The best players in the game right now.
October 13, 2023 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 2023 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.
In order to improve how representative our rankings are of the opinions of our voters, we have iterated until arriving at this process. We each listed out our top 35 players 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 and coaches from different teams and regions. We used a weighted scoring system for votes, with Participants’ 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
|Rk||Player||Pts.||Staff Rankings||Participant Rankings||Edward Stephens||Pat Stegemoeller||Alex Rubin||Jake Thorne||Keith Raynor||Charlie Eisenhood||MA Participant 1||SE Participant 1||MA Participant 2||SE Participant 2|
[Editor: There are some sorting issues with the table that cannot be altered at the time. Our apologies for the inconvenience.]
Jack Williams (PoNY) narrowly repeated as the #1, but he was joined by Christian Boxley (Truck Stop), Joe White (Machine), and Chris Kocher (PoNY) before there was a bit of a drop to #5. Explain how you rank these four players.
Edward Stephens (Senior Staff Writer):Okay, I’m not going to dive into the Jack Williams thing again this year, except to say that I continue to rank him highly, just not as highly as everybody else. (Which I learned last year — thank you, kind people of the internet — is a cardinal sin.)
So, for the others. I’ll come out and say it: Christian Boxley is the best player in the division right now, and it’s not all that close. This was not how I felt about him last year (when I had him at #10 and he earned Second Team All-Club honors). He was great then. In 2023, he is transcendent. Probably the single most important factor of an eye-test is how easy a player makes the game look compared to everyone else on the field. No one, and I mean no one, is getting open, getting up, getting off tough throws, and locking down opposing cutters with the sheer ease that Boxley is right now. He’s on another level — it’s clear to see even in the many-hands-make-light-work approach taken by Truck’s offense.
Kocher has been the most consistently elite player in the men’s division for the last five years (at least) — he does virtually everything exceptionally well, same as ever. That gives him a slight edge (#2 for me) over a somewhat more mercurial, but at times arguably more dominant, Joe White (#5).
Alex Rubin (Senior Staff Writer): I’m surprised Jack Williams finished first. He’s probably the most talented MMP playing at the moment. That he’s the featured player on the World Games team and almost assuredly Team USA at WUC 2024 says a lot. But this club season his impact as a defender has been muted. It’s an adjustment for his since he’s like never played on a D-line before. Meanwhile Kocher is just churning out yard and resets and production no matter who is on a line with him or what excuses PoNY has for not being at 100% at a given tournament.
Joe White is the player we haven’t discussed yet and his talent is just through the roof. It looks like he’s playing pickup out there with how casually he moves to get open and how graceful his pivots are to throw from the games most unique release points. If he played for a team that could put together two consecutive days of good play, he’d probably be a consensus number one
Keith Raynor (Senior Editor): To me, Kocher and Williams’ lengthy careers have separated them from the other two. Box is certainly playing at “#1 consideration” level, but for too brief a period in my eyes to buy in completely. I’m reserving judgment for post-Nationals — another tourney like last year and it’ll be hard to keep him off the medal podium in this exercise next year.
Jake Thorne (Staff Writer): Box has become a top of the division caliber talent and he’s certainly worthy of being near the top of our rankings. The Boxley #1 overall season is coming, but I wouldn’t say he’s done enough for me this year to put him over Kocher. In the final of the US Open, I remember being confused as to why Boxley wasn’t more involved in the red zone. It could be more a system thing from the disciplined Truck offense, but it was weird to me that Box was not the featured threat when attacking the Pony end zone defense. Once we start to some more aggressive take over the game Boxley, the #1 spot is his for the taking.
Dylan Freechild (Rhino Slam!) has been a mainstay at the top of these lists, but this year, he finished #23, and didn’t even appear on some ballots. Jimmy Mickle (PoNY) finished #17 and only got one participant vote.
How’d you decide where to put these players and do you think you’re ready to close the book on them?
Our experience has shown that participants’ 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. ↩
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