Once again, Atlantic City followed up a playoff season with a losing record. In fact, this cycle has been repeated three times since 2048. For 2054, the remnants of the 4-3 defense have been almost completely removed and a change to smash mouth offense has started. This includes letting some talented players go (reducing the overall depth) but also making some big splashes in free agency. With QB Graham and WR McLaurin not getting any young, a return to the playoffs is a must. To make that happen, the team is in a win now mode. Building depth is still a goal but significant cap money has been spent on getting some additional starting talent.
Note: all ratings are based on the Atlantic City scouting department. Your results may vary. New players are in bold.
Offense: The Phantoms have not had a 1,000 yard back since the 2049 season. Part of that was the philosophy and some was personnel. In the passing game, there has been a lack of talent beyond WR Dan McLaurin. Changes have been made in both areas.
Starter: Jared Graham - 9th year - 73/73
Backups: Jerome Burnett - 2nd year - 22/41, Alec Lockett - 2nd year - 15/23
Graham threw for 3,477 yards last year with 24 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He did see a dip in his QB rating to 89.0. Ratings wise, he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The key is finding a playbook that matches his talent. In addition, he needs talent around him. As you will see below, that area has improved. Although Graham is a pretty tough player, he did miss 2 games last year and ACI lacks a veteran backup. Burnett was brought in late as a free agent and is a whole lot better than 2053 7th round pick Lockett. That really isn't saying much, however. With some cap room available, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a veteran brought in after cut day.
Starter: Corey Densmore - 7th year - 61/61
Backups: Don Washington - 5th year- 59/59, Courtney Dozier - 6th year - 27/27
One of the biggest acquisitions this offseason was the signing of Densmore to a huge contract ($15 million in 2054). He ran for over 1,300 yards for Boston in 2052 but injuries limited him to only 269 yards in 7 games last year. The Phantoms hope for a bounce back season. Washington has been the part time starter for the past 3 seasons but he has never been able to grab onto the spot despite a good skillset. He enters the last year of his contract so maybe that will motivate him. With two above average backs on the roster, Dozier was signed to help the special teams.
Starter: Diego Loupe - 11th year - 49/49
Backup: Junior Garrison - 11th year - 48/48
Fullback is a toss-up as to who will be the starter. Loupe has been the starter since he was a 2nd round pick for ACI in 2044. Garrison was acquired for a 7th round pick to provide a 1-2 punch at this spot as the team emphasizes the running game a bit more. Neither one will be a huge run threat but will help in run and pass blocking.
Starters: Dan McLaurin - 11th year - 66/66, Maxwell Stephenson - Rookie - 55/72
Backups: Herman Sanford - 2nd year - 45/47, Joe Hahn - 6th year - 42/42, Jorge Horn - 2nd year - 31/36
McLaurin has caught more than 100 passes each of the past two seasons, including 121 last year. All of this with the rest of the receiving group average at best. This year, a new exciting addition arrives in 1st round pick Stephenson. The second receiver drafted, Stephenson has great hands and huge potential. He should reduce the double teams that McLaurin gets while opening up the entire passing game for Graham. Hahn starts his second season in Atlantic City after 29 catches in 2053. Sanford had a whopping 10 catches last year but does have some talent. He is a bigger threat in the punt return game but is a capable 4th receiver. Horn is lucky to have a job at this point and looks like a 4th round bust.
Starter: Stan Bernard - 6th year - 63/63
Backups: Jimmie Fields - 6th year - 40/40, Leonard Ferrer - 3rd year - 33/40, Jordan Collins - Rookie - 34/40
Next to Densmore, the most exciting offensive veteran addition is Stan Bernard, who cost a 2nd and a future 3rd. Back when Atlantic City had an exciting offense (yes, there was a day when that existed) they had excellent tight ends. Old timers may remember hall of famer Carlos Polhemus, who was a Phantom from 2037 to 2043. While Bernard is not a hall of fame player, he is the best tight end that has played for the Phantoms since Polhemus. In Alaska, he was stuck in the shadows of Jonah Blaine, who very well could be a hall of fame tight end. This is Bernards chance to shine. Fields, Ferrer and rookie Collins will look for any scraps left behind.
Starter: Eugene Williamson - 4th year - 51/51
Backup: Lance Hawkins - 2nd year - 36/70
One of the positions that is setup well for the present and future is Center. Williamson, a former 3rd round pick, is the starter with Hawkins, a former 5th round pick who looks like a nice surprise, waiting in the wings and getting better every week.
