2023 Team Capsules: Italy Emperors

Breece Hall

In a 12-part series, we take a look at each DFL team, where they’ve been and where they’re going. We analyze the strength of their current roster build, what areas need improvement, and speculate what they might do in the coming months.

A look back

The 2022 season was an utter disappointment for the Emperors — or a wild success, depending on whether your glass outlook is half-empty or half-full. Sensing that they lacked enough playmakers to compete for a title in 2022, the franchise elected to go in the opposite direction and unload talent for future assets to build toward a brighter future. When three of their best players — Breece Hall, Javonte Williams and Kyle Pitts — suffered season-ending injuries, it wasn’t very difficult losing games thenceforth. Stashing players on the bench no longer needed to be a strategy as their very best healthy lineup wasn’t even remotely good enough to score enough points to be competitive. The Emperors did wind up winning just one game — clearly by accident — against a struggling Blue Heelers team (whom we will discuss in our next installment) and had to hope Australia won another game the rest of the year in order to secure the first overall pick in the 2023 Draft. As luck would have it, Australia did in fact win another game, which was about the most excitement that Italy fans felt all season.

A look ahead

The Emperors have a lot of work ahead of them as they prepare for 2023. They’re still probably a year away in terms of rebuilding and they have a few big contracts that need to yield a better ROI. The team has just 8 players under contract, three of whom — the aforementioned Hall, Williams and Pitts — have hefty price tags and need to try to work their way back from injury. Italy has seven draft picks in this year’s draft, five in the first 23 picks. That ought to help infuse the roster with some cheap young players. They’ll also have to be judicious with how they spend their cap space to try to bring in players on good value deals. If the team can land a No. 1 player at each of the four positions, they’ll be in a lot better position heading into 2023 than they were in 2022.

The Stock Report

Stock Up: Breece Hall, RB/NYJ

Stock Down: Javonte Williams, RB/DEN; Kyle Pitts, TE/ATL

Quarterback Analysis

The Emperors have two quarterbacks under contract, one older and one younger but neither one looking like they’ll make much of a difference. Jameis Winston has a backup role awaiting him this season, it would appear, and second-year pro Malik Willis has at least another year before he could get a shot at starting — if at all. The Emperors will be in the market for a starter this offseason and they’ll have to decide if they want a play-now, win-now quarterback or one that can be around for the long haul.

Running Back Analysis

The Emperors have two of the most expensive running backs in the league, at least at this time of the offseason before any tags are placed or free agents are signed. Breece Hall was looking awfully good midseason before he went down with a knee injury, even finishing as the RB7 in points per game. It’s never easy to come back from an ACL injury, so he’s got his work cut out for him. The Emperors unloaded Dalvin Cook midseason in their rebuilding efforts and took on the contract of the already injured Javonte Williams. Williams was all the rage last offseason with many expecting him to make the leap into RB1 territory. Now he’ll have to work his way back from a knee injury and could take some time. The Emperors have the first overall pick and adding a rookie running back like Bijan Robinson might help solidify the backfield.

Wide Receiver Analysis

Italy has a trio of young wide receivers under contract in Darnell Mooney, Alec Pierce and Nico Collins, none of whom factor much into a contending team. Addressing the wide receiver position will be one of the primary concerns for the Emperors this offseason. Splurging on one big-named receiver seems unlikely for a team with a lot of holes, so they’ll likely be bargain shopping and looking for good deals. 

Tight End Analysis

Kyle Pitts was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2022 season at any position. Pitts encountered a major sophomore slump playing for a bad offense with a run-heavy philosophy. His talent is undeniable, but he needs an upgrade at quarterback and a lot of other pieces around him to take the pressure off. Having an expensive tight end handcuffs the Emperors from spending big at other positions, which is all the more reason why the team will be bargain shopping this offseason. The Emperors can add depth to the tight end position at a cheap cost.

Biggest Objective

Take your pick with the Emperors’ biggest objective. They can’t really go wrong addressing any position, so the primary objective is getting as many talented young players on affordable deals as possible. With their arsenal of draft picks they’ll be able to balance some of the higher salaries on their roster. From there, it’s about finding cost efficient veterans in the auction to round out their roster. 

“What could be…”

The range of outcomes for the Emperors this season spans from contending for the first overall pick again in 2024 to possibly competing for the playoffs, depending on how the chips fall. They’re likely another year out from being in position to compete for a title so this is a transition year into setting the financials right and creating cap flexibility.

Next Up: Australia Blue Heelers

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