At the beginning of the 2018 season, I heard a former head writer of the Herald-Sun… let’s call him Bike Speahan, proclaim that father time had got the better of Scott Pendlebury, and that the Collingwood captain was no longer an A-Grade AFL player.

Pendles later revealed that he struggled with a back injury in 2018 that not only limited his ability to play at the level we’ve become accustomed to seeing, but also had a dramatic impact on his life overall. He got the treatment he needed and bounced back in 2019, with another stellar “Pendles” kind of year.

But can he do it again? And who are the others that are capable of being considered A-Grade players in 2020?

The Mongrel has gone to work and compiled his list of those looking as though they could be top-level stars in 2020 and put them into a ladder. The ones I’ve left out, and the questionable ones I add, I’ll attempt to justify, but as always, if you have a difference of opinion, let me know.

I’m happy to discuss your wrong opinions… J

 

In order to give some context, here’s the simple formula I’ve used. A current A-Grader nets three points. A potential A-Grader  nets one point. A player who was highly regarded, and possibly an A-Grader that has fallen away a bit nets minus one point.

 

1st RICHMOND – 25 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Dustin Martin, Tom Lynch, Dylan Grimes, Alex Rance, Dion Prestia, Bachar Houli, Nick Vlastuin, Jack Riewoldt

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Sydney Stack, Shai Bolton

DOWNGRADED

Trent Cotchin

 

Yeah, I know you’re all going to jump on the downgrade of Cotchin, as opposed to celebrating the fact that your list, top to bottom, is great. It’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it?

Well, I suppose I should defend it. Cotchin is not the player he was a few years ago. Yes, he is still a great leader, as evidenced by his attack on the body of Shane Mumford in the Grand Final. That tackle set the tone for the Tigers, but in terms of what he produces from a pure footy standpoint, he’s nowhere near the player he once was.

Lynch bounced back to great form in no uncertain terms, and Riewoldt retains his elite status despite a disappointing year. He is 12 months removed from a Coleman Medal. The re-introduction of Alex Rance into this team is a scary proposition in 2020, and whilst some may scoff at the inclusion of both Sydney Stack and Shai Bolton as potential A-Graders, to that I say you don’t watch enough Richmond games.

Stack is as hard as nails, and will develop to be the kind of player that puts the fear of what’s coming into the hearts of opponents waiting under a footy. Bolton’s change of direction is elite – I am unsure there is a better, quicker and more effective change of direction in the comp. He becomes the long term replacement for Shane Edwards, who was unlucky not to be included in the A-Grade category as well.

 

2nd WEST COAST – 24 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Luke Shuey, Jeremy McGovern, Shannon Hurn, Elliot Yeo, Tim Kelly, Jack Darling, Lewis Jetta, Andrew Gaff

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Liam Ryan, Jack Petruccelle

DOWNGRADED

Josh Kennedy, Nic Naitanui

 

So we’ve got Nic Nat out as an A-Grader… ON FORM. We got that? On form.

The same goes for Josh Kennedy, who for the first time started looking like his body wasn’t entirely cooperating with him at all in 2019. Both he and Naitanui can turn things around, but as it stands right now, they’re no longer in the A-Grade bracket.

Similar to Richmond, West Coast boast two genuine elite defenders in McGovern and Hurn and I have thrown in Jetta off the half back flank for his ability to slice a team to ribbons by foot. Seriously, there is a real dearth of players with the combination of vision, foot skills and the guts to try the diagonal kick into the guts.

Looking forward, Liam Ryan has already shown he has what it takes… in moments, but needs that consistency to earn the A-Grade label. Petruccelle might be a way off, but you’d have to be blind to miss the damage that his run and carry will inflict once he learns the game a little more.

If there were one player I was thinking of removing from the A-Grade bracket, it was Andrew Gaff, who I thought fell away a little in 2019. Not in terms of volume of disposal, then in terms of effectiveness. Too many times I watched him grab the ball and throw it on his boot hurriedly in 2019. Maybe with the addition of Kelly to the fold, he can start moving back to a more outside run kind of role.

