AAF Week 5 Barometer

Welcome to the Alliance of American Football (AAF) Week 5 Barometer, a column in which I’ll strive to take a pulse on the week-to-week state of the league by highlighting some of the best performers on each team. The AAF already has four weeks’ worth of games in the books, and the strengths and weaknesses of each team are naturally starting to come into clearer focus.

The same applies to individual player performances to a significant extent. With its role as a developmental/second-chance league, the AAF’s depth charts are admittedly a bit more fluid than one would see in the NFL, including at the skill positions. However, there are already multiple players on each team that have secured established roles and volume through their play.

Before delving into this week’s biggest risers and fallers, a look at the most notable areas where the AAF rulebook diverges from that of the NFL:

  • No kickoffs; each team begins any game-opening/second-half-opening and post-score drive at its own 25-yard line.
  • No extra points; two-point conversion attempts are mandatory after each touchdown.
  • No onside kicks; teams will have the option of running a “4th-and-12” play from their own 28-yard line in lieu of onside kicks. The play will only be made available if a team is trailing by 17 points or more or if they’re trailing with 5 minutes or fewer left in regulation.
  • Teams that are scored upon via a safety also have the option of attempting to gain possession by running this same play from their own 18-yard line.
  • 35-second play clocks, as opposed to the 40-second clocks utilized in the NFL.
  • All overtime periods played under “Kansas Playoff” rules. Each team begins on the opponent’s 10-yard line and given four chances to score. No field goals are allowed in overtime. If the score remains tied after each team has had a possession, the game ends in a tie.
  • No more than five defensive players may rush on any one play. Any players on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage at the snap count towards those five players whether they rush or not.
  • Pass rushing from a starting position that is more than two yards outside the widest offensive lineman and more than five yards from the line of scrimmage (defensive pressure box) is prohibited. However, there are exceptions to this rule on play-action or run-pass option plays, or if the ball leaves the tackle box.
  • Violations of the aforementioned defensive alignment rules will prompt a 15-yard illegal defense penalty.
  • Finally, a “sky judge” situated in a suite above the field acts as the ninth member of the officiating crew and will have access to review each play. The sky judge will have the ability to correct any on-field officiating errors that it deems “egregious.”

With those particulars out of the way, let’s get into some quick hits on each team from a fantasy perspective heading into Week 5:

Eastern Conference

Orlando Apollos

  • QB Garrett Gilbert continued to prove himself the AAF’s most consistent fantasy producer in Week 4, racking up another 244 passing yards  to give him an AAF-leading 1,071 on the season. Gilbert also continues to pace the league in fantasy points (93.8) and is presumably only getting more comfortable by the week in coach Steve Spurrier’s offense. A tough test awaits in Week 5 against the Iron, but the Orlando attack has found a way in each of the first four games thus far.
  • One of the more understated reasons for Gilbert’s success is how good a job the Apollos’ running game has done keeping defenses honest. The three-pronged attack of D’Ernest Johnson, De’Veon Smith and Akeem Hunt kept it up in Week 4, with Hunt bouncing back from a couple of weeks where he saw only two rushing touches apiece to notch eight carries and score what would be the clinching touchdown. The workload split in the backfield continues to be a fantasy nightmare, however, as Hunt, Smith and Johnson saw 19, 20 and 21 snaps, respectively, in Week 4.
  • WR Charles Johnson took yet another step forward in Week 4, as he racked up nine receptions for 105 yards on a whopping 12 targets. Johnson continues to lead the AAF in receiving yards (410) and targets (32) and is second only to the Iron’s Quinton Patton in air yards (476). Johnson already has two games with double-digit targets through the first four and is clearly Gilbert’s most trusted option.
  • However, WR Rannell Hall, who I highlighted as a “keep an eye on” candidate last week, continued his surge as well. He checked in with a solid 4-57 line on five targets versus the Stallions. Hall may be surpassing fellow wideout Jalin Marshall in the passing attack, as he’s now just one target short of his teammate for the season, has back-to-back four-catch outings, and has a reception of over 35 yards in each.

