March 24, 2022
By Adam Ruffner
With just over five weeks left until the opening night of the 2022 season, it's time to rank some teams! With three new expansion teams and the realignment of the league back into its traditional four division format—East, Central, South, and West—there are a lot of moving pieces and new matchups to pay attention to. And as always: I cannot wait to eat crow with my wrong predictions.
Let's get into it.
25. Detroit Mechanix
2021 record: 0-12
With their colossal losing streak sitting at 50 games and spanning four different seasons of play, the Mechanix reloaded this offseason and brought back a cadre of former Detroit players to try to break the chain. Headlined by Johnny Bansfield, Nathan Champoux, and Mark Whitton, the old-but-newcomers figure to slot in quickly and comfortably with the existing core of Joe Cubitt, Andrew Sjogren, and Bryan Walsh. Bansfield is one of the best defensive players in the sport currently, and will supercharge this Mechanix team whenever he’s on the field. The team’s Week 1 matchup against Pittsburgh seems as good an opportunity as ever to reverse the Mechanix’s cursed stretch.
24. Tampa Bay Cannons
2021 record: 2-10
With Bobby Ley gone to Atlanta, and Andrew Roney not on the roster for 2022, it’s a new era for a very young Cannons team. Billy O'Bryan has been a tenacious two-way player for the team the last three seasons, averaging 23 assists, 16 goals, and eight blocks per year during that stretch. But aside from him, much of the Tampa Bay roster is still in their first two seasons of play. Unmil Patel, Tannon Hedges, Sean Plunkett, Logan Diehl, Michael Arbutine, and Eric Sjostrom all showed flashes of their playmaking ability, but what the Cannons need more than ever is consistency—in their lineup, their rotations, and their play styles— against an extremely tough South Division schedule.
23. Oakland Spiders
2021 record: 4-8
Three of the Spiders’ top five scorers from last season will not be returning, including team scoring leader and 2021 All-AUDL rookie team selection Jordan Kerr who has signed with interdivisional rival and expansion team Salt Lake. But with hammer god Justin Norden still set to distribute the disc and Keenan Laurence developing more and more into an all-around star in just his third pro season, the Oakland offense will still have plenty of punch if they can reduce their turnovers. The Spiders were one of nine teams last season to average over 20 turnovers per game, with those teams finishing a combined 27-77 and none making the playoffs.
22. Pittsburgh Thunderbirds
2021 record: 1-11
The Thunderbirds return to their original Central Division alignment this season, where they qualified for the playoffs in 2019 behind an MVP-level season from Max Sheppard. Much has changed since then, both in the division and for Pittsburgh, especially on the T-birds defensive rotations. Two seasons ago, Pittsburgh tied for third-best in scores allowed per game, surrendering just over 19 goals per contest. Last season, the Thunderbirds struggled to generate takeaways or slow down opposing deep attacks, and finished third-worst in the AUDL, allowing over 24 per game. Pittsburgh could re-enter competition for the third playoff spot in the Central if they reduce their turnover margins.
21. Toronto Rush
2021 record: 3-6 (Canada Cup)
Dawn of a new era in Toronto as the league’s second-most winningest team ever starts a full-scale rebuild. From 2013 through 2019, the Rush won more games than any other franchise, qualifying for Championship Weekend every season in their first five years, and never missing a divisional championship game in seven straight seasons of play; those streaks very much appear to be in jeopardy in 2022. Phil Turner was a block-generating force for the Rush D-line in their Canada Cup run last year, and averaged two goals and just over two blocks per game. Toronto will still be able to trade blows with the other two Canadian teams, but it remains to be seen how they will fare against the US teams in their first meetings in nearly two years.
20. Ottawa Outlaws
2021 record: 3-5 (Canada Cup)
The Outlaws began last season by sweeping their opening weekend doubleheader in the Canada Cup, and then proceeded to go 1-5 in their final six games of the round-robin-esque event. Nick Boucher set single-game AUDL season highs for throwing yards (888), total yards (1223), and hucks (10) in his 2021 debut, and set the tone for an Ottawa squad that loved to huck it more than any other team in the league. The big-risk, big-reward of the longball made the Outlaws offense feisty, but erratic; Ottawa finished in the bottom third in the league in turnovers per game. But don’t be surprised to see this young and athletic Outlaws team triggering upset alerts throughout the season, as they will not go down easy.
