7 Must-See Player Matchups

April 3, 2024
By Daniel Cohen

It’s still the preseason, so all we can do is predict things, play the what-if game, and hope to speak things into existence. After plenty of offseason player movement, the following are seven individual player matchups I’d love to see in 2024.

Jeff Babbitt (BOS) vs. Ben Jagt (NY)

Talking about jump ball situations on a recent episode of Pod Practice, Ben Jagt said, “I take myself against pretty much everyone, and the only guy that I don’t think I’ve ever won against is [Jeff] Babbitt.” 

Teammates for six years with New York, Jagt and Babbitt won three championships together and played a massive role in cementing the Empire as a dynasty. Their individual accomplishments speak for themselves: three league MVP awards between them, third and eighth (respectively) all-time in career goals, 12th and eighth all-time in blocks. I still haven’t really wrapped my head around the fact that Babbitt is suiting up for a different East Division team in 2024, but mark your calendars for Friday, May 17 when the Empire travel to Boston to take on Glory for the first of two matchups this regular season. If this 1-on-1 battle happens, it should be the headlining matchup of the season between two of the most dominant bigs in league history.

Sean McDougall (LA) vs. Lukas Ambrose (SEA)

Lukas Ambrose burst onto the pro scene last year with the Los Angeles Aviators, winning 2023 Rookie of the Year and earning First Team All-Defense honors after leading the league in blocks. Sean McDougall, his former teammate, returned to LA last year after a one-year stint with San Diego and had one of his best seasons as a pro; McDougall was named to the All-UFA First Team and finished second in the league with 54 goals. Ambrose is now playing with Seattle, which should make for some downfield fireworks whenever these two teams meet. Both Ambrose and McDougall boast exceptional playmaking ability for their respective lines, and with Seattle bulking up this offseason with several key roster additions, these two teams could very well have some tight contests this year. Get ready for some momentum-shifting plays in the deep space when these teams meet in back-to-back weeks on June 2 and June 7.

Jeff Weis (CHI) vs. Matt Rehder (MIN)

Another pair of former UFA teammates, Jeff Weis and Matt Rehder played together in Chicago in 2019, and both guys should make sizable impacts for their respective teams in 2024. Rehder will be suiting up for Minnesota for the first time, while Weis should slot back in on the Union O-line after his dominant 2022 season; Weis led the team with over 3,500 receiving yards in his best season as a pro, and finished the year with nearly 600 total yards at Championship Weekend 11. While Rehder has played mostly offense throughout his UFA career, he played plenty of D-line in 2019 with Chicago and has averaged close to two blocks per game throughout his career. With both Rehder and Weis standing at 6’4”, we could be in for some must-watch battles as they jockey for position downfield.

Brett Hulsmeyer (ATL) vs. Drew Swanson (CAR)

First Team All-UFA selection Brett Hulsmeyer looks to build on a career year in his fifth season with Atlanta, while former Union and Cascades defender Drew Swanson returns from injury and joins a new team in 2024, the Carolina Flyers. Another pair of bigs, Hulsmeyer and Swanson probably have the tallest combined height on this list, and both guys have been block monsters throughout their careers. It’s Swanson, however, that currently holds the third-highest block rate in league history at 2.0 blocks per game (minimum 25 games), while Hulsmeyer has transitioned his game more towards the offensive side, a role which seems even more critical this season given some of Atlanta’s O-line losses (Mischa Freystaetter, Liam Haberfield, Max Thorne). Swanson made an immediate impact on both of his previous teams, and the Flyers should lean on his ball-hawking ability in an effort to slow down Atlanta’s MVP candidate. Hulsmeyer does find himself close to the disc a lot, whereas Swanson has mostly taken downfield cutting matchups, so it’ll be interesting to see which player holds the edge depending on where they’re operating on the field. Atlanta and Carolina will meet four times in the regular season, including twice in the first three weeks. 

Liam Haberfield (NY) vs. AJ Merriman (DC)

New York lost some size on their O-line after the departures of Jeff Babbitt and John Lithio, but they gained some new versatility with the addition of Liam Haberfield, who still offers plenty of downfield ability to take on some of that production. Head Coach Anthony Nuñez put it well when he said, “What we [have] now,” said Nuñez, “is several players on that line with dynamic throws who are also athletic downfield.” Given the amount of playmakers on New York’s offense, the question for DC is always which defender tries to take away which star, and AJ Merriman feels like the right candidate to match Haberfield’s skillset. Versatile defender vs. versatile hybrid, Merriman has the size needed to take Haberfield downfield, and the speed and quickness to keep up underneath—AJ is coming off a Second Team All-Defense selection in 2023, and is still just a few years removed from his 2021 Defensive Player of the Year award. We’ve seen both players have success around the disc as well as downfield, which gives this matchup plenty of intrigue and unpredictability, as Haberfield looks to carve out a significant role on New York’s untouchable offense.

Evan Swiatek (ATX) vs. Justin Burnett (ATL)

We got a look at this matchup in the 2023 South Division Championship Game and it did not disappoint. These are two workhorses; Evan Swiatek and Justin Burnett both possess the athleticism, endurance, and playmaking ability to compete with the best in the league. Swiatek got the better of this matchup last year, as he finished with a season-best +10 plus/minus—five assists, four goals, and no turnovers—though Burnett was running with him throughout the game and provided constant pressure. Burnett now enters his third season in the league, coming off his 2023 Callahan Award in the college division and a First Team All-Defense selection in the UFA, and he continues to improve each season. The Austin vs. Atlanta matchups should have a little extra sizzle to them this year given how last season ended, and each team will look to their respective stars to give them an edge.

Quinn Finer (COL) vs. Joe Merrill (SLC)

Joe Merrill makes his return to Salt Lake after a year playing D-line for DC, and it’s likely that he starts on defense for the Shred this season given the return of their entire O-line from 2023. The Shred experimented with Merrill on defense in 2022, switching him over for key points, and Merrill delivered on multiple occasions with clutch blocks and much-needed defensive intensity. Whether he’s playing offense or defense, this guy just epitomizes hustle, and I can’t think of a more intriguing matchup for him out West than Colorado’s Quinn Finer, who has now been selected back-to-back seasons to the All-UFA Second Team. Finer is an extremely difficult matchup to solve; force him underneath, and you’re probably setting up him for continuation hucks—only Bobby Ley and Ryan Osgar completed more hucks than Finer at a higher completion rate last season—but if you let him go deep, he has the speed and athleticism to win those battles more often than not. The first Salt Lake vs. Colorado matchup will be May 18th in Colorado, and it’ll be a huge opportunity for both players (and teams) to set the tone for the rest of their seasons.