Players To Watch: Championship Weekend

August 23, 2023
By Daniel Cohen

True stars shine brightest on the biggest stage, and 2023 Championship Weekend should be no exception. Can Championship Weekend first-timers rise to the occasion? Can the experienced vets lead their teams to victory? The final watchlist of the season features seven difference makers eager to hoist the trophy on Saturday.  

Will Brandt, Minnesota Wind Chill

The Minnesota offense played their best game since May two weeks ago in the Central Division Championship Game, and Will Brandt was a huge part of it. Brandt quarterbacked the Wind Chill O-line with good decision-making, sharp throws in the wind, and an insistent ability to get open in the backfield. He touched the disc 54 times against Indianapolis, while no one else on the team recorded more than 35 touches, and the result was a 60-plus percent conversion rate for the offense and a career-high seven assists for Brandt. Minnesota may have found a recipe for success with Brandt as QB1—his exact role on the O-line has varied over the past couple seasons—and with the poise he showed in their biggest game of the season to date, expect the Wind Chill to continue leaning on him as a featured thrower.

Abe Coffin, Minnesota Wind Chill

The only player on the Minnesota Wind Chill roster that has played at Championship Weekend, Abe Coffin is back on the AUDL’s biggest stage for the first time since 2019. That year with Dallas, Coffin threw eight assists and scored three goals in two games at Championship Weekend 8 while completing over 100 throws on the weekend. Coffin’s been relatively quiet since returning from injury, but he’s shown a clear ability to shine in big games throughout his career—Coffin saved his best game of 2022 for last year’s Central Division Championship Game against Chicago, and more recently was named MVP of the 2022 All-Star Game last November. He’s been more of a cog in the system than a featured piece for the O-line this year, but given his experience, talent, and versatility, Coffin could be the guy to elevate Minnesota’s ceiling this weekend.

Duncan Fitzgerald, Austin Sol

One of several candidates for 2023 Most Improved Player, Duncan Fitzgerald has leveled up this year from D-line role player with DC to O-line initiator with Austin. Fitzgerald excels at throw-and-go moves and getting open in the handler space, using his physicality and quickness to keep opponents off-balance. His throwing ability and red zone presence have helped open up the offense this year, and he’s been a great complement to backfield counterpart Jake Radack. However, with Radack serving a one-quarter suspension for the semifinals, the backfield will be Fitzgerald’s alone to start Austin’s first Championship Weekend appearance. He rose to the occasion in the South Division Championship Game, turning in one of his higher scoring games this season which included the game-winning assist in double overtime, but with limited handler options outside of Radack, there’ll be added pressure against arguably the most pressure-heavy defense in the league. How Fitzgerald fares in the first quarter could have compounding effects for the entire game—any chance for New York to break open the game early, and things could get out of hand quickly. 

Ben Jagt, New York Empire (Pictured)

After the late scratches of Jeff Babbitt and John Lithio, Ben Jagt switched over to the Empire O-line for the East Division Championship Game and reminded everyone why he was given back-to-back MVP awards in 2019 and 2021. Jagt obliterated DC’s defense to the tune of 11 total scores, including eight goals, and he set the AUDL single-game receiving yards record with 687. He played the featured role in New York’s incredible four-turnover showcase in his highest usage game since 2021, and this is just the most recent impressive playoff performance for one of the most clutch players in league history; last season it was Jagt who skied the pack at the buzzer to send New York to Championship Weekend, and in 2021 it was Jagt who got a game-saving block and overtime layout goal en route to New York’s comeback win over Atlanta. This is a guy who has a total of zero turnovers in his three championship games since 2019, and he routinely makes plays in crunch time to close out games. Whether he plays offense, defense, special teams, whatever, watch for Jagt to continue adding to his legacy this weekend.

Jordan Kerr, Salt Lake Shred

Last year’s MVP runner-up, Jordan Kerr makes his first ever Championship Weekend appearance this Friday night against Minnesota. Kerr’s performances in the last two West Division Championship Games have been some of the best games of his career; in 2022, he threw for a career-high 504 yards (and seven assists) against Colorado, and two weeks ago he stuffed the stat sheet with eight assists and three goals on a perfect 27-of-27 throwing day. The eight assists were the most he’s thrown without a turnover in his career, and that included two hucks (throws of 40-plus yards), which he hasn’t thrown many of this year. When Kerr’s in rhythm, there’s not much opponents can do to limit his scoring ability, and he remains arguably the top red zone threat in the league with the disc in his hands—it’s simply a given that he’s going to find a way to get the disc in the end zone. If Salt Lake and New York both win on Friday, Saturday is going to be the true test for Kerr, as he’ll rematch the team that held him to his lowest yardage output of the season. 

Grant Lindsley, Salt Lake Shred

Grant Lindsley is a Championship Weekend legend, and he’s one of just two Shred players (alongside Joel Clutton) that’s been there before. Lindsley has been continually winning on the biggest stages of ultimate for the last decade-plus, and his pro resume includes two AUDL titles, one with San Francisco in 2017 and the other with New York in 2019. Lindsley was the unofficial Championship Weekend MVP in his most recent final four action, as he accumulated nearly 1,500 yards and 14 scores across the two games to cap New York’s first perfect season. While he hasn’t held the same featured on-field role with the Shred this year, Lindsley’s experience and leadership should play a significant role in preparing the young team for their first Championship Weekend appearance, and having him as an ace-in-the-hole when needed could be the difference maker that puts Salt Lake in position to win their first AUDL title.

Jack Williams, New York Empire

Well, Playoff Jack has made his annual return to the spotlight. Against DC, Jack Williams set individual season-highs for plus/minus (plus-eight), completions without a throwaway (32), and points played in a game (25). He continues to make this sport look too easy, whether he’s launching hucks, initiating the offense, or cutting for endless reset looks. No one can keep up with him, and there’s never been an answer to the offensive motion he creates; Williams routinely opens up the offense with one of the quickest first steps in the game and keeps his marks off-balance with a lethal combo of break throws, throw-and-gos, and mesmerizing red zone weaves. I know Ben Jagt thinks “it’s insane that there’s a Playoff Jack narrative,” but I’ll agree to disagree and keep pushing it anyway; this is simply a team that leans on its stars in the games that matter most, and I’d be surprised if 2023 Championship Weekend proves any different. Expect Jack to record 40-plus touches in each game he plays this weekend.

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