The first week of the season is in the book. And it was a rollercoaster. There were two close games and two blowouts. And we learned a lot.
- Luis Perez, Garrett Gilbert, and John Wolford are pretty good quarterbacks.
- Some of the offenses may be a step behind due to the shortened offseason.
- Most teams are going with the running back-by-committee approach.
- The five-man rush rule doesn’t stop teams from racking up sacks.
- The Fleet may have an offensive line problem.
- Ironic that the team that scored the first points in AAF history ended up losing by the most points in AAF history (Sorry, Atlanta)
But most of all, we learned that the league is full of really fun and fast football. There were some hiccups (looking at you, AAF app), but most of this first weekend of AAF football was very successful. The games, especially the San Antonio vs. San Diego and Arizona vs. Salt Lake (Except for having to listen to Marvin Lewis commentate) games, were fun to watch and had a great pace.
With that success comes the first week of power rankings. Now that I have actually watched game film from each day, I can give an accurate representation of how I feel about each team. This could all change in one week, but here’s my Week 1 Power Rankings. Enjoy and discuss.
- Arizona Hotshots (1-0)
- Orlando Apollos (1-0)
- Birmingham Iron (1-0)
- Salt Lake Stallions (0-1)
- San Antonio Commanders (1-0)
- San Diego Fleet (0-1)
- Memphis Express (0-1)
- Atlanta Legends (0-1)
- Arizona Hotshots (Won 38-22 vs. Salt Lake)
The Hotshots had a very complete game against one of the better teams in the league. John Wolford looks like the steal of the QB draft, throwing for 275 yards and four touchdowns in his first game. The offensive line looked great, only allowing two sacks and enabling a rushing attack that had 39 carries for 149 yards and four 2-point conversions. Rashad Ross was Wolford’s favorite target, getting five catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns. The defense looked good. They only had one sack, but the defensive backfield looked to be one of the best in the league. Sterling Moore had a couple pass defenses and looked fantastic in coverage. They only allowed 159 yards passing and had two interceptions. The linebacking group also looked great holding the Stallions to 88 rushing yards. It was led by Steve Johnson, who had seven tackles and one interception.
Standout: John Wolford (18-29/275 yards/four TDs/two rushes/23 yards)
The obvious choice from Sunday night’s game. He completed 62% of his passes and had 298 yards total yards, serving as the catalyst for the dynamic Hotshots that scored 38 points on offense. His play earned the Hotshots a win and he is easily the player of the week in the AAF.
- Orlando Apollos (Won 40-6 vs. Atlanta Legends)
A lot of Apollos fans will be mad that they aren’t numbered one in these power rankings. While they did beat Atlanta convincingly, they were playing one of the worst teams in the AAF. The offense was explosive, and Garrett Gilbert looking fantastic after getting comfortable in the first half. He threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass from Jalin Marshall, who himself had a big day with 51 yards receiving and one touchdown. Their ground game was the catalyst for their offense. They ran for 131 yards on 25 carries while averaging 5.24 yards per carry. The Apollos defense was a little shaky during their first drive, but after that, they were lights out. They gave up six points during the whole game and even had a pick-six. Will Hill, Earl Okine, and Terence Garvin all played big roles in that game as the defense stopped Atlanta cold in its tracks. This could be one of the best defensive units in the league.
Standout: Terence Garvin (eight tackles/seven solo/1.0 TFL/two PD/two interceptions)
One of the more tenured players in the AAF, Garvin put on a show. He led his team in tackles, pass defenses, and interceptions. Orlando is a defense I was high on coming into the season, and Terence Garvin is a prime example why. He showed great speed in coverage and an ability to make plays. Definitely the standout for the Apollos this week.
- Birmingham Iron (Won 26-0 against Memphis Express)
Birmingham looked good on both sides of the ball and belongs in the upper tier of AAF teams. They struggled a bit offensively until the final frame, in which they scored 17 of their 26 points. They had 86 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns, but only averaged 2.5 yards per rush. The Iron were better through the air, in which Luis Perez threw for 252 yards even though his receivers had a case of the drops. He also showed a great command of the Iron offense and looks like one of the more NFL ready players in the league. If their running game can become more consistent and the Iron receivers stop dropping passes, they can be dangerous offensively. As for Birmingham’s defense? All I can say is look at the scoreboard. They pitched a shutout. It doesn’t matter that Christian Hackenberg missed a good amount of throws during the game. A shutout is a shutout. The defensive backs were all over the Express receivers and the pass rush was all over Hackenberg. They did give up over 100 yards rushing at four yards a carry, so it will be interesting to see if they get run on by other teams.
Standout: Johnathan Massaquoi (seven tackles, five solo, two sacks, three QB hits, three TFLs)
Massaquoi seemed to live in the Express’s backfield all day on Sunday, and he was a big reason the Iron pitched a shutout. Keeping Hackenberg uncomfortable was probably an important part of the game plan and he did that. He had the Iron’s two sacks and three of the five QB hits.
- Salt Lake Stallions (Lost 38-22 against Arizona Hotshots)
Yes, I know they lost. But power rankings aren’t about records. I think this team has the best chance to challenge the Hotshots in the West as configured. They were keeping up with the Hotshots until Woodrum got injured. They showed signs of a really balanced attack throughout the first half, scoring 16 of their 22 points before halftime. Once Woodrum left the game, the offense didn’t have the same rhythm. Brandon Oliver looked really good on his few touches, gaining 46 total yards on nine touches. The defense looked pretty good, but not great, in the first half. They struggled against the arguably the best offense in the AAF and tired quickly against the Hotshots up-tempo offense. The outside corners played well, limiting the Hotshots outside receivers, but the safeties and linebackers struggled to cover the slot receivers and tight ends. If Woodrum is out for a while, this team may drop further.