19. Los Angeles Aviators
2021 record: 5-7
I learn the same lesson with this franchise almost every season: They lose notable, starting rotation talent, I plunge them in the rankings, and then they clown me with some impressive wins at some point. Losing Sean McDougall to rival San Diego hurts especially bad, but there’s still a deep rotation of veterans here for the Aviators to rely on; nobody in the West utilizes traps and defensive schemes out West better than the Aviators have over the past few seasons. And with three new expansion teams set to join the division, Los Angeles’ institutional knowledge and high ultimate IQ could keep them competitive. Sam Cook, Michael Kiyoi, Sam Fontaine, and Marcel Osborne are a very solid core of offensive options, and the return of 2019 All-Star Aaron Weaver is sure to give this team an emotional jolt.
18. Indianapolis AlleyCats
2021 record: 3-9
This feels low right now for an AlleyCats team that has slowly reassembled their 2019 Championship Weekend offensive unit, with a fully Cameron Brock committed coming out of retirement midway through last year, and the return of x-factor Keegan North after a season in Chicago. Their O-line will challenge even the best defenses in the division because of their experience and deep chemistry; they might not score a ton, but they will be very efficient in converting drives. And lost in the shuffle of a big offseason of player movement was Indy getting back Jeremy Keusch after a season in Austin. Just 22, the 6’2” defensive playmaker could provide the spark that was missing from an AlleyCats team that ranked in the bottom eight in takeaways in 2021.
17. Philadelphia Phoenix
2021 record: 3-9
Philly really lives up to its theme of “rebirth through fire” as they return an interesting mix of veterans and rookies to go along with an entirely new coaching staff in 2022. Greg Martin will once again compete for a goal scoring title and Sean Mott will make some jaw-dropping throws, but aside from that, there will be a lot of figuring out to do for the Phoenix in their first few weeks of play. The roster is brimming with potential breakthrough talent, but nobody has quite taken the full step to becoming a full-fledged star alongside Martin and Mott. Yet. James Pollard, Paul Owens, and Nate Little all look to be on the verge of something big.
16. Seattle Cascades
2021 record: 3-9
The Cascades sneakily finished with one of the more disruptive defensive units in the division in 2021, and now add an All-AUDL Defensive Team member in Drew Swanson, who racked up 44 blocks in 22 games with Chicago over the past two seasons. Manny Eckert finished 2021 in the league’s top 20 in a host of categories, including assists, completions, and total yardage, and showed off a deep bag of throws and an underrated aerial game as a receiver in his second year as a pro. Seattle is also sneaky-good at Memorial Stadium, but to be in the playoff race this year, they will have to drastically improve their performance away from home after losing all six road games last year.
15. Salt Lake Shred
2021 record: N/A
Salt Lake reminds me a lot of last year’s Seattle team, and not just because the Shred signed Garrett Martin, who led the Cascades D-line counterattack in 2021. The Shred will likely be a tough out at home, given the team’s already visible vigor and expected home crowds to feed them energy. What will make Salt Lake a potential playoff team in their first season of play will, also like Seattle, be how they handle their road matchups. And in Week 1 they have a SoCal doozy: Opening night against the reigning divisional champs in San Diego before facing the Aviators the next day in Los Angeles.
14. Dallas Legion
2021 record: 8-5
Many people have taken the big-name departures this offseason from Dallas as a surefire sign of this franchise’s descent. But not so fast. This Legion team is still going to be packed with top-of-the-line defensive talent—most of their starters are expected back after finishing sixth last season in points allowed per game—and will be led by the most underrated player in the AUDL from last season in Ben Lewis. Not only was Lewis 14th in the league in blocks with 17, he racked up an absurd 31 goals and nearly 1800 receiving yards while playing 80 percent of his points on defense. Dallas will remain a playoff contender in the South if they can improve on their league-average scoring.
