Over the last few years, the importance of a face-off win has become one of the most hotly debated topics in the lacrosse world. Does having a guy dominate at the face-off dot matter or do the number of face-off wins that a player or team has in a game have no impact on the outcome of the game?
Regardless of which side of the argument you’re on, that has not diminished the fact that there are some incredible face-off talents in the league. As voted on by League coaches and GMs, here are the Top 5 face-off men in the NLL.
5. Brandon Clelland, Las Vegas
Brandon Clelland has been one of the league’s most consistent face-off men in the NLL for the last four seasons. Last season, in his new role with the league’s newest team, he had one of his most complete years in the league. He not only won a career-high 54% of his face-offs, but he had one of his best seasons causing turnovers and had the most blocked shots he’s ever recorded.
And, considering he played 17 games (the third time in his eight-year career he’s played more than 12 games), he did not turn the ball over often. If there’s one key thing you want your face-off guy to do, it’s not let the other team have the ball – last season, Clelland did that better than he ever has.
4. Joe Nardella, Albany
Nardella missed almost all of last season due to an ACL injury – he only played one game. However, as he was expected to be, he was very skilled at the face-off dot and found ways to grab the loose balls in other situations as well. He’s played in the NLL for only three seasons and doesn’t have a extensive box background like many of his counterparts, so considering he’s battled injuries and has still been finding his peak groove in the NLL, Nardella has played very well at the pro box level.
He’s a loose-ball hound and is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with a player to get the ball for his team. Of course, what stands out is his face-off win percentage of over 63%, which has been one of the best in the NLL since he entered the league for the 2019-2020 season.
3. TD Ierlan, Toronto
TD Ierlan is a beast at the face-off dot, and he’s just getting better. Ierlan stormed on to the scene in the 2021-22 season and won nearly 60% of his faceoffs in his rookie year. Just one year later, he upped his face-off win percentage by three-points to around 63%, doubled his caused turnovers and nearly doubled his loose ball totals. His ability to get the ball off the draw improved and he was overall more of a ball hound in the 2022-23 season – he was one of five players with 200+ LBs.
When Ierlan is feeling it, he can be nearly unstoppable at the dot. So much so that, there were four instances he won over 80% of his draws, including one game where he won over 90%.
2. Trevor Baptiste, San Diego
Trevor Baptiste is in the process of evolving into one of the more versatile face-off men in the game today. His defense and play in transition has improved since he came into the NLL with very little box experience back in the 2018-19 season, and his loose ball totals continue to rise – last season Batiste’s 218 loose ball recoveries was the third-best in the NLL during the regular season.
What is most impressive about Baptiste, though, is his ability to win the ball with ease. His career face-off win percentage is just under 70% and he is always near the top of the list in terms of face-off win percentage. Baptiste’s 362 face-off wins in his rookie season were the most ever in NLL history, and he has had 300+ face-off wins in each of the last two years. Last season, there were two instances were Baptiste was flawless at the dot. He didn’t just win most of his draws in these two games, he won all of them – he went 22-22 against the FireWolves and 27-27 against the Riptide.
1. Jake Withers, Halifax
There is nobody in the game today better at winning faceoffs than Jake Withers. Last season, Withers won a whopping 78.6% of face-off draws. Those are, as the kids would say, video game numbers. He won almost 10% more of his draws than the next closest players and comfortably won 15-20% more draws than every other lead face-off man in the NLL. Withers had five games where he won 90% of his draws, including one perfect game against the Knighthawks where he went 15-15.
But Withers doesn’t just dominate at the dot; he can do so much more. He’s very skilled at causing turnovers and is never afraid to block a shot. On top of that, he’s one of the few go-to face-off guys that is very capable in transition. He can dish it and he can score it. He’s like a magnet to loose balls – his 238 LBs last season was fourth-most in NLL history. Over the last two years, only Zach Currier has grabbed more loose balls during the regular season. Withers can do it all, and he seems to be getting better at an alarmingly historic rate.
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