(Quinn Nadu, Iconic Paintball)
As we look ahead to the NXL Windy City Major in Chicago on September 17th-19th, our new power rankings feature an in-depth look at all 20 professional paintball teams in the NXL and rank them based on their performance thus far, as well as how we think they will perform on the layout. However, we are also looking ahead to the end of the year, and speculating on if these teams have the firepower to either continue their dominance going into the World Cup, or if they can hang on and avoid relegation from the professional league.
All rankings are based on how the team has placed and performed in the first two events of the season, the level of talent on their roster, and how we believe the layout for Chicago will either help or harm their chances to move up the list. The layout looks to be playing fast, but for the first time this season, teams should be able to play a pocketed style of paintball and lock down the field when needed. The snake is very easy to get lost in and surprise the opposing team, and the ease of movement down the dorito side should provide some huge moves on the inside routes.
Player to watch: Justin Rabackoff
Even after losing at the Mid Atlantic Major in Philadelphia, it's really hard to rank Impact anywhere else on this board. They truly have the most elite roster in the league from top to bottom. They have depth at every position, something that is rare in the pro league. Their dominant performance at the Golden State Open event shows why they are ranked so high. Alex Goldman just may be the best player in the league, I honestly don’t know how you shut him down on the field. He is just relentless and so methodical, he never makes the wrong move. I can see Impact going 4-0 on this layout and cruising all the way to finals once again. Justin Rabackoff should be near the top of the elimination board on the aggressive and fast dorito side of this layout.
Player to watch: Tyler Harmon
Houston Heat is coming off an event win where they looked nothing short of dominant. The chemistry on this team is unmatched in the NXL and Todd Martinez has done the impossible, he made the Heat roster even better. Tyler Harmon was playing at another level in Philly and with Chad George in front of him, I can imagine this is probably the best 1-2 punch on the snake side we will see this season. The return of Fedorov was notable and a layout featuring another strong dorito side means we will likely see him make yet another run at the CRBN Golden Barrel award.
Player to watch: Blake Yarber or Ryan Greenspan
Dynasty started off the season a bit rough but in Philly they showed major resiliency and poise even with an injury-depleted roster. Why they so rapidly moved up this list though is for two reasons; for one, Mike Urena showed a level of versatility that we didn’t know he had prior to the Golden State Open. He was playing all over the field as opposed to his normal snake attacker role. Blake Yarber also looks like he has found another gear. In a league that is continually moving towards controlled and methodical play, Blake is maybe the last of a dying breed; he is a relentless attacker that always seems to read the field correctly and make huge moves. If we see the same Blake we saw at the Golden State Open, Dynasty may instantly catapult themselves to the finals, especially with such an unbreakable guard on the backline led by Marcello Margott and Ryan Greenspan. I hope we see them utilize Grayson Gladstone a bit more in that missile role he is beginning to emerge in.
Player to watch: Leonid Smotrov
It seems every season the Red Legion grows stronger as the year goes on, and this year is no different. They are loading up to hit their peak at just the right time coming into the Windy City Major and World Cup. As always, their extreme poise and ability to consistently attack at all levels of the field should guide them into Sunday. Leonid Smotrov has shown some serious flashes of paintball brilliance the last few seasons and if he can bring that high level of play onto the field each and every point, this team is very scary. Their small roster may be hurting them a bit, as it takes quite a lot of athletic stamina to get through three grinding days of play and win an event. Let's hope they can hold up and give us that wild and exciting Russian style of play we have grown accustomed to.
Player to watch: Thomas Taylor
Infamous had a bit of a rough showing last event, but I believe that is partially due to the fact that the field limited their super aggressive style of play; this team loves to run down the field. With the incredibly consistent, veteran backline of Cody Mickowski, Kali Rudoplh, and Brett Messer to support their aggressive core, I think we will once again see that wild Infamous style at 100% speed on this layout. Thomas Taylor is the player to watch and I truly believe the offense of Infamous goes through him. He is arguably playing some of the best paintball of his career in his 20th season, and the aggressive layout should allow Thomas to find his rhythm early.
