Power Rankings: 2021 Preseason

May 4, 2021
By Adam Ruffner

It's been too long since the last edition of Power Rankings, so let's just dive right into them. Due to the pandemic, the league is split into two campaigns for the 2021 season: the normal slate of games that will lead to the crowning of the AUDL champion at Championship Weekend in September, and a brand new Canada Cup that will crown a champion after a round robin tournament between Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. So, this year's rankings will be split into two lists.

That's enough preamble. Here we go!

Canada Cup

3Ottawa Outlaws
It’s easy to look at the win totals—the Outlaws have just eight wins since the start of the 2017 season—and discount the competitiveness of this Ottawa franchise. The Outlaws looked feisty the last time they took the field, scoring 20+ in each of their last three games of 2019. Ottawa always plays their Canadian brethren from Toronto and Montreal close, and with all-star scorer Alec Arsenault as well as young talent like David Colic, and Jeremy Hill, the Outlaws could benefit from the new round robin in 2021 more than anyone.

2. Montreal Royal
A four-game losing streak to start the 2019 season quickly sunk the Royal’s playoffs hopes, denying Montreal a postseason for the fourth time in six seasons. The top end of the offensive roster always seems to produce in ways that would correlate to winning, but never does; the Royal finished 2019 with the number one goal scorer (Quentin Bonnaud) and two throwers in the top 25 in assists (Kevin Quinlan, Quentin Roger), but were bottom six as a team in scoring (19.83 goals per game). The Montreal defense allowed a porous 21+ goals in each of their last five games, winning only two; all five were decided by three goals or fewer.

1. Toronto Rush
The winningest franchise in AUDL history, the Rush are the cruelest omittance from the formal 2021 AUDL slate. After seemingly losing their mystique—Toronto suffered almost as many losses (5) in the 2019 regular season as they did in the previous six seasons combined (8)—the Rush found their mojo and rallied down the stretch, knocking off a tough DC twice in three weeks, and taking the undefeated Empire to the brink with an injury-hampered lineup in the divisional title game. Toronto has cemented their legacy again and again as winners since their inception in 2013, and it’s going to take a lot to knock them from their throne in Canada.

2021 AUDL Season

19. Detroit Mechanix
Despite a crop of exciting young players led by all-star Joe Cubitt, the Mechanix are shackled to the monolith that is their 38-game losing streak. As a 21-year-old rookie in 2019, Cubitt averaged three assists and 45 completions per game, and showed the kind of dynamic throwing package and moxie that could power an entire offense. Cubitt went toe-to-toe with 2019 MVP runner-up Max Sheppard, throwing a career-high eight assists on 50 completions. 

18. Austin Sol
The poor Sol have been victims of highway robbery by their in-state rivals from Dallas for years, but none moreso than in this extended offseason. Gone are Kyle Henke, Chase Cunningham, Michael Matthis, and Rory Orloff to the Roughnecks, and with it a bulk of Austin’s offensive production; the Sol struggled early in 2019, but finished averaging 23 goals per game over their last three games. Austin has a new division (West) and a new head coach (Steven Naji) to begin the rebuild, but the roster is unproven at best.

17. Tampa Bay Cannons
Over the past three years, the Cannons roster has been in flux (to put it lightly) as they’ve tried to replace star-level departures with rookies and depth. But the one unwavering constant that has made Tampa Bay plucky-borderline-competitive during that span has been Andrew Roney. Three straight 50+ assist seasons, the team leader in takeaways, and a First Team All-AUDL nod in 2019 have solidified Roney as one of the handful of stars who make their mark on every single game. 

16. Los Angeles Aviators
I doubted the Aviators for their roster turnover prior to the 2019 season, only to eat crow as Los Angeles not only qualified for the playoffs, but had the number one scoring offense in the league in doing so. However, another round of veteran roster departures has me right back on my cynicism. Despite bright spots like Danny Landesman, Calvin Brown, and KJ Koo on offense, Los Angeles is due for a regression in scoring, especially if Sean McDougall decides to retire. The added presence of Dallas alone kicks Los Angeles down a rung or two in the divisional standings. 

