4. Los Angeles Outlaws
DL - LDE Deion Emerson, LDT Gino Leaf, RDT J.J. Wisniewski, RDE Darren Shapiro
LB - SLB Brady Moss (N), MLB Howard Ferguson, WLB Jorge Vanderlaan
DB - LCB Johnny Schwartz, RCB Kevin Rector, SS Korey Jefferson, FS Irving Jernigan, DB Cary Barber (R)
Along with Boston, Los Angeles was a huge surprise in 2057 defensively. The team took their OpPPG from 22.3 to 18 and OpYPG from 367.8 to 344, both good for tops in the league. There are just two notable changes going into 2058-- FS Jimmie Agranoff was not extended and we should see FS Jernigan take over there. LB Aidan Godfrey also left in free agency, replaced by a dvision rival LB Brady Moss formerly of Honolulu. There could be bad blood here after 4 seasons facing the Outlaws, but Moss should be a stellar upgrade. We're also excited to see how DE Louie Liddell will fit into the scheme, but it's really not clear as the team has so much talent up and down the defensive front. All I can say is the pieces are in place for this unit to be dominant.
3. Detroit Vampires
DL - LDE Riley Gray, NT Gage Schindlbeck, RDE Scott Gradkowski
LB - SLB Lionel McConnell, SILB Avery Agustoni, WILB Tom Carr, WLB Aidan Walsh (N)
DB - LCB Tom Louis, RCB Roy Irwin, SS Luis Anthony, FS Austin Cox, DB Clay Bech
New GM zenzog came in and shocked the league with a Cinderella run to the FO Bowl in his first season with the Vampires. A huge part of that was this fearsome defensive front anchored by NT Schindlbeck-- arguably the scariest guy to run into on the field. His huge reach and incredible strength force teams to commit to the double team and that opens up opportunities for Gradkowski and Gray to find paydirt. Combining for 21 sacks in a 3 man front is outstanding and pressure would come from all over the field. DE Aidan Walsh comes into a team that needs a boost from the edge and has played WLB before and I'm excited to see how it will play out. Unlike the next team on this list, the Vampires were able to hold against the run as well. It was against high flying quarterbacks that Detroit struggled despite trying several configurations and schemes. Many teams attacked Rookie CB Roy Irwin and were able to find success, but the team's faith seems to still be with him as no DBs were picked up in the offseason. If this secondary can improve off uneven performances at the corners, the Vampires could boast the league's best defense in 2058.
2. Las Vegas Rounders
DL - LDE Malachi Johnstone, LDT Austin McGee, RDT Logan Sjostrand, RDE Chester Anagnostis
LB - SLB Donnie Gillespie, MLB Jay Martinez, WLB Omar Brock
DB - LCB D.J. Strzelcyk, RCB Jerry Sexton, SS Adrian Sweazy, FS Ken Kelley, DB Marshall Leyva
The Rounders are the team that Quarterbacks have nightmares about. The best pass rush in the league led the CFL in total sacks and it was that unit that cemented the team's first championship since 2041. GM Turftoe decided to run it all back, making no changes to the team's starstudded lineup. The one minor knock against the team is that the singular focus has been to get after the QB and occasionally they do get exposed against the run. RB Richie Arnold and Taylor Murray were two rushers that had monster games against LVS and that will be something to work on going into 2058. Still, in crunch time the Rounders were a brick wall, only allowing a league best 16.3 points per game and a second best 31.2 3rd down conversion rate. It could just be a side effect of the sheer aggression that comes from this amazing bunch of players and can anyone really be that upset?
