finds himself eclipsing well-known threats like Eli McCormick and Shaun Harrelson. Hudson could see a big role become even more important as the Corsairs launch a championship run.

Pick #34 – BJ Loveless, Linebacker, Houston Hyenas

The first defensive player taken in 6 picks, BJ Loveless finally got selected by the Houston Hyenas despite analysts predicting he would fall in the mid-1st round. Loveless probably had the most nervous wait on SFL Draft Night, ranked as the top linebacker heading into round 1 but seeing teams strengthen other areas or choosing other players at his position. Houston eventually saw an opportunity to replace the departing DJ Majesty, hoping Loveless could continue the Hyenas tradition of good ‘backer play. The 245lb rookie is 4th amongst rookie ‘backers, making an average of 8 tackles per game and also chipping in with 5 tackles for a loss. Questions remain to be seen whether Loveless has lived up to high expectations, but one thing is for certain. Houston have found a dependable player at a point in the draft where nothing is certain.

Pick #35 – Jay Ringgold, Cornerback, Sioux Falls Sparrows

The Sparrows lay claim to three picks late in the second round, and decided to spend their first one on corner Jay Ringgold, forking out a bronze level contract to sign the 6’2 product. Despite the lottery that is a late round pick, the Sparrows were confident they had the right man in Ringgold. The stats paint a mixed picture, with Ringgold only pulling down one interception in 8 games, however he has deflected 8 total passes which is good for 2nd amongst the Sparrows’ secondary. If Ringgold can get some stick’em on his hands, he’ll show some pretty nice numbers.

Pick #36 – Tanner Hendrix, Free Safety, Tallahassee Pride

Tanner Hendrix has slotted into the free safety position alongside Alex Bond masterfully. The two safeties perfectly complement one another, displaying nearly identical stats across the board with Bond just pipping Hendrix with 5 interceptions to the rookie’s 3. Hendrix has shown a good ability against the run too, making nearly 50 tackles and chipping in with the odd tackle for loss. Did I forget to mention he has returned a pick for a touchdown? Anthony Wyo left a big hole in the Pride secondary, but that’s all forgotten now. This is Hendrix’s position, and a pick like this perfectly illustrates why Tallahassee are an elite team in the SFL.

Pick #37 – Matt Wolfe, Wide Receiver, New Orleans Pharaohs

With the 37th pick in the draft and their third and final one, New Orleans added to their offensive firepower and selected receiver Matt Wolfe, signing him to a silver contract (high value for a late second round talent) and making him the #1 receiver. During the first few weeks of the season, the Pharaohs passing game suffered from a lack of cohesion, culminating in too many drops and not much production, including Wolfe. Fast forward to the present and New Orleans appear to be figuring things out, with their #1, receiver at the forefront. Wolfe has caught 48 balls for 548 yards and 3 touchdowns, leading the receiving corps in all categories. Exactly what you want from your #1 receiver, and finding that kind of leader late in the draft is a good achievement.

Pick #38 – Hendrix Thornberry, Cornerback, Baltimore Vultures

Baltimore went defense heavy in the draft, and that didn’t stop when it came to their final pick of Hendrix Thornberry. Thornberry was on the radar of a few teams heading into the final knockings of the draft, and the 6’2 corner has produced well, making 34 tackles and 3 Interceptions, showing well compared with other corners taken at this point in the draft. Thornberry was signed to a bronze contract and has shown alot of progress as the season has matured, going from a corner that quarterbacks could pick on to one they steer clear of. The Vultures secondary is one of the best in the league, and thats partly down to Thornberry.

Pick #39 – Brett Funk, Wide Receiver, Las Vegas Fury

Brett Funk was a name that circulated around the league quite alot in the early parts of the off-season, with the attention on him dropping off as draft night approached. One team that didn’t sleep on Funk was the Las Vegas Fury, who jumped at the chance at finding a partner for fellow second round receiver, John Blades. Funk has proven to be the big play threat in the Fury offense, averaging 15.2 yards per catch and crossing the 6-point whitewash 5 times. As expected from a risky pick late in the draft, Funk hasn’t displayed the best hands, but there is no denying his athletic ability. You could argue that Funk is up there in natural talent with the best receivers from this draft.

Pick #40 – Andrew Nyberg, Cornerback, Sioux Falls Sparrows (pick acquired from Dallas)

The Sparrows’ domination of the very late picks continued at pick #40, with the selection of a second rookie cornerback, Andrew Nyberg. Nyberg was touted early as a first round talent but analysts and the media quickly dropped him down their draft boards as the draft drew nearer. Sioux Falls took a punt in the rapid faller and hoped that the early calls for a first round pick weren’t based on false information. As it turns out, Nyberg has quietly put together a very good season, outperforming fellow rookie corner Jay Ringgold, who was picked at #35. Nyberg has made 27 tackles (including one sack from a corner blitz) and has shown an eye for the ball, bringing down 4 interceptions. The Sparrows have always had a sneaky good defense, and Nyberg slots into that mould perfectly.

Pick #41 – Milton Spivey, Defensive Tackle, London Knights

Is a late second round pick too far down the board to call a bust? If that wasn’t the case, then that is the word you would have to use to describe Milton Spivey, selected at defensive tackle by the Knights. Now, i know finding the right player is hard down at the bottom of the draft, but Spivey only lasted 2 games before being cut in Week 3. That’s not a good return on your investment if you’re London. During that brief span, Spivey showed some promise, making 5 tackles and 1 sack, but it just wasn’t to be. On a more positive note for the Knights, replacing Spivey was rookie Matt Patten, who has shone since joining London. It just shows, light can come at the end of the darkest tunnel.

Pick #42 – Craig Hearn, Tight End, Sioux Falls Sparrows (acquired from Carolina)

And so we come to the final pick in the draft, the ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ of Season 11 in the SFL and the end of my second round analysis. The 4-hour plus journey through the draft came to an end, and unsurprisingly, it was the Sioux Falls Sparrows on the clock selecting Canadian, Craig Hearn, at the tight end position. I think this was a smart move on Sioux Falls’ part. Hearn was eligible for a decent, bronze level contract and would give a nice safety blanket for veteren Julian Tyree, whilst also helping in the blocking game for newly drafted running back, Colin Hart (Hearn is one of the big reasons Hart has had such a successful season). As a receiver, Hearn hasn’t particularly set the world alite, catching 17 passes for over 209 yards and zero trips to the endzone, but that’s not what he was drafted for. He has helped the run game exponentially. If you count Hearn as ‘irrelevant’, you need to rerhibl your evaluations.

I almost feel slightly emotional now that my run through the draft is finally over. Worry not though fans of rookie analysis, all is not finished. We still have the exciting and unpredictable world of undrafted rookie free agents to explore! Stay tuned for that in the coming weeks!