 

3rd GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY – 22 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Lachie Whitfield, Stephen Coniglio, Nick Haynes, Phil Davis, Jeremy Cameron, Toby Greene

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Tim Taranto, Jacob Hopper, Zac Williams, Josh Kelly, Matt de Boer

DOWNGRADED

Heath Shaw

 

A little controversial to leave Josh Kelly out of the A-Grade bracket, but for mine, he is too prone to the niggly little injuries at the moment, and was unable to impact the game in the finals in a meaningful way. It might be a little unfair, but I was disappointed with his output in 2019. Maybe he was underdone in the second half of the year, but if you’re an A-Grader, there is a certain level expected of you. I am not sure Kelly hit those marks over the past couple of years..

Haynes makes the jump to an A-Grade role. One of the few Giants who could hold his head high after the Grand Final debacle, Haynes should be giving AA honours an almighty shove in 2020.

The potential for the Giants is obvious, and should be the envy of other clubs. Taranto is on the verge of stardom, and Hopper will not be far behind. Williams made several big statements late in the season as he moved from the half back line to the midfield, whilst de Boer was one shut down role away from tagging immortality.

Sadly, that game saw him limp onto the field and his first quarter opponent romp to the Norm Smith Medal.

Heater is coming to the end. Still a wonderful player, but his best is well and truly behind him. Some of his disposals out of defensive 50 in 2019 were like hack kicks in hope. Still takes a quality forward every week, but he is no longer the player he once was.

 

4th COLLINGWOOD – 15 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Brodie Grundy, Adam Treloar, Steele Sidebottom, Scott Pendlebury

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Darcy Moore, Jordan de Goey, Jack Crisp

DOWNGRADED

Dayne Beams

 

A few will be interested in de Goey not being labelled as an A-Grader, and that’s fine. He was handed the title of superstar this season. It wasn’t earned. Whilst many expected a big leap from him this season, every time he tried, it seemed he tweaked a hamstring. At 23, he has plenty of time to make good, but he’s just not there. Not yet.

Beams cost the Pies a bomb, in the form of two first round picks, and failed to pay back that investment in 2019. With just nine games to his name, the lack of output from Beams was one of the main reasons the “best midfield ever assembled” failed to get the job done.

Pendlebury sticks it right up Mike Sheahan by being wonderful again in his 14th season. Pendles has played less than 20 games just twice in his footy life, but the fact that his three lowest disposal totals in the last two seasons have come in finals may give an indication that things may be starting to slow down a little.

For the record, Pendles had 17 touches in the 2018 Qualifying Final against the Eagles, 20 touches in the Grand Final loss, and another 18 in the 2019 Preliminary Final. Not a great set of numbers for someone so accomplished.

The Pies head into 2020 with four of their A-Grade, or potential A-Grade talents coming out of contract. Moore, de Goey, Grundy and Pendles will all be seeking new deals. You’d ink in Pendles right now, but the retention of the other three will be a talking point until their deals are signed.

 

5th NORTH MELBOURNE – 15 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Ben Cunnington, Robbie Tarrant, Shaun Higgins, Ben Brown

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Nick Larkey, Cam Zurhaar, Jared Polec, Tarryn Thomas

DOWNGRADED

Ben Jacobs

 

I really like what the Kangaroos have done with their kids up forward. The Larkey-Zurhaar combination provide a new look, and I believe we’ll see this pay off in a big way as they offer an alternative to Ben Brown going forward. Larkey has a great pair of hands, and Zurhaar some real old-school aggression in him… I love seeing that.

Higgins might be getting on, but he is the silky yin to the grunting yang of Ben Cunnington in the middle. Another year of being overlooked for the AA team has not diminished just how good Cunnington is, as his numbers are comparable to those of Patrick Cripps, and the AFL media basically lays an egg every time Cripps gets 20+ contested touches in a game. Cunners only did it six times, himself in 2019.

