The AFL men’s Draft is nearly upon us once again, and with that, it’s time to draw up a list of the best 30 to come out of this year’s class. It’s an exercise that, whilst long, is something that I enjoy doing every year and this year is no exception.
There are at least another 10 players that could’ve easily made this list, but the beauty about draft boards is that there will never not be two of the same top 30 – orders differentiate and some will rate a specific talent higher than another.
But enough of that, there’s a bit to cover, so without further ado, here are my top 30 players to look out for come draft night (or nights, because the AFL actually can’t help themselves).
Charlie Clarke – General Forward, Vic Metro, 182cm, 80kg
There’ll be a good select number of Sandringham Dragons’ prospects in this year’s draft crop, and with good reason – they were the NAB League premiers this year and did it in convincing fashion after all.
Charlie Clarke is a mid-sized forward that may get overlooked by some due to the talent around him at the Dragons, but I’ve seen firsthand in the local league what this kid can produce and it’s no shock to see this kid mix it with some of the best under-18s in the state, being named in the NAB League’s team of the year. He’s lightning quick and super agile, and it’s put to good use when he gets forward of centre. He’s got an incredible nous for the goals and if he’s not hitting the scoreboard, he’s working hard to set up his teammates.
In his 15 games in the NAB League, he kicked 29 goals, including a bag of seven goals against Tasmania earlier in the year. It’s an average of nearly two goals per game, but also averaged 18.6 disposals, 4.1 inside 50s, 3.5 marks and 3.4 tackles per game. His efforts this season were enough for him to be named in the NAB League’s team of the year.
Sam Gilbey – General Defender, Western Australia 187cm, 73kg
This kid could be one of the hidden gems of this year’s draft. Whilst there have been big question marks on his durability, there’s a lot of talent that Sam Gilbey possesses, and it was evident all throughout his under-18 nationals campaign this year
There is a small sample size of Gilbey in the WAFL this year – he featured in a few preseason games for Claremont’s reserves team and then was offset by glandular fever which caused him to miss a lot of footy. He had a 31-disposal game against Swan Districts which is a great example of what he could produce. The following game in the WAFL saw him sustain another injury. But before that, his numbers in the nationals saw him average healthy numbers of 16.3 disposals at just over 69 percent, 6.7 marks and three tackles per game.
Gilbey’s strengths are through his foot skills. He’s often composed and regularly makes smart decisions with the ball in his hands. A healthy year would’ve seen him shoot up the draft board, but for now – he remains a potential draft bargain.
I love the name, but I also love what he could offer to a side. Mitch Szybkowski is a midfielder that relishes the contest and already boasts good strength and has an already well-established craft of extracting the ball out of stoppages.
This year we’ve been able to see a bit more of Szybkowski on the outside and when he gets the time and space, he has shown on a few occasions of the composure and the foot skills that the good midfielders do possess. In good time, he could be a very solid balanced midfielder, but in the meantime, he’s got a good foundation of skills to lock down a spot in an AFL team down the line.
His numbers are both strong and consistent. Averaging over 23 disposals per game for both Dandenong Stingrays in the NAB League and Vic Country in the national championships, meanwhile averaging five marks, 3.8 tackles and 2.8 clearances in the championships this year.
Darcy Jones – Outside Midfielder, Western Australia, 174cm, 63kg
Darcy Jones is a player that you won’t have much trouble being able to spot out on the football field with both his height and his helmet. A lot of people will tend to turn a blind eye towards the sub-175cm players, but Jones is a player that couldn’t have done much else with his campaign this year.
Whilst not strong-bodied, Jones has got great pace and athleticism and often plays to those strengths to get on the outside and impact the game in numerous ways – his draft stock shot up when he broke the Combine’s record in the agility test, previously set by Stephen Hill and was equal first in the standing vertical leap. Another big strength of his is his ability to impact on the scoreboard – hitting the scoreboard in his first two senior games for Swan Districts in the WAFL this year.