LG Starter: Eli Grebene - 8th year - 79/79
RG Starter: Patrick Sellers - 2nd year - 64/68
Backups: Henry Simmons - 7th year - 49/49, Sherman Mohler - 5th year - 33/33
Grebene has been a stud from the moment he was drafted as the 5th overall pick in 2047. Sellers was a 1st round pick in 2053 as the Phantoms continue to focus on offensive line talent. They form one of the better guard tandems in the league. Simmons is the primary backup at both spots while Mohler is a run block first guard who hopefully spends most of his time on the bench.
LT Starter: Kody Wagner - 7th year - 80/80
RT Starter: Glenn Hopper - 7th year - 50/50
Backups: Claude Stanton - 4th year - 38/38, Alejandro Finks - 3rd year - 36/43
Speaking of stud lineman, Wagner was the 5th overall pick in 2048. I sense a pattern here. This guy is a road grader who has only missed 3 games in 6 seasons. Hopper was part of the same draft as Wagner (3rd round) and is set to become a free agent at the end of the year. He should have something to prove to the rest of the league. Remember that statement about depth? Stanton and Finks are stop gap players only, although if pressed into duty the run game would be OK. The passing game? Don't tell Graham but ouch.
Coming Soon - Defensive Preview
Tennessee - CB R.J. Jamison
- While FB Josh Hamernik was signed for a longer contract with more money and will also be a starter, Jamison plays at a more vital position. There is a conflict already between Jamison and Herman Dodge, the secondary leader, so that bears attention.
Shreveport - DE Isaac Elliot
- Elliot is listed as a RDE which already has an again, yet still performing, starter in Jesse Kotomski. My guess is that one of the two will be moved to LDE and become the starter to shore up a hole on the line.
San Antonio - None
New Orleans - TE Melvin Brandon
- With only one signing, this was easy. Brandon is a former undrafted free agent signing by the Raging Horde in his second year who made 20 catches on 24 targets (a pretty damn good percentage) in his rookie year. The Raging Horde saw enough in him to resign him to the roster.
Iowa City - QB Leon Dishowitz
- Dishowitz spent 10 seasons in Cleveland and was the starter for 9 of those. He fills a huge hole as the starter for the immediate future.
Detroit - None
Cleveland - RB Corey Mayes
- Mayes is a former 1,000 yard rusher (twice, actually) during his four year career and becomes the starter for the Sentries. He did have a down year with only 455 yards last season but he only started 2 games. This is his chance to prove that he is not a declining talent.
Kansas City - S Colby Phillips
- Phillips resigned with the Crows and is an above average player but fills a hole at strong safety.
St. Louis - RB Sawyer Farmer
- The Arch lack true star power at running back and Farmer was brought in to be the starter. Farmer spent four season in Boise and starter a total of 8 games with an average of 2.88 yards per carry. There are six running backs on the roster so this will be a shootout in preseason to see who wins the job.
Omaha - WR Dixon Powell
- The Arrowheads are always very active in free agency and this year is no exception. They are all in on Powell, as he is the only signing with a total contract value over $10 million (his contract is for $103.2 million). Getting a talent like this, in only his 7th year and at wide receiver, may turn out to be one of the best signings of the year.
Baltimore - LB Floyd Russell
- If you thoughts Omaha was active then look at Baltimore. So far there are 16 signings, including two with a total value over $100 million. FB Mel Griffey, P Nick Ali, WR Archie Lindsay, K Brian Sanford and CB Amos Irvine are all big time players who would start on most teams in the league. The prize of free agency was Russell, a dominant inside linebacker who instantly makes everyone around him a better player. As a team this is one of the best front office jobs.
Durham - None
Atlantic City - CB Parker Sprout
- The Phantoms were active on the secondary market and brought in or resigned seven secondary players. Sprout is not a top twenty corner in the league but upgrades a secondary that was the weak link last year.
Hartford - QB Jerald Cowher
- The Attack are always good for at least one big splash in free agency and this year it was at quarterback. Hartford always seems to have one of the top quarterbacks in the league. To make that happen this season, they went out and signed the best quarterback in free agency. Cowher is a 13 year veteran who has had some great seasons and some poor ones. It will be fascinating to see how he performs in Hartford.
Brooklyn - S Ty Matthews
- Brooklyn was another active team in free agency and Matthews was their prize signing. He fills a need at strong safety not only as a top safety (over 100 tackles each of the past two seasons) but also as a secondary leader.
Boston - None
Death Valley - WR Bryson Saddler
- Finding good wide receivers is becoming harder and harder every year, as shown by the $41 million, 3 year deal signed by Saddler. FB Thomas Grier was another good signing but based on the positions, it is advantage wide receiver.