I threw Polec in there as a potential A-Grader as I reckon he will be much better for the season in blue and white to find his feet. Players often take a period of time to adjust to new surroundings, and whilst a few were critical of Polec’s impact on the Roos, I will be reserving judgment until 2020 concludes. It would not surprise me to hear a lot of experts talking about how good a pickup he has turned out to be after ten rounds.

The loss of Ben Jacobs may strike many as a little less significant than I’ve made out, but if you want to see what sort of impact he has on the team, check out the Roos’ win/loss record with and without him over the last five years. It’s eye-opening. He is just as capable as having an impact on any given game as Matt de Boer, and I am a huge de Boer fan. Injury may have robbed him of his crown as the best negating midfielder in the game, and I would love to see him get the chance to reclaim it in 2020.

 

6th BRISBANE – 14 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Lachie Neale, Dayne Zorko, Harris Andrews, Charlie Cameron

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Hugh McCluggage, Eric Hipwood, Cam Rayner

DOWNGRADED

Stefan Martin

 

So much of where the Lions are headed relies on those three blokes in the potential A-Grader category. McCluggage made the step in 2019, but needs to take one more to go from being the bloke who gets 22 touches and hurts, to the guy who gets 26 and tears games apart. Hipwood is the one, however, that I worry about.

2020 should be the year he shows us a lot less of baby giraffe, and a lot more of roaring lion. You’d give Cam Rayner’s “up and down” form line another year before seriously looking at how often he goes missing, but right now, that would have to be something on the mind of Chris Fagan.

Harris Andrews is now undoubtedly an A-Grade defender, whereas Charlie Cameron did his best to undo a stellar year with some baffling decisions opposed to Dylan Grimes in consecutive weeks.

On Stef Martin; about 18 months ago he was in the conversation along with Grundy and Gawn in terms of ruck supremacy in the league, but he is no longer in that conversation. Still highly capable on his day, he lacked the consistency of the other two over 2019.

 

7th FREMANTLE – 11 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Nat Fyfe, Alex Pearce, Michael Walters

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Andrew Brayshaw, Luke Ryan, Nathan Wilson

DOWNGRADED

David Mundy

 

It was actually amazing how Freo was able to function last year. It looked like a team that had met Predator, and it ripped their spine out as a trophy. Pearce, Ryan, Lobb, Hogan and Taberner all went down, leaving them with just Fyfe as a genuine player in the spine.

Luke Ryan made huge strides early in the year, and should have the opportunity to push for ascension into the A-Grade slot by the end of 2020, and he’ll join Alex Pearce there if health permits. When you look at the top teams in this ladder, two elite defenders is a staple, and Freo has the weapons to join that group.

But how Brayshaw develops and whether Nathan Wilson can take the next step to become a genuine weapon off half back instead of flitting in and out of games will go a long way to determining how far they can go. Brayshaw looked to be ready to elevate his game when Andrew Gaff clocked him in the mouth in 2018. He had 25 touches the week before, and was well on the way to 20+ again when the incident occurred. Brayshaw has bettered that mark just once, with a 26-possession, three-goal exhibition against the Dogs in 2019, but I expect him to make real strides next season.

I was going to throw Adam Cerra into the mix as well, having been played as a defender all 2019. I’ll be very interested to see if Justin Longmuir thinks Ross Lyon was on the right track with him, or if he sends Cerra into the middle or onto the wing next season. If he gets the chance to strut his stuff up the field a little, we might have another potential A-Grader on our hands.

As for Mundy… well, at 34 you have to wonder how long until Father Time catches up with him. He didn’t miss a game in 2019, so maybe I am a little premature here.

 

8th ST KILDA – 11 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Jade Gresham, Rowan Marshall, Tim Membrey

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Jack Steele, Brad Hill, Dougal Howard

DOWNGRADED

Jake Carlisle

 

This is where you realise just how good a trade period the Saints had. Not only do they grab Brad Hill, who is one of the best wingers in the game, but they snare Dougal Howard, who has the potential to become one of the top two or three defenders in the game.

