September 9, 2021
By Adam Ruffner
We're at the end of the road of a fantastic 2021 AUDL season, with the four final teams set to compete starting tomorrow night at Audi Field. And while ultimate is definitively a team sport, these are 20 players that could make the biggest impact at Championship Weekend. These rankings are less a reflection of pure talent, and more how useful each of these players could potentially be for their respective squads.
20. Paul Arters, Chicago Union
In his rookie season in the AUDL, Arters has already proven himself to be one of the most dangerous strikers around. He’s fifth in the AUDL in assists-per-completion at 16.5 percent, but his 97 percent completion rate is a full three percentage points better than anyone ahead of him on that list; Arters has one of the best forehand throws in the game, both for its precision as well as its power. In eight games for the Union, he’s averaging 3.4 assists, 2.0 goals, and nearly 400 yards of total offense per game. Arters utilizes his elite speed to create separation, and is able to strike from distance with his high velocity throws.
19. Peter Graffy, Chicago Union
Graffy has played just five games for the Union this season, but Chicago brought on the former champion for his playmaking and playoff experience—now is the time. The former Radicals legend was a force in his last Championship Weekend appearance in the 2018 championship game, repeatedly skying out opponents and finishing with six goals; Graffy has 21 assists, 24 goals, and 20 blocks in 12 career playoff games, and can still make a big impact on both sides of the disc. Chicago’s lineup lacks some big game experience, and Graffy’s presence could be important late in their semifinal matchup with Raleigh.
18. John Lithio, New York Empire
Despite being a rookie on a star studded team, the 28-year-old Lithio has been a standout for the Empire. He has six straight games with three or more goals, and quietly finished New York’s playoff thriller against Atlanta with four goals, 19 completions, 435 total yards, and zero turnovers. At 6’5”, Lithio is obviously most imposing as a skyscraping receiving threat downfield. But he has picked up the Empire’s offensive flow quickly in his first season, and Lithio has above average throws that he couples with good decisions to make him lethal in small spaces; his large frame makes marks irrelevant, allowing him to get the disc in favorable positions for his teammates.
17. Henry Fisher, Raleigh Flyers
After bursting onto the scene as one of the most dominant downfield threats in the league as a rookie in 2019, Big Fish started 2021 relatively quietly. But the second-year phenom has five straight games with two-plus goals and 200-plus receiving yards, and maybe most importantly, is 46-of-46 on throws with zero drops in his last two games. His 6’6” frame and blazing speed command respect from any defense, and while his highlights may be down a bit this season, the Flyers offense as a whole has figured out how to use their biggest target more efficiently than ever.
16. Elliott Chartock, New York Empire
After leading the league in total yards per game (589) during the 2021 regular season—never registering lower than 299 throwing yards in a game this year—Chartock had a major setback in the Atlantic Division playoff matchup with Atlanta, committing three early turnovers and throwing for just 107 yards on the night. But to Chartock’s credit, he found redemption, grinding out points on defense to make a mark in the Empire’s overtime win. Chartock has been super reliable as the high volume handler in New York’s system in his first season with the team, and the reigning champs have a good shot at repeating if he returns to form.
15. Anders Juengst, Raleigh Flyers
Juengst began his AUDL career with a two-assist, three-goal, 39-for-39 performance against a top-flight Atlanta defense in Week 1, and hasn’t slowed down since. Ders has seven perfect throwing nights on the season (averaging over 22 completions per game), seven games with four or more goals (49 goals overall, fourth in the league), and is a visible pace setter for the number one offense in the league. Juengst is a grinder with next-level quickness and a veteran’s field sense—it’s less about stopping him, more about containment.
