The best players in the game right now.
October 19, 2022 by Ultiworld in Opinion with 0 comments
There’s no shortage of talent in the USA Ultimate Club men’s division. We look a lot at team success, and often see familiar names and faces in those discussions. But who are the best individual players? Who brings the most value to winning a championship? Figuring out which stars shine the brightest is more art than science, but perhaps there’s democratic power in numbers.
So who are the best players in the division right now? To try to clear away as much of the white noise created by circumstance as possible and get to the heart of each individual’s value and contribution, we asked a diverse group of twelve members of our coverage team, as well as an anonymous group of elite players, to weigh in on the following prompt:
If you were starting a club team today with the singular goal of winning a theoretical Club Championship this October, how would you rank the players within the division? You aren’t building a team of all of your selections, so don’t worry about how the players complement each other. Consider each pick the first pick of a team, drafting in order, only you can’t pick the players you’ve already ranked above. All players who were on a 2022 USA Ultimate Club men’s division roster of a team that reached regionals are eligible to be drafted. With regards to injuries an absences, we will include all rostered players unless there is confirmation a player will not be competing, or would not be able to compete, at Nationals.
Our process was altered from our 2020 rankings in order to improve how representative our rankings are of the opinions of our voters. We each listed out our top 35 players — up from a cap of 25 in past years — to iron out some of the gradations on the fringes and then combined our lists to create a composite ranking. In addition, we included the ballots of a few anonymous elite players from different regions. We used a weighted scoring system for votes, with Players’ Ballots counting as 60% of the value of Staff Ballots.1
We’ll start with our top 10, and discussion about that group. Then we’ll reveal the entire top 25, followed by the complete ballots, and additional conversations about the rankings.
The Top 10
|Player||Pts.||B. Murphy||A. Rajan||K. Raynor||E. Stephens||P. Stegemoeller||C. Eisenhood||N. Elsaesser||S. Sullivan||G. Gerhart||NW Player 1||SE Player 1||NE Player 1||MA Player 1||MA Player 2||NW Player 2|
[Editor: There are some sorting issues with the table that cannot be altered at the time. Our apologies for the inconvenience.]
Jack Williams (Ring of Fire) was the clear #1, getting 11 out of 15 first place votes. In 2020, he was fourth, finishing behind Freechild, Gibson, and Mickle, and didn’t get a single first place vote2 What has changed?
If you were one of the few without Jack at the top of your ballot, make your case!
Steve Sullivan (Executive Editor): How are we supposed to take Edward Stephens’ list seriously when he has Jack Williams at 12?!?
Edward Stephens (Senior Staff Writer): I’m as serious as the grave.
Charlie Eisenhood (Editor-in-Chief): I’m not gonna lie to you — Jack has been not super impressive playing for Ring so far this club season. But I’m also not gonna lie to you — he was the AUDL’s best player and will be #PlayoffJack at Nationals per usual
Stephens: I’m with Charlie in saying that objectively Jack Williams hasn’t looked like the best player playing club in 2022. And, like Charlie, I’m willing to cut him some slack for this.
But if there is one thing I hope people reading this discussion come away with, it’s the question: Is Jack Williams the best player in the world? Too often I think it’s treated as a given. I really don’t see it, even when he’s at his best. He is clutch and he is well-rounded — maybe the most clutch and the most well-rounded player in the game. But I don’t see the fire I see from Dylan Freechild or (a healthy) Chris Kocher, both of whom essentially offer the same skill set as Jack. I certainly don’t see the kind of field-widening, gameplan-exploding dynamism of Jeff Babbitt or Raphy Hayes. I don’t see the sure-handed control of Jimmy Mickle or Tom Tulett. Heck, I don’t even see him as quite as much of an ace in the hole as his teammate Ryan Osgar.
Can I see why some people arrive at the answer ‘Jack Williams’ when they think through an inquiry into the best player in the world? Sure. It’s not where I land, but — sure. He’s great. But I get the feeling that a significant number of people aren’t really thinking it through. And maybe some of those people are in this discussion.
Now that I’m way out on a limb — what’s the argument the other way?
Keith Raynor (Senior Editor): That through multiple contexts, sometimes with and/or against the players you compared him to, even those teams have deferred to Williams when it matters. And not just a clutch possession, but throughout high stakes games. Whether the context has been club, international, World Games, AUDL — he has been the guy.
I dunno what you’re watching to not see fire. Freechild is a special case, but I have a hard time agreeing Chris Kocher is more fiery than Jack Williams.
Even if he is step behind Raphy as an explosive athlete and Mickle as a thrower, being close to both of them is what makes him the clear #1.
Vinh Bui (Player ballot, Portland Rhino Slam!): When I approached this question, I thought about the game-breaking players in the division. The players who you have to make entire game plans for. To me, there are only six of those guys in the division: Jack, Jimmy, Rehder, Babbitt, Raphy, and Dylan. And I think Jack is the most game-breaking of the game breakers.
He and Jimmy are the biggest matchup nightmares in the game (Joe White is close to being in this group too). They are comfortable going downfield as a deep threat or initiation cutter. They are great around the disc, especially near the end zone. Most importantly, they are both extremely poised in pressure situations. What kind of defender do you put on those guys? The ideal person is tall, fast, disciplined, smart, good in the dump space and in the air, has a high motor, strong, and quick. I chose Jack over Jimmy because Williams is more in his athletic prime right now.
Nik “Chip” Elsaesser (Contributor): I can’t rank these players in a club season vacuum. Jack Williams made a strong case for himself as the best player in the world during the World Games, and Vinh’s point kind of nullifies some of the doubts of his play in the club season so far. The attention he gets from defenses opens up opportunity for his teammates. If I’m making a dream team right now, he’s my first pick.
Patrick Stegemoeller (Senior Staff Writer): What happened since 2020 is Freechild, Mickle, and Gibson all got older and are various degrees past their peak, while Jack is at his absolute apex right now.
Also, Edward, not really fair to say he and Kocher have the same skill set. Jack is a significantly more impactful thrower.
Eisenhood: Jack is such a nightmare matchup. He almost never makes throwing mistakes and has elite abilities to get open to get the disc in the backfield, initiation space, and deep. If one of the most skilled players on earth is also the most clutch, how could you not want him at number one?
Nate Goff (Machine) took the last spot in the aggregate top 10, but the Player Aggregate Ballot actually had Trent Dillon (Sockeye) at #8, without Goff outside of the top 10. What informs how the staff and players view Goff and Dillon?
Our experience has shown that players’ ballots trend towards regional concentrations and emphasizing the strength of their teammates, as well as other quirks such as occasionally not ranking themselves, which is why their ballots are weighted in this manner. ↩
Players’ Ballot was submitted as an aggregate then. ↩
The Top 25 Club Men’s Players in 2022 is only available to Ultiworld Subscribers
Already have a subscription? Log in
Whether you visit Ultiworld for our reporting, our podcasts, or our video coverage, you can help us continue to provide high quality content with a subscription. By becoming a subscriber, not only do you receive benefits like exclusive articles and full article RSS feeds, you also help fund all of Ultiworld's coverage in general. We appreciate your support!