November 17, 2021
By Adam Ruffner
Teams and media alike rely on stars, whether to win games on the field, form and inform team identities, or tell stories about the action. But when we highlight one player, we almost invariably leave out another. And this is a list attempting to highlight those "other guys", who very well may be stars in their own right and role.
Whether it be because of the team they play on, raw statistical production, offensive bias, or something else, this is about identifying guys who don't quite get enough of the spotlight for their impact.
Elijah Jaime, Atlanta Hustle (pictured)
2021 regular season stats: 10 AST, 41 GLS, 85/89 CMP, 2384 REC YDS, 208 PP
A red zone specialist, Jaime is coming off back-to-back seasons of 40-plus goals in Atlanta and is averaging close to four goals per game during his three-year pro career. A high IQ speedster who works optimally as a continuation receiver, Jaime has made a living beating opponents to the front cone for scores. And despite being limited in his throwing range, Jaime is reliable with the disc, committing just 26 total turnovers in 33 career appearances while averaging over 100 touches per season.
Eric Brodbeck, Austin Sol
2021 regular season stats: 29 AST, 33 GLS, 10 BLK, 300/315 CMP, 2192 THR YDS, 2239 REC YDS, 238 PP
A breakout star in his second year with the Sol, Brodbeck spent nearly 40 percent of his playing time in 2021 on defense and was still only one assist shy of a 30-30 season. With seven multi-assist games, nine multi-goal games, and seven games in which he completed 25 or more passes, Brodbeck showed an ability to play as both a primary handler and a primary receiver, in addition to his role as a matchup defender; sometimes Brodbeck interchanged between roles in the same point. In a Week 4 road loss to San Jose, Brodbeck went supernova, accounting for six assists, six goals, and nearly 650 yards of total offense while completing 41 throws.
Henry Babcock, Boston Glory
2021 regular season stats: 29 AST, 13 GLS, 373/388 CMP, 2805 THR YDS, 1376 REC YDS, 234 PP
In his very first game as a pro, Babcock showed an elite ability to balance an offense, completing 32 passes and five assists while throwing for 328 yards. The lanky thrower is most comfortable in the backfield, using his large frame to shield off and stretch beyond defenders. But he can be equally potent as a receiving target, particularly near the end zone in tight spaces—Babcock finished with 42 combined scores and over 4,100 yards of total offense, doing it with both his arm and his legs, and possessing one of the more underrated hammer throws around.
Eli Artemakis, Chicago Union
2021 regular season stats: 6 AST, 15 GLS, 74/75 CMP, 1386 REC YDS, 111 PP
A rangy teenage product out of the University of Illinois, Artemakis quietly recorded one of the best verticals in the sport, registering third overall with an 11’5” mark in the vertical challenge. Normally a receiver on offense, Artemakis showed off the hops as a defender in the semifinals against Raleigh, swatting away a deep pass attempt and looking very comfortable in the big stakes playoff environment as a rookie. Artemakis had five games with two or more goals in eight regular season appearances in 2021 and could continue to grow into one of Chicago’s top options in seasons to come.
Ben Lewis, Dallas Roughnecks
2021 regular season stats: 5 AST, 29 GLS, 17 BLK, 53/57 CMP, 1653 REC YDS, 221 PP
Amid a Dallas season filled with injuries and inconsistencies, Lewis was as reliable as they come, and finished as one of just two Roughnecks who played in every game in 2021. Built like a tight end at 6’1”, Lewis can be a lockdown defender in coverage and a freight train receiver off the turn; Lewis was one of just five AUDL players to finish with 25 or more goals, 15 or more blocks, and 1,500 or more receiving yards. Lewis recorded a block in 10 of his 12 regular season games this year, and finished with a career-high 17 in his fifth season as a pro.
David Bloodgood, DC Breeze
2021 regular season stats: 11 AST, 6 BLK, 204/220 CMP, 1316 THR YDS, 211 PP
DC had the fifth most efficient team break rate in the AUDL in 2021, and Bloodgood deserves a lion’s share of the credit for quarterbacking many of the Breeze’s counterattacking drives. The D-line stalwart seems to have a perfect feel as a handler for when to attack fast versus executing patient possessions, and Bloodgood’s steadiness with the disc anchors DC. And despite finishing his first season as a pro with fewer than 12 blocks, Bloodgood was still a pest for opposing handlers, and is always a threat to intercept passes in the lane.
Jake Kenniv, Detroit Mechanix
2021 regular season stats: 10 AST, 25 GLS, 8 BLK, 119/130 CMP, 2136 REC YDS, 212 PP
On a Detroit team sorely lacking in playmaking, Kenniv’s rangy athleticism made him a welcome WR2 target working alongside Andrew Sjogren. The Mechanix rookie finished with six multi-goal games, including a season-high eight against Madison in Week 9 to go along with 337 receiving yards on the day; Kenniv finished 2021 with three games totaling 300 or more receiving yards.