Texas - DE Jimmy Brady
- CB Darrell Hansen was signed for more money but Brady, despite his age, is still one of the top pass rushers in the league (100 sacks in his twelve year career). The deal is also cap friendly at 1 yr and $11.67 million.
Santa Cruz - ILB Jimmie McGee
- McGee was resigned after playing seven games and proving that despite being an undrafted rookie he could play in the CFL. He can run forever and is a tough run defender.
Atlanta - WR Gus Seidman
- As we mentioned earlier, acquiring top wide receivers is tough. The Wolfpack were able to sign a very good one. As long as he doesn't have a bad training camp (he is in his 10th year) Seidman should help rookie #2 overall pick Irv Clements first season a bit easier.
Oregon - OLB Quinn England
- The Ice had some very good signings, including but England plays at another tough place to get talent: linebacker. He becomes the best linebacker on the roster and should help take some pressure off of defensive tackle Stan Simmons, a star with little support behind him.
Alaska (Anchorage) - DE Martin Midget
- The Kodiaks resigned or signed a whopping 22 players in free agency so far. They did an excellent job of avoiding the huge contracts and signed players to fill needs. Six of the unrestricted free agents signed were on the defensive line and Midget is the best of them.
Boise City - None
Seattle - OLB JJ Rogues and Dwight Lugar
- Like the Kodiaks, the Spartans avoided the splashy deals and attempted to build some depth. I am going to cheat a bit here and choose two players as the best signing. Both a 9 year veteran linebackers with similar skill sets. Whichever one can hold his ratings will be the one the fills a need at linebacker and thus is the best signing so far.
Fargo - RB Steven Negron
- Negron joins his 3rd time in the past 5 seasons so it is pretty clear that he is on the downside of his career after 12 seasons. That being said, what a career it has been with 8 seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing. That doesn't include one year of 999 and another year of 990. He only ran for 564 yards last season for Shreveport but he is far and away the best option for the Frontier.
Denver - TE Carson Monroe
- The Dynamite have been pretty quiet in free agency, with only 2 signings. Monroe comes over from Omaha, where he one catch. Yeah, I would say it has been quiet in Denver.
Tulsa - DT Albert Spencer
- Spencer signed for 5 yr, $139 million so that right there makes him the Talons best signing. A former first round pick in 2045, Spencer has 15.5 sacks in his five year career and he should be a force in the middle with returning defensive tackle Skip Hayes.
El Paso - None
Los Angeles - C Darnell Sitron
- The Outlaws swung and miss on quite a few players so they concentrated on re-signing players for depth. The best of the unrestricted free agents is Sitron. LA has a very good center in Cary Thompson but he is a 14 year vet. If not this year, down the road Sitron may battle Lionel Reese for the starting center spot.
Las Vegas - RB Chandler Falcon
- The Rounders only signed one unrestricted free agent so far but were another team that resigned their own. The best of that group is Falcon. He won't see much time behind Devan Fulcher and Gilbert Narcisse but he has too much upside to have let him get away.
Tucson - ILB Demetrius Baylor (renegotiated contract)
- The Toros have major cap issues so they were not a factor in free agency. In fact, their only signing was a long snapper. Once again, we will cheat here a bit and choose the Baylor renegotiation. The 4 year deal keeps him in Tucson while also freeing up some cap room to sign their rookie class.
Honolulu - C Ronnie Guthrie
- Guthrie is one of the top centers in the league having started every game for Baltimore over the past 7 years.
What do you think?
A quick look at free agency so far for Atlantic City.
(ratings are from the league scout)
Shannon McClain - Defensive Coordinator
- McLain is a 15 year vet with a primary focus of the secondary, which is good since the Phantoms secondary is the piece that needs the most work. He is a strong motivator and is good with young talent. His weakness is scouting ability so the front office will need to be careful with his recommendations.
Kelly Troxell - TE - 2 yrs., $3.12 mil - 18/28
- With the loss of Jeff Barker (see subtractions below) it was vital that Troxell was resigned to at least add some depth despite his poor rating. At a minimum, he is a strong special team's performer (71 potential rating).
Donald Newsome - CB - 2 yrs., $9.42 mil - 38/45
- Newsome went undrafted but has developed into a capable corner. The lack of quality for ACI at the corner position last year forced him into 16 starts, which really helped his progression.
Leland Albriktsen - C - 2 yrs., $11.04 mil - 52/52
- A strong pass blocker (based on his sacks allowed over his career), Albriktsen steps into the starting spot as long as his ratings hold up. That is also a question mark for a 13 year vet so this is a big time roll of the dice.
