06/06/2011 6:51 PM
With nearly 65 percent of the AFL season in the books, the race for Offensive Player of the Year is beginning to pan out. With the innovation of the 18-game schedule, several AFL records will be broken. The two extra games, however, will also give us an opportunity to separate the men from the boys in the 2011 AFL season.
Last season, quarterback Chris Greisen of the Milwaukee Iron won the Russell Offensive Player of the Year Award after tossing for 5,146-yards, an AFL record. He posted 107 passing touchdowns and led Milwaukee to an 11-5 record. During his three seasons as a starting quarterback in the AFL, Greisen became one of the more dominant passers, throwing for 15,115-yards and 324 touchdowns. However because Greisen received a great deal of exposure in the AFL, he would not get an opportunity to repeat this season. In late December, Greisen signed a deal to play for the Dallas Cowboys and forgo the 2011 AFL year. This season, the field for the Offensive Player of the Year Award has featured a number of players with impressive statistics thus far.
With the arena game being predominantly focused around passing, the obvious place to find potential Offensive Player of the Year candidates is the quarterback position. This season, quarterbacks around the League have been lighting up the scoreboard with quick drives and big plays. While some quarterbacks are ranked higher in the touchdown and passing yards categories, other passers have excelled in precision and efficiency.
The quarterback who has put up the most eye-popping statistics thus far has been Utah Blaze quarterback Tommy Grady. Grady leads the League in passing touchdowns (78) in only 11 games of work this season. That means he is averaging a little more than seven touchdowns per game. If Grady continues this pace, he will reach 127 touchdown passes and break Greisen’s AFL record of 117 passing touchdowns in a single season. Grady is also leading the League in passing yards per game with 298.3. If Grady continues that pace as well, he will reach nearly 5,350 passing yards and break Greisen’s passing yards record of 5,146 yards in the last week of the season. It will be interesting to see if Grady can continue on this impressive run, while also finding a way to win games too. Even with Grady piling up monster statistics, the Blaze are currently 5-6 and on a two game losing skid. Grady has a good chance of winning the Award at the end of the season if he can continue to make big plays while also leading the team to victories.
Another quarterback who is having a strong statistical season thus far is Orlando’s Nick Hill. Hill is having a terrific year, currently leading the Predators with an 8-3 record. While Hill is second in the League in passing yards per game (294.9), he is thriving in the run game as well. Hill ranks second in the League in rushing yards (322) and is atop the League with 5.0-yards per rush average. Because of his dual threat ability, Hill ranks first in the League in total offense with 324.2 total yards per game. So far this season, Hill has done a wonderful job leading the Predators offense and leaving opposing defenses uncomfortable.
While some quarterbacks put up big touchdowns and total yards, others have featured incredible pass efficiency and completion numbers. These players have done a phenomenal job protecting the football while playing with consistency. Jacksonville Sharks veteran quarterback Aaron Garcia and Arizona Rattlers quarterback Nick Davila are posting stellar season’s with smart, effective play and a strong ability to put the ball where only their playmakers can make plays. Garcia and Davila lead the League with an identical 113.6 pass efficiency rating and a completion percentage of 71.3. Because of these players ability to rarely make mistakes, both the Sharks (10-1) and Rattlers (10-2) are at the top of the League standings in their respective conferences. Many coaches and players will tell you that the most crucial aspect of winning in the AFL is winning the turnover battle and playing smart and consistent football. These two quarterbacks are perfect examples of how successful an AFL team can be with efficient and precise leaders. While these players have done a phenomenal job this season with precision and accuracy, both passers are also scoring points. Davila currently ranks third in the League in touchdowns (71), while Garcia is in fourth with 66. If both quarterbacks continue to put up impressive and efficient statistics while dominating the League, it will be extremely difficult to pick one over the other.
The wide receiver position has also featured players with miraculous numbers this season. For quarterbacks to be successful in the AFL, the urgency to get the ball out quickly and find explosive receivers is very important. Before Greisen won in 2010, the Offensive Player of the Year Award was won by a wide receiver for six straight seasons.
One player who is a perfect example is New Orleans VooDoo wide receiver PJ Berry. This season, Berry has not only been phenomenal in the receiving game, but in the return game as well. While Berry ranks second in the League in receptions with 111, he also leads the League in kickoff return with 1,391-yards and four touchdowns. Throughout the season, Berry has consistently led the League in all-purpose yards and has notched 215.2-yards per game. Berry has consistently made big plays this season and is on pace to beat Antonio Chatman’s single season all-purpose record of 3,669-yards.
While Berry is stealing the show in the Big Easy, other receivers across the League have been posting solid statistical numbers too. Vigilante’s wide receiver Anthony “Tiger” Jones is having a notable season in Dallas and currently ranks atop nearly every major receiving statistical category. Jones is fourth in the League in receptions (102), third in reception yards (1,354) and seventh in touchdown receptions (27). Jones has been a crucial part of the Vigilantes offensive success this season. Dallas quarterback Dan Raudabaugh has done a wonderful job finding Jones in space and giving him an opportunity to make plays.
Arizona’s Rod Windsor is another receiver having a remarkable campaign in 2011. In 2010, Windsor set AFL records with 193 receptions and 2,372 receiving yards in his rookie season. Even with the two additional games, no receiver is on pace to rewrite these records. Windsor leads the League with 111 receptions and ranks second with 1,372 receiving yards. For the second straight season, Windsor has been the go-to-guy for Davila and the Rattlers offense. The combination of Davila and Windsor has become one of the most explosive and exciting tandems in the League.
Although there may be clear cut frontrunners for the Russell Offensive Player of the Year Award, other players are still in the running. Quarterbacks like the Command’s JJ Raterink and the Force’s Brett Elliot have posted impressive seasons leading their respective offenses to a great deal of success. Elliot has formed Georgia into a serious offensive juggernaut and currently sits second in touchdown passes with 74. Raterink has also been lighting it up through the air and currently leads the League in passing yards this season with 3,501-yards. Others such as Rush receiver Reggie Gray, Soul wideout Donovan Morgan and Force wide receiver Maurice Purify have been vital parts of their respective teams. Like Berry, Gray has been explosive in the receiving game and the return game as well. Gray currently ranks third in the League in touchdown receptions (30) while also returning two kickoffs. Morgan, on the other hand, has been successful with the receiving game. Morgan leads the League with a 15.9-yard per catch and 1,497 receiving yards this season. During his time in the AFL, Morgan has been a consistent threat because of his big play ability and dominating physical stature. Purify has also done most of his work in the receiving aspect of the game this season. In only his rookie season, Purify leads the League in touchdown receptions with 36. Purify is doing a great job this season adapting to the arena style and has built a strong rapport with Elliot.
The race for Russell Offensive Player of the Year is panning out to be an interesting one. The last seven weeks of the season will give us a much better idea of who can physically and mentally get through the full-grind of the new 18-game schedule. The candidate who continues to be consistent and well prepared each week will be the player that most likely holds the trophy come the end of the season.