In less than 24 hours, the world will witness the dawn of a brand new league, the China Arena Football League. The CAFL features six teams in its debut year including the Dalian Dragon Kings, Shenzhen Naja, Qingdao Clipper, Guangzhou Power, Shanghai Skywalkers, and the Beijing Lions.
Every city will play host to three games per weekend dubbed a Super Series, culminating the weekend of Nov. 5 when the league crowns its first champion in the China Bowl in the Shanghai Oriental Stadium.
Beijing gets the honors of hosting the first slate of games in the debut season for the CAFL on Saturday, hosting three games, Guangzhou vs. Qingdao, Dalian vs. Shenzhen, and Shanghai vs. Beijing.
The teams have a combination of Chinese born talent and players from the Arena Football League that have made the trip from the United States. However, this first team features not a single AFL player on their roster, now.
Dalian Dragon Kings:
In the CAFL Draft, the Dragon Kings used their first round pick to secure Jacksonville Sharks wide receiver Joe Hills. Hills broke all kinds of records in the AFL in 2016 and was named AFL Offensive Player of the Year. However, news has come down that Hills will not be making the trip to China after all.
This leaves Dalian to be a giant question mark. Next to nothing is known about this team due to there not being a single AFL player on their roster, however, lack of knowledge does not equate to this team being bad. In fact, the Dragon Kings may be the team flying the most under the radar.
Perhaps the most interesting team when it comes to strategy is the Shenzhen Naja. Head coach JW Kenton moved out to China a full two months before any other coaches did in order to evaluate Chinese talent.
Kenton then took those observations he made and then took it to the draft board with the plan to draft the best Chinese talent possible.
That being said there is still some AFL experience on this team, headed by ArenaBowl XXVIII champion offensive lineman Collin Madison and wide receiver Tristan Purifoy.
The Clipper picked quarterback Bryan Randall with their first pick in the CAFL Draft.
Randall went to Virginia Tech, graduating in 2005, earning himself ACC Player of the Year honors in 2004. He has had a couple short stints in the AFL, one with the Pittsburgh Power in 2013 and with the Philadelphia Soul in 2015.
Offensively Randall is joined by wide out Xavier Boyce who caught six touchdown passes in 2015 with the Soul.
The star of this team however, is found on the other side of the ball, the 2016 AFL Defensive Player of the Year Jake Metz will be terrorizing quarterbacks for the Clipper, hoping to recreate what was a magical 2016 AFL season. He led the league with seven sacks.
The Power might have one of the more well rounded teams in the league, and it starts on the offensive side of the ball.
The Power have AFL veteran J.J. Raterink under center. Raterink is making his return to the 50 yard field after not playing in 2015, this is the same guy who broke Kurt Warner’s passing record while playing for the Iowa Barnstormers.
On the flip side of the ball the Power have Arizona Rattlers and 2016 All-Arena First Team Linebacker Tyre Glasper and former Rattlers defensive back Virgil Gray who racked up 47 INTs in his six year AFL tenure.
The Power’s head coach Ernesto Purnsley also has tons of experience in the Arena game, helping coach the 2005 Colorado Crush to an ArenaBowl.
The Lions come into the season one of the teams in the hunt expected to challenge for a shot to get into the China Cup.
Defensively, the Lions are led by defensive back James Romain and defensive lineman Teddy Jennings, both coming from the Philadelphia Soul.
The Lions also have 2016 Second Team All-Arena Cleveland Gladiators wide receiver Collin Taylor catching touchdowns for them this year, hoping to start a new streak of touchdowns in consecutive games.
The Lions took two quarterbacks in the draft, Chris Dieker and Soul backup Luke Collis, and those two are battling it out to see who will start on Saturday against Shanghai.
The Skywalkers are a popular choice to pick to win the championship this year and for a very good reason – this team is stacked.
With their first round pick Shanghai took Portland Steel quarterback Shane Austin who now, unlike his time in Portland, has a slew of dangerous targets to throw to. One of those targets includes Mike Washington who, over the span of five seasons, amassed 6,603 receiving yards and caught 138 touchdown passes.
The other variable that makes this team so dangerous is they are a mini version of the Philadelphia Soul. They are coached by the Soul’s defensive coordinator Derek Stingley, the same defense that held the Rattlers to 42 points in ArenaBowl XXIX. Second Team All-Arena defensive back Dwayne Hollis debuts with this team along with ArenaBowl XXIX MVP Shaun Kauleinamoku.
On paper, Shanghai certainly has all the pieces to win a championship in 2016, but as the saying goes, “there is no such things as paper champs”.