15. Seattle Cascades
Another year where the main question in Seattle will be: How many games will Mark Burton play? Averaging over nine scores (assists plus goals) per game in 43 career games for the Cascades, Burton is (statistically) the most dangerous offensive playmaker in AUDL history, and can change the scope of a game on his own. With Burton, the Cascades play with the sort of fire that can knock off divisional champs; Seattle gave San Diego their first loss of 2019 as Burton bombed nine assists into the endzone in a 25-21 barnburner. Without Burton, Seattle looks every bit their age (young) and size (small).

14. Indianapolis AlleyCats
Seeing the AlleyCats take the field for the first time since the retirement announcements of AUDL legends Cameron Brock and Keenan Plew will be jarring; like a spring heralded without robins. And Chicago snagging do-everything offensive wizkid Keegan North will put further dents in the ‘Cats offensive rotations. But the defending divisional champions are not newcomers to doubt. Travis Carpenter is coming off a career year, and All-Star selection Rick Gross will be fully healthy after dealing with injuries that slowed him in 2019, so don’t expect a noticeable step backward for a ‘Cats offense that last finished sixth in efficiency.

13. Madison Radicals
The Madison defense that has perennially ranked in the top five since 2013 is back once again, led by lockdown defenders Kevin Pettit-Scantling and Sterling Knoche. But the biggest question for this Radicals team will be its offense, as they’ve lost virtually every starter from their 2018 championship rotation. Kevin Brown looks to be the new anchor, and he has the skills to be one of the best throwers—if not overall scorers—in the league. But with so much unproven youth on the back end of their roster, Madison remains an enigma until they get their first few games under their belt.

12. San Jose Spiders
Before the 2019 season, I walked right into the Spiders hype web, touting them as a contender in the West and potentially a dark horse for Championship Weekend; San Jose finished with a franchise-low three wins. Have I learned from my mistake? Absolutely not. The Spiders are once again elevating expectations with a combination of veteran and rookie signings—BYU product and 2020 Men’s College Player of the Year Jordan Kerr could excel on offense at the pro level—that could spark a much-needed change for this once illustrious franchise.

11. Philadelphia Phoenix
With the exception of Sean Mott, the Phoenix don’t roster a ton of easily identifiable names on the national scene. But that may be a strength for a team that defines itself on depth and dogged effort; the Phoenix now have a solid core of committed veterans for the first time in franchise history. Philly notched two wins against Toronto in 2019, and almost knocked off New York as well, showing that they have darkhorse potential. Defensively, this team has enough balance to challenge offenses. And the addition of Alex Thorne adds a whole new dimension to the Phoenix offense.

10. Pittsburgh Thunderbirds
After a tough four-win campaign in 2018, the Thunderbirds charged back hard in 2019, winning nine out of 10 games at one point, making the playoffs, and qualifying for their fourth divisional championship game appearance in five seasons as a franchise. Max Sheppard, quite frankly, played out of his mind the latter half of that season, finishing with scoring totals of 10, 12, 16, 14, 13, 8, and 9 in his seven appearances following the all-star break. A handful of Pittsburgh’s wins were by minimal margins, so expecting Sheppard to perform at that level again to avoid a regression in the standings seems precarious. And yet, I feel silly for doubting anything Sheppard can do on a frisbee field at this point.

9. Boston Glory
After hearing Glory Head Coach Sam Rosenthal describe the team’s gritty, defense oriented approach to their first season, it reminded me of Madison’s inaugural season in 2013. The Radicals lacked the big name players of their rivals from Chicago, and were discounted early on in the season, much like Boston is with their New York counterparts. But a solid strategic structure and a roster of dudes looking to make a name for themselves cemented a defensive dynasty in Madison. Rosenthal already has pro coaching experience and a trophy, so don’t be surprised to see a similar path for the Glory.

