When you’re a first-round pick in the AFL draft, pressure becomes part of your day-to-day existence.
Though clubs and the media will plead for time for players to find their game and refine their skills, the walk-up brilliance of players like Nick Daicos and Sam Walsh make it very difficult for fans to keep a lid on their expectations. And, in turn, it has made it difficult for clubs to take their time with players.
Four years after the 2018 Draft, we find ourselves at a point where some of the first-round picks have flourished in the system. Walsh is an All-Australian. Connor Rozee just grabbed his first selection, and Zak Butters made the 40-man squad in 2021.
You also have the King Brothers, who have traded 45+ goal seasons over the last two years and look as though they will be fixtures in the top ten goalkickers each season.
Others have struggled.
Some have not hit targets due to injury, but others have just not lived up to the hype, and we’re reaching the point where 2023 is looking like a make-or-break season for them.
With that in mind, let’s head back to the 2018 Draft and have a look at the players who went in the first round but are yet to deliver on the potential they displayed.
PICK 2 – JACK LUKOSIUS
If there was one player in the game that you’d like to see find a role, it would have to be Lukosius. Back pocket, half-back, wingman, half-forward, full forwards… he’s been everywhere, man!
Yet, he has not excelled in any of the positions.
A beautiful kick of the footy when he leans back and sinks his boot into it, his skills sometimes desert him when he is attempting the dinky little 20 metre pass, and that has proven costly. If you’re looking at a comparable player for him to emulate, I reckon Jordan Dawson at Adelaide would be the one. Dawson is better overhead, but Lukosius, if given the room to move and create, can be a deadly weapon operating between wing and half-back.
But does Stuart Dew have the patience to leave him in a role until he works it out? I reckon the constant chopping and changing of what is required from him would be making him feel quite unsettled. Those around him in the draft have excelled – Walsh, Bailey Smith, Connor Rozee. If he doesn’t start to look like a player that could be in AA contention within a couple of years, Lukosius may end up being a low-scale bust, particularly when you stack him up against those who were picked after him.
PICK 8 – TARRYN THOMAS
We’ve seen flashes from Thomas, but nowhere near enough from him that would indicate he is going to be a star of the competition, and really, that is what North need him to be.
He was one of the players who suffered greatly when Ben Cunnington was out of the team – Cunners is a guy who doesn’t allow his younger teammates to be pushed around – Tarryn Thomas is a player that seems to get pushed around quite a bit.
Had the poor visual of looking completely despondent on the bench in Round 15 against the Crows, when he chose to play despite having lost a loved one during the week. He did not play again for the season, and almost like clockwork, the rumours about potential trades started to fly around.
To his credit, he is sticking it out with North, and if they improve he may begin to find a bit of spring in his step. After 57 games, and with numbers falling away dramatically in 2022, he needs a huge 2023 to demonstrate that he can, and will be a force to be reckoned with.
PIK 9 – CHAYCE JONES
I think I have come to terms that Jones will be, as Jack Dyer so eloquently put it, a good, ordinary player at AFL level.
Deployed between half back and the wing during 2022, Jones failed to set the world on fire, but seems to be the type of player you could allocate a job to and be pretty content that he will either get it done, or exhaust himself trying.
Is that enough for a number nine pick?
Had a very minimal increase in numbers over the 2022 season, but having cracked 20 touches in a game just once in his career to this point, any romantic notion of him morphing into a midfielder are likely to remain just that. Out of contract after the 2023 season, so it will be interesting to see whether or not he commands any interest anywhere other than Adelaide.
PICK 14 – JACKSON HATELY
I’m not picking on the Crows, I swear.
Hately was snatched away from the Giants via the pre-season draft after trade talks broke down and, at the time, you felt as though the Crows were getting a complete bargain. However, Hately’s first season as a Crow was a huge disappointment.
Managing just 11 games in 2022 after a paltry three outings in 2021, he did have a nice run from Round 9-15, where he averaged almost 24 touches per game, but his start and finish to the season both lacked in a lot of areas.
I get the feeling that Hately is a talented bloke who needs a metaphorical foot up the backside when it comes to making it at the top level. At GWS, he could have successfully argued that he was playing behind a logjam of A-Grade mids. AT Adelaide, that has not been the case and he still struggled to crack the rotation in a meaningful way.
This season makes or breaks him as an AFL footballer. Fifth-string mids don’t tend to have really long careers – Hately needs to make his second season
ON THE FENCE ABOUT…
PICK 17 – SAM STURT
When I have seen him, I’ve liked him.
I just haven’t been able to see enough of him. Has the skill set to play in the league, but his body has not held up thus far. A poor showing in 2023, or an injury-interrupted season, will have quite a few questions asked about both form and durability.
PICK 18 – XAVIER DUURSMA
Everyone was onboard through year one. However, the ensuing three seasons have seen Duursma deal with injury and the drop in form that comes with the recovery. Looked like a bloke that simply wasn’t trusting his body in 2022.
Needs a huge 2023 to cast aside the clouds of doubt starting to form around him.
AND THOSE ALREADY DELISTED?
PICK 19 – LIAM STOCKER
Hands up if you can remember the Blues switching future picks to get their hands on this bloke? I thought he was pretty handy, playing six games in 2022 and notching 28 since he debuted, but he was cut like a pee-wee footballer under coach, Homer Simpson.
PICK 20 – RILEY COLLIER-DAWKINS
I had plenty of Tiger fans telling me he would be the next big thing in the midfield a couple of seasons back. And now… bam – gone. Played 11 games in his Richmond career, with two coming in 2022.
PICK 21 – ELY SMITH
Zero games for the Lions in his four seasons indicates that either Ely peaked very early, or was vastly overestimated by recruiters. Without a club heading into the 2023 season.
Do any of those three get a second chance elsewhere? Hard to assess Smith, who didn’t get a run, but I would take a punt on both RCD and Stocker. Both have shown a bit.
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