Kim Booker - CB - 3 yrs., $18.12 mil- 41/41
- Every year it seems Atlantic City tries to shore up the secondary via free agency. There are usually more hits than misses but you need to keep shooting. Booker is starting to decline in his 8th year but will get a shot as a nickel or dime back while also helping on special teams (73 rating).
Parker Sprout - CB - 3 yrs., $22.73 mil - 49/49
- Parker is less of a gamble than Booker due to his age (5 seasons) and hopefully will nail down one of the starting spots. Great endurance (90) and strong cover skills should really help the secondary.
Jamie Seale - CB - 3 yrs., $17.80 mil - 43/43
- Seale and Booker are similarly rated players while age wise he is the same as Sprout. Another special teams contributor (80), he also started 56 games over the past 4 season for St. Louis so he can step in as a starter when needed.
Ernie Delgado - S - 2 yrs., $11.82 mil - 45/45
- Delgado was signed to be the starting free safety. Entering his 6th season, he has good starting experience while have 3 seasons with a pass defense percentage over 80.
Ruben Donovan - TE - 4 yrs., $21.46 mil - 36/36
- For now, Donovan is the starter at tight end. The league scout and the Phantoms scouts have differing opinions on his ratings but he did have 81 catches over the past 2 seasons in Detroit. The guess is that ACI is still looking for another tight end.
Arnold Ellard - CB - 2 yrs., $6.81 mil - 29/50
- Drafted in the 5th round by ACI in 2045, Ellard took a look at other offers but chose to return to the Phantoms. His ratings have been up and down, although currently they are trending up, so it will interesting to see how the next 2 seasons pan out. If nothing else, he is another strong special teams (76 potential) player.
Cristian Hayes - LS - 2 yrs., $4.75 mil
- Long snapper with a 98 rating. Enough said.
Brad Greer - S - 3 yrs., $11.67 mil - 34/34
- This was a depth move while also bring in another special teams (77) rating.
Damion Sutton - S - 2 yrs., $4.92 mil - 10/11
- Sutton is rated 79/88 as a punt returner.
Jeff Barker - TE - Released
- Barker started a contract holdout prior to training camp and was released just hours later. While he had a few very good seasons in Atantic City, including 75 catches last year, his contract demands for a 11 year vet in the low 40's was too much to pay. Good luck to Mr. Barker.
Jeffrey Emack - RB - Out of contract
- Emack was a 1st round pick for ACI in 2040 and six straight seasons over 1100 yards. However, the past three seasons those rushing numbers dropped to 694, 354 and 223. It was a great run but now it is time to move on.
Rob Whalen - TE - Out of contract
- Whalen spent two years in ACI with a total of 30 receptions.
Sedrick Janjic - G - Out of contract
- A 2nd round pick in 2037, Janjic started 150 games and was a mainstay on the offensive line. Despite having no clear replacement, management decided it was time to move on from the veteran.
Louis Dennis - DE - Out of contract
- Dennis was drafted in 2043 but spent most of his time as a backup. He had 12 career sacks with only 2 starts.
Ted Scancella - DT - Out of contract
- Yet another long time Phantom, Scancella was a 1st round pick in 2041 was never able to nail down a starting spot. He had 11 starts in his rookie season and 10 last season. In the middle years he had zero starts.
Britt Madison - MLB - Out of contract
- Madison spent 4 years as a Phantom after signing from Iowa City. He started 16 games in 2047 and only 8 in 2048 but despite that, he had more tackles in 2048.
Ted Money - FS - Out of contract
- Money was brought in via free agency in 2047 to add some depth to the safety spots. He started 16 games his first season and then 7 last year. The signing of Delgado was the nail in the coffin for Money.
Can Atlantic City reach .500?
The Phantoms have become a perennial top 5 team over the past few years. Unfortunately, that is top 5 in the draft. The fans, or at least what is left of them, are clamoring for some kind of results. A .500 record would be a great starting point for this mediocre team.
Note: all ratings are based on the Atlantic City scouting department. Based on the poor record recently, there is not much trust in their ability.
Offense: Young studs at quarterback and wide receiver are a great starting point. Questions at running back and depth issues at wide receiver and across the offensive line are a concern.
Starter: Jared Graham - 3rd year - 63/71
Backup: Kody Bauer - 6th year - 39/39
Graham has all the talent needed to be one of the better quarterbacks in the CFL. Take a look at his bars and you will be very impressed but it takes more than great ratings to be a successful player. In 2037, he threw for over 3,800 yards but had a QB rating of 73.1 and had more interceptions than touchdowns. The problem is way too many sacks (57 last year) and a poor overall supporting cast. If the young offensive line matures quickly (more on that later) Grahams stats should improve. Bauer is a capable backup for spot duty but is not a long term solution or quarterback project. This position is all Graham.