His form for WA in the national championships were also enough to earn him a spot in the All-Australian team, averaging good numbers of 19.7 disposals, 3.7 marks, 3.3 tackles, 2.7 clearances and 3.7 inside 50s per game. He’s a quality player, who should be taken off the board early.
Max Michalanney – General Defender, South Australia, 190cm, 78kg
The Adelaide Crows haven’t had a good ride with father-son selections over the years, but there are a number of people around the Crows that reckon it could change with Max Michalanney. A brilliant intercept marking defender, Michalanney’s father, Jim, played over 200 SANFL matches with Norwood, and thus made eligible as an Adelaide father-son.
It may take a few years of Michalanney to build on his slight frame, but what he can already do offsets these deficiencies significantly. On top of his intercepting capabilities, Michalanney is a composed figure rebounding the ball out of the defensive 50 and often consistent with his disposal. He has tasted senior football for Norwood this year and at reserves level, he’s flourished, averaging 14.1 disposals at 76 percent, 4.6 marks and 2.7 rebound 50s per game in seven games in the SANFL reserve grade.
But it’s the under-18 championships that saw him rewarded for his solid football for South Australia, with a spot on the All-Australian team, playing more of a defensively oriented role and rebounding the ball efficiently out of defence, averaging 12.5 disposals, 4.3 tackles and three rebound 50s per game.
Isaac Keeler – Key Forward/Ruck, South Australia, 198cm, 89kg
We’re often told in football that key position players take time to fully develop and there is no better player that exemplifies that statement than Isaac Keeler. There have been question marks ahead of this year about his commitment to his football, but his campaign this year has shown that when he puts his head down, good things happen.
For a player of his size, he has got great mobility and has shown brilliance both as a key forward and as a ruckman. Whilst not a strong contested marking forward yet, he can produce great burst leads and is a reliable enough shot for goal – 19.13 for North Adelaide’s under-18’s team this year and an average of 1.3 goals per game for South Australia in the National Championships. As a ruck, he has a fantastic leap, shows solid ruck craft and follows up exceptionally well with his clearance work.
On top of averaging well over a goal per game for North Adelaide, Keeler also averaged 17.9 disposals, 9.5 hitouts, 4.2 marks, 3.3 clearances and 3.1 inside 50s per game across 15 games. Players that possess the height and the athletic attributes that Keeler has don’t come around often, but it will come down to whether he can put it all together.
Olli Hotton – Midfielder/Forward, Vic Metro, 182cm, 80kg
In terms of ‘impact per possession’ players, there aren’t many who can collect the ball and make it count so efficiently quite like Olli Hotton. The son of former Carlton player, Trent, Olli is someone that can play either as a forward or as a midfielder and make a significant impact wherever he goes.
Some might consider him as a draft bolter when you look back at his 2022 campaign. It was a slow burn in the early goings, but by the end of the year, we’re looking at a player who made the national championships’ All-Australian side. Athletically, he’s got a lot of the tools – he’s got speed to burn, a great leap for his size and extremely agile, combined with his sharp football IQ and quality work rate, he’s got the potential to go far in the AFL.
Hotton played just eight games for the Dragons this year but averaged over 21 disposals per game in his last five games, including the Grand Final win. In his nationals campaign for Vic Metro, he averaged 16.8 disposals, 2.5 marks, two clearances and 1.5 goals per game.
Alwyn Davey Jr. – Midfielder/Forward, Vic Metro, 181cm, 77kg
Linked to Essendon through the father-son rule, Davey’s father, Alwyn Davey played 100 games for Essendon between 2007-13 and made his name as an exciting crumbing small forward. Fast forward to today, Alwyn Jr. has got similar traits to that of his old man and should be expected to land at the Bombers somewhere in the second round, potentially late in the first.
Whilst not a prolific goal-kicker this year for both Oakleigh in the NAB League and for Vic Metro in the Nationals, Davey does possess a lot of traits that make the general forwards very dangerous. He shows great tackling pressure and he loves to get himself up the ground to link up and is a very composed user of the ball. There’s upside to play in the midfield, but he is more at home in the half-forward line, where he can be a good connector-type, something that the Bombers could use in their forward half.
