Top 20 defensive difference-makers in the ELF

Forget the neck-roll linebackers and the gap-plugging defensive lineman, a new style of defense has taken hold in Europe.

With pass-heavy modern offenses now the norm, you can’t win football games by simply barring the door. In 2022, you need playmakers to flip the field for you. Ball-hawking defensive backs, turnover-hungry linebackers, and unblockable pass rushers are key in this new boom or bust reality.

The European League of Football has those players in abundance. With the league scheduled to kick off its second season next week, all 12 teams are loaded with game-changing defensive talents.

After careful consideration, here are the ELF’s Top 20 defensive difference-makers heading into 2022.

20. Lautaro Frecha, SAF, Barcelona Dragons

The Argentinian-Canadian’s arrival in Spain midway through last season flew somewhat under the radar, but his presence was a big part of the Dragons’ surge late in the air. A physical box safety for the modern age, expect to see him line up in a variety of roles for Barcelona.

19. William James, SAF, Leipzig Kings

The super-smart Swedish safety joined the ELF late last year after failing to catch on with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. He racked up 35 tackles in just four games for Wroclaw and will now get a full season to show off the elite talents he honed at the University of North Dakota.

18. Joshua Poznanski, SAF, Frankfurt Galaxy

A ballhawk with a desire to finish, Poznanski tied for the ELF lead in interceptions last season with five and managed to take two of those back for scores. His continued production will be crucial if the team hopes to repeat as champions.

17. Sasan Jelvani, EDGE, Leipzig Kings

One of this season’s highest profile GFL converts, Jelvani led the German league with 12 sacks and 32 tackles for loss last season with the Saarland Hurricanes. He’s undersized for a pass rusher but can be lined up all over the formation to take advantage of a relentless motor.

16. Tony Anderson, SAF, Tirol Raiders

The six-foot-four, 210-pound French safety was a man amongst boys at NAIA school Grand View, earning himself an NFL shot and a draft selection from the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks. He has left Canada to take his talents to Austria and there is no telling what a freak athlete of his caliber could do in the ELF.

15. Malcolm Washington, CB, Stuttgart Surge

It’s been a minute since we saw Malcolm Washington in Europe, but his return should have received far more attention. This is still the lockdown Allgäu Comets’ cover man who led the GFL with 10 interceptions in 2019, earning himself a shot with the CFL’s Edmonton Elks.

14. Daniel Brown, CB, Hamburg Sea Devils

New arrivals to Europe are always tough to assess, but very few show up after having been the team MVP of a Division I program. That’s what Daniel Brown was at Nevada, finishing his career with 115 tackles, 23 pass breakups, and five picks — four of which came as a senior.

13. Zachary Blair, LB, Istanbul Rams

Blair only played seven games for Stuttgart last season, but still managed to finish 10th in the ELF with 66 tackles. The well-traveled import linebacker will have to carry the load for the league’s only Turkish franchise but knows how to be disruptive. He holds the NCAA Division II record for career tackles for loss, racking up 80 in his time at UVA-Wise.

12. William Lloyd, LB, Wroclaw Panthers

A former standout at Troy University, Lloyd is an athletic linebacker for the modern game with the versatility to drop in coverage or fill against the run. You’ll find him making plays all over the field, as evidenced by the 105 tackles he amassed last season.

11. Aslan Zetterberg, DT, Leipzig Kings

Short and lumpy, Zetterberg doesn’t look like much getting off the bus, but he proved to be a menace inside for the Kings last season. The Swedish brute embarrassed interior offensive linemen to the tune of 10 sacks in his debut ELF campaign, good enough for third in the league.

10. Niklas Gustav, EDGE, Tirol Raiders

After an impressive rookie season, Gustav was expected to figure into the plans of the CFL’s B.C. Lions going forward. Instead he retired to join the ELF, bringing some major pass rush prowess to the Raiders. The two-time NAIA national champion was a menace at Morningside University, racking up 25.5 career sacks and being named his conference’s defensive player of the year as a senior.

9. Omari Williams, CB, Rhein Fire

Several Rhein players just missed this list, but the new Dusseldorf franchise had one lock in former Frankfurt Galaxy corner Omari Williams. The former Samford standout had three interceptions last year, but it was his lockdown play against some of the league’s best receivers that truly made him an all-star.

8. Myke Tavarres, LB, Leipzig Kings

Even compared to some of the best imports in Europe, Myke Tavarres is just built different from a physical standpoint. In nine games for Barcelona last year, he amassed 99 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, showing a scary ability to play sideline to sideline off-ball or rush off the edge like a maniac.

7. Justin Rogers, CB, Hamburg Sea Devils

Cornerback, safety or nickel, it doesn’t much matter where you line up Justin Rogers. The former UTEP safety makes plays all over the field on defense, as evidenced by his five interceptions last season, but he’s also one of the league’s most electric punt returners as well.

6. Wael Nasri, LB, Frankfurt Galaxy

For stretches last season, you would have been forgiven for thinking Wael Nasri was all by himself on the defensive side of the ball for the Berlin Thunder. The physical French middle linebacker led the ELF with 141 total tackles, 36 more than the next most prolific defender, and did so with uncommon ease for a player of his age. His production will likely decrease in Frankfurt, but his reputation has already been solidified.

5. Darius Robinson, CB, Wroclaw Panthers

Few imports make the game look quite as easy as Darius Robinson, but what else would you expect from a former Clemson starter? He went stride for stride with the ELF’s best in 2021 and came out ahead most of the time, picking up three interceptions, two defensive touchdowns, two kickoff return touchdowns and adding two blocked kicks for good measure.

4. Sebastian Gauthier, LB, Frankfurt Galaxy

Fourth in the league last year with 84 tackles, Gauthier did just about everything possible from the linebacker position for the eventual ELF champs. The Swedish swiss army knife wreaked havoc in the backfield with 18 tackles for loss and six sacks — which tied him for ninth in the league — and also made plays in coverage with three interceptions — tied for fifth overall.

3. AJ Wentland, LB, Leipzig Kings

This is an awfully high ranking for a newcomer, but ELF dominance is about the only thing not on Wentland’s European resume. The two-time Division II All-American has led championship defenses in Finland, Austria, and Germany, and holds the GFL record for tackles in a season with a whopping 206. The Kings have an absurd amount of defensive talent, but Wentland will be the one tying it all together.

2. Kyle Kitchens, EDGE, Berlin Thunder

From a defensive star joining Leipzig to one leaving, last year’s ELF defensive player of the year is now in charge of turning around the league’s Berlin franchise. The veteran import can run a little hot and cold, but there is nobody better when he’s on his game. His 12.5 sacks a year ago was particularly impressive given how much the Kings’ pass rush shared the wealth.

1. Jan-Phillip Bombek, EDGE, Leipzig Kings

There is no debate here. The German phenom from Colorado State may well be the ELF’s best player and his jump from Hamburg to Leipzig could significantly shift the league’s balance of power. Bombek had 11 sacks in just seven games a year ago and with a dynamic defense around him, should get even more opportunities to pin his ears back in 2022. That is a terrifying prospect for offences around the league.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.