Trey Dynes, Indianapolis AlleyCats
2021 regular season stats: 7 AST, 19 GLS, 4 BLK, 128/138 CMP, 1656 REC YDS, 213 PP
After scoring just four goals in his first four games as a pro, Dynes erupted for nine goals and over 500 receiving yards combined against two good defenses from Chicago and Madison in back-to-back weeks. Though undersized, Dynes excels at route running and has a high motor with playmaking explosiveness, making him difficult to keep up with in space. He played nearly 44 percent of his points on defense as a rookie, but seemed most productive in an offensive receiving role.
Sam Cook, Los Angeles Aviators
2021 regular season stats: 18 AST, 24 GLS, 236/249 CMP, 1309 THR YDS, 1996 REC YDS, 233 PP
After three partial seasons in Seattle, Cook slotted into LA’s offense full-time in 2021 and made an immediate impact as a striker, finishing top four on the team in assists, goals, completions, throwing yards, and receiving yards. Cook is equal parts offensive cog and human highlight reel, able to function as both a role player and as a feature piece. And for an Aviators offense that struggled with turnovers, Cook was able to remain a dangerous playmaker without sacrificing possession, registering seven games with one turnover or fewer.
Logan Pruess, Madison Radicals
2021 regular season stats: 14 AST, 6 GLS, 417/433 CMP, 2987 THR YDS, 193 PP
After playing in only five games while struggling with injuries in 2019, Pruess took on a new offensive handler role this year and excelled. One of the more underrated handler defenders over the past few seasons due to his agility and field sense, Pruess operated as a rock solid reset distributor in a completely new look Radicals offense, more than doubling his previous career high in completions. And despite his high usage rate as a thrower, Pruess never had more than two throwaways in a single game in 2021.
Tony Poletto, Minnesota Wind Chill
2021 regular season stats: 25 AST, 6 GLS, 396/409 CMP, 1967 THR YDS, 160 PP
In his first five games of the 2021 season—all Minnesota wins—Poletto averaged 56 completions, 256 throwing yards, and nearly four assists per game, committing just seven total throwaways while flanked by two rookies in the backfield. A precision passer, Poletto was instrumental for the Wind Chill in the red zone, using his deep bag of throws to penetrate opposing defenses packed around the goal line; Poletto punched in the game-tying score at the end of the regulation in Week 1 against Madison, chiseling the disc into a mailbox-sized slot at the front cone for the score. Poletto’s ease in breaking the mark and distributing the disc evenly makes him an excellent pivot handler.
Christophe Tremblay-Joncas, Montreal Royal
2021 regular season stats: 7 AST, 8 GLS, 15 BLK, 56/58 CMP, 973 REC YDS, 162 PP
The Royal jumped from 15th in takeaways in 2019 to fourth in 2021, and a big reason for that was the improvement of Tremblay-Joncas’ play in coverage. In his fourth season as a pro, CTJ finally combined his 6’2” size and raw athleticism with a veteran’s field sense, generating 15 blocks in just eight games of Canada Cup play, and giving Montreal a dominant defender in the air capable of shutting down the opposing deep attack. CTJ also demonstrated he could be consistent in applying pressure, registering at least one block in each game this year, including four games with multiple takeaways.
Marques Brownlee, New York Empire
2021 regular season stats: 10 AST, 9 BLK, 38/45 CMP, 493 THR YDS, 141 PP
Sure, Brownlee is the most recognizable face in the sport, and has been a regular feature in highlight reels since entering the league in 2017. But as a player entering his prime, Brownlee doesn’t get enough credit for the matchup defender and elite puller he’s become for New York’s top tier defense. The Empire lost a few key defenders following their 2019 title, and Brownlee stepped into a larger role with great production, averaging a block per game while functioning as New York’s number two cover matchup many nights in an uber talented Atlantic Division. And his pulls continually put the Empire defense in advantageous field position, which is vital for a team that is league average in takeaways.
Geoff Bevan, Ottawa Outlaws
2021 regular season stats: 27 AST, 14 GLS, 210/221 CMP, 2156 THR YDS, 885 REC YDS, 135 PP
One of the more surprising production leaps I’ve ever seen, Bevan was a four-year Ottawa veteran who had accumulated 46 assists in 39 career games before exploding for 27 in six games in 2021; the veteran also added a career-high 14 goals while averaging over 100 receiving yards per game this season. A power righty, Bevan had three different 400-yard passing games, and averaged a gaudy 10.3 yards per completion in 2021 while still completing 95 percent of his passes. To put Bevan’s high production into context, MVP finalists Austin Taylor and Pawel Janas finished with 10.4 and 8.3 yards per completion, respectively.
James Pollard, Philadelphia Phoenix
2021 regular season stats: 13 AST, 9 GLS, 9 BLK, 66/75 CMP, 891 THR YDS, 788 REC YDS, 148 PP
In his third season as a pro. Pollard shed his “defensive specialist” tag by showing off a deeper throwing arsenal and an attacking mindset as a receiver, finishing with career highs in assists and goals. At 6’5”, Pollard has always been a natural in deep space as a defender and a receiver, but he’s learned to his use big frame to generate powerful throws; Pollard’s talent as a puller is beginning to translate to his normal throws, making Big Play James dangerous on the Philly counterattack as both a handler and a receiver.
