Jack Youngblood, defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams from 1971-1984, once said, “Good luck is the residue of preparation.”
Going into an AAF draft blind, as I did, you can make plenty of mistakes. For instance, Bishop Sankey was drafted second overall and did not make his team’s final roster. John Crockett was drafted 13th overall and was cut from his team.
Unfortunately, there was no cheat sheet on the world-wide-web. There was no magazine with Christian Hackenberg on the cover breaking down all eight teams’ fantasy-relevant players. There was no 24/7 channel dedicated to talking about the same headlines all day.
There have merely been fan forums, a few notes from teams, a couple of pictures from the league, a scarce number of articles, and coded preseason stats. So I dug a little deeper and gained as much knowledge as I could about these players, some easier than others. With this knowledge, I’ve compiled an early rankings list. Once depth charts and more news about starters is revealed I’ll be updating these rankings.
The quarterback position was very hard to gauge. I’m not even sure who is starting for the Fleet, but whoever it is should have great fantasy stats for Mike Martz. I predict it will be Mike Bercovici.
Christian Hackenberg is the most relevant name in the AAF, and that’s because he did show signs of success in his career. They didn’t translate to the NFL, but he was young and has had some time to mature and get better.
I like Luis Perez as a sleeper quarterback, as I’m in love with the Birmingham Iron this year. Their offense should be explosive, and Perez did win the best football player in Division II award, the Harlon Hill Trophy, in 2017. So we know he can play.
1. Christian Hackenberg – Memphis Express
2. Mike Bercovici – San Diego Fleet
3. Josh Woodrum Salt Lake Stallions
4. Garrett Gilbert – Orlando Apollos
5. Dustin Vaughan – San Antonio Commanders
6. Matt Simms – Atlanta Legends
7. Luis Perez – Birmingham Iron
8. Trevor Knight – Arizona Hotshots
9. Aaron Murray – Atlanta Legends
10. Logan Woodside – San Antonio Commanders
11. Blake Simms – Birmingham Iron
12. John Wolford – Arizona Hotshots
13. Matt Linehan – Salt Lake Stallions
14. Zach Mettenberger – Memphis Express
This was my favorite position to predict, full of players of yesteryear and players who have come out of nowhere. I am not going to just find the guys that have an NFL background and put them at the top. Instead, I’ve thrown in some wild cards based on what I saw from them and read about them.
Diving right into the sleepers, my favorite running back entering the season is Ja’Quan Gardner, an explosive running back from Humboldt State University, a university of just over 8,000 people northern California. Gardner is 5’7 and 205 pounds, one inch taller and 15 pounds heavier than Darren Sproles. He can run in any direction and shows great elusiveness. His ankle-breaking cuts will leave defenders stunned in the AAF.
Another unknown name I’m very fond of this year is Tarean Foster. The Notre Dame alumnus went undrafted in 2017 but had a great sophomore season with 889 yards on 175 touches, which is a 5.1 y/c average. He is now my projected starter for the Atlanta Legends over Denard Robinson and Akrum Wadley. This projection is based on preseason and camp and in no way official.
It’s hard not to have Trent Richardson as the number one running back this season. With his impressive history and high draft status, he should be run heavily. To boot, he plays for the aforementioned Birmingham Iron, who should have an explosive offense this season.
Zac Stacy had an impressive stint during his NFL career, but it’s been a few years, and unfortunately, backs don’t get faster with time. If he can keep up the pace as he once did, he should battle Richardson all season for the top running back spot.
Akeem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson should make a great 1-2 punch in Orlando; I’m liking both of them wherever I can get them.
1. Trent Richardson – Birmingham Iron
2. Zac Stacy – Memphis Express
3. Ja’Quan Gardner – San Diego Fleet
4. Akeem Hunt – Orlando Apollos
5. Tarean Foster – Atlanta Legends
6. Kenneth Farrow – San Antonio Commanders
7. Jhurell Pressley – Arizona Hotshots
8. Joel Bouagnon – Salt Lake Stallions
9. Denard Robinson – Atlanta Legends
10. Branden Oliver – Salt Lake Stallions
11. Ryan Green – Orlando Apollos
12. Aaron Green – San Antonio Commanders
13. Justin Stockton – Arizona Hotshots
14. D’Ernest Johnson – Orlando Apollos
15. Akrum Wadley – Atlanta Legends
16. Terrance Magee – Memphis Express
17. David Cobb – San Antonio Commanders
18. Ty Isaac – Birmingham Iron
19. Trey Williams – San Antonio Commanders
20. De’Veon Smith – Orlando Apollos
21. Matt Asiata – Salt Lake Stallions
22. Ladarius Perkins – Birmingham Iron
23. Terrell Watson – San Diego Fleet
24. Larry Rose – Arizona Hotshots
25. Tim Cook – Arizona Hotshots
26. Brandon Ross – Birmingham Iron
27. Paul James – San Diego Fleet
28. Rajion Neal – Memphis Express
29. Terrell Newby – Salt Lake Stallions
30. Anthony Manto-Lewis – Memphis Express
31. CJ Smith – Salt Lake Stallions
32. Cordon Moog – Memphis Express
For the wide receivers, there are a lot more bold predictions. Fabian Guerra has been my boy since I started researching AAF players. In fact, I’ve tweeted out that he’ll be the best player in the league this season. Showing impressive hands and quickness, Guerra was a three-time ALL-MEC Wide Receiver and received the NCAA Catch of the Year Award in 2014. He broke Fairmont State’s records in receptions (223) and the single-game record for receiving yards (247). In his senior season, he finished second in team history with 76 receptions, which again alludes to his great hands. The guy just doesn’t drop the ball.
