The Good, Bad and Ugly of Every SFL Rookie Draft
Written by Jacob Clear
Brought to you by around the sfl
Ah yes, of course, the end of the off-season. Somehow, it always marred with the same conversations, season in, season out. Though, for whatever reason, this offseason felt a lot different. Completely riddled with headlines and controversy... it seemed, quiet in here. Six weeks isn't enough time for us talking heads. Forget the GMs. We need more time to talk nonsense.
But seriously, when was the last time we had an offseason this silent? At least the draft gave us something to talk about. Ah, the age-old question:
"What would you do if you invested in a guy in the draft, and he flat-out told you no?"
It can happen one of many ways - in a lot of instances, players have already got teams in mind, or outright don't want to be drafted. It always feels like it harms the draft process. And, historically speaking, it felt like this draft was riddled with it even more so than any other. So, it got me thinking - what were some of the biggest draft screw-ups in league history? And what picks turned out to be absolute gold mines?
We've had 11 seasons worth of the progression era now, I have appeared on at least one too many panels, but I feel like I know my way around this stuff, to a degree. So let's go back through memory lane and pick out the best, and sometimes worst picks, from the last 11 drafts.
Special shoutout to BJ Loveless for compiling the list of draft selections.
Season 11 draft - 2 rounds
We start back in Season 11 - a couple of seasons before my time, this was back when we still had the Dallas Lobos, Jacksonville was in Tallahassee and Florida was Alaska. Xander Gold went #1 overall, a pick that seemed to last the test of time - just not for New Orleans - but it was a draft otherwise filled with players who had extensive careers both on and off the field. Thomas Ramen served brilliantly as the leader of Las Vegas for an extended period before becoming an owner of Los Angeles, safety Ethan Kye had a similar career trajectory, as did 34th overall pick BJ Loveless. This draft also featured a ridiculous turnaround at the end of Round 1 with EJ Decue, Jason Williams, Tank Bennett, TRoy Gaines and John Blades all going back to back. This stacked first round also featured the likes of JW Doyle, Marcus Dunhill, and Kentez Johnson.
The second round, however, was where some real gold mines were found. Sioux Falls grabbed Colin Hart, a player who would later almost take them to a title by himself, as well as Jay Ringgold; Indianapolis snared Keith Swearingen who would serve extremely well for them, and Atlanta picked up Siege Falco to pair with Dunhill. But perhaps the best pick from this round was Vancouver's selection of Markem (now Marc) Lopez, at 27, who would go on to become one of the franchise's best players and would play a key role in founding the league's stats department a few seasons later.
But the best pick of this draft was, without a doubt, Denver running back Jerrod McChesney. It cannot be described in words just how dominant this guy was, in such a short period. If you don't believe me, go back and watch any Denver game in the few seasons McChesney was active. He had to be seen to be believed. And he was the best pick from this draft.
Season 12 - 1 round
Not much to see here by way of numbers - only 21 picks made - but boy were there some good ones. Moody Mitchell would start a conga line of St Louis quarterbacks that never found their way as the #1 overall pick, but Zach Sandlin served as a fun experiment at 2. The quarterback talent in this one was thin but quality, so, it does leave one wondering what exactly may have been different in St Louis had they passed on Mitchell. TD Drew went on to have a competent career with Charleston but the real miss was Tulsa QB Ashley Jackson (now Arizona) who went at #8.
Elsewhere though, there were some outstanding picks - Reggie Streeter had an incredible career in London and Louisiana, whilst Logan Jack served Carolina and Los Angeles brilliantly after the Pharoahs disappeared. Everett Garrison and Thomas Ramen Jr were both great picks at corner, and Jamaal Wooding would go on to have a fantastic career in Atlanta before retiring in Season 20. Queen City got a huge steal as well, grabbing Stephen Hacker who would go on to become one of the best players ever at his position, but also turning around their off-field operations in the process.