14. Sol Yanuck, Raleigh Flyers
In his second full season with the team, Yanuck has become one of the better backfield quarterbacks in the Atlantic Division, if not the league as a whole. Yanuck’s ability to orchestrate both big throws and possession-based drives allows Raleigh to run their balanced offensive attack, and his pairing with longtime friend Matt Gouchoe-Hanas in handler sets gives the Flyers one of the most reliable and synchronized throwing units; the two have completed 1077-of-1106 passes (97.4 percent) so far in 2021. And recently, Yanuck has been playing his best ultimate of the season. In his last four games, Yanuck has 17 assists and 278 completions (96.2 percent), and is averaging 538 passing yards per game in that span.
13. Nate Goff, Chicago Union
A takeaway specialist throughout his pro career—he is averaging 1.5 blocks per game over the past four seasons—Goff is elevating to a new level in 2021. He registered three blocks in Chicago’s Central Division title game against Minnesota, including the game-changing huck stuff to tie the game with under four minutes in regulation; Goff has six straight games with a block. At 6’4” Goff is an ideal deep defender in space, which will mean a lot this weekend given the stacked lineup of bigs on opposing rosters, particularly in the Union’s semifinal matchup with Raleigh that will feature Fisher and Jacob Fairfax.
12 .Ross Barker, Chicago Union
After platooning on the Chicago defense for the 2019 season, Barker is back in his natural WR1 role and thriving. The 27-year-old is ninth in the AUDL this year in goals (41), while also contributing 24 assists, and nearly 350 yards of total offense per game. Barker was a standout for the Radicals in his lone Championship Weekend appearance in 2017, registering two assists and five goals against the eventual league champions from San Francisco in the semis; Barker is one of just five Chicago players with previous Championship Weekend experience.
11. Steven Milardovich, San Diego Growlers
One of the most consistent defensive performers in league history—Milardovich is the West Division’s all-time blocks leader (132), and now has 20-plus block seasons in five of his six years as a pro—Blardo is arguably the San Diego team MVP. He has two different game-saving blocks from the regular season, and five straight games with at least two blocks. Able to guard backfield handlers and downfield cutters with equal skill, Milardovich’s versatility has been central to a Growlers defense that ranks in the top five in blocks (10.8) and goals allowed (18.2) per game.
10. Allan Laviolette, Raleigh Flyers
Paired with Juengst, Laviolette is the other half of one of the league’s most productive midfield cutter combos in 2021. Averaging over five combined scores (assists plus goals) and 340 yards of total offense per game, Laviolette excels in uptempo offense, particularly when he can run-and-gun using his flick hucks—he’s a huge piece in connecting the backfield play of Yanuck and Gouchoe-Hanas with the Flyers imposing downfield targets. A high risk, high reward player, Raleigh is at their best when Laviolette is in rhythm.
9. Goose Helton, San Diego Growlers
Frankly, after his nine-score, 535-yard, zero turnover performance in the West title game against Dallas, this ranking feels low. The 37-year-old has a championship level of motivation and focus this season, and if he can keep his throwaways down this weekend, could have as high of a performance ceiling as any player on this list. Nominally a handler for most of the season, the insertion of Nethercutt into the offensive rotation has pushed Helton into more of a downfield role alongside Travis Dunn. The results are plainly good.
8. Jeff Babbitt, New York Empire
The top defender on this list, Babbitt finds a way to make his mark in every big game he’s played in throughout his career. In just eight postseason games, he has 21 goals and 16 blocks, swapping into both offensive and defensive rotations depending on where the team needs him; Babbitt has played 94 offensive points and 86 defensive points in the playoffs. It’s easy to gush over Babbitt’s highlights and flexes, but what often gets overlooked is how smart of a player he is. He helped implement New York’s defensive strategy in their second half comeback against Atlanta, and Babbitt remains one of the league leaders in blocks despite opposing offenses often throwing away from him—he may be the best help defender this league has ever seen.