Standout: Anthony Denham (seven targets, five receptions, 59 yards)
One big reason the Stallions offense struggled in the second half was the lack of production from its pass catchers outside of this guy. Denham was routinely open on crucial downs and made big catches. Look for high-level production from Denham throughout the season.
- San Antonio Commanders (Won 15-6 against San Diego Fleet)
The Commanders were an interesting watch on Saturday. At times they looked dominant, controlling both sides of the line of scrimmage on their way to 125 rushing yards and 255 passing yards. But other times they struggled, with Logan Woodside throwing two interceptions and completing only half of his passes, while the offensive line gave up three sacks and was eaten alive by Damontre Moore. One thing they did well was dominate the clock, as they had one drive in the 4th quarter that lasted nearly 10 minutes and basically sealed the game. Woodside looked good commanding the offense and on the field, despite his two picks. The defense was tremendous, holding a Mike Martz offense to six points. They also had six sacks and forced three turnovers. The defensive backs and pass rushers looked amazing, but their run defense worries me a little bit. They only gave up 99 yards, but it was at 6.2 yards a rush. But giving up only six points and pressuring a quarterback that much leads to good things, and it led to a win this week.
Standout: Mekale McKay (12 targets, 5 receptions, 80 yards)
Offense was hard to come by in this game. But when it did for San Antonio, “Big Play” McKay was usually involved. He averaged 16 yards a catch and made plays when the ball was in the air. He was a focus of San Diego’s defense, but still produced and was open quite a bit.
- San Diego Fleet (Lost 15-6 against San Antonio Commanders)
The Fleet’s chances of winning this game started and ended in the trenches. Their offensive line struggled in pass pro, giving up six sacks and 10 quarterback hits. But they did well when asked to run block, creating holes on the way to 6.2 yards a carry. Martz also didn’t call a great game and didn’t seem to adjust to the ever-present pass rush. Mike Bercovici played well at times and looked at home improvising outside of the pocket, but never looked comfortable in the pocket and struggled to hold on to the ball, fumbling twice and throwing three picks. Phillip Nelson came in for Bercovici late in the fourth but struggled, throwing an interception and at times lacking the necessary arm strength to make throws. Defensively, they looked good in the front seven, compiling three sacks and holding the Commanders to 3.7 yards a rush. But the defensive backs looked susceptible in pass coverage, giving up 14.2 yards per catch and 255 passing yards. The Fleet defense can rush the passer and stop the run, but teams will look to beat them over the top. And if Mike Martz can’t figure out what to do with his offensive line and quarterbacks, it could be a long season for the Fleet.
Standout: Damontre Moore (10 tackles, five solo, 1.5 sacks, six QB Hits, one TFL, one PD)
Damontre Moore was easily the best player on the field for the San Diego Fleet. He dominated the trenches, living in Logan Woodside’s face as he piled up the QB hits. He was constantly quicker and more explosive than the Commander’s offensive line. He was also a factor in the run game. He looks to be one of the better defensive linemen in the league.
- Memphis Express (Lost 26-0 against Birmingham Iron)
This is the tale of two sides of the ball. Offensively, they only had one successful drive in the third quarter. Christian Hackenberg completed less than half of his passes and for only 100 yards. They rushed for 103 yards at four yards a carry, with Zac Stacy leading them with 58 rushing yards. But they didn’t run the ball enough (26 total carries) for it to have enough of an effect. Other then Hackenberg not playing well, the lack of an offensive identity struck me as what stopped this offense from scoring points. They couldn’t decide if they were a spread, quick pass offense or a power-I, downhill running team. Once they decide what type of scheme to choose on offense, they might score points. Defensively, they looked good for the first three quarters, only giving up nine points. Cornerback Channing Stribling stood out to me as one of the better players on this defense, making a lot of plays on the ball and looking like a solid tackler. They only had two sacks, but DeMarquis Gates did a great job of forcing two fumbles that gave the Memphis offense chances to score. This was a good defense that got tired in the fourth quarter.
Standout: DeMarquis Gates (10 Tackles, 10 solo, one TFL, two FF)
Gates did a fantastic job of being a possible game changer for the Memphis Express. His ability to create turnovers and get ball carriers to the ground helped this Memphis defense hold the Iron and Luis Perez to only nine points in the first three frames. Gates looks to be an early leader for a solid Memphis defense.
- Atlanta Legends (Lost 40-6 against Orlando Apollos)
This entire Atlanta team didn’t look ready for this game against Orlando. After starting out hot and scoring the first ever points in AAF history (Shoutout to Younghoe Koo), they went on to be outscored 40-3 throughout the rest of the game. It wasn’t pretty for that offense. Matt Simms threw for 126 yards and two interceptions. Aaron Murray added 38 more yards and another interception. They only had 80 total rushing yards, with Tarean Folston leading the way with 32 yards at a clip of 2.7 yards per carry. I don’t think Rich Bartell, the quarterback’s coach, and de facto offensive coordinator, called a bad game. But his players and the offensive line just didn’t perform. All the turmoil (Brad Childress and Mike Vick both leaving their positions on the team) really hurt this team. The defense also looked rough, giving up 34 points and numerous big plays. They only had one sack and the only turnover they forced was on a muffed punt. Kevin Coyle was the defensive coordinator before he became the head coach, so once Coyle becomes more comfortable as the head coach I would expect this defense to settle down and play a little bit better. But after a performance with almost no bright spots, they start out the season at the bottom spot in the league.
Standout: Younghoe Koo (2/2, six points, long of 38 yards)
There was really nobody else that stood out during this game for the Legends. Younghoe Koo looked consistent from mid-range and scored the only points for Atlanta on a night that the Legends wished would have gone a little bit better. Also, he scored the first points in AAF history.