Need or Best Available – A Tale of Two Draft Philosophies


In some ways, developing a good team is exactly the same as painting a masterpiece or directing an Oscar-winning film. They don’t just happen by accident or happenstance, there’s a lot behind the scenes that your average art lover or filmgoer doesn’t hear about unless they actively look it up.

Sporting teams come under this banner too. Whether it’s the NBA, NFL or the AFL, a team won’t get anywhere unless they have a set direction and philosophy in mind. Unless you’re taking the veteran option like Geelong have done for so long, this also applies to the draft.

Any fan fits into two categories, and these are categories that apply to hardcore draftniks like myself as well. Essentially, it’s whether or not teams should draft by need or by the best player available.

Both schools of thought make sense. If you draft by need then you’re targeting the holes in your team that need to be closed up. If you prefer the best player philosophy, however, you put that aside as a secondary consideration to accumulating the best talent and making the pieces fit afterwards.

Personally, if I was a list manager in the AFL, I would pursue the best player available for my team early on and then focus on team needs later. But that’s my opinion, and you might have your own.

We can get a good look at the ‘best player’ draft approach with North Melbourne. As it stands, the team has been public with the idea it needs to develop key position talent and has previously focused on the midfield in the draft. Despite this, the team has done its best to trade up for #1 prospect and midfielder Harley Reid and look increasingly set to pass on the best key position defender in Daniel Curtin to take another midfielder in Colby McKercher along with Zane Duursma with its picks at #2 and #3.

Now this isn’t to say that North will ignore the position in a couple of weeks. The team will undoubtedly look to bolster its key position stocks with some (if not all) of its later first-round picks at #15, #17 and #18. However, these prospects aren’t as touted as Curtin or key forward prospect Nate Caddy when it comes to filling their needs. The Kangaroos are going to draft for who they like most on the board, and that’s fine.

Some teams will go for need, though. The Adelaide Crows in particular are a team that have been linked to multiple midfield and key defender prospects as they have identified those positions as ones to boost in the trade period but missed out, and their crosstown rivals Port Adelaide have abandoned the draft almost entirely with a similar strategy, aggressively recruiting key defenders and ruckmen to fill their own gaps on the list.

I would love to know where you, the reader, fit in. So let’s play a game, shall we?

Consider this: Imagine you’re an AFL list manager and you have to rank all the players in the draft.

Teams start off by grading them on a scale. Let’s say for example you end up with something like three players rated as a 10 – this is your top of the crop players. After that, you end up with six players rated as 9, and ten players with a grade of 8. Within their tiers they’re good players, they’re just very similar in terms of talent.

This is a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s close to what happens in real life with how teams work. Teams tend to rank their prospects in tiers. Now let’s look at this draft, in particular.

There are considered to be maybe ten top-of-the-crop talents as a 10 or a 9 (two not available for 17 teams as Suns academy prospects) for the teams. Harley Reid is the 10, and Jed Walter could have been a 10 as well. From 3-10 you give Zane Duursma, Connor O’Sullivan, Daniel Curtin, Colby McKercher, Ethan Read, Nick Watson, Ryley Sanders and Nate Caddy all a 9. There are your ten players.

With me so far?

Say you owned pick #8 (pushed to #10 with the Walter and Read bids being matched) and you had no need whatsoever for a forward and needed a midfielder, but Nate Caddy is the last “9” available and was the much superior selection on talent as opposed to Caleb Windsor or Darcy Wilson.

Me? I would take Caddy 10 times out of 10. Use the best-player-available approach to make my team better. But what would you do? Need or talent for your squad?

Let us know in the comment sections. What would you do for your team in this situation?