13. Madison Radicals
2021 record: 7-5
With the city of Madison once again set to host Championship Weekend this August, there will be a particularly large carrot at the end of this season’s stick for a Radicals team yearning to get back to the playoffs after a two-season drought. And while their offense still has a lot of work to do after slipping to the middle of the pack the last two seasons in scoring and efficiency, this Madison defense will be as formidable as ever. Kevin Pettit-Scantling has four straight seasons with 20 or more blocks, and the Radicals are planning to re-integrate some veterans to bolster an already strong defensive rotation.
12. Montreal Royal
2021 record: 7-2 (Canada Cup), Canada Cup Champions
The Royal are one of the harder teams to peg heading into 2022. They won seven of their nine games against Toronto and Ottawa last year, had virtually an entire line of players take a visible step forward in their development—Christophe Tremblay-Joncas, Malik Auger-Semmar, Vincent Lemieux, and Jakob Brissette have the look of legit stars—and they took home a trophy. And yet at the same time, Montreal allowed their opponents to complete nearly 80 percent of their hucks in 2021, a disastrously high number for a D-line looking to put their team in playoff position. The Royal will have a decided advantage at home, like always. But they will have a lot of adjustments and expectations to manage as they get set to face strong US competition for the first time in two years.
11. Boston Glory
2021 record: 5-7
Boston finished fourth-worst in the league last season in scores allowed per game, surrendering over 22 goals per game, including the highest single-game total of the season when DC hung 32 on them in Week 3. If Glory’s defense can improve to even league average, they’re going to be a tough contender in the East. Ben Sadok was one of the five most productive offensive players in the AUDL in 2021, and now he gets a full season alongside Tannor Johnson and Topher Davis, both of whom have All-AUDL talent. Boston had five losses by three goals or less, with four of them coming against championship-level teams in New York, Atlanta, and Carolina. With their inaugural season in the rearview, expect Glory to learn from their mistakes and challenge again at the top of the division.
10. Austin Sol
2021 record: 6-6
The Sol spent the offseason re-signing almost their entire core from last year’s close-but-no-cigar playoff push, and re-added All-Star Kyle Henke along with a few other helpful player poaches from in-state rivals Dallas. Austin likes to attack the field vertically on offense, stretching defenses and making them play on their heels. But the Sol’s uptempo strategy comes with its drawbacks as the team finished in the bottom five in turnovers per game last season, averaging over 22 mistakes per contest. Austin slightly balanced it out by being first in the AUDL in takeaways, averaging 13 blocks per game, but the turnovers were simply too much at times, especially on the road; the Sol finished just 2-4 in away games in 2021. This team thinks of itself as a playoff team in the South, but with only two bids, they will have to figure out a way to beat the two other divisional teams above them in these rankings to make it back to the postseason for the first time since 2018.
9. Portland Nitro
2021 record: N/A
Even as an expansion team, Portland’s roster features some notable veteran players with Championship Weekend experience including Scott Radlauer, Chris Larberg, and Eli Friedman. But the real juice for this Nitro team will likely be the play of Raphy Hayes and Leandro Marx, one of the most diabolical offensive duos in the sport. Marx can be streaky at times, but when he’s hot, he can be the best player on the field; Hayes might emerge as an MVP candidate after the first month of the season. I can’t wait to get a first look at this team this Saturday as they prepare to take on Oakland in a preseason friendly on AUDL.tv.
8. Colorado Summit
2021 record: N/A
The Summit are going to be deep, talented, and athletic, and could be a dark horse contender for a title if they maximize their potential. Jay Froude and Matt Jackson give this team championship experience, and though they haven’t been announced publicly yet, there will be more MVP-level additions to come for this Summit roster. It would surprise me none if this season’s Rookie Of The Year came from Colorado, especially with how Alex Atkins has been playing in the college division of late. The biggest test early in the season for the Summit might be their own schedule as they have four road games in their first six matchups.