Alwyn played every game for Vic Metro in the Nationals this year, and whilst his form didn’t warrant All-Australian selection, he still showed a lot of brilliance in both kicking goals and setting them up – averaged 13.8 disposals going at just under 71 percent, but also averaged three marks, 2.5 tackles and 1.8 score assists per game.
Henry Hustwaite – Midfielder/Defender, Vic Country, 195cm, 82kg
This is a player to keep a look out for. Tall 190cm-plus midfielders aren’t exactly a dime a dozen and whilst Hustwaite will likely build on strength as the years go by, he’s one of the more composed and brilliant users of the ball by foot from this year’s draft crop. Reminds me a lot of Jack Macrae in how he always does the team thing and puts the ball in a likelier position to score.
Hustwaite was named on the half back line of the NAB League’s team of the year, averaging 23.5 disposals, 2.5 marks and 3.8 tackles per game, but has also seen plenty of minutes in the midfield, both at Dandenong and at Vic Country in the national championships. For Country, he averaged 21 disposals, 3.5 marks and 2.8 clearances per game and perhaps one of the stiffest omissions of the team, given his efforts.
Whilst not the most athletically gifted player in the draft crop, Hustwaite’s lack of speed and strength is countered by an incredible IQ to put himself in the right spots around the stoppage and able to follow up with consistently making the right decisions with the ball in hand when on the rebound or on the move. With a disposal efficiency of 72.6 percent during the championships, Hustwaite is a more than reliable distributor of the ball.
Brisbane will luck themselves out with two talented father-son prospects in this year’s Draft. Whilst most eyes will be on Will Ashcroft at the top end, Jaspa Fletcher is the other name that is starting to gather some recognition and praise. He could very well be bid on late in the first round, but it won’t surprise me if a bid comes around the mid-20s range.
His father, Adrian played over 230 games across four clubs, but played over 100 of them at Brisbane – both before the merger and after – and has been apart of the Lions academy for a while, so he’ll already know a fair bit about how the Lions run things in football. On field, Fletcher is seen as a solid midfielder who can both win his contested football and be able to spread on the outside and on limited exposure, has shown enough that he can be damaging with the ball in his hands.
As far as Queensland talent goes in this year’s cohort, he’s the top man up north. He was a standout for the Allies in the Nationals and was rewarded with being named on the wing in the All-Australia team. He does plenty right already – he links up well, presents as a good overhead mark for his size and has shown on the odd occasion that he will kick a goal too – averaged 22.7 disposals, 3.7 marks, three tackles, and four clearances.
Lewis Hayes – Key Defender, Vic Metro, 199cm, 82kg
There aren’t many ‘top-line’ key defenders in this year’s draft, but you can count Lewis Hayes in as one of them. An Eastern Ranges product, Hayes has built himself up a very strong 2022 campaign this year and should be gone somewhere in the later stages of the first round.
He’s a key defender that offers both a commanding presence in the air and the penchant for rebounding the ball out of defensive 50. What sets him back a little is that he is still a raw prospect and will need some time to grow into his body. But against those around him, he showed great positioning as an intercept marking defender and shows great efficiency with the ball by foot and doesn’t hesitate to take the game on. In a sense, it does put you to mind of Darcy Moore in how he likes intercept and move the ball up the field.
Hayes was named in both the NAB League team of the year and in the Nationals’ All-Australian side, on the back of averaging very strong numbers: 20.7 disposals, 5.3 marks and 4.7 rebound 50s per game in the NAB League and 16.5 disposals at 91 percent efficiency, six marks and five rebound 50s in his games for Metro in the Nationals this year.
Brayden George – General Forward, Vic Country, 186cm, 87kg
This was a hard one to place, because Brayden George missed a lot of football due to separate knee injuries this year. His second one was an unfortunate and untimely ACL injury, which means that he will miss a lot of senior football next year.
