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, Lincoln is our destination as we look back at the SFLm Season 1 Rattlesnakes. Lincoln only spent a single season in the SFLm before making way for a different franchise. As the list below demonstrates, the Rattlesnakes still managed to produce some game-changing players.
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) Conner Darian – Cornerback, Jacksonville Kings (Season 15 Draft)
There weren’t as many players to choose for this list from Lincoln in comparison with the last team we looked at (Madison Lynx) but the ‘Top 5’ is a quality bunch, and that starts with cornerback, Connor Darian. After a slow start to his career as part of the Atlanta Swarm organisation, Darian’s production took off during Season 17 after his move to the Jacksonville Kings, taking on a more prominent role. The Kings used Season 17 as a rebuilding season with a bevvy of young players, meaning Darian could show his skills on the field more often. Given Darian only picked off one pass for the Swarm in two seasons, it was a risk for the Kings – the 3rd season cornerback ensured the risk would pay off. As Jacksonville’s #2, Darian elevated to 8 interceptions, the most on the squad – he also threw in a touchdown for good measure. Jacksonville didn’t make the playoffs, but Darian has stuck with them for Season 18 and his reward is the #1 CB spot. Now is the time to really take his career to new levels.
#4) Cliff Allen – Kicker, Arizona Scorpions (Season 15 Draft)
Last time out, we named Otis Boudreaux in the ‘Top 5′ as a kicker – this time around, we are keeping that trend by honouring Arizona Scorpions kicker, Cliff Allen. #7 has been a reliable enough kicker with a huge leg ever since he donned his first jersey with Lincoln. Allen hit 15 of 18 kicks for the rattlesnakes and impressed Eddie Gauge enough to draft him to Arizona – quite fitting that he should go from one desert creature with a prominent tail to another. Season 15 saw Allen’s kick power improve but his accuracy stagnate – 21 of 24 kicks sailed through the posts, the three misses still showing room for improvement. Allen took a season off after his rookie outing, returning in Season 17 to help Arizona into the playoffs, having the best season of his career. The Scorpions’ sniper smashed 26 of his kicks true, missing only a couple in the process. There is still accuracy improvements Allen needs to make – Season 18 could see him reaching that magic milestone. A perfect season.
#3) Luther Gond – Defensive Tackle, Louisiana Revolution (Season 15 Draft)
In the space of one spot, we move from one of the least physical positions on the field to perhaps the most physical. Certainly a position where the greatest forces are exuded from play-to-play. Defensive tackle, Luther Gond, is one of the best at manipulating these forces, beating his opposition player and getting to the quarterback – well at least for two of the three seasons he has spent in the league with the Louisiana Revolution. Gond hit the ground running in the SFL, his rookie season arguably the best of his career to date. Gond finished Season 15 with 16 sacks and 20 tackles for loss, putting him firmly in the conversation for defensive rookie of the season. Surprisingly, the production completely dropped off through Season 16 – sacks and TFLs evaded Gond as he struggled to make the same impact. Season 16 concluded with Gond sacking the QB a meek 3 times and dropping 9 runners in the backfield. It could be argued that increased talent on SFL O-Lines is the culprit for this dramatic downturn, but given how much Gond bounced back in Season 17, it was probably just a poor season. As I have just mentioned, Gond looked more like his normal destructive self in Season 17, grabbing 12 sacks and nearly double that in TFLs. If Gond can show more consistency between seasons, he will quickly rise up to #2 in this list.
#2) Ben Stackinpaper – Cornerback, Baltimore Vultures (Season 15 Draft)
In all reality, the #2 and #3 spots on this list are interchangeable – Luther Gond and our holder of the second spot (Ben Stackinpaper) have equally had large impacts on the SFL – Stackinpaper’s consistency and gradual upturn in production through the seasons gives him the edge though. Gond’s ceiling is higher, but the floor is lower. Stackinpaper has been a very reliable cog in the Baltimore secondary ever since he stepped foot on turf. An action-packed season for Lincoln where the cornerback recorded 5 TFLs, 3 pass deflections and 3 interceptions attracted the eyes of the Vultures, and they promptly paired the young Stackinpaper with Austin Brigham and Marvin Hymes. After a couple of seasons spent as the third string CB, the big-bodied Stackinpaper spent S17 as Baltimore’s #1, his 10 PDs and 7 INTs key in giving the ball back to a free-scoring offense. A pick 6 in the playoffs also helped. Stackinpaper has long been excellent at returning INTs, crossing for 6 points on three occasions. Yes, I know he is part of a great unit on a championship winning team, but Stackinpaper holds his own amongst the best CBs in the SFL and deserves his spot on this list.
#1) Bryant Dynasty – Quarterback, Atlanta Swarm (Season 15 Draft)
There was only ever going to be player at the top of this list – no other player really came close. Bryant Dynasty spent his singular season in the SFLm splitting time with Jay Cue (drafted in S16 by Tulsa) and didn’t get much chance to show what he had – granted, he also made mistakes, shown by the 5 TDs to 5 picks ratio. The Atlanta Swarm saw great potential though and were impressed by his off the field intangibles, so they chose Dynasty to fill Marcus Dunhill’s cleats as he retired after a championship winning season. I remember watching Dynasty’s first ever game against the Baltimore Vultures, the eventual S15 champs, and I recall being amazed at the star quality he possessed. A sophomore slump for Dynasty and ATL as a whole was disappointing to see – although the young QB still threw over 3,000 yards and 23 TDs – but Season 17 saw the Swarm and their signal caller return with a vengeance. In his best season yet, Dynasty led the league in QBR as he opted for efficiency over the spectacular, still managing to pass 29 TDs with less than 400 attempts. Dynasty is clearly one of the best young QBs in the SFL. To be called truly elite though, and in the same breath as Dunhill, he needs to perform when it REALLY matters. The playoff numbers don’t match the regular season. Once Dynasty figures that out, it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends his career with a championship or two.
Upon your return, we peruse over the Annapolis Navigators, always good for entertaining games with a powerful offensive display.