Way back in August (this year, four months can seem like a decade), the Premier Lacrosse League wrapped up its 2020 Championship Series, with the Whipsnakes once again taking the crown home. Over the past week, however, we’ve finally seen the results of this year’s player-voted top 50. Released annually, the list represents the 50 best PLL players, as voted on by their peers and their peers alone.
Now, we made our own All-Pro team for the Championship Series, but just because we didn’t get a vote this time doesn’t mean we don’t want to talk about it. So, we brought in your west coast lax correspondent (and PLL Championship Series Tweetmaster General for the LAS account) Ryder Cochrane to break down the biggest snubs and surprises of this year’s 50 best PLL players.
Without further ado, here’s our reactions to the list:
50 Best PLL Players – Snubs & Surprises
Snub: Efficient midfielders
When we voted for the LAS All-PLL team, I spent one of my three midfield votes on Christian Mazzone. Considering that he not only finished top 10 in goals during the series but did so while shooting a fantastic 69% (nice), I would’ve assumed Mazzone was a lock for this list. I guess not. I’m not sure what I’m missing here, unless the PLL is just really against 2nd-bar syndrome, but I absolutely think that Mazzone was deserving of a spot in the top 50 best PLL players.
He’s not alone. Among other players I definitely think of as top 50 players out of the midfield, we also saw a lack of appearance for Jesse King (Chrome), Dhane Smith (Chaos), and Ryan Ambler (Archers). It would irk me less if we hadn’t seen a guy like Jake Froccaro in the top 50.
That’s not a dig at Froccaro as a player at all – he just didn’t have a very good 2020 series, scoring only 5 goals (2 2-pt) on 16% shooting. Compare that to Smith, who had the same number of points on 32% shooting, or King, who had the same points on 42% shooting. The math favors any of those four guys, so I’m a little surprised to see all four get snubbed here. Rough list for efficient players.
Surprise: The order in which people liked the champs
I didn’t mean to talk about the Whipsnakes twice in a row, but I guess that’s what happens when you finish with four of the top five players on the list. I’m not arguing that any of these dudes don’t deserve to be in the top five. Rather, I’d like to nitpick a little about the order in which they appeared.
First of all, all the love in the world to Zed Williams. This dude came into the PLL and instantly led the league in goals, won a ring, and took home MVP. His immediate chemistry with Rambo helped to replace all the lost talent stolen by the Waterdogs in the expansion draft and was a big factor in the Whips winning a second title. That said, I (and the majority of our LAS contributors) still think that the real MVP of the 2020 Championship Series was Joe Nardella. Without the Nard Dog, I don’t think that Zed is in position to score all those second-half goals in the title game. I’m not sure the Whipsnakes go undefeated without him.
Tom Schreiber is probably the best field player in the world right now, a LeBron-like midfielder that does everything well. I’m fine with him at No. 1. From there, I’d say that the rest should have been Nardella, Rambo, Ehrhardt, and Zed. Regardless of who is the best overall player, though, my vote for who had the best season in 2020 goes to Nardella, even though I loved watching Zed and think that his MVP win was a great moment for the league.
Snub: The other Whipsnakes
The Whipsnakes had the most guys on this list of anybody, so it’s not like they’re hurting here, but even still, they deserved more. This team was just stupid dominant throughout the series. There’s no reason we should be giving Atlas eight players and denying the other Whipsnake guys.
Specifically, I’m talking about Brad Smith and Jay Carlson. Both seem to be overlooked due to what their other attackmen (Zed Williams finished third and Matt Rambo second on this list) were doing, but Smith and Carlson were both crucial pieces of this Whipsnakes team. Returning from injury, Smith, the former Blue Devil, racked up the 12th-most points in the league, putting up 8/7 while snagging 10 GBs. He played attack and midfield and was equally useful at both. Meanwhile, Carlson finished ninth in the league in GBs despite playing attack. The only other non-FO short-stick in the top 10 was Zach Currier, who A) is a middie, and B) is Zach freakin’ Currier. Just for fun, Carlson also scored 12 goals.