Marshall is already a blue-chipper, and with a good pair of hands, his combination with Paddy Ryder SHOULD give teams trouble both in the ruck and up forward. But then again, we said that about the Lycett/Ryder combo last year, and here we are.

I’ve left Jack Billings off the list because after six years in the system, I expected more from him at this stage. He shows glimpses (usually early in the season) before tapering off. The potential to be an A-Grader is still there, but he needs to be more than a cameo actor in the story of the 2020 Saints. He needs to be in a starring role, and he gets plenty of opportunity to do so. It’s now up to him.

I’m a big fan of Jack Steele, and I reckon he has the capacity to become an Elliot Yeo-like player for the Saints. Already the number one tackler in the game, Steele should be ready to explode in 2020.

Finally, Jake Carlisle… I’ve sold my stock in him. Sold it ages ago, and I reckon with Howard coming on board, the Saints should have sold theirs as well.

 

9th SYDNEY – 10 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Lance Franklin, Dane Rampe

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Isaac Heeney, Nick Blakey, George Hewett, Callum Mills, Jordan Dawson

DOWNGRADED

Josh Kennedy

 

Buddy is still an A-Grader… just, but the Swans need players to either step up into the role of stars, or step aside and allow someone else to do the job. I love what Heeney brings to the table – he is athletic, strong and can play anywhere, but is he any different to the player he was two years ago? At his best, he is wonderful, but without a designated position, he is destined to remain a Mr Fix-It kind of player for the Swans and I’m unsure that allows him to fulfil his potential.

George Hewett is one that should emerge from the rather large shadow of Josh Kennedy in the next 12 months. His clearance work was second only to the ageing bull, and his defensive work was very underrated.

Blakey showed plenty and looks to have all the tools to go on and become a fantastic player in the forward half for the Swans, and I added Jordan Dawson as one who could surprise plenty. He really took some strides forward in 2019, and with an excellent pair of hands and great skills by foot, he could make the leap into the upper echelon of players quite easily if he adds just one more thing to his arsenal. Whether that is hitting the scoreboard, or becoming an intercept mark expert, I guess we’ll soon see.

And this is nothing against Josh Kennedy at all, but I think it is fair to say he is a step or two, and five touches per game or so behind where he was a couple of years ago. He should be able to scale back a little now and allow the players like Heeney, Hewett and Mills to pick up the slack, but whether or not they’ll make the step and allow that to happen will be interesting to see.

 

10th ADELAIDE – 9 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Rory Sloane, Matt Crouch, Rory Laird

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Darcy Fogarty, Wayne Milera

DOWNGRADED

Taylor Walker, Tom Lynch

 

I felt a little bad downgrading Tom Lynch here. When he was on the park this season, he made a real impact. He is one of those players that can’t help but get his hands on the footy, and when you play half forward and rack up 20+ touches, you’re inevitably gonna hurt the opposition.

But he is just hurt too often.

16 games in 2018 and 17 in 2019 means that he is missing a game every 3-4 weeks on average. Yep, he’s been downgraded, but a solid season could see him elevated again pretty quickly.

As for Tex, well I reckon he is about five kilograms too heavy at the moment – all in the lower half of his body. He can’t get off the ground, and turns like a container ship. Still capable of making an impact here and there, but his days of being a consistent A-Grader are gone.

I’m a massive Fog fan, and he’ll need to have a consistent 15-18 game season in order to take the next step. As much as I like to hype him up, and I do, he played just four games in 2019. Milera is the one who could explode. He threatened to early in 2019 before tapering off after injury. At 22 years old for the 2020 season, his emergence may aid the Crows’ resurgence.