1. Denver Dynomite
DL - LDE Tommy Branch, NT Emmanuel Wortham, RDE Kent Luckman
LB - SLB Nate Berry, SILB Shaun Buchanan, WILB Jorge Caputo, WLB Junior Young
DB - LCB Javier McCarthy, RCB Francisco Russell, SS Dillon Asavamonchai, FS Alec Roberts, DB Tony Waddle
We're not sure there's a team more equipped to match up against the any offenses than the Dynomite. Re-signing FS Alec Roberts to stick around with SS Dillon Asavamonchai was a great move and keeps a scary ballhawking duo together. CB Russell is among football's top young corners, replacing CB Dalton Benson, while McCarthy found resurgent form with reduced pressure. Berry and Young combined for 18.5 sacks and show no signs of slowing down in 2057. A defensive line of Tommy Branch, Emmanuel Wortham, Kent Luckman and Junior Young might very well be the best in the entire CFL. Opponents will have their hands full trying to crack this unit. I fully expect the Dynomite to return to the playoffs and find themselves at the top of the league (defensively).
A dissapointing 2057 led to an 8-8 finish. There were injuries and some poor adaptingto the new patch but mostly a huge regression past the mean in generating TOs. The O was still #1 in both YPC and YPA (until resting starters in week 17).
Up against the cap had significant turnover at most position groups but solid planning has them well positioned to repeat performances from teh past few seasons for better or worse:
In the backfield the headliner was moving future HoFer Fulton but we ended up drafting what looks like coudl be the next HoF RB in Holzer who even will be able to contribute in the passing game in a way Fulton never could. In general expect to see the RBs catch more passes this year with 2nd year scatback Borders continuing to expand on his role from last season.
It will be interesting to see if the runnign game can continue its dominance with some downrades on the OL. HoF C Keith retired and while FA pickup Cooley is certianly a starter, those are big shoes to fill. LT Horner who previously was 90+ in run blocking also saw age catch up to him and might not be the force we was ocne on the left edge. That said the Gs are still top notch and Holzer has plenty of gas in the tank and looks to b a perfect prospect in the GM's eyes.
2nd year WR Fence looks to play a big role this year as a WR2 and give Fargo a complete player at that spot. There are interesting tertiary options as well though we hope not to use them much. WR Crabtree remains a 1A talent but with 2 concussions it is a delicate matter, Fargo gambled giving him a max bonus contract all the same. TE Schulz remains on the roster but wants to get paid, he will likely have to suck it up this year before being shipped off this next offseason.
For the 2nd consecutive year Fargo will switch up their defensive front. Their run D was atrocious in the 43U as they were starting DE Walsh with his 0 run defense. Out is both the scheme and player along with overpaid vet Bays. However they did pick up 2 solid starters at DE and EDGE man Alexander will likely play mostly at DE with hopes that getting a bit wider will push him into elite pass rusher production. The 3 stalwarts at DT remain but with little depth behind them, don't be surprised to see Fargo add a young DT to plan for the future and as insurance. Both off-ball LBs are still studly and we hope to continue to dominate the 2nd level.
Fargo drafted 2 new boundary CBs, the 2nd rounder Zimmerman was supposed to bust out on the scene during the postdraft process but turns out to pretty much be a solid player but nothing special due to replace CB Gruttaduria at LCB. So no real net changes here but they do plan on being more versatile in their alignments using there 3 Ss each with different skill sets as Watkins used to the be the alpha of the group but has regressed a bit to be more of a FS type.
All in all their season will largely depend on if the coaching staff can get accustomed to the new patch in time. It would be great to see their defensive TOs recover and seems plausible but if they can't clean up their own play on O then they certainly will have a ceiling themselves.
It is worth noting that in their many draft day moves they picked up an additional 1st from Miami so in what promises to be a very competitive division the stakes will be quite high season long.