I like Francis Owusu a lot this year, too. He could be a pivotal piece in the Mike Martz offense. Similar to why Bercovici is so highly touted in the quarterback rankings, Owusu and teammate Dontez Ford got a bump because they are playing for a dynamic head coach. Owusu was on-again-off-again with the Dolphins the last two years, but now he’ll have his time to shine. Dontez Ford, who had a one-day stint with the Lions in 2018, was not a big name coming out of college, where he totaled fewer than 850 yards combined in his three seasons at the University of Pittsburgh.
Mekale McKay is another big name to watch out for. The San Antonio Commanders have a strong receiving corps with McKay, De’Marcus Ayers, and Greg Ward Jr. I believe McKay will be the one to stand apart from the others. He will be a superstar with his great hands and his six-foot-six-inch frame. If you miss on McKay early in your draft, immediately target De’Marcus Ayers, who will be the quick screen receiver. He’s one of the fastest players in the AAF and has experience with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he caught six balls for 53 yards and a touchdown in just two games during the 2016 season. Ayers also added three receptions on three targets for 27 yards in the 2016 playoffs.
1. Fabian Guerra – Memphis Express
2. Francis Owusu – San Diego Fleet
3. Kenny Bell – Salt Lake Stallions
4. Charles Johnson – Orlando Apollos
5. Mekale McKay – San Antonio Commanders
6. Josh Huff – Arizona Hotshots
7. De’Marcus Ayers – San Antonio Commanders
8. Dontez Ford – San Diego Fleet
9. Seantavius Jones – Atlanta Legends
10. DeVozea Felton – Birmingham Iron
11. Alton “Pig” Howard – Memphis Express
12. Montay Crockett – Atlanta Legends
13. Jordan Leslie – Salt Lake Stallions
14. Jalin Marshall – Orlando Apollos
15. Malachi Jones – Atlanta Legends
16. Tobias Palmer – Birmingham Iron
17. Damore’ea Stringfellow – Memphis Express
18. Rashad Ross – Arizona Hotshots
19. De’Mornay Pierson-El – Salt Lake Stallions
20. Greg Ward Jr. – San Antonio Commanders
21. L’Damian Washington – Birmingham Iron
22. Ishmael Hyman – Orlando Apollos
23. Kameron Kelly – San Diego Fleet
24. Josh Stewart – San Antonio Commanders
25. Quinton Patton – Birmingham Iron
26. Richard Mullaney – Arizona Hotshots
27. Donteea Dye Jr – Orlando Apollos
28. James Quick – Atlanta Legends
29. John Diarse – San Antonio Commanders
30. Marvin Bracy-Williams – Orlando Apollos
31. Adonis Jennings – Salt Lake Stallions
32. Devin Lucien – Memphis Express
33. Dontez Byrd – Memphis Express
34. Reece Horn – Memphis Express
35. Chris Thompson – Orlando Apollos
36. Dres Anderson – Salt Lake Stallions
37. Kayaune Ross – Memphis Express
38. Sam Mobley – Salt Lake Stallions
39. Marquis Bundy – Arizona Hotshots
40. Nelson Spruce – San Diego Fleet
I’m interested to see how the tight end position is used in the AAF. With the quarterbacks being not so elite, the tight end position may play an especially game-changing role. There will be plenty of security blanket throws, and those could add up for the tight ends.
Let’s note that only three of these 16 players have recorded a reception in the NFL (Gavin Escobar 30, Adrien Robinson 5, and Gerald Christian 1). Escobar and Robinson are also the only two to have a touchdown reception in the NFL. I’m targeting those two early.
Thomas Duarte, a UCLA alumnus, has a touhcdown reception in the NFL, but it was in preseason. Even though I have Escobar ranked above Duarte because of his experience, I truly love Duarte. Slightly undersized at 6’2, he was the 231st draft pick in 2016 to the Miami Dolphins. I believe his route running will prove to be elite for the AAF, and I expect a lot of fun and great fantasy stats from Thomas Duarte.
1. Gavin Escobar – San Diego Fleet
2. Thomas Duarte – Arizona Hotshots
3. Adrien Robinson – Memphis Express
4. Scott Orndoff – Orlando Apollos
5. Cole Hunt – San Antonio Commanders
6. Tanner Balderree – Salt Lake Stallions
7. Busta Anderson – Birmingham Iron
8. Garrett Hudson – Atlanta Legends
9. Anthony Denham – Salt Lake Stallions
10. Matt Weiser – Orlando Apollos
11. Cam Clear – San Antonio Commanders
12. Gerald Christian – Arizona Hotshots
13. Marcus Baugh – San Diego Fleet
14. Braedon Bowman – Birmingham Iron
15. Keith Trowbridge – Atlanta Legends
16. Brandon Barnes – Memphis Express
1. Nick Folk – Arizona Hotshots
2. Nick Novak – Birmingham Iron
3. Younghoe Koo – Atlanta Legends
4. Cole Murphy – San Diego Fleet
5. Elliott Fry – Orlando Apollos
6. Nick Rose – San Antonio Commanders
7. Jimmy Camacho – Salt Lake Stallions
8. Josh Jasper – Memphis Express
1. Birmingham Iron
2. Memphis Express
3. Arizona Hotshots
4. Atlanta Legends
5. Salt Lake Stallions
6. San Antonio Commanders
7. Orlando Apollos
8. San Diego Flee
*Mandatory Photo Credit: www.AZCentral.com