Starter: Julian Blake - 7th year - 43/43
Backups: Camden Benson - 2nd year - 38/48, Jeffrey Emack - 9th year - 32/32, Erik Petrie - Rookie - 31/36
Atlantic City lacks star power at running back. Blake got his chance to be the starting running back last year and he responded with 851 yards and a 3.9 yard average. If the Phantoms want to get out of the cellar, they need better production than that. The next best option is Benson, but he is likely 1-2 years away from making any kind of impact. For now, he will be the third down receiving back as he gains experience. Emack enters his contract year and it is likely his last as a Phantom. After six straight 1,000+ yard seasons, he dropped to 694 rushing yards in 2036 and then only 354 in 2037. Age is taking its toll. Petrie is a 4th round pick who shows some promise as a third down back and a punt returner, the latter being his best shot for playing time this year.
Starter: Diego Loupe - 5th year - 67/67
Backup: Lorenzo Bode - 6th year - 41/41
Loupe is one of the best fullbacks in the league. The key here is how to get him more involved in the offense. Look for more two back sets than in past years as Loupe could be the key to bring down the sacks allowed number. With five career rushing attempts, it also might be time to give him the rock a few more times. Bode is a quality backup who gives the position some depth.
Starters: Dan McLaurin - 5th year - 69/69, Eli Sawyer - 6th year - 40/40,
Backups: Josue O'Donnell - 8th year - 39/39, Everett Federspiel - Rookie - 31/44, Martin Banks - 2nd year - 35/35
McLaurin is the prime cut in this cheap buffet of a receiving corps. He was targeted 157 times last year and caught 76 of them, a percentage that needs to improve. The more you can get the ball in McLaurin's hand the more opportunity you have for big plays. On a side note, McLaurin recently tied for the second fastest 40 time in the league at 4.29 seconds. Sawyer had 46 catches in each of the past two seasons and is the second best receiver on the roster which is not really a good thing. O'Donnel has excellent hands and is a good option in four WR sets. Rookie Federspiel, drafted in the 5th round, looked very promising in rookie camp but had a terrible training camp. He is still slated to be the starting split end to start the season which is a scary proposition. Banks was a 2nd round pick last year who appears to be a bust of a pick. He will be given a chance to contribute but not much is expected of him.
Starter: Jeff Barker - 10th year - 42/42
Backups: Rob Whalen - 6th year - 34/34, Kelly Troxel - Rookie - 18/37
For years, Atlantic City always seemed to have top 10 (or even top 5) tight ends on the roster. That sure has changed. Barker enters his 10th season and is clearly on the downside of his career. He did have 45 catches and two touchdowns in 2047 and will still be a top target for Graham. Whalen is a below average backup who was rarely used last year and this year could be the same. Due to the three tight end roster rules, Troxel was signed before the first preseason game. He responded with a touchdown reception (where did that come from?) but should contribute on special teams immediately.
Starter: Bobby Stargell - 9th year - 44/44
Backup: Joey Horner - Rookie - 24/46
Major changes were made at the center spot and the hope is that the position will be adequately filled not only for this season but for many years to come. Stargell was signed in free agency as a guard but has been moved to center, his original position. An excellent pass blocker, this move should pay early dividends in pass protection. Horner was the third of three early offensive tackle selections in this year's draft. He was quickly moved to center and is the future of this position. He stumbled a bit in training camp but still should evolve into a solid player with good endurance.
LG Starter: Sedrick Janjic - 12th year - 49/49
RG Starter: Eli Grebene - 2nd year - 78/78
Backups: Silas Corbett - 5th year - 26/29, Emmanuel Lyle - 2nd year - 21/34
The elder statesman on the offensive line, Janjic enters the last year of his contract and, like Emack, is likely playing his last year in Atlantic City. His sacks allowed almost doubled (from 7 to 15) so there is some concern about his ability. The right guard spot is in great hands with 2047 5th overall selection Grebene. He also allowed 7 sacks last year but is an absolute monster in the run game. The backups, Corbett and Lyle, are roster filler at the moment. Look for the Atlantic City front office to find replacements of some sort on the waiver wire. Lyle is at least young and showed some promise in the past while Corbett is just bad.
LT Starter: Kody Wagner - Rookie - 45/79
RT Starter: Dan Walton - 3rd year - 32/52
Backups: Glenn Hopper - Rookie - 38/54
For the second straight year, the Phantoms chose an offensive lineman with the 5th overall pick. So far, the results look good as Wagner appears to be the real deal, although a bit light for a left tackle. It won't happen this year but a move to right tackle will surely happen down the line which would create one of the best guard - tackle tandems in the league. Walton was a high second round pick in 2046 who is huge at 6' 5" and 342 pounds. Hopper was the second of the three tackles drafted early in the draft this year. He started out as a right tackle but very well could be the left tackle of the future.