Jonathan Mast, Pittsburgh Thunderbirds
2021 regular season stats: 13 AST, 4 GLS, 429/442 CMP, 2533 THR YDS, 180 PP
Mast could have a perennial spot on this list for the work that he does in the Pittsburgh backfield. Similar to Poletto, Mast functions best in the reset space with his precision technique, using his lanky throwing form to erase potential marks and easily get the disc into good spots for the Thunderbirds offense. Never much of an assist getter, the introduction of yardage in 2021 really illuminated Mast’s importance to the overall health of the offense, as he averaged over 300 throwing yards per game while leading the league in completions per game (53.6); Mast had just one game in eight appearances where he failed to reach 300 throwing yards in 2021.
Elijah Long, Raleigh Flyers
2021 regular season stats: 15 AST, 9 GLS, 7 BLK, 200/206 CMP, 1080 THR YDS, 184 PP
The ultimate utility player, Long looked unflappable leading the Raleigh D-line counterattack in his first pro game, and carried the same poise throughout his rookie season. A cerebral defender, Long specializes in read-and-react situations, like in Week 11 against Atlanta when his speeding interception in the lane gave Raleigh the lead late in the fourth quarter. Between Long and teammate Anders Juengst, the Flyers might have the two best tight space players for red zone situations in the league; Long excels at unlocking defenses near the goal line with his quirky-but-precise throws and quick routes. And with eight assists in three postseason games, Long proved to be one of the most trusted throwers for the champions.
Michael Tran, San Diego Growlers
2021 regular season stats: 13 AST, 7 GLS, 6 BLK, 201/212 CMP, 1053 THR YDS, 175 PP
After two seasons quarterbacking one of the most efficient offenses in the league, San Diego’s influx of new talent in 2021 shifted Tran to the D-line where he helped lead one of the league’s most efficient counterattacks. The Growlers defense had the fifth highest takeaway rate in the league, which gave Tran and the San Diego D-line ample break opportunities. Tran’s ability to play handler defense allowed him to quickly engage as a thrower off of opponent turnovers, accelerating the Growlers’ counterattack, and putting West Division foes on their heels after making mistakes.
Jake Thorne, San Jose Spiders
2021 regular season stats: 6 AST, 9 GLS, 7 BLK, 81/85 CMP, 585 THR YDS, 691 REC YDS, 129 PP
Simply put: Thorne made plays wherever the Spiders put him in the lineup. The rookie worked primarily in coverage as a defender, and still averaged almost two scores per game playing with a San Jose defense. His throws and receiving routes both have polish to them, and once Thorne gets more consistent in his looks, he could be to defense what Jordan Kerr has been for the offense. Thorne was instrumental in the Spiders’ seven-goal comeback win in their 2021 home opener, finishing with four assists and 21 completions in his pro debut.
Jack Brown, Seattle Cascades
2021 regular season stats: 10 AST, 21 GLS, 9 BLK, 145/153 CMP, 2053 REC YDS, 212 PP
We’re about a year or two away from Brown completely taking over games, as the springy defender-turned-striker showed a full arsenal of playmaking potential in year two with the Cascades. Brown’s best fit is as a downfield receiver, where he’s nearly unguardable in space, especially in the air. But Brown also showed an ability as a red zone distributor late in the season, too, finishing with multiple assists in three of his last six games. And maybe most impressively: Brown has the moxie and drive to be the best player on the field, and he still doesn’t turn 21 until December.
Unmil Patel, Tampa Bay Cannons
2021 regular season stats: 12 AST, 20 GLS, 6 BLK, 75/78 CMP, 504 THR YDS, 1597 REC YDS, 197 PP
Patel began 2021 on the D-line, and registered three blocks—including a Callahan—in his Week 1 season debut. But midway through the campaign, Patel switched to offense and became one of the most productive players on the Cannons, finishing the season with six straight games with three or more scores (assists plus goals). Patel has great speed and vision, and maybe the most underrated hands in the division; Patel did not register a drop in 2021. In Tampa Bay’s best win of the season in Atlanta, Patel had his best game, finishing with five total scores and over 450 yards of total offense without a turnover.
Nathan Hirst, Toronto Rush
2021 regular season stats: 24 AST, 14 GLS, 272/284 CMP, 2458 THR YDS, 1163 REC YDS, 178 PP
Since the beginning of 2019, Hirst has been the Canadian Sean Mott: An upfield striker who uses his tremendous speed to set up highly efficient continuation throws to the endzone. Hirst had 39 total scores and over 3500 yards of total offense in just eight Canada Cup games, including 1,135 throwing yards in his first three appearances. And with some Toronto’s legends expected to retire, Hirst could see his productivity only increase as the Rush transition into a new era.
AST = assists; GLS = goals; BLK = blocks; CMP = completions; THR YDS = throwing yards; REC YDS = receiving yards; PP = points played