Written By Matthew Slinn and Baylee O’Shaughnessy
Images by Frank Wade
Hello and welcome to the third chapter of our journey through the 24 teams of the SFL. We have covered the North and South divisions so far, so let’s mosey on over to the ed-hot West Division, home to four teams tipped to make the playoffs at the start of last season. This division is going to be feisty above all else, and there is added interest for me as it is home to my beloved Las Vegas Fury. Due to this ‘conflict of interest’ so to speak, rookie running back, Baylee O’Shaughnessy will be making his writing debut, covering Las Vegas in my stead. I want to personally thank Baylee for his efforts on such short notice. The timing of my request seems to have done nothing to dampen the quality of his work. Expect more from Baylee later in the season.
I’m not entirely sure how the rest of you around the community feel about this division, but I can’t help but love what the Commissioner has done when assembling the teams in the West. Rivalry and intrigue surround this group of teams heading into the draft, with every squad needing to add at least one more piece to make up a full compliment of 20. The Las Vegas Fury are looking for a trio of rookies to recplace the sizeable hole left by the departure of the Ramen family, Arizona need a duo of young players to get them over the hump and into the playoffs and the ‘big boys’ of the West, Denver and Sioux Falls are looking for their final pieces to their respective jigsaw puzzles. It is worth noting that Sioux Falls rarely need to pick more than one player in a draft, such is the strength of their picks in the last few seasons. Ever since the Season 11 draft wrapped up, I’ve loved what the Sparrows have done on draft night. They just know how to pick solid players, which is more than likely a telling reason why they have made it to the Championship game in back-to-back seasons. All of these teams have something a little bit special about them, so it’s hard to choose where to start. How about the bright lights of Vegas. What d’you think Baylee? Take it away.
First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to write on such an interesting topic! My hope is that I don’t blow things up too badly while talking about your team… But I digress… The Las Vegas Fury had a rough Season 15, where they were in the bottom half of most statistical team categories, the most important being 3rd Down Conversions, where they were dead last. If they can’t get better there, it will continue to be difficult to score and keep the pressure on their opponents. With QB Thomas Ramen having moved on to birth a franchise in LA, a solid new leader at the helm is going to be needed. With only a few teams eyeing a QB in the draft, a solid prospect should not be difficult to come by. QBs Christian Brown, Tommy Utah and Colin Pierce seem to come up in conversation the most. Based off of the 3rd Down Conversion situation, they need the ball delivered consistently and reliably to make reasonable short 3rd downs a possibility and the norm. Could Tommy Utah be the answer here? His QBR, completion percentage and TD to Interception ratio was by far the best of the three names being thrown around. Veteran CB Merrick Itera needs some help on the other side of the field with a strong #2. Some names to watch going off of the board are Andrew Roush, Alden Bleeker, and Marco Swift. This is what has me the most intrigued about the first round of the draft for LV: With two big needs to fill and many teams looking for CBs, and about as many good prospects at QB as there are teams looking to nab them, do the Fury take a chance with waiting on a QB or a CB?
The difficulty here is that they draft before the other teams looking for a QB. Will the player they want leading the Fury offense still be available at the beginning of Round 2? To round out, the more immediate team needs are a solid DT for the trenches or a #3 Safety to play down in the box, behind Max Jackson and Nicky Colontrelle, to help clean things up and be a force in blitz packages. I like a safety being picked here, though the likes of a Tom Creeg-level of production is not seen that late. Could we see someone drafted and shift their role to Safety? Defense was deep in the SFLm this year, and the front seven on many of the teams were the catalyst to that success. The biggest names in the DTs will be long gone at this point, which makes this decision quite a bit more of a wildcard. With LV’s other needs taking precedence with the early picks, the board will have to dictate their position to fill. DTs Exodus O’Bannon, Dan Tritz and Max Night will likely be long gone by their third pick, Though some have Night still around later in Round 2 on their mock drafts. So, whomever is left at SS or DT will likely be the determining factor. Who will be the one they hope to be the “sleeper” impact player for the run defense?
Thank you once again Baylee for that detailed and astute preview of the Las Vegas draft situation. Alas, readers, you must return to me for the remainder of the article…try your best not to let your mind wander despite my writing style no being as interesting as my esteemed colleague.