Birmingham Iron

  • QB Luis Perez managed to come up empty with respect to passing touchdowns yet again in Week 4 versus the Commanders. His passing yardage (202) remained respectable, but Perez also threw two interceptions and now has three overall on the season. What’s more, Perez hasn’t managed more than 5.2 yards per attempt in any of the last three games, and his 5.7 figure for the season is last among current starting QBs.
  • A combination of the rookie’s relatively conservative ways and mediocre accuracy (56.0) are naturally having an increasingly detrimental effect on the fantasy fortunes of his pass-catching corps. WR Quinton Patton still leads the AAF in air yards (476) and aDOT (17.6) among receivers with multiple receptions, but the low-percentage passes have wreaked havoc on his catch rate. The ex-49er has brought in just 13 of 27 targets through four games.
  • WR L’Damian Washington (seven targets) checked in behind only RB Trent Richardson in looks in Week 4, and his role could be on the rise. Washington has four, five and seven targets in the last three games, respectively, and he notched a season-high 114 air yards against San Antonio. However, it’s important to note Washington has just one red-zone target all season.
  • With Perez often availing himself of safety-valve options, both Richardson and fellow RB Ladarius Perkins are seeing plenty of work through the air. Richardson paced the Iron with eight targets versus the Commanders, hauling in five of them for 37 yards. Meanwhile, Perkins grabbed all four of his for 23 yards. Richardson already has 15 receptions through four games, while Perkins has compiled 12 in limited action.
  • Richardson also notched his AAF-leading seventh rushing touchdown in Week 4, and despite his eye-popping inefficiency (2.4 yards per carry), still enjoyed a team-leading 56.0 percent snap share against San Antonio. However, the debut of RB Brandon Ross as a complementary back was noteworthy on a couple of fronts. One, the Maryland product outpaced Richardson in carries, nine to eight. Second, he averaged 7.1 yards per rush, in stark contrast to Richardson’s typical sub-3.0 yards per carry averages. How coach Tim Lewis decides to split the workload in Week 5 will be something to keep a close eye on, and Ross is certainly worth a roll of the dice as a cost-effective DFS play versus an Apollos squad that’s been about league average versus the run.

Memphis Express

  • QB Zach Mettenberger earned his first AAF start after a solid showing in relief in Week 3, and he proved himself worthy of the job while helping the Express notch their first win. Mettenberger’s two total touchdowns and mistake-free performance were keys to the three-point victory over the Fleet. Although the LSU product didn’t get much of a chance to showcase his big-league arm in the game, that’s likely to be a more frequent occurrence the more comfortable Mettenberger becomes in the offense.
  • RB Zac Stacy looked “Richardson-like” for the second straight week, managing just 39 yards on 18 carries versus the Fleet’s top-rated rush defense. On the bright side, Stacy’s 60 percent snap share easily paced the Express backfield, as backups Sherman Badie and Terrance McGee don’t presently seem like legitimate threats to Stacy’s touches. Stacy could well be primed for a bounce-back as a low-owned play in Week 5, as the opposing Atlanta Legends continue to allow the most rushing yards per game (117.7).
  • With Mettenberger keeping things relatively conservative in Week 4, Reece Horn, more of a possession option, was the biggest beneficiary (4-63). However, speedsters Alton “Pig” Howard (3-39), Dontez Byrd (2-20) and Devin Lucien (3-19) made their mark on the contest as well, albeit more modestly. As mentioned last week, that trio could make plenty of waves if the offense is progressively opened up for Mettenberger and he begins to hit some downfield passes.

Atlanta Legends

  • If there was ever a team that exemplified the credo “what a difference a week makes”, it was the Legends in Week 4. It all started with a revamped offense that benefited from a quick six-day makeover at the hands of new coordinator Ken Zampese. The veteran coach had the unit humming throughout the night against the Hotshots, and even though Atlanta may actually have gotten a bit fortunate when QB Aaron Murray was forced into the game in place of Matt Simms (hand), the play-calling looked to be exponentially better with Zampese at the controls.
  • Murray was the talk of the week after completing 20 of 33 passes for 254 yards and adding another 54 on the ground despite just seven rushes. The former Georgia Bulldog didn’t seem the least bit jittery despite the emergency duty, and his showing earns him the Week 5 start against an Express team allowing the third-most passing yards (210.5) and passing touchdowns (five) in the AAF.
  • The passing game wasn’t the only part of the offense that looked rejuvenated in Week 4 against Arizona. The Legends may have finally started to find some backfield continuity after seeing RB Brandon Radcliffe turn in a strong performance with 12 carries for 48 yards in his first taste of action. Then, there was a Denard Robinson sighting, with “Shoelace” notching his first AAF touchdown and gaining 43 yards on nine rushes overall. The placement of Akrum Wadley on injured reserve with a leg injury this week further simplifies the potential pecking order, although Tarean Folston and Lawrence Pittman are still around to compete for carries as well.
  • Folston was actually the leading receiver on the day in Week 4 with a 5-66 line. However, expect the receivers to start to make more of a mark as the team, and Murray specifically, gets more accustomed to Zampese’s system. Malachi Jones, Bug Howard and Montay Crockett appear to be the likeliest candidates to emerge as top pass-catching options for whomever is under center moving forward.

Western Conference

San Diego Fleet

  • The Fleet will be operating with a new/old quarterback in Week 5, as Philip Nelson suffered a broken collarbone in last week’s loss to the Express. Mike Bercovici, who started the opener before being pulled midway through the game, will be back under center. Head coach Mike Martz had glowing praise for Bercovici’s practice performance this week, and it remains to be seen if the ASU product will be able to translate that to game action.
  • Ja’Quan Gardner was uncharacteristically shut down in Week 4, gaining just six yards on nine carries. However, the speedster’s upside is undeniable, and he still tops the AAF with 287 rushing yards. Meanwhile, power back Terrell Watson is still seeing solid work, matching Gardner with 30 snaps. The two appear set to continue sharing the workload pretty evenly, although curiously, it was Gardner seeing all the red-zone work in Week 4 (two touches).
  • The Fleet boasts a deep receiving corps, and it can sometimes be difficult to get a beat on who might step the forefront in any given week. That uncertainly is heightened to an extent this coming week with a new quarterback taking control of the offense. In Week 4, it was speedy Dontez Ford making some noise with a 3-71-1 line and Marcus Baugh bouncing back after a quiet Week 3 to generate a 4-54-1 line as well.
  • Meanwhile, TE Gavin Escobar continues to serve as a consistent part of the offense, logging four catches for the second straight game and third time in the first four overall. With Bercovici possibly looking to the tight end more often as a safety valve in his first game back, Escobar could be a sneaky fantasy play in Week 5 against a Stallions defense that’s allowed a 13-137-1 line to tight ends, which has resulted in Salt Lake yielding the second-most fantasy points per game (9.2) to the position.