7. Chicago Union
2021 record: 11-3
After coming just one goal shy of a championship game appearance in 2021, this feels a bit low for the reigning divisional champions out of Chicago. But losing Swanson and other defensive playmakers is going to be an adjustment for this Union team early in the season. Still, they return the core of their offensive lineup that finished last season with the highest scoring efficiency of any AUDL offense, ever. Pawel Janas has established himself as the premier thrower in the league, and alongside Ross Barker and Paul Arters form perhaps the most formidable offensive trios outside of New York. Eli Artemakis could be in the running for the “Most Improved” award after a very impressive rookie campaign.
6. Minnesota Wind Chill
2021 record: 10-3
Adding Abe Coffin through free agency and getting back Quinn Snider are huge additions for a Minnesota offense that was already stacked with throwing and receiving talent. The Wind Chill have added starting-level talent each of the past three offseasons, and now go seven or more deep on both offensive and defensive lines. What it really all comes down to for Minnesota is: Can they win when it matters? The Wind Chill have yet to win a playoff game in nine seasons of play, with last year’s collapse in Chicago being especially brutal. But we’ve seen many times—think Carolina, Madison, and New York—franchises use tough postseason losses as springboards to a championship, and this Minnesota team definitely has the talent to be in title conversations.
5. Atlanta Hustle
2021 record: 9-4
It seemed like the loss of Antoine Davis—arguably Atlanta’s second best offensive player last season—was going to be big, until the Hustle turned around and added Bobby Ley, Khalif El-Salaam, and Brad Seuntjens during the offseason. Austin Taylor seems to have unlocked his final form as one of the top throwers in the league, and I expect him to have another great season alongside Ley. This is a Hustle team that had the Empire on the ropes for the entire first half of their playoff meeting in 2021, and it took buzzer-beating heroics from NY’s MVP-strata talent to put down a surging Atlanta franchise. Similar to Minnesota, it feels like the Hustle’s losses are becoming learning experiences for a team thirsting for its first Championship Weekend appearance.
4. DC Breeze
2021 record: 10-3
DC might be the deepest team aside from the defending champions, seemingly having a player for any position on either line. They have a nice mix of youth and veterans, a former MVP on the roster, and the reigning Defensive Player Of The Year who’s still just 21. But for as much talent is on this roster, the real unifying force for the Breeze has been Head Coach Darryl Stanley, who can seemingly optimize every player who comes into his system. The Breeze were a top five team on offense and defense in 2021, and I don’t expect that to discontinue this year. New York has bettered them in each of the past three seasons, but that might come to an end in 2022.
3. San Diego Growlers
2021 record: 11-3
The Growlers deserve this spot after being one of just six teams in AUDL history to have back-to-back appearances at Championship Weekend. Travis Dunn has gotten three consecutive First Team All-AUDL nods, and is still in the prime of his career. But with the West adding three new teams, the Growlers will face a lot of unknowns, which can sometimes be their downfall; San Diego has played extremely well against good teams in big games the past two seasons, but has shown a tendency to have off-nights against teams significantly lower than them in the standings. The West is still the Growlers domain, but they will need to fight for it this season.
2. New York Empire
2021 record: 12-3
Let’s just list them: Ben Jagt, Jack Williams, Ryan Osgar, Jeff Babbitt, and now the addition of All-Star Antoine Davis. All five players could go in the top 25 of a league-wide fantasy draft, so it feels almost unfair to have them in the same jerseys together, and potentially all on a universe line at some point in the season. New York was pushed to the limit a few times in 2021, but their stars always seemed to shine brightest in the biggest moments, earning the team three separate buzzer-beater victories throughout the course of the season. The Empire have made two straight championship game appearances, and expect to be in a third this year.
1. Carolina Flyers
2021 record: 11-4, AUDL Champions
After announcing their absolutely stacked lineup of returners last week, it looks like the Flyers could become the second team in AUDL history to repeat as champions. But that expectation has proven a little too much for great teams of years past like 2017 Dallas, or 2021 New York; both teams were expected to go back-to-back, but were stalled at Championship Weekend by upsets. But this Carolina team feels different, as virtually all of their top playmakers are still rounding into their best playing years; the Flyers could be even better this year. Their talent and depth are going to give opponents fits all season long, especially with Head Coach Mike DeNardis being the preeminent signal caller in the league at making in-game adjustments.
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