Players To Watch: Week 5

May 23, 2024
By Daniel Cohen

The Central Division is in the spotlight this week, with Madison and Minnesota taking center stage in tomorrow’s Super Series game, while Chicago and Pittsbugh face interdivisional competition in Texas and Toronto. Key matchups, both in and out-of-division, call for big individual performances, as multiple team leaders headline this week’s watchlist. 

Dylan DeClerck, Minnesota Wind Chill (Pictured)

Dylan DeClerck has had some huge performances at Breese Stevens Field throughout his career. When the Wind Chill spoiled the Radicals’ home opener in 2021, it was DeClerck who led the way on defense with five blocks. More recently last season, DeClerck tied a career high with six goals in Minnesota’s 24-19 win over Madison in Week 7. There aren’t many players in the league who match DeClerck’s burst after turnovers, and Minnesota’s D-line is built to hit him in stride downfield shortly after they take possession. Top 15 all-time in career blocks, DeClerck will likely be the guy to set the tone defensively tomorrow night, as Minnesota looks to bounce back after a tough loss at home last week.

Mark Evans, Austin Sol

After two years establishing himself as a dynamic hybrid alongside Evan Swiatek and Kyle Henke, Mark Evans is essentially Austin’s new O-line center handler following Jake Radack’s switch to D-line. One of the top deep throwers on the team, Evans has completed 5-of-7 hucks in two games, and he’s on pace to surpass 4,000 throwing yards in the regular season; his single-season high came last year, when he threw for 2,044 in 11 games. Evans has looked right at home in the backfield alongside Duncan Fitzgerald, with both guys still capable of attacking downfield with their legs and working the disc between the two of them. This week Austin faces a Union defense that has allowed just eight huck completions in two games, so it’ll be worth watching whether Evans and the offense are limited in their deep shots, or if they can continue stretching the field at will.

John Lithio, Chicago Union

Chicago’s up against two top-10 hucking teams this week in Houston and Austin, which makes it feel like their own deep game will be fairly active in going punch-for-punch with the Texas teams. 2024 newcomer John Lithio could be active in these potential shootouts on both the throwing and receiving end, as he’s one of multiple Union cutters—alongside Jack Shanahan and Jeff Weis—with the continuation throws to take advantage of streaking teammates. Through his first two games with Chicago, Lithio is tied for the team lead with five goals, and his 646 total yards of offense rank third; Lithio’s exact role in the Union offense could take some time to develop, but a 6’5” cutter with throws could be a key piece in building this unit’s identity. 

Kai Marcus, Madison Radicals

Still a small sample size for Kai Marcus’ UFA career so far, but it’s becoming clear he gives this Radicals offense the type of center handler gunslinger they haven’t really had in the past. Of course, that comes with its ups and downs; in three career games, Marcus has over 1,000 throwing yards, 14 assists, but also 10 throwaways. Now going up against the reigning Central Division champs that boast one of the better defenses in the division, tomorrow night’s Super Series game should give great insight into what Marcus can do in big games. He’s yet to play a pro game with fewer than three throwaways, so we’ll see how he handles the pressure from last year’s number one defense in front of the Breese Stevens crowd.

Sean Mott, Philadelphia Phoenix

Philly is 0-3, but they’ve got a chance to turn their season around after a heartbreaking double overtime loss to DC last week. Sean Mott tossed a season-high five assists against DC, but also had six turnovers in a game that featured just 12 total turnovers from the Phoenix. He may take on an expanded workload this week with Alex Thorne out of the lineup—Mott and Thorne have played super similar roles in the Phoenix offense this year, as they have nearly identical completions (115 and 111) and yardage totals (896 and 911) through three games—and he’ll be up against a New York defense that ranks in the bottom half of the league in offensive conversion rate allowed. The last time these two teams played, Mott threw four assists and scored two goals on a perfect 45-of-45 throwing day. If he can keep the turnovers down and Philly’s O-line conversion rate can build on the 63 percent they reached last week, the Phoenix might finally have something to tweet about.

Max Sheppard, Pittsburgh Thunderbirds

If last year was any indication, there could be a statistical explosion incoming for Max Sheppard this weekend. The Thunderbirds host Detroit on Friday before traveling to Toronto on Saturday, and Sheppard outright dominated these matchups last year. In two home games against Detroit last year, he racked up 11 assists, 10 goals, and about 1,500 total yards of offense. In Pittsburgh’s road trip to Toronto last year, Shep tossed a season-high nine assists and scored two goals, with nearly 700 total yards of offense. Obviously, these are two of the weaker opponents they’ll face all year, but this weekend presents a nice opportunity for Pittsburgh to improve their record to 3-2 and ride the momentum of their upset win over Minnesota last weekend. Wins build confidence regardless of the matchup, and after a relatively quiet start to the season, this weekend could jumpstart Pittsburgh’s most dangerous offensive weapon.

Jack Williams, New York Empire

Through New York’s first four games of the season, Jack Williams is averaging over 400 total yards per game, which would be his highest season average since 2021. He’s also on pace for 54 scores this season, which would be his most since 2019. It’s clear he’s stepping up to try and fill the massive holes left by Babbitt, Lithio, and Osgar, as he’s been operating in a more active hybrid role within the New York system; Williams typically starts possessions downfield and regularly shows off his versatility between downfield cutting, give-and-gos in the handler set, and midfield facilitating. But with New York’s deep game severely lacking—the team is completing the second-fewest hucks per game at the third-lowest rate in the league—I’m most interested to see whether Jack can get the explosive plays back for the Empire. Continuation hucks were New York’s bread and butter with Osgar in the lineup, and while the return of Elliott Chartock will give them another deep thrower this week, one has to wonder if we see more aggressive continuation shots from Williams given the matchup with a Philly team that loves the deep ball.

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