Players To Watch: Week 7

June 6, 2024
By Daniel Cohen

With some massive playoff rematches across all four divisions this week, the top teams in the league are going to need big performances from their stars to continue the push towards Championship Weekend. This week’s watchlist features several UFA veterans that can rise to the occasion in the spotlight.

Antoine Davis, New York Empire (Pictured)

Someone is going to have to step up on this New York Empire defense to reverse the trend of their season—basically every defensive team stat is down significantly from last year after finishing as arguably the top unit in 2024—and with the Drost brothers and Bretton Tan inactive this week, who better than the reigning Defensive Player of the Year to set the tone in the league’s biggest rivalry. Last year we saw Antoine Davis really turn it on down the stretch; in the second half of the season, Davis recorded multiple blocks in five of seven games, finishing with 12 in that span compared to the four he had to start the year. However, the two games in which he failed to record a block during that seven-game stretch? Both against DC. The Empire are going to need Davis to step up now more than ever if they plan on slowing down this elite offense, and if the New York defense is able to impose their will, this game could change the trajectory of their entire season.

Jay Froude, Colorado Summit

After playing about 95 percent of his points on offense through his first two years with the Summit, Jay Froude has played a lot more D-line this year, and it’s going to be interesting to see how his role continues to shift throughout the year. His contribution on offense had been steady prior to this year—Froude completed 95 percent of his throws last year and surpassed 3,500 total yards each of his first two seasons with Colorado—but it’s clear the Colorado defense needs some help; they rank bottom-six in the league in blocks per game, D-line conversion rate, and opponent conversion rate. While he played full-time defense to open the season against Seattle, he’s played a more even split of O- and D-points the last two games, and we could see a similar trend this week against Salt Lake as Colorado continues to optimize their lines. Historically, Froude has had some of his best games against Salt Lake; prior to this year, he had at least five scores in every meeting with the Shred, which included a career-high +14 performance in their first matchup back in 2022.

Grant Lindsley, Salt Lake Shred

Grant Lindsley’s usage is worth following this year, as he began the season with back-to-back O-line starts before playing a full-time defensive role in Salt Lake’s most recent game against San Diego. Clearly, he’s one of the most well-rounded players on the roster, and he looks equally comfortable playing D-line quarterback as he does as a cog in the machine that is the Salt Lake Shred offense. Lindsley missed the first game against Colorado this year, so it’ll be interesting to see where he fits in for Saturday’s rematch; he played mostly D-line against them in his one meeting with Colorado last year, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him settle into that role given the O-line has converted above 60 percent of their possessions in every game without Lindsley in 2024. Defensive conversion rate could be the one area where Salt Lake stands to improve (if you had to pick something, though they still rank eighth in the league), so Lindsley’s presence might be the key to further cementing this team as Championship favorites.

Rowan McDonnell, DC Breeze

Coming off a down year in 2023 when he recorded a career-high 29 throwaways, former MVP Rowan McDonnell has looked a lot more like his dominant self this year. His completion percentage, scoring rate, and yardage averages are all up from 2023, and he just looks more explosive and decisive. Even at age 35, McDonnell boasts one of the more versatile offensive skill sets in the entire league, and he still possesses the ability to take over points and punch in scores when the team needs them most. Saturday’s game against New York is going to be a huge test for Rowan and the offense, and we’ll hopefully get some answers to a few key questions: One, how does DC respond after last week’s divisional loss to Boston, and two, can Rowan get out of his current slump against New York? In three meetings last year, Rowan had a combined plus/minus of zero. In fact, DC’s 20-17 win over New York in 2021 was the last time Rowan had fewer than two throwaways against New York. Turnovers always come at a premium when these teams meet, so if Rowan can keep the throwaways down to his ~1 per game average, the Breeze will be in great shape to overtake New York in the East standings.

Matt Smith, Atlanta Hustle

Consistently one of the most reliable guys on the Atlanta Hustle O-line, Matt Smith gets another battle with the Austin Sol tomorrow night. Last time these two teams met, Smith recorded a season-high 433 total yards to go with three assists and three goals, including a highlight-reel greatest, in the 2023 South Division Championship Game. The year prior when they met in Atlanta, Smith had a season-high six goals and 370 receiving yards. This is a matchup he’s historically shown up for time and time again, and with revenge on Atlanta’s mind after how last season ended, Smith’s steadying yet explosive presence could be exactly what the team needs to assert themselves as a top-two team in the South. Here’s a fun career stat: Of the top 100 scorers in league history, Smith (58.1 percent) is second only to Jack Williams (58.8 percent) in individual offensive efficiency (translation: Smith’s team has scored on 58.1 percent of their possessions when he’s been on the field).

Evan Swiatek, Austin Sol

It’s a potential season-defining double header for the Austin Sol this weekend, as they travel to Atlanta and Carolina to take on top competition in the South, and they're likely going to need two big games from Evan Swiatek if they plan to notch at least one win. Swiatek has been his usual consistent self for Austin through five games this year, as he leads the team in goals, total scores, and receiving yards. With a motor that never stops and quickness necessary to work in small spaces, he continues to be unguardable in his fourth season with the Sol, and there’s a lot of intrigue heading into these two potential playoff previews. Last year’s South Division Championship Game featured a Swiatek vs. Justin Burnett matchup that was must-watch TV, and against Carolina last season, he totaled eight scores in each of three meetings. Austin’s still looking for their first big win of the season, and a dominant game (or two) from Swiatek will likely be their best chance to get it.

Sol Yanuck, Carolina Flyers

Suiting up for the first time since Week 1, Sol Yanuck returns to the Carolina Flyers lineup for a playoff rematch against Austin. After playing nearly 90 percent of his almost 1,000 career points on offense coming into this season, Yanuck was deployed in a full-time defensive role in Week 1 against Atlanta, and he looked like a perfect fit. With throws to stretch the field and an aggressiveness to take over possessions in the red zone, Yanuck brings the right mix of talent, poise, and leadership to a D-line that didn’t have much of an identity in 2023. Aside from what he brings to the counterattack, Yanuck is no slouch on defense and is going to pose a challenge to top distributors on opposing offenses. Austin is a team allowing D-lines to convert at just 31 percent this year (best O-line defense in the league), so we could be in for a fun battle as Yanuck looks to break through Austin’s O-line defense. Another player to watch worth mentioning in this blurb is Henry Fisher, who also played D-line in Week 1 and is expected to make his return to the Flyers lineup Saturday night.

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