Welcome to the Alliance of American Football (AAF) Week 8 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. With the AAF now in the stretch run of its inaugural season and the postseason fast approaching, the strengths and weaknesses of each team are now well-established for the most part.
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 certainly 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 8:
- QB Garrett Gilbert didn't have as prolific a performance as usual in Week 7 against the Legends, but he didn't need to. The master conductor of coach Steve Spurrier's high-octane offense still finished with a solid 217 yards, a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion rush. Gilbert essentially ceded to the running game due to Orlando's sizable second-half lead, but he clearly has what it takes to air it out in Week 8 against an Express defense allowing 232.3 passing yards per game if the situation requires it.
- Speaking of that running game, Spurrier continued to confound fantasy players by reverting back to a three-man ground attack in Week 7. D'Ernest Johnson and De'Veon Smith were once again joined by Akeem Hunt after the latter had played just 13 snaps in Week 6 and hadn't suited up at all in the prior game. Smith was the story of Week 7 with three short touchdown runs against a vulnerable Atlanta front, but Johnson still led the backfield with 22 snaps. Where Spurrier will go in terms of division of labor in Week 8 is anyone's guess, but what's certain is the Express present as a favorable matchup – they're yielding the second-most rush yards per game (100.9) and have allowed six rushing touchdowns and a trio of two-point conversion runs.
- As alluded to earlier, the passing game wasn't the focus in Week 7, but WR Charles Johnson found his way into the end zone for the fourth time this season. Then, Rannell Hall came back into the spotlight after a quiet couple of weeks by pacing the group with 60 receiving yards, while Jalin Marshall saw a team-high six targets but only turned them into 26 yards.
- In Week 7, QB Luis Perez held onto the starting job he earned back in a spectacular Week 6 performance, and while he wasn't at his most accurate, he encouragingly stayed away from any interceptions in a wild 31-25 overtime loss to the Express. Perez threw for a pair of scores and even showed off a running dimension with 27 yards on seven carries. He'll look to solve a Legends secondary in Week 8 that's been tough on opposing quarterbacks in terms of completion rate, but that allowed Garrett Gilbert to connect on over 82 percent of his throws in Week 7.
- It's become old hat to report that RB Trent Richardson found his way into the end zone yet again, but that's exactly what unfolded for the 10th time this season versus Memphis. Richardson netted 56 yards on 16 carries overall, and he notched his sixth straight game with double-digit receptions as well. His involvement in the passing game and the fact he logged 82 percent of the backfield snaps in Week 7 makes him a must-play versus a Legends squad that just gave up three touchdowns to the Apollos' Smith as noted above.
- WR Quinton Patton has now put together three straight double-digit target games, although he's somehow failed to score during that span and only owns a modest 47.2 percent catch rate in that stretch. Yet, the connection between Perez and Patton is undeniable, and the chances of the talented wideout being kept out of the end zone much longer if he continues to see that type of volume are small.
- TE Wes Saxton, Jr. , who was spotlighted in this space last week, continued his surge in Week 7 with a touchdown reception on one of his two catches. Saxton will continue to serve as an athletic downfield option at the position for Perez, but keep an eye on wideout Amba Etta-Tawo, who produced a 3-71 line in Week 7, his first catches since the opener.
- QB Johnny Manziel naturally stole most of the headlines leading up to Week 7, but it was fellow signal caller Brandon Silvers that led Memphis to an improbable comeback win against the Iron in the first overtime game in AAF history. Silvers completed 24 of 35 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions. One of the scoring passes was the game-winner in OT. Silvers maintains the starting job heading into Week 8 against the Apollos, which boast one of the stingiest secondaries in the league.
- Speaking of Manziel, he was solid during his brief cameo, accounting for 68 total yards (48 passing, 20 rushing). Johnny Football put up just five attempts overall, but he's still in the process of getting up to speed after just joining the team earlier in the month.
- WRs Reece Horn and Daniel Williams were both highlighted in this space last week and the potential top pass-catching duo for Silvers, and each player came through with flying colors in Week 7. Horn finished with a 7-113-1 line and now has back-to-back 100-yard efforts. Williams tied Horn for the team lead with nine targets versus the Iron, and although that only led to a 5-30 line, he caught both the game-winning TD and a two-point conversion. Looking ahead to Week 8, Horn has the easiest individual corner matchup on paper against Marquez White (67.8 rating as per PFF), but Williams is a fantasy asset to watch after now having amassed 20 targets in his last pair of contests.
- QB Aaron Murray's decline continued in Week 7 against the Apollos, to the extent that he was actually replaced late in the game by former starter Matt Simms. Murray finished the day with just 135 passing yards and another two interceptions, giving him five over the last two games. With Simms having provided steadier play while going 5-for-8 for 60 yards, it's possible he draws the start in Week 8. Notably, Simms threw for 328 yards against the Iron in their previous meeting this season, although he was also guilty of three interceptions in that contest.
- Another week with a game script averse to the ground attack limited the opportunities of Brandon Radcliffe, Taurean Folston and Denard Robinson. The trio combined for just 16 rushes in Week 7. The Iron come in allowing over four yards per carry to RBs, so Radcliffe and Folston in particular could have an opportunity for some production if Atlanta can keep the game close.
- WR Malachi Jones may have overtaken Seantavius Jones as the team's most reliable week-to-week fantasy wideout. Malachi Jones saw a season-high seven targets in Week 7 and caught his first TD since Week 2 for Atlanta's only score of the day. Jones has seen no fewer than four targets in five straight games and seems to have the trust of both Murray and Simms. He'll look to make waves against an Iron defense that's tied with several teams for most receiving touchdowns (five) allowed to wideouts.