 

11th HAWTHORN – 9 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Tom Mitchell, Luke Breust

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Jaeger O’Meara, Chad Wingard, James Worpel, James Sicily

DOWNGRADED

Jack Gunston

 

The Hawks are an interesting case study. Any of O’Meara, Wingard and Sicily are capable of moving into the top bracket quite easily, and I reckon Worpel is 12 months away from doing the same.

If anything positive came out of Tom Mitchell’s 2019 absence, the emergence of Worpel was probably it, but it also allowed the Hawks to see that O’Meara is much better suited to playing second fiddle to someone in the middle. He gets his hands on it, but too often cannot get the time or space to deliver effectively, which should be the classy O’Meara’s strength. With Mitchell back, the secondary role is exactly what he needs.

Luke Breust was 20 goals down on his 2018 output, but was forced to be something he wasn’t in 2019, often having to fly for marks, when crumbing and creating goals is more his stock in trade. I wonder if the recruitment of Jon Patton has an impact on his goal tally in 2020?

Question marks will linger over Mitchell’s health until he racks up 45 touches in a game and Hawks fans breathe easier. Broken legs… they’re tricky, but all signs are positive for him at the moment.

Jack Gunston was another forward down on form in 2019. He was 25 goals down on his 2018 All-Australian form and will need to turn it around for the Hawks to improve. After one All-Australian berth, it was back to the pack with Gunston this season.

 

12th WESTERN BULLDOGS – 9 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Aaron Naughton, Josh Dunkley, Lachie Hunter, Bailey Smith

DOWNGRADED

Jason Johannisen

 

It was so tempting to throw Dunkley into the mix as an A-Grader, but I resisted temptation. He leapt about seven touches per game in 2019 but making the leap and sustaining it are two very different things. Let’s give Dunks another year before we anoint the Bulldogs midfield trio as the new holy trinity.

Really loved what I saw from Aaron Naughton this season, and with Josh Bruce taking a bit of the marking heat from him in 2020, we may see him with a bit more time and space to work his opponent over. He’s still 19, and has a huge amount of room for improvement to come. Already one mark shy of the all-time contested grabs record (held by Wayne Carey) could 2020 be the year that Naughton truly arrives?

Have also seen a lot to like in Bailey Smith. He has a bit of fire in the belly, and knows how to find the footy.

With JJ, teams have worked out that to stop the Dogs’ run from half back, you put the clamps on him, and currently, JJ is still trying to work out how to combat that.

 

13th GEELONG – 9 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Patrick Dangerfield, Tom Hawkins, Gary Ablett

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Tom Stewart

DOWNGRADED

Joel Selwood

 

This was a shock to me, and there’ll be some who look at this and say “oh, he’s a Hawthorn supporter talking down Geelong” but they’d be a fair way off the mark.

You see, I admire what the Cats have done, and I think that the addition of Josh Jenkins is a killer move – possibly in the top two or three moves this off-season – but in terms of genuine game breakers, the Cats are pretty thin.

Initially I didn’t have Gaz in there as an A-Grader, but realised I’d been sucked in to thinking negatively about him given the way he ended 2019. The first half of his year was excellent. Danger is a no-brainer (I mean that in the nicest possible way) and Hawkins remains one of the most potent power forwards in the caper.

However, after those guys, the drop off is significant. The Cats have a lot of serviceable players, but I could see just one that would be a threat to move into the elite category. Tom Stewart’s back-to-back All-Australian gigs are representative of his enormous talent but the drop off after him is sharp.

Do we add Blicavs? As a defender? If he is so good, why would Chris Scott insist on playing him on the wing in big games? Mitch Duncan? A bit too wasteful by foot for my liking. Yes, the Cats have a lot of good players, and they complement each other very well, but in terms of the next level of standouts, I’m not sure they have too many coming through ready to take that mantle.

They did have one, but he is now an Eagle.

And now I come to Joel Selwood. Though he elevated his game in the finals, the fact he wasn’t a part of the Geelong midfield rotation for the majority of the season indicates his time as a consistent ball winner may be over. He’ll play game 300 in 2020 and has been one of the greatest captains not just at Geelong, but in footy.