But on the body of work that he has produced over the past couple of years, here’s a player that will add a lot in the forward half. He’s not a key forward type, but he has got the strength and the power to get away from opposition defenders on the lead and has got a terrific overhead mark for his size. There are question marks about his lack of versatility and endurance, particularly coming back from a long-term injury.
But if given a clean run at injury, There is potential for George to mould himself into a midfielder with his strength and power. His injuries meant that he did not participate in the nationals, but with 18 goals from just eight games this year for Murray in the NAB League, there will be plenty of sides that would love someone who’s a proven performer in front of the big sticks.
Lachlan Cowan – General Defender, Tasmania, 187cm, 81kg
There aren’t many Tasmania prospects in this year’s draft class, but there are no questions that Lachie Cowan is the best of a small bunch. Cowan has had a rock solid 2022 campaign in state and nationals and should be a player that goes within the first round.
As the captain of Tasmania in the NAB League, Cowan emerged as one of the stars of the league from the outset with his abilities to both intercept mark and rebound beautifully out of the half back line. He averaged 27 disposals, 8.2 rebound 50s, five marks and 3.5 inside 50s per game and was named a joint winner of the Morrish Medal as the league’s best and fairest. He’s got a raking right foot on him and is a player that relishes taking the game on and trying to garner meterage.
He backed up his form in the NAB League with an equally impressive campaign for the Allies in the nationals this year, averaging strong numbers of 22.3 disposals, 5.5 rebound 50s, 4.3 tackles and 3.5 marks per game. Whilst not a dual-position player, Cowan has got a lot of tools necessary to be an elite rebounding defender in the big time.
Ed Allan – Tall Utility, Western Australia, 194cm, 83kg
There’s only a small sample size of what Ed Allan produced this year, as injuries plagued his 2022 campaign, but from what I’ve seen from him, there is plenty to suggest that he should be a first-round talent.
Players standing at 190cm or taller are few and far between in this year’s lot, but Allan is someone that can deliver in several roles. This year, he’s worked on his inside game a bit, in conjunction with spending some time on the wing and in the forward half as well. He’s got great speed and a very good tank on him that a place on the wing at AFL level could suit him to a tee in the early goings of his career.
In his five games for Claremont’s Colts side, Allan averaged 25 disposals and six marks per game – with a return of 2.3 on the scoreboard. He also managed one game for WA in the national championships also, which again outlined his penchant for link-up work and a strong overhead mark. Will be expected to slide given his injury-plagued campaign this year, but the upside he’s got is tremendous.
Jacob Konstanty – Small Forward, Vic Country, 177cm, 73kg
There hasn’t been much press for the smaller forward types in recent years. Cody Weightman and Kysaiah Pickett a few years ago were the last two sub-180cm small forwards that were taken in the first round, and both have had their highs for their respective sides.
Where Jacob Konstanty falls will be intriguing to see. He offers a lot for his size and is a player that can find himself a spot in a side that is crying out for pressure forward. Whilst not the most prolific goalkicker in the under-18s competition, Konstanty is a player that offers plenty of heart. He presents well inside the forward 50 and is a sure mark when on the lead, there have been questions about his conversion rate, but that’s something that can be rectified over time. When the opposition has the ball, he does everything that he can to force them into a turnover.
For Gippsland this year, Konstanty kicked 17 goals in 14 games, but also averaged just under six tackles per game on top of 14.6 disposals and 2.6 marks per game. For Vic Country in the nationals, he averaged 11.3 disposals, 2.7 marks, 3.3 tackles and 1.3 goals per game. The modern game is often about pressure, and Konstanty is someone who can deliver that, and then some.
Harry Barnett – Ruck, South Australia, 202cm, 97kg
There isn’t much ruck depth this year, but Harry Barnett out of West Adelaide is without question the best ruck talent out of this year’s lot. What makes the Barnett the top dog in the ruck contingent is his ability to impact around the ground on top of solid ruck craft.
Over the course of the year, I’ve seen Barnett’s ability to pluck contested grabs from all areas of the ground and it’s become such a key component to his game and will be a key component to any side that is looking for ruck depth. On top of proving that he can used as a spare behind the ball or even as an option in the forward 50, Barnett’s follow-up work after the initial ruck contest is a big tick – he essentially passes off as a bonus midfielder.