The best selection in this draft, however, was also not a debate for me - it was Vancouver's pick at #3 of Hall of Famer Rich Pritchard. Rich's impact on the SFL was genuinely immeasurable - whilst he had a great career on the field, he was also invaluable to Vancouver off it, and one of the best broadcasters we've ever had. His career was highlighted beautifully by a Moment of the Season winner in his final season, with a huge touchdown play. He will always be missed.
Season 13 - 1 Round
They get longer, I promise! This was the most shallow draft the league has ever seen. Irrespective, some fun picks went through this draft that are worth looking over. Darian Boles would be taken by London at 10 and would go through a few name changes before becoming Charleston's GM as Terrell Southerland - Ayden Davis would have an impressive career at Fort Worth after departing Houston, where he was drafted, and Maur Rivers would always show flashes of his potential as he shifted in and out of retirement. Sully Richardson was also a fantastic pick in this draft, having a great career in Carolina before joining Los Angeles, and Sudo Nakai would go on to have a great career on and off the field for Vancouver, where he has now returned after stints in Carolina and San Diego.
Remember what I said about the St Louis revolving door of quarterbacks? Two words. Noah Johns.
The best pick, however, was DJ Moses, who survived the Oklahoma City rebranding and went on to have an electric career as Arizona's lead running back. A player who would guide them to multiple championship games, go berserk on Denver unironically in Season 21, but capped it off with an MVP to finish the APF era. That's pretty damn impressive to me.
Season 14 - 3 rounds
Hey, studio draft! Remember this one? This was the peak of SFL content!
It was also the third straight season of St Louis taking a quarterback. Yikes. At least this one made some sense. He just, as with the theme, didn't last longer than a season. St Louis just couldn't have nice things. They somehow didn't do as badly as Queen City did though - but that's a story for the archives.
Yes, folks, this was the day the SFL changed. Jonny Pichler became a thing. Gone are the days of his causing controversy on Twitter, talking for an hour on Axis Live yet saying nothing, and somehow making half the league hate him from day one. That was Jonny, and he loved it. He's still around but is much more focused on his playing, and it's worked out well for San Diego. He had an impressive first season and it seems likely he'll build on it.
Elsewhere in the first round, Arizona scored big with edge rusher Mark Melo. Dave Axis was a fun selection by Atlanta as he became the driver behind the Lone Star revolution a season later. Tulsa's Berto DeMoura also turned out extremely well, as he now sits as a minority owner with the Desparados.
The second round was fun - Eddie struck again with tackle Alex Constantine, whilst Florida picked up the boot of Marcus Agrippa. Mark Gronek was a nice pick by St Louis towards the end, however, which saw the beginning of Drew's defense take shape.
Late in the draft saw Tulsa fill out their defensive line with Chris Andrews and Jaedyn Swift, who are still with them to this day - Jay Miraculous was fantastic for Atlanta as well.
The pick of the litter though was taken by Carolina, who snatched Davidson Joseph at 22nd. Perhaps better known as Michael Truilo, he's been incredibly loyal to Carolina, but earned a Hall of Fame induction for his broadcasting, whilst also being instrumental in the 4K23 mod development.
Season 15 - 7 rounds
So, we finally made it to the SFLm. This was, of course, the infamous Supplemental Draft. To give some newer fans context, this was the first and only draft where, after the first round, a player could be taken at any position outside of their SFLm position, whilst still keeping value. Monumental at the time, but did not last long.
I could talk about this draft all day and still wouldn't give it the coverage it deserves - this draft would lay the foundation for the league for the foreseeable future. Many of these players would go on to be owners, GMs, coaches, league talking heads, you name it. 137 picks were unheard of for the SFL, but that was what the SFLm brought to the table. This was a new era for the league.
The start of this draft was magnificent - David Horrell, Vernard Patterson, Benji Mattson, Brody Gulch, Ross Napoli and Ace Fenech - who joined the newly rebranded Lone Star Glory - were all brilliant picks for their unique reasons. 3 of those 6 would go on to be owners.