Defense: Back when Atlantic City had some success (almost 10 seasons ago), the strength of the team was at linebacker and a 3-4 defense. Names like Castillo, Stoner and Fisher were among the best in the CFL. Lately, the emphasis has been on building a strong defensive line and running more nickel sets out of a 4-3. It takes time and a bit of luck to build a strong set of linebackers so a move to a 3-4 is not in the works quite yet. However, you will see the emphasis switch over the next few seasons. The other big need is the elusive shutdown corner. They are harder to find than a star wide receiver so put that on the wish list. With all that being said, the starters across the front seven are pretty good but the depth is minimal. The same can be said about the safeties. The cornerbacks? Not so much.
LDE Starter: Steven Markley - 8th year - 51/51
RDE Starter: Jack Farley - 4th year - 73/73
Backups: Louis Dennis - 6th year - 47/47, Sawyer Wilson - Rookie - 35/44
Markley has started 111 of the past 112 games for ACI at left defensive end and has been a steady performer. You can pretty match count on 5-6 sacks per year from the veteran. Farley was drafted as a defensive tackle and has spent three seasons being a damn good one. At 282 pounds, he was always a bit undersized so this training camp he was moved to right defensive end. The entire organization is excited to see what he can do at his new position. Dennis is a good backup end with pass rushing skills but not much production in limited action. Wilson was drafted in the sixth round and is a project as a situational pass rusher as his ratings in that area are very impressive.
Left Defensive Tackle Starter: Ted Scancella - 8th year - 51/51
Right Defensive Tackle Starter: Pedro Zellweger - 6th year - 47/47
Backup: Darrin Arnold - 3th year - 39/39
With Farley moved to end and Benjamin Holmes retiring, the tackle spot needed attention in the offseason. Scancella, the primary backup to both spots his entire career, finally gets a chance as the starter. Zellweger was signed late in free agency to start at right defensive tackle. He is a good run defender who also recorded 3.5 sacks in 2047 as a reserve in Las Vegas. Arnold would prefer to be an end in a 3-4 but right now he is stuck as the lone backup for both tackle spots. Depth is a big concern.
Strong Side Linebacker Starter: Earle Elliot - 7th year - 53/53
Middle Linebacker Starter: Orlando Brennan - 5th year - 39/39
Weak Side Linebacker Starter: Walt Horton - 4th year - 46/46
Backups: Jon Hernandez - 4th year - 41/41, Britt Madison - 8th year - 34/34, Tyrus Pritchett - 3rd year - 31/36, Hugh Gunn - 2nd year - 27/37, Francisco Lundgren - Rookie - 21/33
Earle has spent his entire career at middle linebacker for the Phantoms but has moved to the strong. The hope is that he can be the next big time strong side linebacker for this franchise. With Earle at a new position as well as having low endurance, the other big change in the off season was the move of Hernandez to linebacker. Moving a young 50+ rated defensive end coming off a 7.5 sack year to linebacker is a risky move. The ratings aspect is questionable as he is now a 40+ player. Time will tell how it plays out on the field. The middle linebacker spot is a mess with Brennan the best of a weak bunch that includes Madison and Pritchett. It would not be a surprise to see Pritchett actually get the most playing time as he is a very stout run defender. Horton will hold down the weak side linebacker spot. He brings a good set of pass rushing skills but has only started five games in three seasons. Gunn and Lundgren are young projects with not a ton of upside at the moment.
Strong Safety Starter: Craig Fann - 7th year - 51/51
Free Safety Starter: Ted Money - 7th year - 35/35
Backups: Shaun Wheeler - 6th year - 47/47
Fann had a career year in 2045, which led to a holdout and a big, new contract. He has been good but not to the level of that contract, although he did record over 100 tackles last season. Preseason games have seen the Phantoms in a lot of Cover 1 defenses so Fann will be very aggressive around the line of scrimmage. Speaking of the Cover 1, this has led to a tactical move with Wheeler and Money. Wheeler is the better player but Money fits into the free safety profile so he will remain the starter. Wheeler will get his chance, however, as Money has low endurance and the lack of quality cornerbacks means that he will also see plenty of time as a nickel / dime back.