His averages for West Adelaide in the under-18s this year have been very good – 18.1 disposals, just under 25 hitouts per game, 5.2 marks, 3.1 clearances and 4.3 inside 50s. He was even given a few games in the seniors but had little impact in those games. However, he flourished in the National championships, winning himself a spot in the All-Australian team as the team’s primary ruckman, averaging 11.7 disposals, 3.3 marks, 14.7 hitouts and 2.7 clearances per game.
Reuben Ginbey – Inside Midfielder, Western Australia, 189cm, 82kg
On the back of an elite nationals’ campaign that saw him win Western Australia’s MVP of the championships, Reuben Ginbey is a player that has shot up the draft board with his performances and should be a top-15 selection come draft night.
Ginbey hasn’t seen much football at state level this year, balancing his time with commitments in the private school football league as well, Ginbey has had a taste for senior football this year with East Perth in the WAFL. Whilst his four games at senior level didn’t yield big returns on the stat sheet, he showed that he has got some determination to mix it with older and bigger bodies.
But it was in the nationals that he shone through. A move from defence to the midfield saw Ginbey blossom before our very eyes, returning averages of 20.8 disposals 2.8 clearances, 2.8 marks and four tackles a game to not only just be WA’s MVP, but lock down a spot in the starting midfield of the All-Australian side. He’s a born inside midfielder and immediately possesses the strength and power that recruiters simply love in midfielders.
Oliver Hollands – Outside Midfielder, Vic Country, 184cm, 71kg
The brother of Gold Coast’s Elijah, Ollie Hollands is rated every bit as much as his brother was prior to being drafted in 2020, and this year in both the state league and the nationals, he didn’t disappoint when he lived up to the billing.
He has shown all throughout the year that he can play both inside midfielder and out, but given his elite aerobic capacity, he could spend a lot of time up on the wing of an AFL club once drafted. He loves to run, proven to be a solid link-up guy in transitioning the ball and is pretty good on the defensive end too. When it comes to being a class user, there remains some work to be done, but historically, running wingmen have been ordinary kicks – think of Ed Langdon, Lachie Hunter and Paul Seedsman for example – great running players, but not the best kick on their teams.
Nonetheless, the body of work that Hollands has done this year should be more than enough to see him selected inside the top 15. Named on the wing in the nationals’ All-Australian team, averaging 23 disposals, 6.5 marks, 3.5 tackles and 2.3 clearances per game. He didn’t feature in many games for Murray, but still managed to average over 23 disposals, four marks, six tackles and just under six inside 50s per game across five games in the NAB League.
Matthew Jefferson – Key Forward, Vic Metro, 195cm, 84kg
As far as potential goes, this is one of a few kids in the top 20 that, whilst they have shown already just how capable they can be as footballers, will still need time to develop. Matthew Jefferson is a rangy tall forward who has got an untapped ceiling.
The game that everyone will refer to when we talk about Jefferson is the seven-goal game he had for Metro against Western Australia in the national championships, and with good reason. All game long, he presented exceptionally well and kicked incredibly well from the set shot. With 14 goals overall from the nationals, Jefferson was named on the forward pocket of the All-Australian side. In the NAB League, he only managed six games for the Chargers this year but managed to average over two goals per game on averages of 9.5 disposals and 6.5 marks per game.
With some extra time in the gym over the coming seasons, Jefferson has got a mountain of potential to be one of the more dominant key forwards coming out of this decade. His marking hands are already top notch and already has developed a great understanding of reading the play in the air.
Elijah Hewitt – Balanced Midfielder, Western Australia, 185cm, 85kg
Elijah Hewitt just misses out in the top 10, because there has been some fluctuating form in both the WAFL and in the nationals. However, he had a massive 2021 and it wasn’t an awful 2022 for the midfielder, who is blessed with awesome speed, great agility and powerful out of stoppage.
