Commentary

No doubt about it -- Soul are the last man standing

There can be no doubt who is tops on the final power rankings.

Originally Published: July 29, 2008
By Gary Horton | Scouts Inc.

Who's the best team in the AFL? Scouts Inc.'s Gary Horton has watched all the film and ranks every team, Nos. 1 through 17.

Final AFL Power Rankings
1. Philadelphia Soul (16-3) | Previous: 1
Their goal heading in to the 2008 season was to be the best team in the AFL and they achieved that goal. It all started with two great offseason acquisitions -- WR Chris Jackson and QB Matt D'Orazio. They are a major part of the Soul success and added stability and explosiveness to an already good offense. They were the No. 1 scoring offense and pass offense in the league and had a top-five defense in almost every category with an aggressive group of defenders. This is a terrific organization. It sets the bar high, and knows its personnel well. The Soul will continue to be an elite team in 2009 after becoming a model that a lot of teams will try to copy.
2. San Jose SaberCats (13-6) | Previous: 4
As usual, the SaberCats are one of the most stable franchises in the AFL with explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball. They always seem to start slow, but they are a great finishing team and they run their sophisticated pass offense, led by QB Mark Grieb, to perfection. As good as they are on offense it's their defense that really seems to define them. The SaberCats led the AFL with 30 sacks and they are backed by a secondary that flies to the ball and creates big plays, with 24 interceptions recorded during the regular season. They never seem to rebuild, they just reload, and they will be an elite team again in 2009.
3. Chicago Rush (11-6) | Previous: 2
At times the Rush looked like the most dominant team in the AFL while other times they looked a little old and lethargic. Still, there is no way that this team should not have made it to the conference championship game. The Rush will look back at 2008 as a season in which they flashed brilliance, but overall underachieved. However, not all the news for the Rush is bad. They found their QB of the future in Russ Michna and the rush will be very explosive on offense in 2009 with a lot of weapons. But the defense is what will really stand out. The rush were the best pass defense and best scoring defense in the AFL and they create turnovers in bunches. There is a little age on this roster, but there is no need for a lot of offseason changes.
4. Dallas Desperados (12-5) | Previous: 3
For the second year in a row the Desperados looked almost unbeatable in the regular season and yet they were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. That's a bitter pill to swallow for a proud organization. The good news is that they still have a lot of talented players and there is not a lot of need for major changes. This might, in fact, be the best roster in the AFL from top to bottom. They are smart on offense and don't make a lot of mistakes. Defensively they create turnovers in bunches and have difference makers at every position. Age should be a small concern for the Desperados, but there is no need to overhaul this roster. This will be an elite team again in 2009.
5. Georgia Force (10-7) | Previous: 5
After rebuilding their pass offense early in the season, the Force became one of the hottest teams in the league, especially in the last month of the season. This was a team no one wanted to play and looked like a good bet to make the ArenaBowl before being upset by Cleveland in the divisional playoffs. The Force have a terrific pass offense that is very innovative, can score with anybody and gets great pass protection from their O-line (only six sacks allowed). They are solid on defense with a good pass rush and don't give up a lot of big plays. With QB Chris Greisen in the fold, the Force are going to be good every year and they do not have a lot of glaring needs. Georgia will be tough to beat in 2009.
6. Cleveland Gladiators (11-8) | Previous: 6
The Gladiators should be proud of their amazing turnaround in 2008 even though they came up a game short of going to the ArenaBowl. This is a franchise that was 2-14 in Las Vegas last year. It moved to Cleveland and looked like it might take some time to rebuild. The Gladiators kept just three players from the 2007 team and the key to their success was the offseason acquisition of QB Raymond Philyaw and brilliant new coach Steve Thonn. The play calling on offense was innovative (second in the league in passing) and they developed unknown receivers Otis Amey and Robert Redd to combine with a terrific run game led by FB Marlion Jackson. And, of course, received great leadership and production from Philyaw. They need more playmakers on defense, especially in the secondary, but this was not a fluke performance by the Gladiators.
7. Grand Rapids Rampage (8-11) | Previous: 13
The Rampage exceeded all expectations in 2008 by going to the American Conference championship game. They did it by completely rebuilding the roster in the offseason and then rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines during the regular season, which led to their late-season success. The Rampage developed a very innovative passing game under coach Steve Thonn and their offense will be excellent in 2009. They need to do a little work with their offensive line and they could use a couple of explosive playmakers on defense, but this is a good team.
8. Orlando Predators (9-8) | Previous: 7
For a Hall of Fame coach, 2008 was a tough year for Jay Gruden. He had a team with talent, but it never seemed to consistently play up to the level expected and just didn't look like a cerebral, Gruden-coached team. It seemed that when the offense played well, the defense did not and when the defense was clicking, the offense often sputtered. You get the feeling that Gruden was not happy with his QB play and Shane Stafford looked good at times, but he also threw 19 interceptions and like every other part of this team you just did not know what to expect each week. The Predators need more explosiveness and playmaking on defense (only 14 sacks and 13 interceptions), but there is a solid group of players to build around.
9. New York Dragons (9-9) | Previous: 11