Left Cornerback Starter: Donald Newsome - Rookie - 41/54
Right Cornerback Starter: Peyton Beyer - 3rd year - 40/40
Nickel: R.J. Knoyle - 6th year - 37/37
Backups: Alex Dunn - 8th year - 34/34, Griffin Galloway - 2nd year - 34/39
The cornerback position has been a mess for years in Atlantic City. There have been at least two corners drafted each year for the past five years with poor results. Free agent signings haven't been much better. This year, the Phantoms traded for a right corner and signed the other as an undrafted rookie. Beyer is a tiny corner at 5' 6" and only 176 pounds but gets a chance to start for his new team. Newsome was passed over by every team in the CFL and has been the biggest surprise of training camp (at least in a positive way). On most teams he would probably be a solid nickel / dime back but in Atlantic City he is a starter. Like Beyer, he is small (5' 8" and 178 pounds) which is part of the reason why he wasn't drafted. Knoyle is penciled in as the nickel back but as we mentioned earlier, look for safety Wheeler to split that time. Dunn is a veteran who is mostly a placeholder while Galloway moves back to cornerback after spending a season riding the bench at safety.
Starter: Nick Ali - 2nd year - 40/54
Ali was the backup punter in 2047 and played in two games. He was not signed as a restricted free agent but returned after training camp when no better situations were available. Good power and directional skills are his best assets.
Starter: Kent Wilcox - 7th year - 65/65
Wilcox returns for his second season in Atlantic City and needs to have an excellent season if this team is to succeed. In 2047, he was 25/28 so he is very reliable.
Kickoffs: Federspiel - 57 Emack - 50
Punts: Petrie - 56, Sawyer - 54,
The ratings speak for themselves here. All are good, not great, returners.
With the 2nd pick in the 2046 CFL draft, the Atlantic City Phantoms select quarterback Jared Graham.
With those words, a flash of hope was seen in Atlantic City. The Phantoms appear to have a young franchise quarterback to add to 2044 top pick WR Dan McLaurin. With a strong defense returning, the question is can this team rebound from a down year to fight for a playoff spot, or at least a .500 record?
Offense: The offense has some excellent talent but seriously lacks depth. WR McLaurin (67/67) and TE Barker (58/58) are excellent targets for the young quarterback. However, it will be up to the running game of RB Emack (46/46) and FB Diego Loupe (68/68) to grind out some yards to keep the pressure off Graham.
- Burt McGinnis - 11th year - 40/40 - NEW
- Amir Upshaw - 3rd year - 22/45
- Darren Connell - Rookie - 11/32 - NEW
- Jared Graham - R - 32/65 - NEW
- Amir Upshaw - 4th year - 10/18
- R.J. Large - R - 9/25 - NEW
The Phantoms had hoped that they could sit Graham behind McGinnis for a season but McGinnis decided to hold out for unreal money and was released. Now it is the Jared Graham show, ready or not. Upshaw must have some kind of drug problem as he has dropped from a promising signal caller to the scrap heap. Large was a flyer in the 6th round but must have already been hanging out with Upshaw as he is barely fit to carry a clipboard.
UPDATED Ex. Week 3 - QB Chris Boykin (6th year - 34/34) was signed to provide some insurance behind Graham. Graham is still the #1 QB but at least there is a capable backup now on the roster.
- Jeffrey Emack - 5th year - 46/46
- Julian Blake - 4th year - 38/38
- Ray Lang - Rookie - 31/31 - NEW
- Jeffrey Emack - 6th year - 46/46
- Julian Blake - 5th year - 37/37
- Donte Terrill - R - 34/42 - NEW
- Ray Lang - 2nd year - 27/39
Emack is coming off his sixth straight 1,100+ yard season and is still a viable #1 running back. ACI needs another good season if they hope to improve their record. Blake ran for 708 yards while averaging 4.1 yards per carry last season and has played better than his ratings indicate. Terrill is the surprise of the group after a strong training camp. Signed as an undrafted free agent, he looks to be another compliment to Emack while also being the best pass receiving back on the roster. A second round pick in 2045, Lang has not progressed as the team hoped but will still be given a shot to contribute.
- Diego Loupe - 2nd year - 60/72
- Deion Bishop - 10th year - 47/47 - NEW
- Zion Price - 6th year - 40/40
- Diego Loupe - 3rd year - 68/68
- Deion Bishop - 11th year - 38/38
- Zion Price - 7th year - 32/32
Atlantic City has always like fullbacks and tight ends. That trend continues with Loupe, a second round pick in 2044 who has become one of the best fullbacks in the CFL. Look for him to get more carries this season. A former 4-time first team fullback, Bishop brings experience and leadership while still being a force on special teams. Speaking of leadership, Price is a mentor who also provides exceptional special teams skills.
