By Jeff Gagne, Images by J.R.Lawless

Independent reporter, Jeff Gagne, has built on the success of his first article by knocking it out of the park with another. In this edition, he sits down with four members of staff around the league, all integral to the running of their teams during the journey to the draft. They all have their own methods, and unique takes on the process. 

Chapter 1: It Takes a Legion on Draft Day

Vancouver is always so close, but hasn’t been invited to the big party just yet. This isn’t due to poor player evaluation, something the team has been very strong at in recent seasons; we routinely witness a handful of their players being highly sought after in free agency. I sat down with team owner Andy Hamilton to discuss what his war room is doing to attempt to make that next big step leveraging the draft, who we may be over looking in terms of prospect positions, possible past regrets in the draft and the impact of the SFLm on the rookies

Jeff: With secondary builds and the supplemental rounds, what challenges has this year’s draft presented to your war room?

Andy: “I think this draft is challenging for a couple of reasons, some of which are built into the way the draft will play in terms of value, when players can be picked at what positions, etc. But others come with builds. For example, in Rounds 1-2 I may need to evaluate 100 potential players. In rounds 3-4, with secondary builds, I’d need to evaluate potentially another 300 builds. So, for 200 users, I’m evaluating roughly 500 Builds. This is unprecedented and is taking a lot of time.”

Jeff: Have you ever regretted a past draft pick? If so, how have you learned to avoid that situation in the future?

The Legion will hope to build on the success of Season 14 rookie, Lee Adama, who had a fantastic season in the trenches.

Andy: “I think regret is a strong word. Often times people look back on a draft and see players still in the league going later in the draft versus some guys who go earlier who are gone – I think thats something I wish I was better at – figuring out who will be here for seasons to come. We’ve certainly gotten better and fine tuned our draft process quite a bit as we saw with Lee Adama last year and Sudo Nakai the year before, but the process resets each year and truly never ends.”

Jeff: What position do you think will potentially be under rated but we could see drafted earlier than some think?

Andy: “Offensive Line. There will be a run. I would not be surprised if 5-7 OL were off the board in the first 2 rounds. 50% of the teams in the Semi-Finals last season had star OL. Owners understand that there’s incredible value there. I wish we had more OL prospects to be honest.”

Jeff: Do you think having players play a season in the SFLm has made for a stronger draft class this season?

Andy: “I think off the field it’s helped newer players feel involved earlier and that’s great and super important for the league. But being straightforward, I dont think the games or stats have much bearing on draft position. The Owners will look at build and personality to determine who gets picked where – if an Owner will draft you because your SFLm stats are good only? Beware.”

Vancouver doesn’t have many needs, as they were working hard right up until the end of free agency. With a need at DE, I see them selecting DE Wolf Justice, who is a bit of a risky pick with 16 weeks banked but 4 missed check-ins. With a deep class they may be willing to risk it for a strong build; if not, expect to see a more active and consistent player taken by the Legion on June 21st.

Chapter 2: On the Hunt for the Next Great Draft Pick

The Predators had a very strong showing last regular season and they hope to build upon that heading into Season 15, as they plan to play deeper into the postseason. Known for their strong defense, Jeff Gagne tries to gain some insight on this from the team. We sit down with Owner, Alan Armsays, to talk about the mindset of defensive prospects, how they will navigate the multi-round layout of the draft and how prospects and leverage the resources around them for proper player builds.

Jeff: Do you find the mindset different between prospects that want to play offense vs. those who want to play defense? If so, how are you able to find the right guys for your defense?

Alan: “Defensive players tend to be more focused on unit performance vs individual performance. You don’t usually get defensive players complaining about individual stats – they get more upset about giving up points. For example, we had the number one defense last season in almost every defensive category, yet none of our players were ranked in the Top 5 at their positions, with the exception of FS Josh Riese, who was a rookie. Our guys took great pride in our defensive unit’s performance, and realized it was part of our entire team’s success. So the guys we like are the ones with the attitude, “I just want to be part of the team and do what is needed.” FS Zachary Bates is a good example. The guy silently contributes and fills a critical role. You’d never know it looking at the stats, but he knows what he is doing, and takes great pride in that.”

Jeff: How is your war room breaking down each round for drafting in this new style of draft – are you finding challenges? I.e Rounds 1-2 Primary position, 3-4 Secondary and the supplemental being a free for all.

The Charleston defence lived up to their ‘Predator’ name last season, and Armatys will hope to solidify the group even further in the draft.

Alan: “There is no “new” style of draft, just minor rule changes. The process we’ve used since I took over as an owner goes on, unchanged. The supplemental draft only becomes a wild card in the sense, that we really have to look at what positions we draft at. My general rule – if you make the team you will have a spot here as long as you want. Unfortunately, with the way the supplemental draft was implemented by the league, we may be forced to pickup players in positions we don’t want to carry on the roster. That means some of those players could see limited time on the field, and most likely won’t be invited back the following season. That is the only challenge presented by this year’s draft – how do we want to use the system to work best for our team’s goals?”

Jeff: As a rookie coming in, how do you suggest a prospect dive into understanding progression best?

Alan: “Have a vision of what your player should look like on the field. I’m not talking about physical looks, I’m talking about the “type” of player. Then go talk with the GMs and Owners on how the process works and how they can help you achieve your vision (a few veteran players understand the process as well). Be open to what they say, and if they clearly explain how the stats and animations work together, then you know that they have an idea of what they are talking about.”

The Predators’ War Room seems completely ready for this upcoming draft, having a plan they plan to stick with in terms of building their team. They normally roll out a very strong defense and we see them building from the outside in come draft day. Two-way superstar CB Garrison Blue is my pick here, if he can be convinced that CB is a better fit for him over WR this coming season.