After a slow start, the Dragons started to look like a real football team. Even though they did not play with great consistency each week, they were a dangerous team capable of playing with anybody. With a great QB in Aaron Garcia and a surprisingly good young defense that created turnovers in bunches, this was a team that nobody wanted to play. The Dragons were especially impressive in the playoffs. They are a young team and if they can solidify their pass protection and keep Garcia healthy, the Dragons could be fun to watch in 2009.
10. Tampa Bay Storm (8-8) | Previous Rank: 8
This is a good team and a strong organization, but something seemed to be missing in 2008. At times they looked like they were ready to go on a run, but they just never reached a level of consistency. Sounds a lot like a .500 team. When you look at all the statistical categories, the Storm were in the middle in almost every area. They don't make a lot of explosive plays, but they also don't give up a lot of big plays. To win the Storm needed to play mistake-free football, create turnovers and make defensive stops because they just didn't have the explosiveness to give them any margin for error. They are well coached, but they are getting older and the window of success could be closing.
11. Utah Blaze (6-11) | Previous: 9
They were a frustrating team in 2008. It looked like they were on the verge of breaking out each week and begin to dominate opponents and while they did have a nice second half run, they never looked like a complete team. This was the most one-dimensional team in the AFL -- great offense and no defense. They are a top-three offense in scoring and passing, but ranked 16th in scoring defense and pass defense. They had no big play ability on defense and only produced 15 sacks and eight interceptions. They will have a new coach in 2007 and their offense should be terrific again, but until they get some difference makers on defense, the Blaze will not get to the next level.
12. Arizona Rattlers (8-9) | Previous: 10
The good news for the Rattlers is that their owners' playoff guarantee worked out well, but the bad news is that once they got to the playoffs it was one and done. The Rattlers are resilient and played with great effort, but this is a team with flaws. They have questions in the trenches with an offensive line that gave up 27 sacks and a defensive line that produced a league-low eight sacks and allowed offenses to move the ball at will. The Rattlers have some good young players and play hard, but you just do not see a lot of explosiveness on either side of the ball. They also need to make a decision at QB.
13. Colorado Crush (7-11) | Previous: 14
The Crush were a confusing team in 2008. At times they looked like they were ready to advance to the next level, but at other times they lacked consistency and never got into any kind of rhythm. Even though QB John Dutton had a strong statistical season, there's not a lot of explosiveness in this offense. It looks great one week, bad the next (although in fairness, injuries at WR hurt the versatility of the passing game). The offensive line did a good job in pass protection, but the run game is almost nonexistent. Defensively, they have two quality playmakers in DB Rashad Floyd and DE Aaron McConnell, but they need more impact and game-changing players. This is a decent team that needs to establish a firm identity.
14. New Orleans VooDoo (8-8) | Previous: 12
This is a team that nobody expected to be good and yet their explosive play until the last month of the season was one of the feel good stories of the year. They were a hot team early, but faded fast, losing six of their last seven games when they struggled on offense. QB Danny Wimprine was a local hero for the first half of the season with excellent production, but he was not the same guy in the last month, and the VooDoo have to wonder if he is the guy that can lead this franchise in 2009. One thing is certain -- this is an excellent young defense that creates a lot of turnovers (a league-leading 25 interceptions) and that is something the VooDoo can build around in the offseason.
15. Los Angeles Avengers (5-11) | Previous: 15
Heading into the season, the Avengers looked like an improved team and ready for a playoff run. Instead, they were the most disappointing team in the AFL. For most of the season, they played without a lot of passion and had glaring weaknesses in a lot of areas. The O-line gave up a league-high 33 sacks and that contributed to inconsistent QB play almost every week, a big reason for their league-high 24 interceptions. A defense that looked talented on paper gave up 132 TDs, which also led the league. There is talent on this roster and a quick turnaround in 2009 is possible.
16. Columbus Destroyers (3-13) | Previous: 16
Last season the Destroyers were in the ArenaBowl. This year was nothing but frustration. The thing is, the Destroyers are not that far from being a competitive team, but every week the game seemed to go down to the wire and four of their 13 losses were by 3 points or less. They were rarely blown out, which is an encouraging sign for the future. They have a decent pass offense, led by QB Matt Nagy, but there aren't enough explosive weapons. WR Derek Lee is really the only go-to guy, although RB Harold Wells is also a good player. Still, there are problems with pass protection (24 sacks) and they don't have enough playmakers defensively (a league-low eight INTs). These are issues they'll have to address in the offseason.
17. Kansas City Brigade (3-13) | Previous: 17
The Brigade were a disaster at QB and could never settle on one. As a result, they were last in the league in pass offense and scoring. They were also mediocre in most defensive categories. The only thing they did well was run the football and led the league in that category. This team needs a stable QB and explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball. It should be a busy offseason for Kansas City if it expects to be competitive in 2009.

Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm called The War Room.

Gary Horton spent 10 years in the NFL as a scout and another 10 years at the college level as an assistant coach and recruiter. He is the founder and most seasoned member of the Scouts Inc. staff, and his extensive experience at all levels of football make him an excellent talent evaluator.