7. Jon Nethercutt, San Diego Growlers
Nethercutt squashed all doubt about his late season addition to the Growlers roster mere moments into the West Division championship, launching a 55-yard heater to a full speed Dunn on the second point of the game; the 2017 MVP finished a perfect 37-for-37 on throws while tossing three assists and racking up 387 throwing yards. He’s averaging 6.5 assists per game over his six postseason appearances, and has two different 10-assist games in the playoffs. Much like his teammate Helton, if Nethercutt keeps from self inflicting wounds (read: throwaways), the Growlers offense will be formidable against any opponent.
6. Eric Taylor, Raleigh Flyers
Over his last three games, Taylor has been utilized as a two-way force, splitting time between offensive and defensive rotations, and excelling in whatever lineup he’s plugged into. His 1A-2G-1D statline from Raleigh’s road playoff win over DC really undersells Taylor’s impact on the game; on offense, he’s a threat as both a thrower and a receiver; Taylor’s athleticism makes him a natural in coverage, and by utilizing him in defensive lineups, the Flyers get the added benefit of Taylor’s world-class, whirlybird pulls. The Flyers are one of the best teams this season at making midgame adjustments, and Taylor’s utility is a primary reason.
5. Travis Dunn, San Diego Growlers
Over the past three seasons, Dunn might be the most consistent offensive weapon in the league. His footspeed, route running, and hands make him a top tier receiver, but it’s his dimension as a thrower that makes him (and San Diego as a whole) so potent. He’s top 10 in the league in assists for the third straight season, and has two or more assists in every game in 2021. Dunn is also a certifiable playoff performer, with 15 assists, 14 goals, 121 completions, and just six turnovers in four postseason games. A pacesetter and talisman for the Growlers, Dunn could dictate games downfield this weekend, much the way he did against the Roughnecks.
4. Pawel Janas, Chicago Union
After leading the league in assists his first three seasons, Janas has taken a slightly reduced load and become one of the most precise high volume throwers in the league. Among the 23 players with at least 40 completions per game in 2021, only one had a higher completion percentage than Janas’ 97.2 mark; it’s basically a rounding error discrepancy between Janas and Xavier Payne’s 97.4 rate. Janas’ reliability with the disc helped set the stage for Chicago’s fourth quarter comeback flurry, as he finished with five assists and 568 total yards on offense while only committing two throwaways.
3. Ryan Osgar, New York Empire
You would have to go back to his second game of the season to find the last time Osgar had fewer than seven combined scores in a game, just to give the briefest glimpse into how productive the midfield maestro has been in his first season in New York. Osgar leads the league in assists—he has eight straight games with five or more—and is it’s second most lethal thrower; only Laviolette (21.2 percent) has a higher assist-to-completion rating than Osgar (20.8). He finished second in the league during the regular season in yards per game (583), and though he does commit turnovers at an above-average rate, his sheer scoring volume and production massively outweigh the mistakes.
2. Ben Jagt, New York Empire
Two? Are we sure about this? After starting the season slow by Jagt standards (eight goals in his first four games), the reigning MVP has erupted over the back half of the season, scoring three or more goals in each of his last nine games, and leading the league in receiving yards per game (369) by a 20-yard-per-game margin over the second place receiver. He made two of the most definitive plays in the season when the Empire needed him most in their overtime playoff win, and he’s had a visible focus in big moments. After all: This is the same man who had 11 total scores and nearly 450 yards of total offense without a turnover in the 2019 AUDL championship game.
1. Jack Williams, New York Empire
For all the talent surrounding him on this Empire roster, this makeup, tone, and execution of this team all resemble Williams and his leadership. In the past two seasons alone, Williams has five walk-off assists or goals in overtime, including Saturday’s 65-yard hail mary to Osgar—tere is not a closer like Williams. And while his raw scoring totals might have dipped since he’s been on the Empire, Williams’ usage and efficiency ratings as a thrower continue to rise. But what really clinched this top spot was Williams double duty effort against Atlanta. He played a game-high 39 points, effectively splitting his time between offense and defense; Williams both drew the top Hustle defenders, and then in turn guarded Atlanta’s best offensive weapons; he missed two points total during the second half and overtime of the Empire win.
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