May 30, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
Halfway through the 2018 AUDL season, it’s time to talk some hardware. Who’ve been the best players this season? Introducing my power rankings for this year’s MVP award.
1. Sean McDougall, Los Angeles Aviators
2018 Stats: 8 games played, 12 assists, 33 goals, 19 blocks, 73-for-76 (96%) on throws
Sean McDougall has been a Swiss Army Knife for the West-leading Los Angeles Aviators, leading the team in a variety of ways. He started the season on the D-Line, where McDougall amassed blocks, collecting 10 in his first three games against San Diego, Austin, and Dallas. Against San Jose, he began tilting towards splitting time between the offence and defence; he tallied 4 blocks and 6 goals in his team’s blowout win.
During his last few games, McDougall has been an offensive player, especially as his team has lacked some of its other offensive stars. He’s continued devastating opponents, this time using his blazing speed to lead his teams in goals. He’s still collected blocks, offering the Aviators confidence that any offensive turnover can be retrieved by McDougall; teams rarely break the Aviators when McDougall plays offence.
More than leading his teams in goals and blocks by a mile, McDougall rarely turns the disc over. He has only 1 drop and 3 turnovers on the season, meaning his incredible efficiency maximizes his team’s chances of winning.
When Chris Mazur first met McDougall, he was infuriated by the baby-faced, motor-mouthed assassin. McDougall talked a mile a minute while he roasted Mazur again and again, proving too fast to be guarded.
“I'm like, this kid is so annoying!” laughed Mazur, remembering their first encounter. “And he's talking crap the whole time, and going around the circles, and he's having a good time, and he's laughing. Who is this punk? What is going on? I'm pissed.”
They’ve since connected, as Mazur soon found that McDougall’s blazing speed and timing on his cuts reminded him of his old partner in Connecticut, John Korber. Korber caught 68 goals in 2012, many of them thrown by Mazur. McDougall provides a similar threat to his deep cutting, while offering his team a whole lot more in the process. As long as the Aviators keep winning – and McDougall keeps devouring opponents – Sean McDougall is, in my opinion, the 2018 MVP to beat.
2. Mark Burton, Seattle Cascades
2018 Stats: 7 games played, 61 assists (league leader), 25 goals, 6 blocks, 278-for-305 (91%) on throws
Mark Burton has been a singular force thus far in the season for the Seattle Cascades, despite the team’s struggles in the standings. He leads the league in assists with 61, which is 21 more than Pawel Janas in second place. He’s only 20 assists away from his season total in 2017 which earned him second place on the AUDL assist leaderboard behind only, well, Janas. In fact, Burton is on pace for 122 assists, which would shatter the all-time record set by Tyler DeGirolamo in 2015, of 86.
Significantly, Burton has thrown with relative equal parity to his stable of cutters; no receiver has caught a large majority of his tosses. In fact, he’s led his team in goals caught as well. The second-highest goal count for a Cascade belongs to Ryan Segal, who’s caught 21.
What’s holding Burton back from first place with such an unbelievable statistical profile? The Cascades sit at the bottom of the standings in the West, at 2-5. Burton has led his team’s offence to a great 71 percent conversion rate when he’s played, but McDougall’s been slightly more effective, with his team converting 74 percent of its offensive points when McDougall plays. Furthermore, Burton is second in the league in throwaways, with 31. McDougall has been his team’s best defensive player as well. That gives him the edge for now, but if Seattle starts winning more games, Burton could seize the top spot during the race for MVP.
3. Jay Froude, Dallas Roughnecks
2018 Stats: 6 games played, 22 assists, 16 goals, 7 blocks, 119-for-133 (89%) on throws
I was skeptical about first-year head coach, Wes Nemec, moving Jay Froude to the offense in 2018. He’s long been a defensive marvel, finishing fifth in blocks per game (among players with 10 or more games played) in 2017 with 2.1. I was worried that Froude’s raw athleticism wouldn’t be as useful for a Dallas Roughnecks offense that would undoubtedly already be efficient with players like Dalton Smith and the newly acquired Chris LaRocque on the offense.