Next up, we head to the heat of Arizona to check out the Scorpions. Arizona have a couple of spots to fill this time around after losing a couple of players in the off-season, most notably Mana Kanaka, although they did replace the CB with one of the best in the league, Everett Garrison. The secondary is looking strong once again in this Eddie Gauge-led defence, but it is hard not to notice the glaring hole at free safety, left by the departed Anthony Wyo. You can only imagine that this will be priority number one for Gauge and GM Ashley Jackson heading into the draft, and being honest, they couldn’t have picked a better season to have a need at safety. Wyo is a great player, always on the periphery of being considered truly elite without ever quite taking that final leap – he will be a hard man to replace. However, looking at some of these rookie safeties in the SFLm, I’m not sure the Scorpions are too worried. At the free safety position alone, you have excellent prospects like Vernard Smith IV, Emmanuel Blackman and Eric Gugger, not to mention the depth across the board. I could see Arizona even waiting until their second pick and grabbing value from a potential sleeper such as RD Smith, who had a great SFLm season. The deep secondary positions are stacked in this season’s draft, which may give the Scorpions scope to explore another need on their defense – dpeth on the front 7. I could see it going either way at this spot, my mind flitting between a rookie LB to develop behind BJ Loveless or a defensive tackle to sure up the middle in a division that contains both Colin Hart and Jarred McChesney. Both options would be viable, however if the way to go proved to be the defensive line, I can’t see the Scorpions risking a later pick due to the lack of top end talent in the draft pool. Dan Tritz and Exodus O’Brannon look SFL ready – after that, you may be looking at a season of development and long term goals. Either way, the Scorpions have one major need to fill, which they cannot miss on. In the Wild West, rare is the day that you live to tell the tale of a miss.
Speaking of misses, how much did the Denver Nightwings miss Jeremy Vega in Season 14? A 5-7 S14 record turned into an unbeaten (bar Baltimore) season in S15, a large part due to the return of the fabled owner/coach. Denver really got their franchise back on track last time out and I can’t imagine their ambitions will be any less heading into what will prove to be a very tough Season 16. This reason alone is enough to place a large heap of importance on this draft. Yes, Denver only need one player, but as the Sparrows showed last season with the selection of Dusty Wilson on the offensive line – the right player can make a world of difference. So, where does the Nightwings’ roster look weak? The short answer is…nowhere really. Denver retained the majority of their players that got them to the SFL Semi-Finals last season (again, losing out to those pesky Baltimore Vultures) and once again look to have the roster to challenge deep into the playoffs. There is one name missing off the team sheet however, and it’s a name that commentators often called in clutch situations during Season 15. That name, is Logan Keel. The veteran slot receiver has left Denver, meaning the Nightwings have what appears to be a hole to fill in their receiving corps. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only team in the market for a new, dynamic pass-catcher, and they also pick later than most in the first round. Who will be left that can show the dynamism that Jeremy Vega will need to replace Keel? Immediate thoughts turn to players like Nate Ritters and Kingston Ellington – receivers who can make those tough catches but also come alive in the end zone, the aforementioned pair combining for 13 TD’s over the course of their season in the SFLm. An alternative view could see Denver bypassing this completely by taking a 4th defensive lineman or doubling down on the running game and selecting another OL player, but I can’t see this happening. I can see the Nightwings needing to re-address the balance left by Logan Keel, and to do that, they need a hungry, young receiver.
I tell you what, if there is one thing hungrier than a rookie on draft night, it’s the Sioux Falls Sparrows when they reach another championship game – losing two on the trot must be an inedible mixture of frustration and despair. As much as I would have loved Vegas to make the playoffs last season, to lose again in the championship game must be gut-wrenching. Still, the SFL world moves on quickly, and so must the Sparrows if they are to make the most of their pick in this season’s draft. As I look over the roster, I can only seeing Saturday night going one way – the Sparrows doubling down on their famed run game. The running game that gets them to the playoffs so consistently. The running game that squeezes the life out of you and refuses to let go. This off-season, that running game took a slight hit with the departure of fullback, Jaylin Wells. Wells was up their with Collier in Lone Star as the best in the SFL. The Sparrows would be wise to spring in the first round and replace such a powerful blocker and short yardage presence. Rather fortuitously, the SFLm has three very capable candidates for that spot, with Hubba Kimbrel being the stand out when it comes to speed and athleticism and Charlemagne Cornelious the pure, true blocker (whilst also possessing an infatuating name). It seems that the Sparrows have two very distinct styles to choose between. So, Sioux Falls, which one will it be?
I hope you enjoyed this third edition of the SFL Season 16 Draft Previews. I must once again extend my thanks for the debuting Baylee O’Shaughnessy for his efforts and having one of the hardest to spell names in the entire league. Look for edition four tomorrow as I take a look at the East Division, before Saturday’s double helping of the Aquatic Divisions, the Pacific and the Atlantic. Take Care.