Jean Benazzi, Scott Johnson, Bryant Dynasty and Hugo Reynosa (DRAFT HUGO) highlighted the second round - Benazzi would eventually become a part of the Red Sea in Arizona whilst also serving an incredible role on JaxData with now-fellow teammate Hunter Norwood.
The third and fourth rounds saw Mike Ahl get drafted to Jacksonville, now Canton GM, with future MVP Delaney Nash in tow.
The fifth round was where the supplemental concept started to make things weird - Jae Hayden however was a complete diamond in the rough for Baltimore, who went on to have a successful career at a few teams before retiring in Minnesota.
Round six saw Zach Holldorf taken as an offensive lineman, with Cameron Collier and RE Mills both having great careers as fullbacks. This round also saw the selection of the late Leonard Butler Sr to Louisiana.
Some real diamonds though were found in the final round - tight ends James Walters and Varadin Zharkov were both taken here by Vancouver and Florida respectively, along with Lone Star (now Carolina) running back Ike McBride.
Art Vandelay was a huge pick for Portland in the third round, however, and in my opinion, was the best pick in this draft. He would go on to become Florida's head coach and guide them to a title in the first season of 4K23. Need I say more?
Season 16 - 3 rounds
Expansion time! This was the first real expansion round the league had ever seen - Chicago became Los Angeles, joining DC, San Diego and Portland as the new faces of the league. This was also the infamous Jack Lewis draft (sorry Chad), as well as Cliff Grizzly disappearing from Carolina's view shortly after they spent a high pick on him. The top overall pick, Mike Ryan, would only last in San Diego one season before Tyler Falk would pack up and leave for Louisiana.
There were, however, some real gems in this draft class - the leadership in Los Angeles scored big with Chris Lee at 6, Jay Cue would become Captain Portugal in Tulsa the pick prior, and Atlanta would pick up Will Todd at 14 who would later become an invaluable piece in Arizona. Vancouver also scored with the selection of Josh Farnzy at 17.
Round 2 saw a batch of great tight ends enter the league - both Lauren Percoco (Fort Worth, now DC) and Jason France (Tulsa, now Minnesota) went towards the top. St Louis secured one of their best-ever franchise picks in Guy Clawson at pick 30 - the first real score St Louis could say they had for many seasons in the draft. Elsewhere, Evan Lacey would be drafted to Lone Star before taking his talents to Canton, and Achilles Papatonis would be taken by Vancouver at 37. St Louis would also finally halt the streak of drafting bad quarterbacks with Christian Brown at 46, who would last them two seasons before leaving for Vancouver.
The third round, or the DC Dragons roster filler round, also saw some great talent picked up - the Dragons grabbed the likes of Riley Kuse, Benny Butcher, Kae Marion, Kingston Ellington, David Leathers, John DeSantis and Jeff Banfield with their remaining picks. Quite the haul!
Fitting with the theme though, the best pick from this draft was, yeah, very very obvious. He just won the title, recently struck an MVP award and is just an outright juggernaut at the running back position. Charlie Biletsky at 49th overall is not just the best pick from this draft, but was one of the best picks of all time. Considering this was a player coming out of Madison that was considered unlikely to be drafted at all, the late shift of JW Doyle to fullback opened up the door without anyone seeing. Unbelievable trickery from Max Paul has resulted in a truly generational talent.
Season 17 - 3 rounds
We're starting to get somewhere now! This draft though was again, pretty hit or miss. The first round saw a couple of future owners taken - Axel Raven to Sioux Falls at 3 was huge at the time but didn't last for the Sparrows, he now owns Minnesota - and Pauly Truth would become a co-owner in Seattle after his stint in Florida. Myles Gibson went to Tulsa at 11, a player now regarded as one of the best at his position in the league in Minnesota. Lousiana struck well at 5 with their selection of Tommy Utah, who is still the face of their franchise in his fifth season.