Player to watch: Corey Field
This team's lanes and break shooting is, uncontested, the best in the league. They are somehow beating the new age meta with old school game plans and fundamental excellence in gun skills. With the openness of the center of the layout for Chicago, I can imagine Corey and the rest of the big break shooters on Thunder will feast off the break. Thunder’s ability to create early mismatches by eliminating players and shutting entire portions of the field down has driven them up the power rankings quickly. I imagine as the younger core continues to mature, this team will only get more scary. They are hitting stride at the perfect time and are a dark horse candidate to place high in the standings for the final two events.
Player to watch: Joe Barrett
Mike Hinman is an elite coach; it is that simple. He has taken the worst team in the league, and in two events propelled them up the standings. His ability to build a balanced roster and bring the most out of his players is unmatched. Joe Barrett seems to be falling into the role as the de facto leader of this young and hungry group. They certainly play that special style of SoCal ball and the steady backline presence and the communication Joe provides has been huge for their quick development. Mike seems to be unmatched in his ability to scout and dissect teams alongside assistant coach Jerry Van Cleve. I think we will continue to see them place higher and higher, and don’t be surprised to see them in the top 4 this event.
Player to watch: Billy Bernacchia
X-Factor has been underperforming thus far this season and it is a bit perplexing. They have an elite stable of players across the entire roster, but it seems like they are having issues with playing at a consistently high level for the duration of an event this season. I can imagine they will quickly rediscover the formula that led them on their last 3 seasons of dominance. Raney Stanczak has been providing a steadying presence in the backline, and his versatility to fill out any spot on the field has been critical to late game closing alongside superstar Archie Montemayor. This could just be a simple case of over thinking gameplans, I’d love to see them just unleash Billy Bernacchia and TJ Danner on what looks to be a very aggressive layout.
Player to watch: Jacob Edwards
This team has the most to prove after putting up a solid performance at the opening event of the season, followed by a poor performance in Philadelphia. Jason Edwards mentioned they were unable to practice how they wanted going into event two in Philly, so I think we will see a much improved Damage in Chicago. Jacob Edwards has continued his dominant play and he perhaps is the most skilled gunfighter in the league at the attacker position. Jason Edwards and Bryan Smith continue to provide one of the best backlines in the game and if this team is able to utilize the open center of the field, Damage should be able to play their patented bump and shoot style. Anytime you can get Keith Brown into a snake where he can get lost and freestyle, you can find success in this league.
Player to watch: Haris Hussain
NYX finally seems to be getting over the issues they had been struggling with over the past few seasons; poise and leadership. Rich Telford coming in as a coach has made the difference and they are playing a more controlled version of their wildly aggressive style that we have seen prior. Josh Taylor is one of the most underrated guys on the roster and he continues to be incredibly clutch for them every event. The player to watch this event, though, has to be Haris Hussain. NYX still seems to run through him, and if he can tone back his wild moves a bit and utilize his elite gunfighting skills, NYX may surprise us all with a Cinderella run to Sunday. I really just want to see them post a 3-1 or 4-0 prelims record.
Player to watch: LJ Parrish
Two underperforming events to open the NXL season has me questioning what is otherwise a pretty rock solid roster. Nick Slowiak and John Jackson are two of the best back players in the game, and they need to focus on high survivability rates. This is especially important because the Ironmen really rely on the rest of the roster to attack relentlessly. LJ Parrish is one of the fastest rising stars in the league, he is an elite attacker in this league and if the Ironmen can develop a bit more of a deep center presence to take the pressure off LJ, they will find success once again.
Player to watch: Benjamin Heningburg
ac Diesel underperformed a bit in Philadelphia at the Mid Atlantic Major, but it seemed to be more of an outlier than a point of debate. They have all the makings of an elite team in the NXL and they are truly starting to build some great chemistry across that roster. I can imagine with the pressure they apply with guys like Ben Challenger, Clint Johnson, and BJ Henninburg, they will do well on this layout. BJ is the player to watch this event, he is one of the best athletes in the sport and if he is able to find some consistently on the outside and get down the field, his high level decision making should earn him a ton of eliminations. As always, Mark Johnson provides a steady veteran hand in the backline for Diesel and I am intrigued as to how he will utilize the very open center on the Chicago layout.
Player to watch: Chris Schehr
This season they have regressed and seem to be playing a bit too predictable of a game plan. This is a far cry from the World Cup roster of 2020 and it feels like a game planning change could make a big difference. They have some issues putting out a consistent roster event to event, and if they can stabilize the roster going into each event, they would benefit greatly. They have some really talented players in Henry Sentz and Stephen Omara to lead this roster. Chris Schehr, however, is the player to watch going into Chicago. This dorito side looks to favor an aggressive style and Chris should be able to apply pressure consistently down that side of the field for Revo. Chris is on the verge of being a star in this league and he could be critical for Revo going into the last two events of the year.