Fast forward almost two months, and LaRocque and Smith have combined to play in only 4 games, while Froude has carried his team’s offence to great heights despite huge roster flux in between games. When the four consistent pieces of Dallas’ offence – Froude, Matt Jackson, Kai Marshall, and Carson Wilder – have played together, they’ve converted at an incredible 77 percent rate on offence.
Froude has led that group. He’s led the team in assists and goals, and Dallas leads the South Division despite a hellacious schedule thus far on the season.
4. Jack Williams, Raleigh Flyers
2018 Stats: 8 games played, 16 assists, 25 goals, 8 blocks, 350-for-369 (95%) on throws
While the Raleigh Flyers have powered their way through likely the league’s most difficult schedule thus far on the season, they’ve done so with extreme roster turnover that’s destabilized any chemistry the players have been able to find. One of the only constant for the offense has been Jack Williams, who has been terrific in 2018.
Williams has been as versatile as anyone in the league, able to shape-shift into any role required by Flyers Head Coach Mike DeNardis. In the first two games of the season, Williams dominated as a cutter. When reigning MVP Jon Nethercutt was unavailable, Williams morphed into an offensive handler, demonstrating a lot of poise and skill as a high-volume thrower. With the full squad again available, Williams has shifted back to his more natural role as an initiating cutter, but he's still able to dice up opponents with or without the disc. Against Madison, the best defense in the league, Williams was second on the team in assists and led the Flyers in goals with an almost effortless flair.
Surrounded by All-AUDL level talent on Raleigh’s O-Line, Williams stands out. He’s led Raleigh out of the thick of their tough schedule to a solid 6-3 record by shining brighter than the other stars around him.
5. Thomson McKnight, Toronto Rush
2018 Stats: 7 games played, 12 assists, 11 goals, 3 blocks, 221-for-228 (97%) on throws
Though his stats may not stand out, Thomson McKnight has been the rock – and likely the single most important player – for the best team in the league, the undefeated Toronto Rush.
The Rush have had a variety of explosive games from a variety of contributors. Jay Boychuk was the team’s most visible player in the early going, notching seven goals in the first two games. Ben Burelle dominated in the next two games, scoring 11 goals in his typical highlight fashion. Rookie Ben Oort added 15 goals in the three games following. All three create highlight plays, whether cutting deep or in the air. Their successes have been created in part because of McKnight’s contributions in the backfield.
McKnight has been the heartbeat of the Rush offence so far. He’s led the team in most passes thrown in every game but one, and he’s had as many games with zero throwaways as he’s had with two throwaways. He only has seven throwaways on the season, compared to 221 completions. In the one game in which McKnight didn’t lead his team in completions, he dominated cutting downfield, catching multiple deep shots over Ottawa defenders. The man is far more versatile than a simple pure thrower.
Though the Rush offence is filled with stars like Andrew Carroll or Cam Harris, it’s McKnight who might be the most irreplaceable. He doesn’t make mistakes, and he’s integrally involved on every point. The Rush have a variety of handlers, but the offence is at its most potent when McKnight is in the middle, dictating the flow of the game.
6. Rowan McDonnell, DC Breeze
2018 Stats: 7 games played, 26 assists, 33 goals, 9 blocks, 226-for-236 (96%) on throws
Rowan McDonnell has been another of the AUDL’s rare two-way players while playing for the DC Breeze. He’s been a defensive player for most of his career, but coach Darryl Stanley decided to unleash him on the offence in 2018. He’s responded, and though he says he enjoys offence more, he still asks Stanley for chances on the D-Line every now and again.
“This is exactly the outcome I expected from Rowan,” Stanley told me after DC beat the favored Raleigh Flyers in Week 7. “I am not surprised in any way. With looking at what he was able to do for us last year on the D-Line, then extending into the club season, I realized I had this incredible player, with a great work ethic; he'll fix whatever skill or issue he might have in his game. He'll fix it within three months. I knew that I probably had a top-5, top-3 player in this league, and all I had to do was say, you know what Rowan? You're going to be featured now.”