Tulsa struck big with their pick of Daniel Wright at 30 and Philadelphia Collins at 44 to aid their defense, and Flordia hit well with Stephen Black at 37. Charleston would take their eventual GM in Terrell Southerland at 31.
The best pick of this draft would be a toss-up between the final three picks, as they would all be exceptional for their reasons. Baylee O'Shaughnessy has been unreal for Denver, and well worth the value placed on him, and John Martin has been indispensable for the Jacksonville front office and had an extremely impressive Season 21 campaign. But the best pick, for me, given the circumstances the team was in, and I suppose has been in, was Houston's selection of Dave Burr at 63. The team was still reeling from the loss of Kentez Johnson and had gone through a spell with Xander Gold at the helm, before landing Lexington Miner Dave Burr late in the Season 17 draft. He's been immense for them and has proved to be the perfect guy for their squad. A true saviour.
Season 18 - 3 rounds
Inching closer towards the present, this was a very fun draft. The final three of the four horsemen were taken here, with Tulsa's selection of Douglas Brown proving to be worth the value, as he would go on to be a franchise-defining player in his four seasons. Houston would take Brad Jones at 9, who would later go on to lead the Alamo City backfield.
Further in, Portland picked up Izrell Adams at 10, and Charleston would grab Robert Cherry at 17, who would serve them brilliantly before becoming Indianapolis' GM in Season 22. Queen City picked up Nathaniel Diggs, who is now a key piece in the Arizona front office.
The real talent in this draft shone through from the third round, though - Juan Mississippi has ended up being a huge pick for Denver given his on-field efforts. Dante Grimm has been especially loyal to Louisiana and is now flourishing as a starter. Frank Bernstine would serve Fort Worth well before winding up in Canton, and Sam Blotner would become a franchise-defining player for Charleston after being taken at 67. Ernest McCray was a steal for Sioux Falls at 78, but it would be Indianapolis who would be the real beneficiaries of his efforts off-field. San Diego also struck gold with Scar Patterson who would lead the air-raid attack under Liam Hammer for a few seasons before they disbanded.
The best pick though, again, was someone taken right at the back - this time being Mr Irrelevant, if you will - that being JZ Bacon. Whilst his on-field efforts last season were incredibly impressive, taking over from Jason Williams, it must be said that Josh's impact around the SFL has been truly spectacular. His broadcasting, coupled with the season's worth of show content he produced for the league, has made him one of the most valuable picks in league history.
Season 19 - 4 ROUNDs
We are ALMOST there, I PROMISE! This was the first draft I appeared on the panel for, and it was an absolute blast. The first round was extremely volatile, with several picks that didn't eventuate. Indianapolis failed to hold onto Bryant James after taking him 1st overall, but Minnesota would score big with Mr Convention Sasquatch himself, Mickey Melilo, and Carolina would land their future GM in Skippy Curtis at 6. Jason Peace would also prove to be a highly valuable pick for Houston after they took him at 11.
Oh yeah, did I mention it? NEW TEAMS! Yes, this season saw the introduction of Canton, Seattle, Minnesota and Indianapolis into the fold. Canton would famously not draft, having already completed their roster.
The second round would be headlined by Jacksonville's selection of Jordan Sipe, who would later become one of the most controversial names in the league after being named as Matt Willson's heir in Mexico City. He's delivered though, and is geared up for a revenge campaign in Season 22 with a talented roster.
The third round was all over the place as well, but Quegg Ma'am has proved valuable for Minnesota as a key receiver. Rob Fourarker would also enter the league here in Denver, before starting his career in Alamo City as a key piece of their defense.
Seattle would score a great pick in the third round with Matthias Citrion and also saw their future running back Baloo Scott taken to the newly rebranded Motor City. Perhaps the one that got away?
