Players To Watch: Week 2

May 2, 2024
By Daniel Cohen

This week’s watchlist features another set of highly anticipated debuts, multiple team captains looking to lead their teams to bounce-back games, and plenty of star power across a spectrum of positions. Keep an eye out for these seven players in what should be some of the best games this week.

Alex Atkins, Colorado Summit 

The Colorado Summit open their season this Saturday at home, and Alex Atkins figures to play a featured role against the Seattle Cascades. Quinn Finer is not rostered for the game, which means Atkins could be in for a big workload as both a thrower and receiver; Atkins and Finer are the only Colorado players that surpassed 2,000 throwing yards and 2,000 receiving yards last season. Atkins had several games last year as a primary handler, and with quarterback Jonathan Nethercutt available on Saturday, they could form a nice one-two punch in the backfield. On the other hand, the O-line will be missing their primary field stretcher in Finer, so Atkins could be busy as a downfield cutter depending on how Colorado wants to challenge Seattle’s defense. Either way, his usage is worth watching in a matchup that could become a must-watch game if the Cascades take down the Spiders in Oakland the day before.

Dexter Clyburn, Oakland Spiders

2023 Second Team All-Rookie selection Dexter Clyburn is set to make his 2024 debut this Friday night at home against Seattle. Without former QB1 Mac Hecht this year, the Spiders are going to have to form a new offensive identity in 2024, and depending on his availability this year, Clyburn could be a huge part of it. In eight games last year, Clyburn averaged over two goals, two assists, and 430 total yards of offense per game, consistently flashing all-around ability as a distributor, downfield weapon, and overall big-play threat. We saw what he could do as the offensive focal point in Oakland’s Week 8 upset win over Colorado last year, when Clyburn completed 45 throws, tossed seven assists, and racked up 750 total yards of offense. Exactly what his workload looks like in Year 2 remains to be seen, but if last year is any indication, the sky’s the limit for the no. 9 D-1 Men’s college player.

Update: Clyburn has been downgraded to OUT vs. Seattle. His debut will have to wait...

Brett Hulsmeyer, Atlanta Hustle (Pictured)

Not many players had a bigger Week 1 impact for their team than Brett Hulsmeyer for Atlanta; he accumulated 766 total yards of offense against Carolina, more than 350 more yards than the next closest player on the team. Last week also marked his second career 40-completion game, and you should expect the 2024 All-UFA selection to stay busy this week against another top opponent. Hulsmeyer and New York, and particularly Ben Jagt, have some history; it was Jagt’s layout block on Hulsmeyer that saved New York’s season in the 2021 playoffs, and the two bigs have gone back and forth in the air in all three New York-Atlanta meetings since the start of 2021. While they both may be playing primarily on offense in Week 2, there should still be multiple end of quarter battles to look forward to. The Hustle will lean on Hulsmeyer to keep momentum on their side, as they look to hand New York their first loss since the 2021 championship game.

AJ Merriman, DC Breeze

2023 Second Team All-Defense selection and former Defensive Player of the Year AJ Merriman strikes me as the most likely candidate to draw the James Pollard matchup this Sunday, and he’s going to have his work cut out for him both defensively and after turnovers. Merriman had his ups and downs in Week 1 against the Shred. While he managed to record two blocks, he also had more throwaways (two) than completions (one), as the DC counterattack looked all out of sorts in the first Super Series game of the year; they converted just 3-of-10 break opportunities after averaging the fourth-highest conversion rate last year (54.6 percent). They definitely missed David Bloodgood, who is often quarterbacking the D-line offense after turnovers, and Bloodgood is expected to miss this Sunday’s game as well. Philly presents a good opportunity for Merriman and the D-line to have a bounce back game, as the Phoenix allowed opposing D-lines to convert at the fourth-highest rate in 2023, though Merriman vs. Pollard (hoping to speak this into existence if it isn’t already in the works) is going to be no easy task on both sides of the disc.

James Pollard, Philadelphia Phoenix

Big Game James is set to make his 2024 debut in this Sunday’s Game of the Week against DC. When Pollard is on, he can be about as unstoppable as any cutter in the league; he’s averaged over 5,000 total yards of offense per season since he made the switch to full-time O-line in 2022 and is coming off the first 40-goal season of his career. While there’s no doubt about his talent as both the biggest thrower on the team and the perfect deep target, the question always lies with his turnover numbers. Pollard has averaged two throwaways per game since 2022, and against a team like DC, Philly is going to have to prioritize taking care of the disc as much as possible. Last year, Pollard pretty much had his way with the DC defense as a receiver, and DC lost a couple of their bigger defenders this offseason. Always a big “if,” but if Pollard can limit turnovers (thinking zero or one) while imposing his will downfield, this could finally be the game Philly pushes past DC.

John Randolph, New York Empire

The Empire offense looked a little shaky last week, and as they adjust to life without Jeff Babbitt, John Lithio, and Ryan Osgar, the emphasis may be on the New York D-line to keep their historic winning streak alive. John Randolph has been a phenomenal D-line leader since he joined the team in 2022, capable of both leading and punctuating counterattack drives with constant disc movement and excellent play in the red zone. A more under-the-radar storyline throughout his career has been the occasional shifts to O-line, and we saw New York go three-for-three on holds when Randolph was out there last week against Montreal; these included two important fourth quarter goals scored by Randolph himself. Whether he’s serving as an offensive spark plug or leading the charge on D-line, JR’s superior quickness and disc skills will be needed this Saturday against a top 10 team in Atlanta.

Joey Wylie, Austin Sol

Last month in Evan Lepler’s Preseason Postcard series, Austin Sol Head Coach Steven Naji gave praise to Joey Wylie, and I’m 100 percent on board the Wylie hype train. “Joey’s throwing arsenal has blown up,” said Naji. “He’s taken it to heart to play the smartest defense that he can, and he’s become a student of the game versus just a raw athlete. This year, I expect Joey to be one of our most recognizable players.” Wylie’s athleticism has been on full display on both sides of the disc over the past couple years; he is a lockdown matchup defender coming off a career-high 18-block season, and he’s been an offensive spark plug whenever he crosses over to the O-line. It’s been him and Matt Armour as the guys Naji likes shifting over to O-line periodically, and with Jake Reinhardt returning this year after injury to help anchor the defense, there may be even more opportunities for Wylie on offense this year—pairing him with the Evans-Henke-Swiatek cutting core feels almost unfair to opposing defenses. His “blown up” throwing arsenal would make Wylie a true all-around threat, so it’s worth watching how his role shifts, if at all, heading into his fourth pro season.