Setting ELF Player Challenges – Can they meet them?

The late, great Kobe Bryant issued a handful of challenges to NBA players in the summer of 2017 that were accepted and seemed to give them an extra incentive to achieve their accomplishments.

By no means does this writer claim to be at the level of Kobe, but the idea of setting the standard from some of the league’s best is an attractive proposition. In the 2023 preseason, all the wide receivers in the league were evaluated and assigned to categories but this one will be more individually based on what has led to the player’s current situation and what may be the next step in their achievements. Lastly, if a player has an asterisk next to their team, it simply means they haven’t yet confirmed their signing.

Let’s just get straight into it.

Karri Pajarinen – Vienna Vikings

Photo: Hannes Jirgal

Last Season: 560 Yards, 4 Touchdowns, 4.87 YPC

Challenge: 800 Yards, 8 Touchdowns, 5+ YPC

Pajarinen is a rare case on this list because he was recently announced as a signing to the Vienna Vikings 2024 roster. In 2023, the Vikings were the best rushing team in the league. Pajarinen split carries with Florian Wegan, who also had an extremely successful season with 693 yards while Anton Wegan, who only featured in 3 games still had 210 yards. This season, he is predicted to have a much larger role in the offense, possibly taking the majority of carries. If he gets only 50 more touches on the same YPC efficiency as last season, he will easily eclipse the expectation of 800 rushing yards. If he were on another team that didn’t have such depth in the backfield, he could be a 1,000-yard back. There were also seven Vikings that were able to rush for a score this season. With more breakaway speed and physical running we could see Pakarinen’s four TDs double with ease. For the last challenge, keeping above 5 YPC would be an incredible addition, and solidify him as the future of the position for years to come.

Harlan Kwofie – Rhein Fire*

Harlan Kwofie Photo: Marcel Heinisch

Last Season: 805 Receiving Yards, 12 Touchdowns, 68.66% Catch Rate

Challenge: 1,000 Receiving Yards, 10+ Touchdowns, 70% Catch Rate

The difficult part of being in the best offense in league history is that there are so many players who deserve the ball in their hands. The Fire did an excellent job of spreading the ball out to their weapons this season and a major beneficiary of this was Harlan Kwofie. He saw further growth in his numbers and individual quality as a receiver this season, eclipsing 800 yards as well as 10+ touchdowns on the season. It is not yet confirmed if he will rejoin the Fire for a third season, but it is heavily assumed he will be based on his impact and performances over the last two seasons. The fact that there are so many other phenomenal players on that team may not impact his numbers if he can improve his short breaks and involve himself on every level of the offensive scheme. We all know he is an elite deep threat, but I want to see him earn some RAC yards and establish himself as the man in Rhein.

Kyle Kitchens – Berlin Thunder*

Photo: Eric Muuhle

ELF Record: 16 Sacks

Last Season 15 Sacks

Challenge: 20 Sacks

For the first time in the history of the league, Kitchens was not the Defensive Player of the Year. However, he still had a successful season in all aspects of the game. It’s arguable that he outperformed his previous seasons simply because he demanded double or triple teams on every snap. That being said, the 20-sack mark is there for the taking for Kitchens and a handful of other pass rushers. The offensive lines of the ELF are extraordinarily “hit-or-miss”, and we have seen that Kitchens can be a game-breaker. His performances against the Enthroners, Kings, Galaxy and Sea Devils all showcased the proficiency of his ability. With the continued success of the Berlin defense with stars like Myrén, Hovde, Seifert and many more, the pressure will have to subside from Kitchens. Otherwise, the offenses will suffer from over-committing. We don’t currently know if all of these players are returning to Berlin, but if they do Kitchens could reap the benefits and be the first player to break the 20 sack barrier.

Chad Jeffries – Munich Ravens*

Photo: Justin Derondeau

Last Season: 3,535 Passing Yards, 30/5 Touchdown/Interceptions,

69.85% Completion Rate

Challenge: 3,750 Passing Yards, 32/5 Touchdown/Interceptions,

70% Completion Rate, Top 3 MVP Votes, Play-off Appearance

Chad Jeffries was excellent in 2023 with the Munich Ravens as one of the best QBs in the league. Unfortunately, he was somewhat underrated because of Jadrian Clark’s historic season and Markell Castle’s OPOTY, Triple Crown, receiving yards record-breaking campaign. Jeffries, without question, can be an MVP candidate this season if he continues with his form from last year. Of course, it’s not yet confirmed if he will be returning to the Ravens, or if Castle, Oyewo or Rutsch will be either. The challenge is only for a slight increase in statistical performance, but the main part would be the MVP run and a playoff berth for wherever he ends up. He is the sleeper pick for the MVP/OPOTY in 2024.

Florian Larose – Paris Musketeers*

Florian Larose #13 Photo @maximelepihif

Last Season: 323 Receiving Yards, 4 Touchdowns, 71.43% Catch Rate

Challenge: 550 Receiving Yards, 8 Touchdowns, 70% + Catch Rate

Larose showed flashes of a potential star for the Musketeers last season but never really took off as far as he could have. It could have been injuries or other issues, but he has the capability if he can stay healthy to be one of the better European receivers. He has a long athletic frame; the deep threat potential is there and in the red zone he could be a real weapon. The challenge set is very achievable for Larose, with him most likely returning to Paris. He will potentially have a top QB and other offensive pieces around him that will allow him to go under the radar for defenses. During the season, he had two of the most reliable hands in the league. As his targets go up it is expected to see that decline slightly but if he can stay above 70% while increasing his yards and being a red zone option, he could be the breakout receiver of 2024.

In summary…

Let’s see how many of these can be cashed in. There is quite some time until the start of the season so there are many factors that have to be ignored and naturally there will be many moves during the season. Hopefully, we can see all of these players continue to perform at a high level.

Until next time.