San Diego Fleet
- QB Mike Bercovici has made 300-yard passing days his norm, as he put up a third straight such performance in Week 7.Unfortunately for the Fleet, it wasn't nearly enough against the Hotshots, as they dropped a 32-15 decision. Arizona picked Bercovici off twice, and he's now thrown five picks over his current three-game starting stint.
- However, one reason for plenty of optimism with respect to the air attack in Week 7 was the play of WR Nelson Spruce (12-146). We speculated last week that WR Dontez Ford's absence against Arizona would mean more work for several San Diego wideouts, but Spruce was really the only beneficiary of his teammate's absence. The Colorado product's reception and receiving yardage totals were new AAF single-game records.
- With Ford now on the injured list with his ankle injury, the likes of Marcus Baugh (1-38-1), Francis Owusu (2-30) and Brian Brown (2-26) presumably need to make more of an impact to prevent defenses from loading up on Spruce, whose connection with Bercovici is now featured prominently on game film. The vulnerable Stallions secondary (240.4 passing yards per game allowed) is on tap in Week 8, and they could present a golden opportunity for some of the other members of the pass-catching corps to step up their production.
- Lost in the blowout defeat was the strong work of the Fleet running back duo of Bishop Sankey (12-54) and Terrell Watson (10-44-1 on ground, 2-49 through the air). Both players should see plenty of work moving forward, considering backfield mate Ja'Quan Gardner is now on injured reserve with a shoulder problem.
- QB John Wolford put together another strong performance while leading the Hotshots to their third straight win in Week 7 against the Fleet. Not only did Wolford have a solid day passing the ball with 212 yards and a pair of touchdown throws, but he also added a third score on the ground alongside 44 rushing yards. Wolford remains a bit turnover-prone – he threw his fourth interception in three games against San Diego – but he's providing a nice pass-run threat.
- RBs Jhurell Pressley and Tim Cook complemented Wolford's work perfectly in Week 7, rushing for 64 and 53 yards, respectively. Change-of-pace back Justin Stockton was the odd man out for the most part last week, as he saw just 10 snaps, including none on third down. Look for Pressley and Cook to continue helming the running attack versus the Commanders, which have allowed RBs to gain 4.7 yards per carry.
- WR Rashad Ross played through some injuries in Week 7 but still generated a serviceable 3-53 line. Fellow wideout Marquis Bundy (3-42) bounced back from a catchless day in Week 6, but his production remains hard to trust overall. Ross in particular could be primed to return to the numbers he flashed earlier in the season in Week 8 – he touched up the Commanders for a 5-106-line when he saw them in Week 5.
San Antonio Commanders
- QB Logan Woodside threw for 164 yards and a touchdown before hurting his shoulder in Week 7 against the Stallions, but fellow signal-caller Marquis Williams came in and helped ensure the victory by throwing a 36-yard touchdown to RB Trey Williams and a two-point conversion pass to WR Greg Ward, Jr. Woodside appears ready for a return this week according to practice reports. He rang up a career-high 290 yards against the Hotshots in their prior meeting, making him an intriguing fantasy option this week.
- Kenneth Farrow unsurprisingly failed to find any running room in Week 7 against the Stallions' top-ranked rush defense. However, he was far from the only one, as no Commanders RB gained more than Trey Williams' 19 yards. While Farrow would presumably still be the clear lead back, it's notable that David Cobb reemerged to an extent with six carries in Week 7 after not having played the prior two weeks. Cobb trailed Farrow by only seven snaps (14 to Farrow's 21).
- WR De'Marcus Ayers surprised by overcoming a doubtful designation due to a lower leg injury and suiting up against the Hotshots. This week, it's position mate Mekale McKay that looks to be in danger of an absence after three straight missed practices due to an ankle issue. However, as was the case last week with Ayers, it remains to see if McKay makes an unexpected recovery. If he's forced to miss, Ayers, Ward and Alonzo Moore would all have a chance a extra work.
Salt Lake Stallions
- QB Josh Woodrum put together another solid performance in Week 7 against the Commanders, but he threw an interception on a two-point conversion pass that would have knotted the game at 17 with two minutes remaining. The miscue blemished Woodrum's beautiful on-target throw down the right side of the end zone to RB Terrell Newby that gave the Stallions a chance. In Week 8, Woodrum faces a Fleet squad that he torched for a career-high 380 yards in Week 5.
- RB Joel Bouagnon (9-35) and backfield mate Terron Ward (7-15) couldn't get much going in Week 7, but they seem locked into essentially all of the meaningful backfield work for what's left of the season. Each player saw 20 snaps apiece versus San Antonio and Bouagnon now gets a crack at a Fleet defense he tallied two touchdowns against back in Week 5.
- Newby had the most impactful catch of the night in Week 7, but WR De'Mornay Pierson-El and TE Nick Truesdell seem to have established themselves as Woodrum's two most trusted week-to-week options by far. Following his 5-68 line in Week 7, Pierson-El now has no fewer than five catches or six targets in any of the last three games. Meanwhile Truesdell has become like an extra wideout, and his 74 receiving yards paced the Stallions in Week 7. Truesdell has at least four grabs and 67 yards in each of his last three games, a span during which he also has four red-zone targets and a pair of touchdowns. While the likes of WRs Adonis Jennings, Brian Tyms and Jordan Leslie are around to soak up some looks, none have been able to match the consistency of their two teammates recently.