Another thing that works in Hewitt’s favour is his versatility – at times he’s played a bit up forward as a resting rotation and has proven himself as a scoreboard contributor at Swan Districts. He has also played senior football this year at the Swans, so that alone will give him a good indication of what he must do to further his football. There was a game in the reserves earlier in the year in which he recorded 31 disposals and six tackles in a massive effort.
In his last four games at senior level, Hewitt averaged 16 disposals, just under three marks and a goal per game, which is good numbers for a 17-year-old. In his first game for WA in the nationals, he starred with 29 disposals and two goals, but would go on to average 19.5 disposals, three marks, 4.5 tackles and 4.3 clearances per game during the entire championship. There’s potential for him to be a top-line talent, but he needs to bridge the gap between his best and worst though.
Jedd Busslinger – Key Defender, Western Australia, 196cm, 82kg
Arguably the best tall defender out of this year’s draft class, Jedd Busslinger from East Perth has done more than enough that will suggest that he’ll be the best key defensive prospect from this draft when we revisit this class in five years or so.
Whilst not overly quick and yet to fill out his body, Busslinger’s done a tremendous job in the air this year at both East Perth and for Western Australia in the championships this year. At the Royals, he played just four games in the Colts and dominant in every one of them before being called up into the senior side for three games. He averaged 23.7 disposals and eight marks per game in his four games for the Colts.
He carried this form into the nationals with an outstanding campaign in Western Australia’s defensive half. He averaged 22 disposals, seven marks and 4.5 rebound 50s per game in two matches and was named as the centre-half back in the All-Australian team. A shoulder injury put an end to his 2022 campaign, and whilst the lack of strength is a small concern, Busslinger couldn’t have done much else to stake his claims as a top-10 selection.
Cam Mackenzie is a St Kilda next generation academy prospect, and whilst the draft rules state that any side can’t match a bid for academy players inside the top 40, the Saints could look at drafting him through with their first-round pick – currently at pick nine.
What makes Mackenzie a top-10 draftee is through his consistency at both state level and nationals. As more of a midfielder this year at Sandringham (he played a bit through the defensive end last year), Mackenzie can be relied upon with winning the ball out of the source and delivering the ball inside 50. Out of the stoppages, he’s not a burst athlete, but he’s able to power himself out and either deliver to the runners on the outside or do it himself.
As part of a premiership midfield at Sandringham this year, Mackenzie averaged over 24 disposals, 3.4 marks, 3.7 tackles and 4.7 inside 50s and was named on the wing of the NAB League’s team of the year. Having represented Vic Metro as well, he was well served and was given a spot at half forward in the All-Australian team, averaging 25 disposals, 3.5 marks, 3.5 clearances and four inside 50s per game. He’ll be well served in an AFL environment, particularly the Saints where he has been steadily building his craft over the past few years.
Mattaes Philpou – Midfielder/Forward, South Australia, 190cm, 89kg
There are a few quality talents coming out of South Australia, but many will agree that Mattaes Phillipou is the best of the lot. A player that splits his time between forward and midfield, he’s a kid that screams out a top-10 talent with strong overhead marking hands and his ability to finish off plays in front of goal.
Philipou’s under-18s campaign for Woodville-West Torrens saw him average ridiculous numbers of 28 disposals, 6.6 marks, 5.1 tackles, 4.3 clearances and seven inside 50s per game, as well as kicking 12 goals in just eight games. He’s also spent time in the reserves this year, and whilst three games is a small sample size, he showed against Sturt that he has got a mountain of potential to belong at AFL level, with a three-goal bag.
An ankle injury put the brakes on his nationals campaign, but he was averaging very solid numbers of 16.8 disposals, 3.5 marks, 3.3 tackles and 4.8 inside 50s per game. Phillipou will most likely start as a forward in his career, and a player that has a strong body and great aerial presence as he does already, could prove to be a big-time player on the scoreboard down the track.
Twelve months ago, Bailey Humphrey played just the five games for Gippsland and whilst he won a little bit of contested ball, there wasn’t exactly much to write home about. Fast forward to today, and he’s a bona fide top 10 talent. There’s a lot that he possesses that many football clubs will want on their next premiership side.
