Written by Matthew Slinn
Images by Axel Raven
A Lesson In Presentation
Much like our ‘real-life’ counterparts, the SFL Draft is the biggest event of the off-season, and quite possibly my favourite event of each season, from a content creator perspective. All the build up through the SFLm season is over and done with and the Draft is that final, fixed point that most rookies are looking at. The SFLm Championship has been won, the individual statistics are in the books and the players have tried to put their best foot forward within the SFL community. Owners and General Managers have finalised their draft boards, ever-changing documents that live in the hard drive for well over a month. All of the work by the teams and players is done. It’s fitting then, that the few hundred sets of eyes watching the SFL Draft get the quality presentation they deserve. As with every season since the draft started, Cameron Irvine and the rest of the presentation team delivered – these two shows being the best yet. The presentation was slick, the analysts knowledgeable and confident, the graphical overlays smooth and clean. They provided a perfect platform for the inevitably organic drama to unfold and I couldn’t have been more captivated – I can only imagine how the rookies were feeling during it. Some leagues that skimp or cut corners on presentation aspects do the drama of a draft a disservice. The SFL amps it up. I know I’m writing an article for those that missed the multiple hours of action, but my best advice is to go and watch it back. That’s the biggest compliment I can give.
Round 1: No Divas Allowed
Only one wide receiver was taken during the first round of the Season 17 SFL Draft. The Atlanta Swarm selected Ryan Roosevelt out of Ottawa with their pick at #9, a player who led the SFLm in receiving TDs. Roosevelt slots in behind Boo Chisholm and Siege Falco, the athletic receiver seemingly seen as a future #1 or #2 star target for Bryant Dynasty whilst also appearing perfect for potential returning duties. The rest of the first round mostly focused on the battle in the trenches. Eight players of the twenty-four selected will be involved in line play one way or another this season, four on the offensive line. Left Guard appears to be a hot commodity this season as more and more teams see the value of having a strong offensive line. The London Knights shot first, selecting Perrin Aybara in the top 10, leaving other teams coveting an OL player twitchy on the trigger finger. Good offensive line players were a rare find this off-season, so it’s no surprise that Jacksonville, St. Louis and Sioux Falls followed the Knights’ lead and took their shot. I did like seeing the Kings investing in protection for their new QB Marcus Dunhill, as well as Sioux Falls finding a blocking partner for Dusty Wilson, already one of the best in the league.
The same truth could be said for special teams, with a record three kickers being taken in the Top 10 of the draft. Only in the SFL are kickers considered such a hot commodity, this season carrying more of a premium price for their services. Again, once one team snagged the kicker they wanted (DC getting Pawtai with pick #2), two more soon came off the board. Queen City started their large rookie haul with Dane Morrow and Houston bypassed the chance to select a quarterback to grab Sunny Jay from SFLm champions, Salt Lake City. This was a brave move for the Hyenas, but I don’t think Jay would have lasted long had they let him pass by, whereas the QB class was pretty deep.
The final things I noted during the exciting first round was the love of linebackers in San Diego and three of the QB spots being filled early. As far as I can tell, every team selecting a QB got a good player – a player ready for the SFL. As every season proves to us, only time will tell how successful these signal callers will be, but the class was so deep that, much like Houston and Denver did, you could wait for one to fall into the second or third round and you would still pick up a great prospect. The same can be said for the linebackers, but nobody seems to have told San Diego. The Mavericks were clearly extremely high on both Leon Thunderman and Steffaun Forge, interestingly both players who produce content for the league. The Mavericks now carry four star linebackers, overloading the back end of that front seven to bolster the defence. No doubt Thunderman and Forge are excellent players – a compelling story could unfold should the two not displace Devin King and Pete Mitchell from their starting spots. It’s a long term risk for the Mavericks – one that I’m sure they are happy to contend with.
Slinn’s Favourite Pick: Axel Raven, Linebacker, Selected #3 by the Sparrows
Round 2: The Corsairs Hit a Home Run
As far as I’m concerned, the Queen City Corsairs pulled a masterstroke trading up in the second round. The price they had to pay was a drop of four spots in the first, and given they got the kicker they wanted – it was a very small price. With the two picks, the Corsairs selected cornerback Cody Griffin (much endorsed by many talking heads around the league) and wide receiver Doug Spelling. Spelling was a revelation for San Jose this season, helping them to the Championship game after two seasons of obscurity. He finished third in receiving yards and scored 5 TDs. Spelling comes into a team with three stars already at receiver, with the potential to be AJ Caswell’s #2. If you can find a star corner and star receiver in the second round then in my mind, you’ve won the draft. Things still need to fall into place but it could be that the Corsairs look back on this draft in seasons to come as one of, if not, their best.
We also saw a trade by the reigning SFL champions who moved up above the only other team that needed a QB (Houston) to take Eric Price with the 29th pick. The Nightwings knew that replacing Josh Miller with the right player was just as crucial as replacing Jared McChesney, and clearly they were high on Price. Price had a good season for the Madison Lynx, his QBR of 94.2 the second best amongst SFLm QBs, just behind Tommy Utah taken by Louisiana in the first round. The Hyenas reacted by…not taking a QB of their own, and why should they? Being the only team left in the draft needing a young passer, they had the freedom to build their squad with the best players possible and leave their QB until last.
A large part of the remainder of the second round saw teams tap into the endless well of linebackers in the SFLm, probably the strongest positional class to come out of the minors that we’ve ever seen.
Round 3: Baylee O’Who?
The fireworks didn’t light up the draft in Round 3 until the very end, the drafting of a quarterback and running back a fitting end for what was a show filled with precise excitement. Before we get onto to the most relevant ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ ever, there is the small matter of the Houston Hyenas rolling the dice and picking up SFLm first season passer, Dave Burr. Burr is a very popular name amongst the community, the Lexington Miners QB being as popular off the field as he is poised on it. Despite the Miners’ struggles this season, Burr was one of the better at his position in the minor league, posting a positive TD:INT ratio (tough to do in this league) and a distinct accuracy on short and medium throws. Burr’s arm strength and composure under pressure still needs to improve, but after the veteran presence of ET King didn’t pay off for the Hyenas last season, I can understand them wanting to develop a rookie for the future.
A couple of picks later, to finally wrap up the SFL Season 17 draft, the Denver Nightwings finally replaced their retired hero. The name that was called was Baylee O’Shaughnessy, a running back with a vastly different skill set than Jarred McChesney. O’Shaughnessy is a finesse back through and through – a player with breakaway speed and elite agility. The rookie has also shown nice skills in the passing game, something that may be exceptionally useful to his fellow rookie QB, Eric Price. I predict that we could see Denver taking a more pass-happy approach this season, instead of relying on a power back to grind out the first downs. O’Shaughnessy brings more balance to the offense and a potential new identity. It will be extremely tough for O’Shaughnessy and Price to replicate the feats of their positional heroes, but just imagine if they do. I’m not convinced Denver will repeat in Season 17, but their future is in great hands.
The Season 17 Draft was excellent. A true example of the progress the SFL has made in recent years, and as a long-standing community member, we couldn’t be happier and prouder to introduce every new player into this fantastic, awe-inspiring league. Congratulations if you were drafted, and for those that weren’t – the phrase ‘there is always next season’ has never been more appropriate. Keep grinding. Keep immersing yourself. Keep getting lost in the SFL.