June 8, 2023
By Daniel Cohen
With another full slate of games coming up for Week 7, this week’s watchlist has it all: must-watch individual matchups, championship contenders, facilitating handlers, and game-breaking cutters. Plenty of potential for divisional landscapes to shift this week, and these seven guys are going to play critical roles.
Jeff Babbitt, New York Empire
Arguably the MVP favorite halfway through the season, Jeff Babbitt has been on a tear. Tied for the most goals in the league and the second most blocks, Babbitt’s been flashing his most consistent two-way ability since 2017, when he racked up 50 goals and 41 blocks. New—or at least much louder—this year is his ownership of the front cone; when New York gets anywhere close to the end zone, it’s been Babbitt more often than not bullying his way to the front pilon to cap drives. And while the New York offense hasn’t been overly efficient to start the season, it hasn’t mattered when they have one of the league’s most explosive defenders terrorizing opposing D-line offenses. The Hustle defense should present plenty of interesting matchups for Babbitt throughout the night, including Atlanta’s pair of bigs in Brett Hulsmeyer and Dean Ramsey, but can anyone really stop him? Most would answer no.
Sam Berglund, Minnesota Wind Chill
This year’s new rules have put an emphasis on both pulling strategy and execution, and Minnesota Wind Chill rookie Sam Berglund has been an example-setter across the league. Berglund has shown a consistent ability to place slicing, outside-in backhands that roll out the opposing end zone and pin opponents deep; he tends to throw the pulls low enough so they can’t be easily caught, and there’s a pace on them that requires teams to have two or three guys back ready to stop any bounce or roll. In their home opening win against Pittsburgh, two of Berglund’s pulls led to Callahans. Aside from pulling, Berglund has taken on the role of D-line quarterback—a role held by Abe Coffin last year—and the D-line offense hasn’t missed a beat; they’re converting their D-line possessions at 55.5 percent compared to 56.2 percent last year, despite Coffin’s absence. Taking on Madison for the first time in his career this Saturday, Berglund will look to bring the Radicals back down to earth after their first win of the season.
Duncan Fitzgerald, Austin Sol
Fitzgerald has taken on a huge role this season after serving as a D-line role player for DC in 2021 and 2022, joining the Austin Sol and immediately stepping in as an O-line handler. He’s easily been their most impactful addition this year, and his league ranks reflect his importance; Fitzgerald ranks top 10 in the league in assists, completions, and throwing yards. No one on the team touched the disc more in Austin’s first meeting with Carolina this year, and while throwaways have been a bit too frequent—he has two or more throwaways in five of six games this year—the scoring ability he’s brought to the offense has been undeniable. If he and backfield counterpart Jake Radack can keep the offense steady against the Flyers, Austin will have a great chance of repeating last year’s upset win.
Jordan Kerr, Salt Lake Shred (Pictured)
Jordan Kerr is coming off his highest scoring game of the season after lighting up the Oakland Spiders to the tune of five assists, five goals, and 372 yards of offense last week. It was his sixth time hitting double digit scores in a Shred jersey, and while he hasn’t needed to play with the same aggressiveness as last year, Kerr proved he still has it in him to take over games when needed. And tomorrow night, it may be needed. The Shred head to Colorado for a battle of the undefeateds, and there’s no doubt Kerr has had this game circled on the calendar; the Summit defeated the Shred in all three meetings last year, including the West Division Championship Game. Kerr threw at least seven assists in two of the three games against Colorado in 2022 and threw for a career-high 504 yards in their last meeting, doing all he could to try and will Salt Lake to a division title. While Kerr and co. fell just short last year, the 6-0 Shred will now have a shot at reversing the West Division narrative for 2023.
Jack Shanahan, Chicago Union
Big game this week for Chicago heading to Indianapolis, and they’re going to need to lean on captain Jack Shanahan more than ever on offense. Paul Arters, Ross Barker, Nico Lake, and Wyatt Mekler are all out this week, while Sam Kaminsky and Andrew Sjogren are questionable; of the seven O-line starters Chicago fielded against Indianapolis, Shanahan is the only one currently listed as active. Luckily, he’s been a rock for the offense this year, recording at least three scores in every game while completing a career-high 94.1 percent of his throws in his fourth season with the team. Playing in the perfectly conditioned indoor environment in Indy this Saturday, Shanahan could be in for several explosive plays on both the throwing and receiving end, as he’ll be out there potentially as the team’s most established downfield thrower and cutter. If Chicago’s going to have any shot at winning, Shanahan’s going to need to carry this offense to new heights.
Matt Smith, Atlanta Hustle
Through his first five games of the season, Matt Smith is averaging 3.4 goals per game, on pace for his first 40-goal season since 2017. He’s playing near mistake-free ultimate for the number four team in the league—Smith is completing a career-high 98.1 percent of his throws—and has been the most consistent downfield receiver for a team that’s had high highs and low lows over the past few seasons. Smith has found the ideal balance of serving as a steadying presence for the entire O-line while being the primary drive-finisher, and it shows in the numbers; Atlanta scores on 67.5 percent of their possessions when he’s is on the field, the highest offensive efficiency rate for any player that’s been part of at least 60 possessions this season. Smith always seems to show up with a statement play or two in primetime games, and he’s got a big one this week against the undefeated Empire. Last time playing New York in the 2021 playoffs, Smith went airborne for career goal number 300, his first of four goals against the reigning champs.
Cody Spicer, Colorado Summit
Remember earlier when I mentioned Kerr threw at least seven assists in two of three games against Colorado in 2022? Well, here’s what happened in that one other game: Kerr’s worst game of the year came when the Shred hosted the Summit at Zions Bank Stadium, and Cody Spicer launched his Defensive Player of the Year campaign by holding Kerr to three assists, no goals, and four turnovers. Spicer had three assists of his own that night, along with a goal and a block—yes, he outscored Kerr despite playing 23-of-24 points on D-line—and he’s continued to be every bit as dominant for the Summit defense since then. Spicer has at least four combined assists, goals, and blocks in every game this season, we’ve seen him frustrate handlers and cutters alike on a weekly basis, and he’s helped lead this defense to the number three conversion rate through the first half of the season. Whether or not he’s stuck on Kerr all night, Spicer will make it his job to keep the Shred offense bothered and out of rhythm.
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