- Dan McLaurin - 2nd year - 68/68
- Jose Robinson - 9th year - 44/44
- Winfred Pearson - 8th year - 39/39 - NEW
- Tommy Price - 11th year - 39/39
- Jerald Francis - 10th year - 38/38
- Neil Fisk - 3rd year - 26/31
- Dan McLaurin - 3rd year - 67/67
- Jose Robinson - 10th year - 38/38
- Tyler Sporer - 8th year - 30/30 - NEW
- Jerald Francis - 10th year - 29/29
- Neil Fisk - 4th year - 20/24
McLaurin is the wide receiver that Atlantic City has been looking for but needs to take that next step with the young QB. In 2045, he caught only 42 passes in 16 games but has exceptional skills. Robinson has taken some ratings hits but is still a good #3/#4 receiver. Unfortunately, he is the #2 receiver on this roster. Sporer, who chose ACI over four other offers this offseason, was brought in for his punt return skills but will need to make some plays on offense. Francis has shown big play ability in the past and will also need to play above his ratings in order for the passing game to succeed. I am not sure why Fisk is still on the roster. Perhaps for special teams abilities because he really sucks as a receiver.
UPDATED Ex. Week 3 - Depth was brought to the roster with the signing of WR Corbin Cecrle (5th year - 31/31).
- Jeff Barker - 7th year - 60/60 - NEW
- Dan Shea - 8th year - 36/36
- Jeff Barker - 8th year - 58/58
- Dan Shea - 9th year - 29/29
- Jerry Smith - 2nd year - 19/36 - NEW
As I mentioned, ACI loves their tight ends. Barker was signed in 2045 to replace Carlos Polhemus and was a bit of a disappointment with only 32 catches and no touchdowns. Part of that can be blamed on the play calling but a turnaround is desperately needed. Shea enters the last year of his contract and continues to head south in the ratings. Smith is a good blocker who was signed for depth but is not what the team expected when he arrived in town.
- Bennet Lay - 7th year - 52/52
- Sherman Welch - R - 21/28 - NEW
Ouch! Lay was not resigned and the idea was to bring in someone via free agency but the Phantoms whiffed at all of their targets. Even in the draft, they were unable to find a true center. Welch, a 4th round pick, spent his entire college career at right tackle but has been moved to center and has been very unimpressive. Look for a new center to be signed in week 2 after the league roster cut down.
- LG - Sedrick Janjic - 9th year - 68/68
- RG - Dakota Carr - 5th year - 47/47 - NEW
- LG - Bart Zepeda - 9th year - 40/40
- RG - Richard Keith - 10th year - 33/33 - NEW
- LG - Sedrick Janjic - 10th year - 53/53
- RG - Richard Keith - 11th year - 52/52
- RG - Dakota Carr - 6th year - 39/39
- LG - Bart Zepeda - 10th year - 33/33
Janjic and Keith are a very good set of guards despite their age. There have been rumors about Keith and PED's but for now he has passed all drug tests. Carr is a good backup but not someone you would like to see with a lot of playing time. Zepeda is reaching the end of his usefulness in Atlantic City.
- RT - Carlos Urbanchek - 11th year - 53/53
- LT - Jose Finch - 7th year - 46/46
- RT - Corwin Gray - 3rd year - 34/34
- RT - Carlos Urbanchek - 12th year - 53/53
- LT - Brenden Ishii - 6th year - 32/32
- RT - Corwin Gray - 4th year - 41/41
- RT - Dan Walton - R - 14/37 - NEW
Urbanchek fits in perfectly with Janjic and Keith as solid offensive linemen. He just signed a new contract for two more years in Atlantic City, which may be the biggest signing for ACI in the offseason. Ishii was supposed to be the answer at left tackle when he signed with the Phantoms but his ratings took a hit in training camp. With right tackle Gray a better player than Ishii, it would not be a surprise to see Urbanchek at left tackle and Ishii relegated to a backup. Walton, taken at 2-2, so far looks like a bust.
- Caden Roberts - 4th year - 38/38 - NE
- Renaldo Burmeister - Rookie - 18/64 - NEW
- Renaldo Burmeister - Rookie - 19/40
Roberts left in free agency, leaving the job to Burmeister. During free agency, ACI decided not to sign a veteran kicker as they decided to give the kid a chance. In training camp, he took a bit hit in ratings so that strategy may change. Stay tuned.
UPDATED Ex. Week 3 - The decision was made to bring in some competition with the signing of Rich Dahlin (13th year - 53/53). This was not necessarily a knock on Burmeister who still has a chance to make the roster as a future kicker but this team needs a reliable kicker (Dahlin was 91.4% on field goals last season). It also doesn't hurt to gain some leadership from a former Hartford player, even if he is a kicker.
Coming soon - the defense.