Those who have read my stuff for a while know I’m a mark for Selwood, but at some point, he has to start declining. I think we may have seen the beginning of that in 2019.

 

14th PORT ADELAIDE – 8 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Travis Boak, Robbie Gray

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Connor Rozee, Xavier Duursma, Dan Houston, Darcy Byrne-Jones

DOWNGRADED

Ollie Wines, Charlie Dixon

 

It has to be a real worry that the two listed A-Graders for Port are in their thirties, but that’s how it stands. Boak, to his credit, is coming off a career-best season. God only knows where Port would have finished without him in 2019.

Gray, on the other hand, had probably his worst season in the last five years, dipping to 1.26 goals per game and being unable to produce those games where he put his stamp on proceedings. He remains, however, a supremely gifted small forward/mid and will go down as one of the best Port players of all time.

The problem is that the man who should have led the next generation of A-Graders at the POWER (Not THE POWER, and not The Power… what a wank) took a step backwards after being named co-captain. Ollie Wines slipped down the pecking order in 2019, dipping under 26 touches per game, under five tackles per game, and recorded his lowest contested possession rate since his rookie season.

Whilst I expect Wines to bounce back in 2020, even after the rumours of him testing the Carlton waters surfaced, Port fans are looking to the excellent crop of youngsters, headlined by Connor Rozee as A-Graders in the making. Both he and Xavier Duursma look to be well on track to become fixtures in the Power team, and could be followed by Zak Butters pretty soon.

The emergence of Dan Houston as a midfielder added some depth to the Power in the middle, and allowed Darcy Byrne-Jones to flourish as an attacking defender. Either one of those two could make the leap into the A-Grade category in the next 12 months.

 

15th MELBOURNE – 8 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Clayton Oliver, Max Gawn

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Bayley Fritsch, Angus Brayshaw, Steven May, Christian Petracca

DOWNGRADED

Tom McDonald, Jack Viney

 

The world seemed to be at the feet of the Demons after 2018, didn’t it? Gawn and Oliver were at the peak of their powers, but it was the next wave coming through that seemed to buoy their hopes. Angus Brayshaw finished third in the Brownlow and looked to be the next great Demon mid.

How times change. Jack Viney returned to the midfield full time and seemingly accomplished two things in 2019; he got sat on his ass by Sydney Stack, and he took the spot of Brayshaw in the guts, stifling the young bloke’s development, whilst posting his own lowest statistical return for five years.

We all heard about the hardness of Viney, and the way he plays the game… the commentators rammed it down our throats every time he went near the footy. The problem was that Viney went near the footy substantially less than Melbourne expected him to. It’s a slide he needs to arrest immediately in 2020.

The other slide was more like an avalanche. That was the velocity of Tom McDonald’s decline in 2019. After taking on the role of number one forward, TMac’s goals per game average dipped by more than half, and had it not been for his six goal bag in his final game of the season, he would have been clocking in at under a goal per game.

I’ve yet to read a valid reason for TMac’s sudden inability to hit the scoreboard, and one would hope that 2019 was the anomaly for him… not 2018.

 

16th ESSENDON – 7 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Michael Hurley, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Orazio Fantasia, Patrick Ambrose, Dylan Shiel

DOWNGRADED

Joe Daniher, David Zaharakis

 

I’ll start with Shiel, because I believe he has it in him to become a genuine A-Grader, particularly as he just completed his first year at a new club, and carried himself well during it… except for his kicking – he still needs work.

Shiel will be better for the run at Essendon, and will welcome the return of his former teammate, Dev Smith to provide a bit more midfield grunt.

Michael Hurley is a fantastic defender to watch. With his heart on his sleeve, you know what you’re going to get from him, and his contests with whomever he matches up on provides one of the better viewing experiences at the footy. Both he and Darcy Moore at Collingwood are two blokes who genuinely take their man on and win – it’s rare to see a defender take that kind of responsibility.

