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.

Tonight, we will peruse over the Tacoma Grizzlies, a team yet to set the world alight in the SFLm. Despite this, some individuals have roared into the SFL with a bang. Tacoma has produced some elite prospects over the past couple of seasons. 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) Jay Cue – Quarterback, Tulsa Desperados (Season 16 Draft)

The first ‘Grizzly’ on our list is the enigma known as Jay Cue. The Tulsa Desperados quarterback was selected early in the first round of the Season 16 draft, Tulsa’s front office passing over concerns about a lack of playing time due to Cue’s clear natural talent. The 6’5 signal caller has all the physical tools needed to succeed in the SFL; great arm talent, composure, a quick release and an ability to make plays outside of the pocket. In his time at Tulsa, Cue has also shown good leadership, much needed in a squad with a wide receiver many consider to be the biggest diva in the league (not necessarily a bad thing). It hasn’t been an easy ride in Tulsa though. Cue has struggled for form in both of his opening two seasons, rather worryingly dropping in performance from Season 16 to Season 17. The dilemma I have, and part of the reason why the young QB has made this list, is that he doesn’t appear to have had much help from the rest of his offense. His receivers are underperforming, the running game is rarely used and often not complementary and the offensive line (especially during Season 17) had Cue running for his life. The Desperados’ O-Line gave up 40 sacks this season – second worst in the league. That number counts as 13 more than Season 16, potentially a large reason why Cue’s passing numbers declined. Let’s be real, Jay Cue has made this list on pure talent. The production levels have been underwhelming. His third season in the SFL will truly display whether he is cut out of the SFL or not.

#4) Chris Lee – Wide Receiver, Los Angeles Lycans (Season 16 Draft)

Chris Lee is a player with a smaller profile than the previously mentioned Jay Cue, but he is also a player whose production is heading in a positive direction. Contrary to Cue, Chris Lee’s numbers are going up – and going up in a big way. Lee sits in the receiving room of the Los Angeles Lycans, #2 behind veteran Davius Reid. I would argue that Lee deserves to secure a #1 spot on the Lycans roster for Season 18 – the kid outperformed Reid without question and was Sully Richardson’s most reliable target behind tight end, Jack Flash. Lee’s reliability comes down to good hands and a strong affinity with getting open. Perhaps the most impressive stat on Lee’s line is 59 catches from 69 targets. Those numbers are only possible when a receiver gets a step on his defender consistently. A reception average of just over 15 yards per catch shows Lee as the Lycans’ best deep threat also. LA are a run heavy offense, but QB Sully Richardson has relied on his former Grizzlies receiver when the situation calls for it and the young man has stepped up. If Lee gets a deserved bump to #1 receiver in LA and the QB drops back more frequently, Chris Lee could find himself as a 1,000 yard receiver soon enough.

#3) Axel Raven – Outside Linebacker, Sioux Falls Sparrows (Season 17 Draft)

Now, for those of you that are in shock that Axel Raven isn’t #1 on this list, remember what I professed at the beginning of this article; we are looking at ‘on field’ production only. I am well aware how much of an impact Raven has made as part of the SFL community, so much so that it feels strange not calling him by his first name. However, a couple of players have had slightly more effective seasons (in my opinion) therefore Raven sits a #3. Don’t get me wrong, Raven had an excellent season in Sioux Falls on a losing team, justifying his Top 5 selection in the Season 17 draft. The first choice OLB for the Sparrows (see previous article for Sioux Falls’ #2 OLB) Raven was the unsung hero of the defense. The big-bodied linebacker made well over 100 tackles on the season, leading his team in that category. One of Raven’s best assets is his strength, something which he uses to bring down ball carriers effectively, making up for a slight lack in tackling technique. #47 showed an ability to get into the backfield too, making 10 TFL’s over the season, a stat which I would love to see him increase. Despite an interception, Raven was used mostly in run defense situations, so improving his TFL numbers will only magnify his value to a team. Raven has decided to take his talents elsewhere for Season 18. Hopefully this change in environment can further accelerate this talented player’s career.

#2) Keenan Samuels – Outside Linebacker, Baltimore Vultures (Season 16 Draft)

If Keenan Samuels was a little lighter and more natural in coverage, you could legitimately line him up at safety and he’d do a very good job. As it happens, Samuels is just a very athletic, speedy linebacker. A current SFL Champion with Baltimore, Samuels is no stranger to big games, making the playoffs in Season 16 with the Jacksonville Kings as a rookie. #49’s move to Baltimore was brave, but taking a #2 OLB roster spot proved worth it. Individual numbers, may have dropped but the personal gain was immense. Choosing #2 and #3 on this list between Samuels and Axel Raven was very difficult, but the former’s playoff pedigree and overall body of work over two seasons gave him the nod. For a player who is not the best tackler in the SFL or the strongest linebacker physically, Samuels plays with intelligence and poise. He has a very balanced skill set. This was perhaps best displayed in Jacksonville, where the rookie evened out his TFL and PD production with 9 apiece, also getting in on the turnover party with a pick. Baltimore employed Samuels more as a high-energy run stuffer, a role he performed well when given the opportunity. Samuels currently sits on the depth chart behind the immensely talented Alvin Mack. It may take another move or a boost up the depth chart for the SFL to be let in on Samuels’ full potential. Either way, he is still one of the best products put forth by the Tacoma Grizzlies.

#1) Cody Griffin – Cornerback, Queen City Corsairs (Season 17 Draft)

No former Tacoma Grizzly has made more of a splash in the SFL than rookie cornerback, Cody Griffin. Unlucky not to be drafted in Season 16, Griffin was taken by the Queen City Corsairs to lead their rebuilt secondary and boy, has he hit the ground running. GMs across the league (including myself as the former Las Vegas GM) will be ruing not taking a chance on the very green corner before Season 16. Queen City pilfered him a season later and are reaping the rewards – then again, they are pirates. A reliable yet unspectacular cornerback in Tacoma, QCC seem to have unlocked the inner ballhawk in Griffin, leading him to 10 INTs this season, huge numbers for a rookie. Griffin has been a difficult puzzle for opposing QBs to solve as his 6’3 frame matches up well with the taller receivers in this league, whilst his naturally smooth transitional movement allows him to keep up with the burners. A total of nine pass deflections illustrate this, added to the double-digit picks, excluding one in the playoffs against the Vegas Fury. To be quite honest, there a few areas where Griffin needs to improve. I’m sure QCC would love for him to bring more of his interceptions back for a TD, but that’s just splitting hairs. I have been mightily impressed with this young cornerback – the Tacoma Grizzlies should be too.

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!