For one, he already boasts an impressive, contested game. He loves winning it from the source and bursting away from the clearances. Averages of 19.8 disposals, 4.6 tackles and 4.5 inside 50s are a testament to his hard work from the source. But the biggest thing about his game is his scoreboard impact. Humphrey was named in the forward pocket of the NAB League team of the year on the back of kicking 20.18 – at times inaccurate with his kicking, but getting chances on the scoreboard regularly is a good sign of a player who can go far in the league.
A knee injury meant that he would miss a large chunk of the championships, but he did play in Vic Country’s final game, but his body of work will be seen mostly on the NAB League, and that tells me that he’s too good for that league. He’s got the power, the speed and athleticism to make a serious splash at AFL level, and goalkicking midfielders are worth their weight in gold. Should go and will most likely go early.
Jhye Clark – Inside Midfielder, Vic Country, 181cm, 76kg
Since Geelong acquired the pick 7 from the Gold Coast in the trade for Jack Bowes, all roads lead to this young man being snapped up by the Cats with their pick – it’s been said since October that the local Geelong Falcon is the ideal Joel Selwood replacement. One thing for sure is that whoever drafts Jhye Clark, will have an out-and-out gem on their hands.
Whilst athleticially speaking, Clark’s speed and agility isn’t the greatest among his cohorts, he is arguably one of the best contested midfielders coming out of the draft class and is a class act to commitment to the contest. There will be nothing left to chance when the ball is in dispute. He displayed great consistency with his game for both Geelong Falcons and for Vic Country this year and it’s seen him rewarded with both NAB League team of the year and All-Australian honours, as well as MVP for Vic Country in the championships.
Another thing that I love about Clark’s game is his overhead marking. He averaged 7.3 marks per game for Country in the championships, and also averaged 4.7 marks per game for Geelong in the NAB League, often floating back in defence to take intercept marks regularly. He averaged 25.4 disposals and 4.8 tackles in the NAB League this year and 22.5 disposals, five clearances and five tackles per game in the championships – a star talent in waiting.
Perhaps one of the most damaging offensive midfielders in the draft is Elijah Tsatas out of the Oakleigh Chargers. Despite a foot injury keeping him out of a lot of the championships and some footy in the NAB League, Tsatas approached every game with a brilliant mindset and wowed many with his speed out of stoppage and his composure every time the ball was in his hands.
An injury to his foot whilst playing for the AFL Academy meant that he missed a lot of the championships for Vic Metro, but in his one game, he showed just how much he can run and spread from the contest – notching up 29 disposals, six marks and four clearances. At the Chargers, Tsatas played just the six games, but averaged ridiculous numbers of 33.8 disposals, 7.2 marks and over eight inside 50s per game.
If there is one slight knock – apart from his injury this year – is that he’s not a known tackler. He only managed just over one tackle per game for the Chargers this year and didn’t register highly for Vic Metro either. But that is an issue that can be solved over time with hard work. The positives outweigh the negatives with Tsatas; He’s blessed with brilliant pace, he’s got a good overhead mark on him and his vision going inside 50 has been a key component to his game.
George Wardlaw – Inside Midfielder, Vic Metro, 182cm, 80kg
As we went into the 2022 year, there were very few names that stood out like George Wardlaw. Despite a lack of games with the Oakleigh Chargers this year, he showed in all three of his games just why he’s up to the billing of being a top-line draftee.
Wardlaw’s strength in the contest is the first thing that comes to mind. He’s a competitor, a proven ball hunter and is just as diligent in working to get the ball back from the opposition as he is when the ball is in the deck. With that said, Wardlaw only played three games and missed a lot through hamstring injuries this year. It’s these injuries that also ruled him out of playing for Vic Metro this year – and that has raised some flags about his conditioning and his endurance abilities.
