July 6, 2023
By Daniel Cohen
Efficiency on both sides of the disc feels as important as ever heading into the final weeks of the season, with razor thin margins separating some of these last remaining playoff spots. This week’s watchlist has one giant 2023 debut, some unsung heroes, and several quarterbacks looking to build team momentum heading into the postseason.
Joel Clutton, Salt Lake Shred
Gotta love a high-profile midseason signing by a championship contender, right? New York had a few of these last year, and now it’s Salt Lake’s turn, as they’ve announced the re-signing of their defensive MVP from a year ago, Joel Clutton. One of two (alongside Defensive Player of the Year Cody Spicer) unanimous selections to the 2022 All Defense Team, Clutton had a career year in his first season with the Shred. He averaged 2.0 blocks per game in the regular season, set a new career high in plus/minus at plus-33, and didn’t register a single turnover all year. The 6’5” defensive juggernaut has the size and athleticism to terrorize opponents in the deep space, and he was one of the best buzzer-beater athletes in the league last year. He also showed impressive two-way ability in the 2022 West Division Championship Game, as he totaled over 300 receiving yards splitting his time between O-line and D-line. Expected to make his debut this week against Portland, keep an eye on how Clutton works back into the Shred rotation and how he raises the ceiling of the number two ranked team in the league.
Thomas Edmonds, DC Breeze (Pictured)
After starting the year on the DC Breeze O-line, Thomas Edmonds has switched over to the D-line for the last three games against Montreal, Boston and New York. His best game of those three came against Boston, when he recorded three blocks and tossed two assists while completing all 18 of his throws. The Breeze rematch Glory this Saturday in the Game of the Week, and Edmonds will need to continue taking charge on the counterattack to lead DC to a bounceback win; the Breeze are just 11-of-26 on break chances over their past two games (42.3 percent), but just one of those turnovers was attributed to Edmonds. There may be some room for Edmonds to get a bit more aggressive punching in scores, and this Boston matchup feels like the right time to further expand his role—DC notched a four-goal win in their last meeting despite converting less than 40 percent of their break chances.
Rick Gross, Indianapolis AlleyCats
Now in his ninth season, Rick Gross has been as much of a cog in the Indianapolis AlleyCats offense as ever before. He’s having his most efficient year throwing the disc—his 97.5 percent completion rate is a career high—and his involvement in the offense has surpassed fellow cutters Levi Jacobs and Cam Brock. Gross has shown to be one of the more flexible O-line pieces in a flow-based offensive system, as he’s been doing pretty much whatever the offense needs at any given time; Gross still excels at coming down with goals in the deep space, but his improved throwing has allowed him to slot in as more of a glue hybrid facilitator when needed. Indy converts on 63.7 percent of their possessions when he’s on the field, which is the highest efficiency rate of any of the team’s eight primary O-line players. Up against a tough Wind Chill defense this Sunday, Gross will have his work cut out for him as he looks to build on the momentum of his five-goal game from a week ago, a mark he hadn’t hit since 2019.
Paul Owens, Philadelphia Phoenix
The second member of last year’s All Defense Team on this list, Paul Owens is having another great season in his fourth year with the Philadelphia Phoenix. While it was his shutdown matchup defense that really shined last year, it’s his increased role on the counterattack that’s been a real difference maker for the D-line’s efficiency. Philly converted just 45 percent of their break chances last year—that rate’s up to 54 percent in 2023, and no player has been more involved after turnovers than Owens. His 162 completions rank fifth most on the team this year despite playing 90 percent of his points on defense, and he’s completing a career high 95.3 percent of his throws with the increased volume. The Phoenix defense has been the most consistent part of the team this season, and it’s going to take another strong performance in Week 11 to take firm hold of the third seed over Boston.
Ben Sadok, Boston Glory
In a year where the Boston D-line has often overshadowed the offense, O-line handler Ben Sadok has fallen out of the spotlight a bit in 2023 though he remains central to Boston’s success. Sadok is coming off his best game of the season against Toronto, where he scored five goals, threw three assists, and racked up 660 total yards of offense without a turnover. He set a new career high with a plus/minus of eight and helped lead the team to their most efficient game in franchise history. Clearly, when the offense is limiting mistakes, good things follow, but it’s that consistency that has been in question for Boston since their inaugural season in 2021. Sadok has another chance this week to be the tone-setter for an offense that is likely going to need two of its more efficient games against Philly and DC; Boston’s highest turnover games this season have come against Philly (26 in Week 3) and DC (25 in Week 9). Staying under 20 in both games feels critical, and it starts with another strong performance from the offense.
Jake Steslicki, Chicago Union
One of the most important new additions to the Chicago Union this season, Jake Steslicki quickly established himself as a D-line disruptor early this season. With good size, quickness, and athleticism, he’s been a defensive asset in his ability to make plays, but he’s been even more impactful on the counterattack, as he’s paired well with fellow Union newcomer Ben Preiss to form a throw-and-go heavy, one-two punch after turnovers. Two weeks ago, Steslicki started on offense (along with Preiss) for the first time this season in Chicago’s back-to-back with Detroit, and he played perfectly—five assists and six goals while completing all 51 of his throws in the two games. This Union offense has struggled to get much going in most games this year, but Steslicki moving over seems like it could be just what the team needs to ignite a more consistent attack. The playoff push for Chicago is this weekend, with two games against Pittsburgh, and Steslicki should have plenty of opportunities to set the tone for the final stretch.
Bryan Vohnoutka, Minnesota Wind Chill
Big weekend coming up for the Minnesota Wind Chill, as they look to bounce back after their 25-15 blowout loss to Colorado. Franchise goal leader Bryan Vohnoutka has been taking much better care of the disc this year than past seasons—he’s completing his throws at a career-high 96.0 percent rate—and the team will need his stability throughout the weekend against Madison and Indianapolis. While he’s typically split his time a fair amount between O-line and D-line in recent years, he’s played the majority of his points on offense in every game this season and currently leads the team in both goals and receiving yards. The Wind Chill have gone through several lineup changes on the offensive side throughout the season, but Vohnoutka’s been the constant; as some of the previously missing O-line pieces continue to get reintegrated this weekend, look to B-Von to help facilitate the connectedness of the offense in his midfield hybrid role.
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