8. Texas Inferno
DL - LDE Greg Pancake (R), NT Ricardo Foreman, RDE Cory Hoover
LB - SLB Cornell Blubaum, SILB Earl Jacobs, WILB J.T. Mustard, WLB Trenton Missouri
DB - LCB Tristan McKenzie, RCB Jesse Reilly (R), SS Marty Graham, FS Jermaine Collier, DB Connor Humphries (R)
The elite defense that took a subpar Texas team to the playoffs in 2057 is going to look different in 2058. GM BazookaJohnny saw the writing on the wall and let their aging contributors go as contracts expired. CB Randal Iveans (32), DE Tyrus Ingram (30), and DE Walter Wallman (32), have all been replaced with somewhat newer and younger models. The shakeups in the defensive front and secondary are buoyed by the return of a linebacking corps that was the key to their success. LB Blubaum didn't repeat as an all-league linebacker, but sure played like one. He and fellow linebackers Missouri and Lyon played seemingly everywhere and never missed a step. Van Wagner was let go in the offseason after 6 seasons with the team-- the thinking was that things had to change-- and DC Raymond Nunley brings a cerebral approach to defense that should do wonders for players like Blubaum and McKenzie.
7. Tennessee Militia
DL - LDE Wyatt Keita, LDT Cameron Wiggins, RDT Dwight Castilo, RDE Kenyon Reid (R)
LB - SLB Vernon Bernstein (R), MLB Henry Plourde, WLB Curtis Burke
DB - LCB Samuel Bethea, RCB Diego Browning, SS Erick Tyree, FS Elijah Barlow, DB Stanley Connell
The Militia have historically been great defensively and when DC Seth Fortney's took the reins in 2057, he was able to continue that standard. As Fortney's strength was with the secondary, the most notable improvement came taking completions down from 59.5% (14th) in 2056 to 55.9% (6th) in 2057 while maintaining the other pass defense metrics. The unit looks to feature more youth in 2058 as FS Barlow and CB Browning take more snaps. LB Plourde continues to perform in coverage at an elite level, but the team needs to toughen up at the line of scrimmage. All eyes will be on DT Wiggins and rookie DE Reid to shore up the run defense to take the Militia to the next level.
6. Shreveport Pride
DL - LDE Silas Siler, LDT Nathan Borders, RDT Toby Borick, RDE Gabriel Messersmith (N)
LB - SLB Jared Boyle, MLB Deron DeWolf, WLB Dalton Shelton
DB - LCB Rob Lynch, RCB Earl Taley, SS Efrain Tate, FS Sean Macklin, DB Carlos Morey
Shreveport once again claimed the top spot in opponent's yardage allowed, an honor they claimed before in their championship 2055 season and have hovered around since. Under DC Rob Becht, the Pride were tough against the run, absolutely stifling against the pass, and figure to place among the CFL's top echelon again in 2058. Though interception numbers were low, a disruptive pass rush and unbreakable coverage schemes put the clamps on enemy quarterbacks. SS Tate continues to lead an excellent secondary that hustles all over the field to make plays on the ball. Shreveport added DE Messersmith in free agency and he should provide a boost off the edge. LB Jared Boyle continues to improve, though injuries sidelined him in 2057. This unit plays like one with the coordination and communication that can only come from consistency through the years and GM Raven Hawk kept to script for 2058.
5. Boston Beavers
DL - LDE Frankie LaBounty, LDT Joseph Sanches, RDT Amos Fitzmaurice, RDE Howard Delgado
LB - SLB Frederick Bishop, MLB Cedric Weliczka, WLB Daniel Branston
DB - LCB Quentin Holliday, RCB Ezra Alworth, SS Irving Hannam (R), FS Cory Manning, DB Tucker Lincoln
Nick Kasay and the Boston Beavers burst onto the scene in 2057, turning what was a perennial dumpster fire into arguably the best defense in the league. Most of a star-studded line remains intact, though the loss of LB Gary Breckinridge hurts, LBs Weliczka and Bishop still form a versatile and athletic duo capable of matching up with most offensive weapons. The Beavers also return every starter from the ballhawking secondary and have even added to it with rookie SS Irving Hannam who looks every bit the immediate starter we all thought he could be. I may be selling these guys short by putting them at #5, but GM slimmikey's penchant for midseason deals could throw a bit of chaos in the mix.
