March 27, 2023
By Daniel Cohen
With offenses playing more efficiently than ever, true shutdown defenders are now more valuable than ever, and there’s a new wave of them making noise early in their careers. The following five players, all ages 25 and under, have already proven themselves as some of the most important defensive assets in the league.
Matthew Armour, Austin Sol
One of the league’s top handler defenders, Matthew Armour joined the Austin Sol in 2022 and quickly established himself as a D-line leader. At 6’1”, the 25-year-old has great length for a handler defender and possesses the quickness to keep up with the best in the league; he’s frequently tasked with shutting down the opposing team’s top thrower and has the range to contest every reset. He’s a tonesetter at the first level of the defense, and with his ability to facilitate an offense after turnovers, Armour was a big reason for Austin’s 31.6 percent break rate last year (fifth best in the league). The Sol D-line is looking as balanced as ever, and Armour should continue to take the unit to new heights in 2023.
Brett Hulsmeyer, Atlanta Hustle
He’s hit double digit blocks in each of his first three seasons in the AUDL, with 41 total over his last two, so it’s easy to lose track of the fact that Brett Hulsmeyer is still just 25 years old as of yesterday (Happy belated, Brett). The Atlanta Hustle big man has been extremely productive generating turnovers in the patented Hustle zone, whether he’s eating up hucks in the deep space or blitzing underneath to ignite fast-break counterattacks. He plays like a strong safety in football, with great play recognition and a ballhawk mentality when the disc is in the air. Able to serve as either a handler or downfield threat after turnovers, the 6’5” Hulsmeyer presents a matchup problem on both sides of the disc and if he can continue developing his offensive game, he has the potential to become one of the more dangerous two-way players in the league.
John Randolph, New York Empire
24-year-old John Randolph joined the New York Empire midseason and immediately slotted in on the starting D-line. The 2022 Callahan Award winner—awarded to the MVP of the D1 college division—is a workhorse with great quickness and balance, traits that have proven invaluable as both a defender and cutter working in small spaces. His defining play of the 2022 season came with 15 seconds left in the first quarter of the second semifinal game. Marking Alex Davis of the Carolina Flyers just outside the redzone, JR read Davis like a book, bouncing back off the mark to cut off the upfield angle and point-block Davis’ attempted backhand; this play gave the Empire all the momentum they needed to open up the game and hold their lead for the rest of the night. Frequently making life difficult for his matchups on defense, Randolph excels equally as an offensive contributor after turnovers, capable of explosive plays on both the throwing and receiving end.
Paul Owens, Philadelphia Phoenix
In an instagram post following DC’s playoff win over Philly, 2018 AUDL MVP Rowan McDonnell captioned, “Paul Owens just might be the most underrated player in [the AUDL].” Last season, Owens drew the Rowan matchup in the playoffs and McDonnell had a season-high four throwaways. Three weeks earlier, Owens drew the Jack Williams matchup in Philly’s Week 13 game against New York and held Jack to his lowest scoring output of the season (one assist, no goals). The 23-year-old All Defense Team selection broke out in his third AUDL season, continually providing some of the toughest competition against worlds-level players. There’s not a long list of players that have gotten a layout block on Jack Williams in the reset space, but Owens earned his place with sticky defense, impressive quickness, and strong defensive instincts. Capable of launching huge, booming backhands, Owens also carved out a role as the primary Phoenix puller last year and serves as Philly’s top throwing option on the counterattack.
Chad Yorgason, Salt Lake Shred
Chad Yorgason just came out firing in his first season in the league, in every sense of the word. In his AUDL debut against San Diego it felt like he was literally flying around the field, consistently flashing elite closing speed and making statement blocks throughout the game; he flat out beat West Division speedster Sean McDougall to the spot on a deep ball at one point. Yorgason is a rocket launcher on defense, locking in on discs from dozens of yards away and sprinting into shoulder-high layouts to give his team possession. And when he gets possession, look out—this is as prototypical of a “gunslinger” as you’ll find quarterbacking a D-line. Still just 23 years old, the future is bright for the younger Yorgason brother, as he’ll look to carry even more of the defensive load in year two—D-line starters Joel Clutton and Ben Green are not expected to return to the Shred in 2023, in addition to Garrett Martin heading back to Seattle.
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