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
South Africa had quite the up-and-down season in 2022. Their longest win streak was three games and their longest losing streak was two, and they spent much of the season in the middle of the pack, while trailing Bolivia in the South Division. They had a 3-1 start to the season as quarterback Russell Wilson and wide receiver Courtland Sutton had their best stretches of the season. But by week 5, those two were languishing and the team started hitting some struggles. Fortunately, the team was aided by a career season from running back Josh Jacobs, but then they also nullified that with a 4-game absence from receiver Ja’Marr Chase. The team acquired quarterback Dak Prescott to help with their final playoff push. They wound up defeating Bolivia in the season finale to win the South, then beat them again in Round 1 of the playoffs. In Round 2, however, they succumbed to the eventual champion Capybaras as their season came to a conclusion.
A look ahead
Unless they think the Broncos offense can turn things around, which is a possibility with a new head coach, the Ballstrikers are really going to have some fixes on their hands. They signed old man Wilson to a three-year deal last offseason, so he’s under contract for two more years, but they might need to upgrade that position. And Sutton is inked to a costly $10 million salary for the next two years, so that kind of inhibits them from adding some additional help at the receiver position. The team has Chubb under contract for one more year and they have three running backs — Jacobs, Cam Akers and Leonard Fournette — that are unrestricted free agents. Only Jacobs seems like a potential tag candidate though. Pairing him with Chubb would seemingly solidify that backfield, at least at the top of the depth chart. The Ballstrikers have the second-lowest amount of cap space and don’t pick until ninth overall in the upcoming draft. They still have ten roster spots to fill, so spending will be a little tight this offseason.
The Stock Report
Stock Up: Christian Kirk, WR/JAX; Tyler Higbee, TE/LAR.
Stock Down: Russell Wilson, QB/DEN; Ja’Marr Chase, WR/CIN; Courtland Sutton, WR/DEN; Mike Williams, WR/LAC.
The story is tired by now, but Wilson was a major disappointment in 2022. The veteran has some new life and a new hope in 2023, but will he capitalize off it? He finished as QB16 last year and he’s not projected to finish much higher than that in 2023. He is still under contract for two more years at a seemingly expensive contract for a non-QB1. The Ballstrikers really ought to deploy the strategy of signing (or drafting) a couple cheap quarterbacks this offseason and see if any of the three on the roster step it up and command starting reps. The Ballstrikers acquired Dak Prescott last season but his tag prices are just a little high. If they’re interested in retaining him, they could probably sign him for cheaper on the open market.
Running Back Analysis
The Ballstrikers had one of the deepest and most talented backfields in the league last year. Led by Josh Jacobs and Nick Chubb, with Leonard Fournette and Cam Akers backing them up, the team got a lot of production from their running backs in 2022. Of the quartet, however, only Chubb is under contract for 2023. The team will have to make a decision on the other three with realistically only Jacobs as a possible tag candidate. Paying Jacobs a Top 5 running back salary, however, when he is coming off his best and only Top 5 finish might be a bit risky. Either way, the team needs to find another starter at the position this offseason, and do so with relatively few funds.
Wide Receiver Analysis
South Africa has six wide receivers under contract, two of whom — Ja’Marr Chase and Christian Kirk — finished as wide receiver ones last year. Chase was 11 and Kirk was 12, but you’d be hard pressed to find many buyers of the notion that they’ll finish near those two spots again this year. Chase is bound for positive regression and Kirk negative. Courtland Sutton, as we’ve discussed, offers very poor value at $10 million per season over the next two years. That is, unless he makes a major rebound. Mike Williams is perennially poised to break out — until he gets injured and disappoints his fans. Williams was WR32 last year and seems appropriately priced as a FLEX option. Jakobi Meyers changed locations this offseason but it remains to be seen if he’s a viable starter. Second-year pro David Bell has a lot to prove before he can be trusted. The Ballstrikers are probably okay at receiver but it wouldn’t hurt to add another depth piece.
Tight End Analysis
The Ballstrikers had a pair of — surprising, to put it bluntly — Top 6 tight ends in Evan Engram (5) and Tyler Higbee (6). Higbee is under contract for another season at league minimum. His production at that salary helps offset the high payroll the rest of the roster commands. The team has the option of placing a tag on Engram if they think last year was no fluke. But given his erratic underperformance throughout his young career, it probably would not be a wise investment. Higbee could probably start this season but it would behoove the Ballstrikers to nab another one at some point. C.J. Uzomah is on the roster as well, but he’s a camp body.
The Ballstrikers have half a roster to fill with a third of the budget to do it. They’re going to have to get creative, else they’re going to be short a starter or two. Signing a starting running back to pair with Chubb is the top priority. The Ballstrikers just have to decide if Jacobs is that guy. Aside from that, adding help at quarterback and tight end would help round out their roster.
“What could be…”
South Africa has a number of playmakers on their team but they also have some budget-draining contracts that will make their depth a bit sketchy. While there’s always a chance that their Broncos players rebound, they need to have alternate plans just in case. The Ballstrikers have enough talent to at least compete for the playoffs. Whether they can compete for a title or not will largely depend on how far they can stretch their $32 million of cap space this offseason.
Next Up: Kazakhstan’s Very Nice Team