12. St Louis Arch
DL - LDE Steven Perkins, NT Phil Roberson (R), RDE Kerry Bays (N)
LB - SLB Adrian Gooch (R), SILB Brenden Casteel, WILB Aidan Godfrey (N), WLB Orlando Minahan
DB - LCB Alec Traxler, RCB Marquis Matthews, SS Chuck England, FS Kendrick Peterson, DB Karl Norris
If you're thinking of throwing against St Louis, maybe think again. The stacked secondary is anchored by superstar safety Chuck England and his sidekick CB Alec Traxler. We've seen glimpses of Traxler's elite explosiveness on return duty, it's just a matter of time before he does that in coverage. Teams did find better success on the ground against the Arch, but DC Alabaso brings a new scheme and potentially a better fit for this talented unit. He'll need to integrate up to 4 new players in the front seven and whether or not St Louis can improve upon a great 2057 season (defensively) will be up to how quickly he can get it done.
11. Cleveland Sentries
DL - LDE Xavier Willis, NT Glen Webster, RDE Efrain Cote
LB - SLB Andrew Tate, SILB Daquan Wilson, WILB Cornelius Fitzgerald, WLB Teddy Reilly
DB - LCB Colin Dawkins, RCB Raymond Barry, SS Shaun Thomason, FS Camden Porter, DB Keith Corns (N)
The Cleveland Sentries haven't looked good recently, posting 5-11 records in 3 of the last 4 seasons. Their defense was abysmal but GM King Kosar was carefully adding value pieces through the years, never overreaching in the draft nor stretching the salary cap too thin. Steady improvement was the name of the game and I think 2058 is when we'll really see it starting to bear fruit. DC Bryson Bush's unit showed great progress in 2057, but week to week inconsistency was brutal to watch. One week, they could shut down Detroit and keep pace with Omaha and Las Vegas, the next they'll be getting blown out by St Louis. I chalk that up to rookie inexperience as both LB CJ Bernier and FS Adam Poston played significant snaps. They are both talented players, but I think Bush should take some of the pressure off their shoulders by introducing some rotations.
10. Miami Talons
DL - LDE Marquis Miyabuchi, LDT Francisco Smith, RDT Rod Wilkins, RDE Ernie Nichols
LB - SLB Buddy Whiting, MLB Monty Lutey, WLB T.J. Boerigter (R)
DB - LCB Otis Perry, RCB Roosvelent Eastman, SS Fred Roberts, FS Axel Kramer, DB Devin Borders
The arrival of DT Smith reinvigorated the Talons' pass rush last season, with Miyabuchi flourishing in the spotlight (10 sacks). However, while there was improvement across the entire defense, Miami couldn't give its defense time to rest with a generally dismal performance under sophomore QB Jessie Hughes. I think DC Quinn Sullivan was just a scapegoat and Randal Hesselman is inheriting a generally strong unit. A strong secondary led by CBs Perry and Eastman will need to compensate for a linebacker group that lacks talent and whose only proven starter is the aging Monty Lutey.
9. Atlantic City Phantoms
DL - LDE Alonzo Carr, NT Steven Fisher, RDE Trevor Kidd
LB - SLB Landon Crawford, SILB Preston Mangrum, WILB Archie Downs (N), WLB Mack Barker
DB - LCB Omar Morris, RCB Robbie Hinrichs, SS Courtney Johnstone, FS Jeff Witt, DB David Blassingame
Due to issues in coverage, a common misconception is that the Phantoms' defense was average at best in 2057. Actually, their schedule featured some of the most prolific attacks the CFL has to offer and ACI 's defense was able to keep pace or shut down some of the very best offenses. They excelled at causing turnovers, but their weak secondary didn't allow the Phantoms to seriously pressure opposing QBs. The Phantoms kept their entire front line together and only added LB Archie Downs at linebacker, so it's likely that teams will again struggle to run against them. LB Landon Crawford is one of the best in the middle and I expect opponents to focus on their somewhat weaker corners.