Chapter 3: Darkwing Draft – Let’s Get Dangerous

There may be nothing harder to do than defend your title. That is something Atlanta will have to deal with heading into this coming season, and something Denver had to deal with rolling into last season. With some changes in the coaching staff, the season was one of learning, trial and error. With a return to their coaching roots this season, Denver hopes to see a quick turn around in success. Today Gagne sits down with Jeremy Bega, the owner of the Denver Nightwings, to discuss a holistic view of the off season process, growing a staff and just how much banked weeks matter in being drafted.

Jeff: How do you balance veteran signings and your draft plans? Does one dictate the other?

The Nightwings seem to need to address the defensive line, where #99 Dez Troyer will want some friends in the huddle.

Jeremy: “I think finding that balance between resigning players and making plans for the draft will be different for every team. So many different scenarios brings so many different choices you have to make as a GM or owner. Particularly for Denver, we have a solid foundation of veterans that have really grown into the best players they can be. That, and their loyalty, makes bringing them back not only an easy decision, but makes it priority number 1! Historically, we don’t make splash signings in free agency so we use the draft to really round out our team.”

Jeff: How do you encourage players to grow in their roles if they want more responsibility?

Jeremy: “It all starts with reaching out! Being vocal about the goals you wanna set and accomplish. A lot of owners want to teach the next generation of coaches and staff members. A lot of teams hire assistants to the major roles to help teach the new people and help them along their path. The SFL has a lot of opportunity, but nothing falls into your lap. Gotta go get it!”

Jeff: What would you say to players who maybe don’t have the most banked weeks heading into the draft?

Jeremy: “If you dont have a lot of checkins its okay! You will have to be open to playing positions you may not want if you cannot be patient. Or you need to be very patient and wait for the opportunity to play the position you want because it will come around. Another big thing if you don’t have as many checkins but are hoping you get drafted is to reach out to owners and GMs. Get your name out there. Let us know who you are. Personality is just as important as checkins.​”

As for rounding out their roster through the draft, I have the Nightwings selecting DT Vernard Patterson, who was all over the stats sheets in the final SFLm regular season game. Patterson comes in with over 20 weeks banked currently and will be a rock for this Denver defensive front 7 next season.

Chapter 4: A ‘Glorious’ Draft

New team, new GM. The Lone Star Glory come into this year’s draft looking to make an impact early. With roster spots to fill, there is a chance that a rookie could make a big impact early in Texas. Gagne sits down with rookie GM, Dave Axis, to speak about his new role, being a new team, Jonny Pichler, and who might be the biggest diva in the SFLm this year.

Jeff: A lot of prospects are coming into the draft hoping to help their team “off the field” as a coach, scout or GM. Being new to the GM role, do you have any advice for them?

Dave: “Wow, that’s a loaded question! I would say, first and foremost, have those discussions early on with the teams you’re communicating with. Find out what their needs are and describe to them your skill sets. Also remember, there’s much more to “off the field” than just scouting, coaching, and GMing. There’s also Communications, Recruiting, Personnel, etc and even more opportunities when you break those categories down even further.”

Jeff: Being an expansion team, with some strong veteran personalities, do you worry about a rookie in your locker room?

Dave: “Not at all! I think a veteran-loaded locker room is the best place for a rookie to grow and learn all the different aspects of the game and their organization. Plus, I need someone to get my lattes! Likewise, I believe solid veterans are exactly what a newer team needs to build properly from the ground up and hopefully minimize the growing pains. Technically, LSG is not an expansion team, but I get your point.”

Jeff: You did a show with last year’s big rookie draftee, Jonny Pichler. Do you think he has set the bar for rookies in this class to try and reach in terms of success?

Alongside Axis, Lone Star managed to secure the services of Brian Craven and fellow bash brother Doug Day. Craven (pictured) made the All-Star game last season.

Dave: “I absolutely do, and here’s why. There were a lot of great rookies in our Season 14 class… Mikey Improta, River Phoenix, Jett Zero, Al Lewis, Yogi Barr, Chris Andrews, Jeremy Mosley, Lee Adama, Jacob Clear, Seren Storm, Ray Zor, and Shane Short just to name a few. However, he was the only QB in the entire draft and we all know how important that position is and the amount of pressure & expectations that come along with it. He had to lead a team, as a rookie, that hadn’t had a lot of success. He took them to the playoffs for the very first time, he broke a lot of records, he won awards, and he made the All Star game. That being said, I don’t think all the rookies need to accomplish what he accomplished to be “successful”. Each rookie situation is different and thereby success is defined differently. Don’t try and be Jonny Pichler, just try and be the best YOU that you can be for your team and organization and “success” will follow.”

Jeff: On a topic you may be a bit of an expert on, which position has more divas in the rookie class – QBs, WRs or DTs?

Dave: “Hmmmmm…..I really want to say WR, but if I’m being completely honest, I have to say….. ALL 3! Here is Dave’s Diva List of S15 Rookies:
– QB’s- ALL 10 OF THEM! All QB’s are divas whether they like to admit it or not!
– WR’s- Art Vandelay, Mike Twinscrew, Eagle Mondavi, Doug Britton, and of course…. CJ Arthur!
– DT- you absolutely have to start with The Krimm Reaper & Scott Stover at this position. But don’t forget about Igor Barbatov & Lefty Lamont!
– Honorable mention goes to DE, Ross Napoli!”

I see Lone Star grabbing their signal caller early in this draft. There are a ton of great QBs to look at but we think, with the connection the team has to QB Ace Fenech, he will be their guy. He comes in at over 25 weeks banked and remains very active – there is no reason he can’t be crafted into the perfect fit for the Glory!

Make sure you join us next time, as Jeff takes on the daunting task of interviewing league staff and the man himself, Commisioner, Cameron Irvine.