However, the upside in his games have been there from the start. He played one game last year as a 16-year old and flourished. This year he played as part of the NAB AFL Academy against Collingwood’s VFL side and was named as their best on ground in a 22-point loss to older and stronger bodies. If he gets his body right, he’s a player that should play 200 games and probably more on top of that. He’s a powerful unit with a great competitive nature.
Without question, Aaron Cadman is the best key position forward to come out of this year’s draft class and with the first pick in the national draft, has been long linked to the GWS Giants. The Giants are in need of some targets to kick to and Cadman is a guy that any team can build a forward line around.
Cadman’s contested marking springs immediately to mind of Aaron Naughton; he has a great leap and is already well built and is hardly beaten in a one-on-one. Sometimes his kicking is a bit of a let down, as evidenced by his 2022 season for the GWV Rebels in the NAB League, kicking 34.23 and kicking 10.10 for Vic Country in the nationals – but overall, a large amount of the components are there for him to make a splash in the big league – sound marking hands, scoreboard impact and a phenomenal appetite for work rate and producing leads time and time again.
Such is his work rate that he was named in both the NAB League’s team of the year and in the nationals’ All-Australian side. He averaged 16.8 disposals, 5.5 marks and 3.3 tackles per game in the NAB League, having only gone goalless once. In the nationals, he averaged 13.8 disposals, 6.3 marks, 1.5 contested marks and 2.5 goals per game.
Harry Sheezel – General Forward, Vic Metro, 185cm, 80kg
Perhaps my favourite player to come out of this year’s draft crop, not just because his name rhymes with ‘cheezel’ but there aren’t many players, let alone general forwards, that can impact on the scoreboard as consistently as he can.
I’ve heard the comparisons to Toby Greene in terms of his goal sense, and I think that’s plausible – Sheezel has no problems in finding the goals from any part of the forward 50. Although there have been knocks and questions on his athleticism – he’s not overly fast, but he has an elite understanding of how the game works and gets into the right spots and has the skill set to finish them off.
With 36 goals from 14 games for the Sandringham Dragons this year in the NAB League, Sheezel also found himself a little bit further up the ground and showed that he is more than capable of moving the ball from midfield to forward and could be a handy player in terms of that forward connection that plagues a lot of teams. Sheezel was named in both the NAB League team of the year, averaging 19.3 disposals, 3.6 marks and 3.3 tackles per game, and the nationals’ All-Australian team, averaging two goals and over three marks per game in the forward line for Metro.
Will Ashcroft – Balanced Midfielder, Vic Metro, 181cm, 78kg
The number one talent in this year’s draft class and by some margin too. The son of 318-game and triple premiership Brisbane Lion, Marcus Ashcroft, Will Ashcroft has taken on all before him and will walk into the Brisbane Lions a ready-made player. All it remains to be seen is whether GWS will place a bid on him with the first pick in the draft or leave that to North Melbourne instead.
There have been comparisons made to last year’s father-son sensation in Nick Daicos and there are some similarities; like Daicos, Ashcroft is a great running player, knows how to accumulate and is a very crafty user of the ball by foot. What separates the two is that Ashcroft is perhaps slightly more of a contested beast and a slightly more refined stoppage craft, where as Daicos has proven that he can play handful of different roles. Nonetheless, both are destined for great things down the line and Ashcroft’s year for both Sandringham and for Vic Metro will testify to this.s
In 14 games for the Dragons in the NAB League as their captain, Ashcroft averaged 34.5 disposals, 4.9 tackles, 3.3 marks and seven inside 50s per game, and managed six goals as well during this time. As well, he was probably the first picked in the NAB League team of the year and was named as the best on ground in Sandringham’s premiership win over Oakleigh in the NAB League Grand Final. In the nationals, he was named both Vic Metro’s MVP and the Larke Medallist as the best and fairest in the championships, averaging 32.8 disposals, 8.8 clearances and 7.5 inside 50s.
Also taking into consideration the three games he played with Brisbane’s VFL team, he averaged over 27 disposals per game – there is without a question that this kid is ready for the next challenge and will feature prominently in Brisbane’s assault on the premiership in 2023.