He’s been unbelievable on both sides of the field, catching goals and throwing every sort of pass in the books on the field. His only weakness on the season has been a propensity towards floaty hucks, which occasionally give defenders a chance to catch up. Jeff Wodatch has snared a few passes in double or triple coverage, saving McDonnell’s passing percentage, which has been a stellar 96.0 on the season.
7. Rick Gross, Indianapolis AlleyCats
2018 Stats: 8 games played, 19 assists, 29 goals, 20 blocks, 138-for-144 (96%) on throws
The Indianapolis Alleycats lead the Midwest Division with a 7-1 record, and they’ve won important statement games in the process. Indianapolis has topped Chicago twice in the process, including a win this past Saturday in which Rick Gross caught seven goals.
The AlleyCats play all of their superstars on the O-Line, yet Gross has separated himself from his teammates in a statistical sense. He sits in third on the team in assists and second in goals, but his contributions from the defensive end have been remarkable. A star who years ago dominated on the D-Line – like Sean McDougall or Rowan McDonnell – Gross has excelled at retaking the disc after any AlleyCats’ offensive turnover.
Though Gross is behind his assists and goals pace set last year, his ability to amass blocks despite playing offence is a huge advantage for the AlleyCats. Add on his increased efficiency in 2018, upping his throwing percentage from 92.6 to 95.2, and Gross is the leader of a surprisingly dominant Cats club.
8. Sterling Knoche, Madison Radicals
2018 Stats: 7 games played, 1 assist, 19 goals, 10 blocks, 27-for-30 (90%) on throws
In his second season with the Madison Radicals, Sterling Knoche has been perhaps the team’s best player thus far this season. Though offensive stars Colin Camp and Tarik Akyuz have matched Knoche’s production through the season, they’ve done it from the offensive side. Knoche has led his team in goals, all while playing defence.
Knoche’s athleticism has made him an incredible addition to Madison’s zone, playing across the middle with Kevin Pettit-Scantling and others. It’s possible that more established stars, like Peter Graffy, soak up more of the team’s responsibilities and statistics as Madison’s schedule becomes more difficult, but Knoche has grown massively in his second year. It’s no surprise that the disc finds him so often in the endzone, as he’s taken a huge step in comfort on the field. His teammates trust him, and his success is one of the driving factors behind Madison’s dominance. He had a rough game against Raleigh, and that was part of the troubles for Madison; for the Radicals to be at their best, Knoche must impact the game.
9. Travis Dunn, San Diego Growlers
2018 Stats: 6 games played, 29 assists, 15 goals, 5 blocks, 163-for-170 (96%) on throws
Travis Dunn has meant the world to his San Diego Growlers in 2018. Without Dunn, the offence has looked somewhat stilted at times, without enough playmaking from the cutting positions. The statistics bear that out; every offensive player for the Growlers has a higher offensive conversion rate when playing alongside the rangy athlete.
Dunn announced his MVP candidacy in breathtaking fashion, notching 9 assists and 5 goals in his first game of the season, a win over the Seattle Cascades. He didn’t contribute a single turnover. Dunn’s incredible efficiency has continued, as he has a stellar 96 percent completion percentage; that’s a rare number for initiation cutters who launch flick hucks all over the field.
Dunn has always had the talent, but his ability to combine his incredible skills with improved decision-making in 2018 has launched him into the MVP conversation.
10. Antoine Davis, San Francisco FlameThrowers
2018 Stats: 5 games played, 19 assists, 20 goals, 6 blocks, 93-for-102 (91%) on throws
While the San Francisco FlameThrowers have been led by a top-heavy roster, no player changes the look of San Francisco’s offense more than Antoine Davis. He is so terrifying cutting deep that defenders frequently leave him wide open under, and I’ve watched countless FlameThrowers holds carried by Davis. He is so powerful in his route-running that virtually no one can keep up.
Add in the fact that Davis is now one of the best throwers playing for the FlameThrowers, and it’s clear why he’s such a devastating weapon.
Honourable mentions: Lior Givol (SF), Ben Jagt (NY), Isaiah Masek-Kelly (TOR), Chris Mazur (LA), Jonathan Nethercutt (RAL), Ryan Osgar (MIN), Marcelo Sanchez (SF), Nathan Vickroy (TB)