NRC North Outlook
Thunderbirds, Explorers, Barons, Tigers
Offseason free agency may be the most influential aspect of the RFL offseason. While most fans clamor for the draft, the draft is the last step in the line of offseason phases. Free agency presents RFL players with the outlook of a fresh start; RFL teams with the chance to add immediate game changers; and RFL fans with exciting storylines and hope. The effects of free agency are wide-reaching, with new signings dramatically altering the trades and draft plans of not only the teams involved, but the teams around them. Just one signing has the capability of launching a butterfly effect, which is why I am fascinated with RFL offseason free agency.
We will explore several moves made by RFL teams throughout the offseason, in an effort to get you caught up on what’s to come for Season 6. We’ll briefly touch on moves made through Free Agency, Trading, and The Draft. We aim to highlight key acquisitions and departures, who may impact the future of a team. We will take a statistical approach to analyzing the teams’ Season 5 performances. And, we will look to analyze a team’s avenues to success for the upcoming RFL Season 6. We hope to touch on each team and their endeavor to obtain an elusive Relo Bowl.
The Toronto Thunderbirds continued their reign over the NRC North in Season 5, finishing with a 15-1 record. The Thunderbirds had a monster season that many feel ended prematurely due to QB Leonard Corbin III sustaining an injury in the last game of the season. With added pressure on the offense to pick up the pieces, they suffered an early exit from the playoffs via their division rival Columbus Explorers. With their early elimination, there are some significant questions that face this team as Season 6 approaches. With the departure of elite WR Montreal Lansanah to the London Monarchs and Star HB Cornel Mickens to the Orlando Wizards (FKA Marshalls), how will LC3 fair without his usual weapons? In return, the Thunderbirds acquired HB Raysean Overstreet and the 2nd overall draft pick, which they used to select CB Eric Stroughter. As the team shifts talent from the offense to the defense, will LC3 be able to stay healthy and learn to protect himself? The team took steps to add protection for their signal caller by utilizing two of their three first round picks to select LT John Francis and RT Trevor Saxton. Yet, the departure of coach Mark Kozyra raises questions as to the gameplan of this team. While second overall pick Eric Stroughter automatically upgrades the secondary for Toronto and could be the team's answer on defense after getting rid of Chatman just a season ago, we expect this team to pick up mostly where they left off as a contender. This team is in the middle of their championship window, so keep an eye out for Toronto to be in contention for the Season 6 Relo Bowl. The players and scheme might have had a bit of a shake up but they've added pieces to potentially become even better. Look for this team to continue to rely upon their number-one ranked NRC defense, lead by the likes of LE Isaiah Ingram, RE Max Night, and MLB Wayne Norman.
The Explorers finished Season 5 just behind the Thunderbirds at 14-2, and battled their way to a championship. Ultimately, the Explorers season ended in a one-sided loss against the Red Dragons in the Relocation Bowl. With star HB Bradley Atogwe and bruiser Darius Young II both out with injuries, the offense was left in the hands of QB Latavien Worrell. Worrell had an unusually bad outing which led to the team benching him in favor of the young Jared Cunningham to finish the game. For Columbus, this season may seem like a repeat of last year with so many familiar faces and not much shake up of the roster, but we look for them to repeat the success of season 5. With one of the best coaches in the RFL, Coach Bill Nicholson, and a host of elite players (Including: WR CJ Robinson, CB Rashaud Chamberlin, and MLB DeMarco Landolt), we are looking to see how well some of the younger additions to the team can establish their roles. The Explorer's coaching staff has plugged a lot of time, money, and resources into acquiring young, untapped potential that is expected to take that next step in the RFL. The Explorers stayed on the quieter side of the offseason; instead choosing to focus on building from within and finding a few key role players to replace some aging veterans. The biggest moves made were the signing of former Condors OLB Andrew Johnson, and trading away reserve safety Dashon Robinson to the Tigers in exchange for their 2nd round pick. That trade ended up being Tommie "Big Boy" Bigby, HB from Florida. This move could prove crucial with questions surrounding the health and sustainability of the existing backfield. Without much change to the team, the Explorers are another team in the prime of their championship window. Many within the organization still have complete confidence in Worrell to lead this team to the promise land, especially with the return of so many key players. Expect the Explorers' defense to continue to lead the way, as they only trailed the Thunderbirds by 2 total yards and 2 points allowed on the entire season.
The Barons enter Season 6 looking to take the next step towards being a true contender, following a 9-7 outing in Season 5. After 3 years consecutively finishing 8-8, Brooklyn was finally able to get over the .500 hump with first-year coach Roland Woods. Coach Woods enters his 2nd year as Brooklyn's HC and his off-season motto has been "patch the holes". The biggest question for the Barons is what will 24-year-old QB Ryan Brinker do following the team's parting with Veteran QB Jack Winkler. Offensively, the Barons snagged lineman Layne Printers from the Condors by packaging their 2nd and 5th round picks in exchange for the Condors 2nd and 5th round picks. They signed HB Karl Meredith in support of lead HB Kenny Steele and WRs Marcell Eckel and Darrelle Schofield to provide depth. On defense, the Barons courted the Belle of the Ball, making Ethan King the richest safety in the RFL. Veteran CB London McNary was added in the hopes of mentoring the young CB room, including 23-year-old Shawn Dada. In the draft, Brooklyn went with versatility, selecting Edge Donnell Butler, DL/LB Sam Anthony, and FS/SS Carlos Wright. With these additions in mind, the Barons look to continue their rise. With the switch at quarterback, we expect the Barons to rely more heavily on HB Kenny Steele in the coming season, which may be the necessary change to improve upon their offensive production (3rd lowest yardage total in the NRC). The Barons also look to improve upon their low-ranked defense as Ethan King makes his debut (3rd most points given up, 4th most yardage). The Barons are a team that could show major improvement in Season 6, but they still have to compete with two of the best RFL teams in their own division. Look for elite FS Hayden Herold to build chemistry with Ethan King, and the WR duo of Joe Johnson and Amari Manuel to be the go-to playmakers for Brinker. The Barons made efforts to get better in Season 6, so we'll have to wait an see if any of it pays off.
Finishing 6-12 in Season 5, the Tigers are a team that are in desperate need of an identity. While being far more competitive than some of the other bottom-end teams, they don't seem to have a clear cut agenda on either side of the ball. HB's Bryce Madden and Lee Wright were a pretty good tandem last year and you cant forget about HB Avery Heller. However, opposing teams don't look at the Tigers and fear what they have to go up against. For a team that does not have a clear-cut identity, many expected some more noise in the offseason from Chicago. While the team parted ways with their starting QB Peyton Vandervelde and lost HB Lee Wright to free agency, fans were left wondering what the Tigers would do to add to the team. After perhaps realizing too late that they were no longer in the running for one of the draft's prized quarterbacks, the team made a trade with the Condors to move back one spot and bring in QB Billy Johnson as the new signal caller. Also parting ways with their 2nd and 3rd round picks, the Tigers were able to bring in WR Trent Williams from the Lancers as well as FS Dashon Robinson and RG Turner Claxton from the Explorers. Making these moves means that the RFL draft was not going to be a place that the team could see much improvement, but they were able to get stud OLB Jaco Goliath to be a building block on the defensive side of the ball. This is a team that is in rebuild mode, and they're not expected to compete for a division title this year or a championship. With upside on the roster in the likes of young players such as Goliath, this team is looking for improvement in Season 6 and planning for the future.
Keep an eye out for more division write ups as we get closer to the RFL regular season!