8. Minnesota Wind Chill
The Wind Chill defense will be one of the best in the league in 2021, and might lead the AUDL in takeaways with the readditions of Colin Berry and Charlie McCutcheon joining blocks leader Jimmy Kittlesen. The real question for Minnesota will be the health of All-AUDL handler Josh Klane, who underwent surgery during the winter. One of the purest throwers on the planet, Klane has averaged 60+ assists and 600+ completions in each of the last three seasons. What’s most underrated about Klane, though, is his competitiveness. Minnesota will already be at a disadvantage offensively without their Canadian imports, so they will look to rely on Klane more than ever.

7. DC Breeze
The Breeze are once again built around Rowan McDonnell, and that is both a good and a bad thing. Good because Rowan is an MVP, and his deep bag of talents are singular in their ability to galvanize an offensive unit; when Rowan gets going, the Breeze look like a final four team. It’s bad because ultimate is a team sport, obviously, and even Rowan can’t do it all himself; not even a 12-score performance against Toronto in the 2019 playoffs could stave off elimination. DC needs to find secondary options if they want to make Championship Weekend for the first time ever.

6. Atlanta Hustle
Adding bigs Antoine Davis and Michael Fairley in free agency, and getting Parker Bray back from injury, is enough to push Atlanta from a fringe playoff team to a possible championship contender. The Hustle now have the top-end talent to hang with the likes of Raleigh and New York in their division, but it’s the team's depth and structure that might really pay dividends in the late season. Atlanta is not used to being a frontrunner heading into the season, so the first few weeks of figuring out lineups (and managing some expectations) might be very telltale for the Hustle’s hopes.

5. San Diego Growlers
San Diego’s star-level additions of Khalif El-Salaam, Greg Cohen, and Lior Givol added spoils to a roster that was already at a championship level on both sides of the disc. The Growlers looked a little overwhelmed by the moment in their semifinals matchup with Dallas, but they still fought tough for four quarters. Expect a different dynamic when the two super teams meet for the first time on June 26 in the “Game of the Week”. 

4. Chicago Union
From playoff challenger to full-on championship contender, no franchise had an overhaul during the extended offseason like the new-look Union. They locked up Pawel Janas on a three-year deal, took Pat Shriwise and Peter Graffy from Madison, snagged Keegan North from the reigning division champs, and added a full rotation of defenders that will be an upgrade over years past. Chicago enters 2021 as the presumptive favorite to win the Central, but if you glimpse past their starting rotation, the depth of their roster still leaves some questions. 

3. New York Empire
A head coaching change and some roster departures leave this Empire team in a slightly different place than when they were hoisting the AUDL trophy roughly 21 months ago. But with MVP Ben Jagt leading the way, don’t expect New York’s winning to taper off much. Ryan Weaver and Elliott Chartock are great throwers and fit pieces the Empire offense added during the offseason. Defensively the schemes will be slightly different, but the lineup looks almost identical to the unit that ranked second in goals allowed in 2019.

2. Raleigh Flyers
It seems like every year, the Flyers lose an All-AUDL caliber player or two, only to find a local product that can step in and fill the void. In 2019, the departures of Jack Williams and Goose Helton were ballyhooed, foreshadowing Raleigh’s demise...that never happened. Jacob Fairfax emerged as a star in their absence, rookies Henry Fisher and Eric Taylor became features of the offense, and Raleigh won double-digit games for the fourth time in five seasons. 2021 feels similar, with Bobby Ley and Mischa Freystaetter seemingly leaving massive holes in the lineup; 2019 Callahan winner Matt Gouchoe-Hanas and Walker Matthews could step right in to fill their shoes as rookies. And with no Dallas, Raleigh might elude their executioners and make Championship Weekend for the first time in six years.

1. Dallas Roughnecks
Simply put: This is the best Dallas team since they went undefeated and won the championship in 2016. With the additions of the four former Sol stars, a great thrower in Chris Mazur, and highlight-reel defender Hunter Taylor, Dallas is absolutely stacked on both sides of the disc. That should be terrifying for opposing offenses, given that the Roughnecks were already first in takeaways in 2019 by a margin; Kai Marshall still works here, y’know. Abe Coffin and Dalton Smith looked like the best one-two backfield punch in the AUDL the last time they were on the field together. It would be shocking at this point if Dallas doesn’t make the championship game for the fourth time in five seasons this September.