The best pick in this draft though was made back in the first round - he's one of the most likeable people in the league and now the lead tight end in Florida. He's also an absolute machine on stats. I will never know how he does what he does. But boy is he good. Ron Haines is a star and was the best pick from this draft.
Season 20 - 2 rounds
What a great draft class this turned out to be! There was so much hype building up to this one, especially with the introduction of TJ Harper's "Flex Squad" and all of the controversy that came with it. Charleston, however, absolutely nailed this first round, grabbing their two eventual coaches Geno McFly and Matt Ryan in the first round. Indianapolis would pick up Max Van Linge, who would later join Canton, and John Fullerton would be grabbed by Fort Worth.
Looking into the second round, Mexico City would pick up gun fullback Buford Van Dam at 30, and Denver would pick up their QB of the future in Gene Struthers after a lengthy stint in Annapolis. Mojo McLane has proved to be a perfect fit in Carolina along with teammate E. Bari Emari-Eaglin (say that five times fast), whilst Queen City would take John Lakeman deep into the second round, who would later become the signal caller in Charleston.
The best pick though - and I hold no apologies for this - was Geno McFly. The exact guy you would want to take at #1. Charleston, at that point, was struggling - a 3-9 campaign left them near the bottom of the heap after being a playoff team just a season prior. McFly, a South Carolina native, would go on to become the team's OC and led them to the playoffs in Season 21.
season 21 - 4 rounds
We've reached the end of the road - well, kinda, I'll still tell you something about 22. This was a huge one though - the new era of SFL saw just our second draft that would exceed 100 players selected. Headlined by the mammoth TJ Harper trade to bring Seattle up to #1 to pick up Ty Ptak, this was a draft packed with players who have had huge impacts in just their first season.
I first want to highlight Alex Marshall, who was snubbed in Season 20 but taken at #6 by Queen City. He's showing some incredible flashes as an offensive coach and has given life to an organisation that desperately needed it. Nicholas Frossil looks great in a Minnesota uniform (he famously sat out the Season 20 draft due to build concerns). DJ Woods had a fantastic rookie campaign in Vancouver, and Josh Slapp has shown flashes of brilliance over in Houston and is geared up for a strong sophomore campaign.
Round 2 saw Kaleb Giffis go to Florida, who would go on to become a huge piece in their title run. The defensive rookie of the season Luis Quintana was also taken here at 35 by Denver. Sam Harrison earned a spot in the all-star game after an impressive rookie campaign in DC and has now switched to running back, and Danny Carmichael has been huge for San Diego off the field and is now an SFLm owner with Nashville.
The highlight of Round 3 would be Luke Schreiner, another impressive rookie in Denver who would make great contributions to the league's live stats department. He would later be joined by another Nightwing rookie in Dusty Killbrew, who would partner with Quintana to form a raw, but otherwise impressive Denver linebacking core.
The best pick though was, obviously, Ty Ptak. Sure, they spent an absolute premium on him but, who cares - Seattle probably ended up getting even more than what they had bargained for. To come in and become essentially the head coach from day one, steer the team to an 8-4 record and a franchise first playoff berth - yeah, that's impressive. It's ridiculously impressive. The trade held its controversies at the time but, safe to say, those have been firmly put to bed now. There are surely some teams who are kicking themselves for passing on him.
season 22 - 3 rounds
And so we have reached today, the dawn of the new season. A draft headlined by Ash Ketchum taken by Denver at #1 was very entertaining and raised some really good discussions in the aftermath. It's going to be incredibly interesting to see how the rookies from this class pan out, and who stands up above the rest.
For now, though, I appreciate you taking the time to read this, it was a lot of fun reading back through these draft classes to see where people were taken originally, at what pick, and who was taken around them. There were some absolute steals and, some complete busts, across the seasons, but it's all evidence of how fun the draft is.
Enjoy Week 1, and I will be back with, who knows what - but at the very least some content with Around the SFL. See ya!