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 hit up the Memphis River Runners, a strong group who are capable of giving any SFLm team a run for their money.. Tacoma has produced a plethora of excellent 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) Max Night – Defensive Tackle, Arizona Scorpions (Season 16 Draft)

Max Night is a big man – his 350lb frame is up there with the largest bodies in the SFL. The Arizona Scorpions saw this physical specimen coming out of Memphis and snapped up the chance to fill a sizeable hole in their defensive line. Since the Season 16 draft, the Scorpions have had arguably the best defensive line in the entire league – the figure of leadership on that line is Max Night. Night is a case of intangibles overtaking on the field production. Whilst his numbers don’t pop off the screen, his sheer presence allows the other three big men on the line to shine. Mark Melo and D.D Sachs are easily the best DE combination in the West, and Night’s partner at defensive tackle, Alex Constantine has rivalled Denver’s Dez Troyer in Season 17. Night himself has fed on 7 sacks in his two seasons in the SFL, adding 20 tackles in the backfield for good measure – he hasn’t been idle. My favourite statistic on Night’s resume are the pair of sacks he made in this season’s playoffs. The man is a big game player and a leader and conclusively the greatest lineman to roll off the River Runners’ production line.

#4) Myles Gibson – Inside Linebacker, Tulsa Desperados (Season 17 Draft)

Life is all about balance, a mantra that rookie ILB Myles Gibson applies to his play on the field. Gibson is a prototypical modern day inside ‘backer, capable of doing many things well, without being particularly specialised in one area. Some could call him a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ and right now, that may be true, but the upside and potential is off the charts. Let’s face it, Tulsa had a poor season. Collectively, they didn’t play well. The linebacking group however, gives reason for optimism. Gibson had a very good first season in Oklahoma and even he was overshadowed by the excellent (and now All-Star) Carson Miller. If Tulsa can keep these two young studs together, theirs and Gibson’s production will only go up. The rookie defender was third on the Desperados in tackles with 97, highlighting how much time the Tulsa D spent on the field this season. In the SFLm, Gibson racked up 10 tackles for loss and 10 pass deflections, showcasing the balance we covered earlier – this has somewhat continued in the SFL, although the numbers have understandably dropped. 6 of Gibson’s tackles were behind the line of scrimmage and he managed to knock down 9 passes; as #58 progresses, especially in his consistency, be sure to see the stats bypass his SFLm effort. Memphis have nursed a solid linebacker in Myles Gibson who can do everything well, and one who will no doubt improve.

#3) Mike Churchill – Wide Receiver, D.C Dragons (Season 17 Draft)

The only other rookie on this list comes in the form of tall slot receiver, Mike Churchill. Named after whom many see as an English hero of World War 2, Churchill has shown the SFL that his determination to help his team rivals that of his namesake. The vast majority of you won’t know that the surname ‘Churchill’ is synonymous with an insurance company over here in the UK, one that has a nodding dog as it’s mascot. Let’s just say that whenever D.C quarterback Shabazz Psynergy gives his slot receiver the nod, his solid hands offer plenty of insurance. Churchill successfully pulled in nearly 80% of his targets, leading to 51 catches for a cool 602 yards and 5 touchdowns. For a rookie from the slot? That is quality production. The former River Runner is already one of the better inside receivers of the SFL, and to D.C’s benefit, he’s one of the cheapest – the cost effectiveness is off the scale. D.C lost many a contest in the SFL this season, but they were a lot better than the record suggests. The North division became one of the best in the SFL in Season 17 and the Dragons were in pretty much every game. The storyline for the Dragons and Churchill run in tandem – both performed well, yet both are still trying to get over the hump and both still need development. Mike Churchill was a nice draft pick by D.C. I’m extremely intrigued to see if he can build from this season and become a great pick.

#2) Vernard Smith – Free Safety, Arizona Scorpions (Season 16 Draft)

Now we are really reaching the cream of the crop to enter the SFL from the River Runners. We will finish with the top 2, both of whom currently play as a free safety, both of whom were drafted before Season 16, both in the 1st round might I add. These two men aren’t only the best two players from Memphis, they are two of the best ever to come from the SFLm as a whole. Marginally pipped at the post is the marauding free safety for the Arizona Scorpions, Vernard Smith IV. Smith appeared to be more of a confident run stopper than anything else when he was taken by the Scorpions, but since donning the Arizona jersey, he has been a ball hawk. Smith’s two seasons in the SFL almost mirror each other, S16 bringing 6 pass deflections and 7 interceptions, whereas S17 saw him swap those numbers respectively. Either way, 13 PDs and 13 INTs from a couple of seasons’ work is excellent – enough this season to make him Arizona’s most lethal defender when the ball is in the air. My favourite thing about Smith though, is his ability in the clutch. The Scorpions have reached the playoffs twice since Smith joined the SFL, and he has shone on the biggest stage. The young safety has 5 playoff INTs and 3 PDs in those games. It must be so affirming for Eddie Gauge and the rest of Arizona’s leadership team to know that they have a big-game player like Smith in the secondary. Eddie Gauge is getting on in years and may not be around forever. The former River Runners’ young stud is looking like the one to carry on Gauge’s tradition of excellent safety play.

#1) Mike Ryan – Free Safety, Louisiana Revolution (Season 16 Draft)

Just pipping Vernard Smith to the line as the #1 prospect to come out of Memphis is former #1 draft pick, Mike Ryan. A tall and rangy free safety, Ryan was selected first overall in the Season 16 draft by newcomers to the SFL, San Diego. The Mavericks saw in Ryan a fully committed young player who could potentially become an anchor for their new defense. The SFLm showed more of Ryan’s tackling ability than anything else, although he did pitch in with 4 PDs and a pair of picks. Seemingly, the coaches in San Diego awakened Ryan’s natural instincts in coverage, seeing him pick off opposing QBs 4 times whilst batting 12 balls down – a bright light during an otherwise dull and winless season for the Mavs. Unfortunately for San Diego, their contract with Ryan ended after just one season after a somewhat surprising move to Louisiana. The quality of the youngster’s play was anything but surprising, however. Season 17 saw #21 bat another 15 balls to the turf and an increase in interceptions with 6 (including one for a TD). The tackling stats decreased from S16 but when you factor in that he was next to Tank Bennett in LOU and on defense for less of the time, this drop can be explained. Two forced fumbles since he entered the SFL do enough to demonstrate Ryan’s hard-hitting prowess. He uses that tall frame well. The difference between the two free safeties at the top of list is minimal, but I gave Ryan the nod based on the amount of passes he has positively affected for his team. Either way, the River Runners should be extremely proud to have produced such quality from their secondary.

 

Make sure to return for more journeys down memory lane very soon! Next stop, Madison to hit up the Lynx.