Player to watch: Christian Collins
The TMG Outlaws just lack that heavy hitting firepower right now. They have a young roster that needs some more veteran infusion to be taken as a serious competitor in the pro division. The coaching has been great however, and if they can steady the roster and continue to build chemistry this could be a contending team in a season or two. Christian Collins has looked impressive thus far in his short professional career in the NXL, and he could provide the spark that TMG needs to push some of the top pro teams down the rankings list. He passes the eye test of what you want in a pro attacker and if he can continue to develop the trust and chemistry with the rest of the roster, he could be huge for TMG down the stretch.
Player to watch: Ivan Gonzalez
DMG has been putting in all the work needed to be a competitor in this pro division. They are really beginning to develop some seriously good chemistry led by the Boyum’s. If they can continue to grind and dedicate themselves to the game then it is just a matter of time until they are a Sunday team. Ivan Gonzales sort of came out of nowhere towards the end of last season and he is quickly establishing the reputation of a grinder. He is really buying into improving his game in the pro league and I think he is one of the next upcoming star players out of the DMG camp.
Player to watch: Zak Giger
NRG Elite is a bit of a perplexing roster this season. They have all the financial, intrinsic, and coaching support of an elite pro team, yet they seem to continue to underperform. It is beginning to maybe bring up the conversation that they need to bring in some veteran, heavy hitters to lead this roster. A veteran like Tom Guest could be the type of player that could steady this ship and help lead them to a spot on Sunday. Zak Giger is the player to watch in this event, he has been a great off-the-break player and has been a versatile support player all season long. The roster is still very young in terms of their experience in the pro league, and it will take a few more seasons for them to really make strides with the current roster.
Player to watch: James Creek
Uprising is still really intriguing. They have a few really good pieces on the roster and keeping them up a few spots higher than their season ranking is justified by the fact that they have the most potential to play above their ranking. James Creek is playing really well and continues to be an important factor to their success on the field. He provides consistent pressure for Uprising and that pressure will be key on a layout that looks to favor the wide bodies on the field. The core of this roster has been together for quite awhile and they are still probably the best candidate in the league to both play spoiler for the top 5 teams, as well as the best candidate to make a deep run into Sunday.
Player to watch: Kyle Barry
The MLKings have now spent a few seasons trying to put together a competitive pro roster but they have yet to find the combination that works best for their style. It may be time to start shopping around for a few more veteran players to place alongside their two top players in Kyle Barry and Greg Montalvo. Kyle Barry has the biggest opportunity to move into the conversation of a star player and if he can regain his focus and dominate for the MLKings, we could see a renewed vigor in this roster. However, it may be too late, as they are flirting with a relegation spot if they cannot secure a top 10 placing in the last two events.
Player to watch: Justin Politi
LVL is on the verge of losing their pro spot. They have some really nice pieces in Sam Silberg and Justin Politi, who have been really successful, albeit a bit inconsistent, for LVL in the attacker position. After a few seasons with essentially the same core roster, you would like to see them begin to move up the rankings and put together a great event. Justin Politi is potentially the key to LVL finding success in Chicago. He is an elusive and sharp attacker in the snake for LVL, and with a snake that looks like it will be easy to get down the field, he could be huge for them. Players around the league have brought the coaching of this team into question, let's hope we can see some consistent gameplans that put this roster in a position to succeed at the pro level.
Player to watch: Colt Luckau
I would be highly surprised that ac Dallas is not able to place decently in at least one event yet this season. Greg Pauley is still a great coach and talent evaluator. Many questioned his direction when decided to promote the entire D2 PB Fit roster to the pro level, but I think this roster will come together and put together a complete event this season. Although they have looked outmatched so far this season and potentially at risk of losing their pro spot, Colt Luckau seems to be adjusting to the speed of the pro game. With a wide open center, teams should still respect his huge gun off the break, and if he can consistently eliminate bodies early from the backline, Dallas may just find some wiggle room to apply pressure from the wide bunkers on the field and win some matches.
Watch the 2021 NXL Windy City Major LIVE on GoSports.com, September 17th - 19th!