Written by Matthew Slinn
Images by Axel Raven/Hubba Kimbrel

The Talent Factories of the SFL

Glancing Into the Near Past

The SFLm was devised 4 seasons ago to accommodate new players to the SFL and to ensure that interest could be maintained within the league during the SFL off-season. The expected outcomes of this ‘Minor League‘ was a greater player retention, especially amongst rookies who eagerly awaited a shot in the pros. Little did we know that the SFLm would become rich with so much talent that the players who emerged from each team would shape the SFL into what it is today. Sceptics of the ‘Minors‘ were a rarity when it first kicked off a couple of years ago, but I can’t imagine that number being higher than zero now. The young players getting drafted onto pro teams increase in ability as each season passes, and I fully expect the S18 Draft to be no exception to this rule. For now, we will take a look back over the talent that has emerged from the first three seasons of the SFLm and assess each individual’s impact on the league whilst fighting for victory on the field. I have chosen five players from each SFLm franchise – a task that proved to be a darn sight tougher than I rather naively thought it would be.

In this edition, we will take a look at the Lexington Miners – a very new team to the SFLm, having their debut run prior to the Season 17 Draft. Despite the short history, a few very promising players turned the heads of SFL GMs and already are forging nice careers in the big leagues. Let’s take a look at my Top 5.

NOTE: It is important to know that I have not counted players who did not play in Season 17 of the SFL. Whilst a few retirees had excellent seasons in 15 or 16, I would personally like to honor those who are still prepared to take the hits on the field.

#5) Derek Williams – Outside Linebacker, Sioux Falls Sparrows (Season 17 Draft)

Sioux Falls drafted an athletic freak when they put their faith in the 6’5, 260lb Williams from Lexington. The size of a lean defensive end, Williams showed speed and rare pursuit instincts for such a young player in his first season in the SFL. The Sparrrows’ outside linebacker sat behind fellow rookie Axel Raven on the depth chart, but whenever he got his chance, Williams was rarely found wanting. #44 recorded 11 tackles for loss during Season 17, second on the team behind the elite talents of Nick Fargo and one more than Raven (not that it should be a competition amongst teammates). Williams also showed that he was anything but a one-trick pony, dropping back into coverage fairly well, breaking up 7 passes in the process, the most amongst his position group. With Axel Raven moving on to pastures new this off-season, Williams has the chance to see more of the field and positively affect his defence more often, alongside Fargo. The Sparrows have struggled mightily over the last two seasons. Keeping a potential stud like Derek Williams may go a long way in the quest for recovery.

#4) Bryan French – Center, Jacksonville Kings (Season 17 Draft)

Drafted out of Lexington by the Jacksonville Kings last season, Bryan French is the jam in the sandwich that is the Jacksonville offensive line. The Kings, as part of their rebuild, invested heavily in the O-Line and French is a large part of that. A big body in the middle at 315lbs, French has been in the enviable yet pressurised position of blocking for a legend of the SFL in Marcus Dunhill. It is rare for an offensive lineman to come into the big leagues and dominate immediately, especially against the monstrous defensive pass rushers of the SFL, and French definitely isn’t the finished article – but how about this for a statistic. Marcus Dunhill was sacked 21 times this season, good for joint-8th in the SFL. Nothing particularly special, right? Well, Dunhill dropped back to pass, 591 times – second most in the league. To add context, Jonny Pichler in London was the only QB to attempt more passes than Dunhill. He was brought to the ground 37 times. This young O-Line wasn’t perfect in Season 17 and there is a lot of work to be done in the running game, but to protect their quarterback like that takes talent and heart. Bryan French, as the center, is the leader of that production. He could be leading the best offensive line in football during seasons to come.

#3) Baylee O’Shaughnessey – Running Back, Denver Nightwings (Season 17 Draft)

Nobody had bigger shoes to fill this season than Baylee O’Shaughnessey. The rookie halfback was drafted to Denver to replace Jarrod McChesney, easily one of the Top 5 most dominant running backs this league has ever seen. Much of the skeleton of the championship-winning Nightwings team had retired, McChesney being the legs. O’Shaughnessey stepped in, and despite not making it back to the playoffs, he stepped in admirably. Historically, it takes running backs a season or two to really make their presence felt on the SFL stage – many great players have struggled in their rookie season. Denver’s young rusher had other ideas. O’Shaughnessey rushed for over 1,000 yards in his 12 games at a 5.2 YPA clip. That amount of yardage cemented the rookie in the top half of all SFL running backs between Scott Johnson and potential hall-of-famer, Reggie Streeter. O’Shaughnessey also showed flashes in the passing game, his finesse running style on display most often in open spaces. One criticism one could level against #30 is a lack of touchdowns, 5 scores on the ground and 8 total. Yes, that number needs to improve if Denver are going to make it back to the playoffs but only a fool would be unhappy with the way their young back produced in his first season. O’Shaughnessey hasn’t filled those shoes yet, but he’s not a million miles away from it.

#2) Josh Rowe – Strong Safety, Houston Hyenas (Season 17 Draft)

Strong Safety Josh Rowe entered the SFL as perhaps one of the most ‘sure thing’ rookies in the Season 17 draft. The Houston Hyenas expected to get an excellent player when they selected Rowe to be their starting safety and it’s clear to see they made the right decision. Rowe has all the measurables you want in a stud safety – he can tackle, has speed and agility and isn’t bad in coverage either. Some may say he is undersized at 6’0 tall, but that issue doesn’t appear to have presented itself very often. The most pleasing thing about Rowe’s short career so far is his natural ability as a leader. Ture leadership abilities come few and far between, but Rowe has them in abundance. He is already a player that the rest of the secondary look to. In terms of individual production, the numbers speak for themselves. Rowe made well over 100 tackles from his safety position, a couple for a loss, whilst deflecting a cool 15 passes thrown his way and intercepting 5 of them. That is called ‘leading by example’, especially important on a team that has had it’s trials as of late. Josh Rowe is a very good strong safety in this league. If he can work on his hands and turn some of those pass break-ups into INTs, he’ll be elite.

#1) Dave Burr – Quarterback, Houston Hyenas (Season 17 Draft)

Interestingly enough, Josh Rowe is not the best Houston Hyenas player to come out of the Lexington Miners squad – Dave Burr is. I suppose the case could be argued that Burr is #1 on this list due to the fact that he plays quarterback, and positional difficulty and importance can sometimes tilt scales one way, but in this case, I don’t think that logic applies. Burr simply had a brilliant rookie season – even more impressive when you consider that he is one of the cheapest signal-callers in the SFL. The most important feat the young rookie managed to achieve was an immediate connection with SFL legend, DR. Sim. Burr hit Sim for well over 1,000 yards on the season and 11 scores, including some significant, long plays. This mental wavelength the two players rode contributed to Burr finishing the season with 8.9 yards per attempt, good for 2nd in the entire SFL. Despite not having the biggest cannon in the SFL, Burr found a way to put his receivers in the right position to make a play, allowing a good chance for YAC. Burr will probably want to cut down on his 28 INTs, but they were mitigated by 25 TDs, giving the Houston passer the highest QBR amongst rookies. The Hyenas were looking for a true franchise player to replace the hole left by Kentez Johnson. They drafted very cleverly when they selected Dave Burr. He will only get better.

Make sure to return for more journeys into the near-past as we take a look at even more exciting players who have been discovered in the SFLm in recent seasons!