Arizona Hotshots

  • The Hotshots surprisingly found themselves in the loss column again in Week 4, facilitating the first win of the season for the Atlanta Legends. QB John Wolford returned to action after exiting Week 3 early with a back injury, but he was only able to generate 185 passing yards. He did finally find trusted WR Rashad Ross for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but that was the only time the Hotshots would cross the goal line in what set up as an enticing matchup on paper.
  • One of the positives that the Hotshots could take from their second straight defeat was the resurgent play of RB Jhurell Pressley, who easily outpaced backfield mates Justin Stockton and Tim Cook in production and playing time versus Atlanta. Pressley was in on 59 percent of the snaps and led the running backs with eight routes run, a workload he parlayed into 14 rushes for 110 yards. He also turned five targets into four receptions, although they only went for 13 yards. Pressley appears to have an unquestioned grip on the lead-back job, and he has a chance to make it two straight strong performances versus a Commanders squad that’s allowing 5.8 yards per carry to running backs.
  • Along with the Apollos’ Charles Johnson, Ross continues to be the gold standard among AAF receivers, and even in a lackluster performance for the offense in Week 4, he found a way to stand out. As mentioned earlier, Ross scored the only touchdown for the Hotshots and finished with a team-leading 4-74-1 line. He now has 19 receptions for 295 yards and an AAF-leading five receiving touchdowns. His 26 targets also rank fourth in the league, and with fellow wideout Josh Huff placed on injured reserve Thursday with a knee injury, Ross’ role could expand further. Huff had logged 23 targets himself, so Wolford could find himself looking Ross’ way a couple of extra times per contest at minimum.
  • Other receivers that could benefit from Huff’s absence include Freddie Martino, who brings multiple seasons of NFL experience and has seen three targets each in the past two games, and Marquis Bundy, who’s seen 11 targets combined the last two weeks.

San Antonio Commanders

  • QB Logan Woodside may not be long for the starting job if he continues to struggle with accuracy. After a lackluster 11-for-25, 106-yard performance against the Iron in Week 4, Woodside sports a 49.6 completion percentage for the season. Marquise Williams waits in the wings and offers an outstanding running dimension after having compiled 2,458 rushing yards in four college seasons at North Carolina.
  • Kenneth Farrow‘s explosive 30-carry, 142-yard performance versus the Iron was one of the AAF’s Week 4 headlines, especially considering it came against one of the league’s best defenses. Farrow has looked like like a player intent on making his case for an NFL return thus far this season, and the back injury that may have limited him some in Week 3 was nowhere to be found against Birmingham. Farrow enjoyed 74 percent of the snap share in Week 4, and given the results, he’s likely set for another voluminous workload against a Hotshots squad allowing the third-most rushing yards per game (105.5).
  • The Commanders receiving corps remains long on potential but somewhat short on production, in large part due to the inconsistent play under center. The top trio of Mekale McKay, De’Marcus Ayers and Greg Ward, Jr. all recorded two catches apiece in the one-point win over the Iron, but none logged more than 24 receiving yards. More will likely be needed from them in Week 5, considering the vulnerability of the Commanders’ secondary and the firepower of the Hotshots passing game may lead to a game script that requires San Antonio to keep its foot on the gas.

Salt Lake Stallions

  •  QB Josh Woodrum turned in a solid statistical effort in snowy conditions versus the Apollos in Week 4, notching a 72.7 completion rate and compiling 161 passing yards. He also distributed the ball to seven different pass catchers, with Brian Tyms and Kenny Bell leading the way with four and three receptions, respectively. Week 4 star De’Mornay Pierson-El couldn’t come close to his 8-90-1 line in Week 5, as he finished with just two catches (on two targets) for 24 yards. Bell’s targets have been the steadiest, as he’s now logged a combined nine looks in the last two games. In contrast, Tyms had seen just one in Week 4 before his jump to five against Orlando.
  • Branden Oliver seems to be coach Dennis Erickson’s preferred choice as the lead back, as he finished with a 56 percent snap share versus the Apollos despite leaving the game early in the fourth quarter with a groin injury. Oliver may not be ready to suit up in Week 5, which would leave Joel Bouagnon, who carried eight times for 30 yards and a touchdown in Week 4, in a potential lead-back role against a stingy Fleet defense allowing the fewest rushing yards per game (84.5).

 

*Statistics courtesy of www.noextrapoints.com