The fact that neither guy gets a spot in the top 50 best PLL players just feels like an attempt to balance things out so the Whipsnakes didn’t put 15 guys on the list. The thing is, 15 guys probably deserved to be on this list for 2020. The Whips finished 2020 with the No. 1 offense and the No. 1 defense, went undefeated, and brought home a second-straight title. It’s entirely possible, and I think likely, that they simply had more talent than a lot of the other teams. Reflecting that a little heavier in this list isn’t unfair – it’s just accurate.
Surprise: The SSDM revolution
Alright, this is a surprise, but I’m actually leading with a snub: where the hell is Pat Harbeson? As a short-stick, the man was third in the league in caused turnovers by any player. He was top 15 in ground balls. He even had two points. How this guy wasn’t a top 50 best PLL player, I have no idea. He was an elite SSDM.
Anyways, still a great year to be a d-middie. There were five guys in the top 50, a big step up in recognition for a vital position: six, if you count Bryan Costabile, like I tried to in our voting. It’s nice to see guys getting credit for what they did. Jack Near, Ty Warner, Will Haus, Jake Bernhardt (crazy this dude is basically a SSDM now. Man, the Whips are stacked), and Dominique Alexander are all well deserving of recognition here. We often overvalue guys who score goals, so it’s fun to see players showing love to those SSDMs who make their lives harder on the field.
This is a weird case for evaluation. Chaos won exactly zero games in the group play stage and looked pretty damn inept doing it. Then, they went on a run to the finals. The results? They had the second-lowest number of players in the top 50, ahead of only the Waterdogs. Atlas had eight, and they were, to put it politely, bad.
Now, Chaos did get two players in the top 10 – well deserved for both Blaze Riorden and Josh Byrne. But Chaos lost multiple guys off of last year’s list. Connor Fields made the biggest drop, going from top 10 to straight off the list. That’s probably fair, considering he was benched down the stretch, but I still think Fields is a good player. Jarrod Neumann, one of the top poles in the PLL last year, was also off the list this time around, as was Sergio Salcido. With the exception of Neumann, who has a case, I don’t have any issues with those dudes dropping out, but I’m surprised we didn’t see at least Dhane Smith make this list. I think one could also make an argument for Austin Staats, who came on late in the series and showed what he can do.
Also, it’s not really worth getting into further than a sentence or two, but I’d like to once again state for the record that Dillon Ward is one of the 50 best lacrosse players in the world (at a bare minimum).
Surprise: Player opinion on award nominees
If you just read the nominees for the Gait Brothers Midfielder of the Year Award, you’d assume that the three-best midfielders in the league this year were Tom Schreiber, John Haus, and Sergio Perkovic. It would be weird, then, to go look at this list, and find that Perkovic was No. 30 overall, which makes him only the 10th-highest ranked midfielder (excluding face-off guys). That’s where I start to wonder what this list was aiming for. Is it the best 50 PLL players overall, or the best 50 PLL players of 2020? Something doesn’t quite line up there.
The same can be said for other awards. Reece Eddy was a finalist for the top LSM yet isn’t even in the top 50 (he could easily have his own snub category). Eddy was one of the three-best rookies in the league, along with Grant Ament and Bryan Costabile. Not seeing him get a spot here is shocking, especially so when you consider he was a finalist for best LSM but not one of the LSMs on this list. Other LSMs who weren’t nominated did make the list. That just screams to me that there’s a weird disconnect between player opinion and league opinion.
Snub: The Waterdogs’ FO guys
Trevor Baptiste, who finished 21st overall in the top 50, was fifth in the PLL in faceoff percentage this season. The two guys directly above him didn’t make the list. That seems a little suspiciously like voting based on brand power to me. Baptiste is a great player, but he didn’t have a great year., winning only 54% of his faceoffs. Meanwhile, Jake Withers won 58% of his draws, and Drew Simoneau won 55%.
The fact that they split the role (whereas Baptiste handled a far greater majority of his team’s attempts) probably hurts both guys for voting, but I think it’s a little weird to only have two FOs in the top half and for one to have finished fifth in winning percentage. To be honest, Connor Farrell was better than Baptiste was this year, and he was ranked all the way down at No. 47. Those Atlas guys must be really popular among players, is I guess the point I’m still trying to make.