The Alliance of American Football league is set to kick off on Saturday, February 9th, and there will be plenty of familiar faces for the die-hard football fan. While the quarterbacks and head coaches obviously make the headlines, there are quite a few interesting players on the defensive side of the ball. Whether they were high draft picks who didn’t pan out or late-round players looking for a venue to showcase their skills, make sure to keep an eye on these defensive players during the 2019 AAF season.
Alliance of American Football: Noteworthy Defensive Players in the AAF
There aren’t many AAF players who partook in the 2018 NFL season, but defensive end Damontre Moore is one of them. Moore played three games in 2018, recording one tackle and one quarterback hit for the Oakland Raiders. This wasn’t Moore’s only taste of NFL glory, as the defensive tackle actually carved out a decent career for himself.
The New York Giants drafted Moore with the 81st overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft after the defensive end recorded 26.5 sacks through three seasons at Texas A&M. While he never quite lived up to that draft billing, Moore had a solid NFL career. Playing in 55 games, Moore recorded 10 sacks, 77 tackles, and 11 tackles for loss throughout his six years in the league.
Moore should be one of the better edge defenders in the AAF if he sticks around. However, it’s no guarantee that Moore will stay with the San Diego Fleet. Even though he only played on an emergency basis, Moore still found his way into the NFL in 2018. It’s entirely possible that an NFL franchise brings Moore in for a training camp invite. Whether Moore will continue to chase his NFL dream is anyone’s guess, but the NFL obviously offers a bigger spotlight and a higher paycheck. The Fleet offer more playing time, but will that be enough to offset everything that comes from being on an NFL roster?
If you’re an Arizona State fan, you’re probably excited to see 2012 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton back on the field. If you’re a Chicago Bears fan, you probably don’t feel that same level of excitement. During Sutton’s three-year collegiate tenure, the defensive tackle recorded 113 tackles, 16.5 sacks, and 32 tackles for loss. His best season came in 2012 when he recorded 63 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, and 13 sacks. Sutton’s impressed so much that the Bears selected him with the 82nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, Sutton’s skill set couldn’t carry over to the NFL. At 6’1”, 290 pounds, Sutton was a little too small to play defensive tackle at the NFL level. Sutton played in 36 games with the Bears, recording 60 tackles, four tackles for loss, and no sacks. Chicago cut Sutton after the 2016 season and the defensive tackle couldn’t stick anywhere else in the league.
While his relatively small frame prevented him from making it in the NFL, his college tape shows that there is a good player buried within him. Offensive linemen in the AAF won’t be as fast, strong, or quick as their NFL counterparts. Sutton is fundamentally sound and should use his motor to become a threatening presence in the middle of a defense.
Similar to Will Sutton, Carl Bradford had a standout collegiate tenure with Arizona State before struggling in the NFL. Serving as an outside linebacker/defensive end, Bradford recorded 21.5 sacks and 43 tackles for loss during his three-year college career. Just like Sutton, Bradford’s best season came during the 2012 season. While he wasn’t as dominant as Sutton, Bradford still managed to record 8.5 sacks, 19 tackles-for-loss, and an interception.
The Green Bay Packers took a flier on the edge defender, drafting him with the 121st pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The selection ultimately didn’t work out, as Bradford simply couldn’t find a home in the NFL. Bradford couldn’t see the field as an outside linebacker, so Green Bay tried playing him as an inside linebacker. The change didn’t help Bradford’s career and Green Bay ended up releasing him midway through the 2016 season. Bradford made a brief cameo with the San Francisco 49ers at the end of the 2016 season, but couldn’t stick around for 2017. As of this posting, Bradford has just five tackles and one quarterback hit in his NFL career.
Bradford didn’t have the highest ceiling to begin with and his NFL tape doesn’t paint the brightest picture. That said, Bradford is only 26 and showed the ability to play well against top-level college competition. Similar to a career AAA player in baseball, perhaps Bradford can play well against the second-best the world has to offer.
JaCorey Shepherd is a cornerback by trade but offers most of his value in the kicking game. Shepherd was the Philadelphia Eagles’ sixth-round pick back in 2015 but couldn’t make the roster. After spending 2015 out of football, Shepherd served as the San Francisco 49ers primary kick returner. Shepherd returned 21 kicks for 456 yards, and his 21.7 yards-per-return ranked ninth in the league.
Throughout his collegiate career, Shepherd averaged 21.4 yards per return on 63 kickoffs. He’s no Devin Hester, but he’s still a solid return man. Additionally, he showed the ability to be a serviceable cornerback in college. While he only played 11 defensive snaps in the NFL, Shepherd spent a good amount of time on defense while with Kansas. During his last two seasons, Shepherd recorded 75 tackles, five interceptions, and one forced fumble. He won’t be the face of the AAF by any means, but he has the ability to take a kick to the house every time he touches the ball.
Longtime NFL safety Will Hill has one of the more interesting career journeys among AAF players. Originally signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2012, Hill made the New York Giants active roster and spent two seasons in the Big Apple. New York released Hill entering the 2014 season, but the safety ended up landing with the Baltimore Ravens. Originally signed as injury insurance, Hill put together an impressive 2014 and earned a two-year contract extension. Hill had another strong season in 2015, starting 14 games while recording 64 tackles, one interception, and six passes defensed. He also made one of the most exciting plays of the 2015 season when he returned a block field goal for the game-winning score against the Cleveland Browns.
Unfortunately, Hill never played another NFL snap following the 2015 season. Baltimore cut bait with the safety after Hill failed a drug test and faced a 10-game suspension. NFL teams didn’t want to risk another lengthy suspension, so Hill spent 2016 out of football before playing with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2017.
Hill was good when he was on the NFL field, but he wasn’t good enough to justify a roster spot with such high suspension risk. However, the suspensions don’t matter in the AAF. If Hill has anything left in his tank, he should be one of the best safeties in the newfound league.
Last on the list is linebacker Trevor Reilly. Reilly initially entered the NFL as the New York Jets seventh-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Reilly spent four years in the National Football League, making a voyage around the AFC East. During his time in the league, Reilly spent two seasons with the Jets, one season with the Miami Dolphins, and one season with the New England Patriots. Reilly recorded 25 tackles throughout his NFL career, with one going for a loss.
While he played sparingly in the NFL, Reilly was a disruptive force back in college. Playing four seasons with Utah, Reilly recorded 235 tackles, 37.5 tackles for loss, and 20.5 sacks to go with two interceptions. He finished his collegiate career on a high note, recording 100 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, and nine sacks as a senior. Reilly didn’t have the speed to consistently make plays in the NFL, but he should be a better match for the AAF competition.
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