If he can aid in the further development of Patrick Ambrose in 2020, who is having a career renaissance, the Bombers could add a second A-Grade defender to their coffers. Ambrose is rarely beaten but lacks the exposure of other, more prolific defenders. Those at Essendon realise his value, and I would expect the wider football world to become more aware of him as the 2020 season progresses.

However, the stocks of Joe Daniher are nowhere near the level they once were… as evidenced by the difference between what the Bombers wanted for him, and what Sydney were willing to provide. Another injury-plagued season for Joe would see his grade drop again, but if he can produce anything like the form he did on one leg on ANZAC Day last season, the Swans might be eager to get the chequebook out.

So, why is Zach Merrett not an A-Grader? Two reasons – I reckon he wastes it (as does Heppell) and he is playing a role he’s probably not equipped to play. His best seasons have come when he has been deployed as an outside runner, however with the lack of genuine ball-winners in the Essendon midfield, Merrett is sucked into contests to even things up. He is playing a stop-gap role when his ideal use is similar to 2017 when the Bombers had a legit warrior in Jobe Watson in and under, farming the footy out.

Set Zach free, and reap the rewards.

 

17th GOLD COAST – 6 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

None

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Ben King, Izak Rankine, Ben Ainsworth, Alex Sexton, Jack Lukosius, Charlie Ballard

DOWNGRADED

None

 

This isn’t a hatchet job by any stretch – look at the potential A-Graders… if the Suns can retain them all, they’re definitely coming, but as it stands, it is pretty fair to say that there is no one on the Suns list right now that is a genuine A-Grade player.

I toyed with the idea of adding Jarrod Witts to the top bracket, but for the amount of times he gets his hands on the footy, he doesn’t seem to pin point a teammate with his taps, instead dropping it at his feet and allowing for a scrap to take place.

Regardless, the Suns are loading up with the kids coming through, with the three from the 2018 draft two thirds re-signed, and with two more top-flight kids incoming in a month, they will once again have a solid nucleus to build around.

Alex Sexton could improve again, after kicking 39 goals in 2019. I’d like to see him lower his eyes a little more instead of blazing away every time he gets his hands on the pill. I know his role is to kick goals, but there were plenty of times he had teammates in scoring positions last season, and he brnt them y going for an improbable goal.

Charlie Ballard is developing into a very handy defender, and Ben Ainsworth is starting to emerge from under the radar of other teams. With 12 games in 2019, I expect him to enter 2020 absolutely flying.

 

18th CARLTON – 4 points

CURRENT A-GRADERS

Patrick Cripps

POTENTIAL A-GRADERS

Sam Walsh, Charlie Curnow, Harry McKay

DOWNGRADED

Sam Docherty, Kade Simpson

 

And the knives come out.

Are the Blues as cherry ripe to improve as everyone thinks? If their three potential A-Graders make the leap, then yes they are, however if they don’t, the Blues will stagnate.

Again.

Charlie Curnow has already damaged his knee and will start pre-season late, whilst Harry McKay’s 26 goals in 2019 will need to jump to the mid-to-high 30s to truly make the Blues potent up forward.

After two years out, we cannot be expecting the world from Sam Docherty. He will round into the season, but after two knee reconstructions and no footy played between, he will take a while to find his feet.

Kade Simpson will still play the role of dependable defender, but there were moments last season where he ran straight into trouble and turned the ball over. It appears the Blues have no Plan B in terms of who replaces him back there, hence him spending another season in navy blue. Doc will help, but it’s a lot of pressure on a guy who might be dragging a leg around at times.

The big positives for the Blues are Cripps, who is a monster, and the first season of Sam Walsh. Even a marginal improvement from Walsh and the Blues have their second A-Grader.

 

So there we go. I am sure plenty of people will chime in with how full of shit I am. I mean, I’m no snarky reddit expert or anything, right? Maybe one day…

As always, happy debate. Leave your take in the comments here, or on our socials and I’ll get back to you.