We all love The Beatles, right?

No?

We can’t be friends…

The one thing I loved about the Beatles was the optimist v pessimist relationship between McCartney and Lennon that was most evident on the track ‘Getting Better’. As McCartney sang about how things were improving, Lennon would chime in with “they can’t get no worse.”

And it is here that we find ourselves in the off-season before 2020 creeps around to make our lives complete once more. Each team has players who should undoubtedly improve in the new season. Whether it is a form slump, or first year at a new club, some players simply have to improve to resurrect a failing career, make a statement, or hang onto their position at the club, an improvement is expected. In some cases it will be demanded.

After the resounding success and universal acclaim for the A-Graders Ladder (ahem…) I thought I may as well strike while the iron’s hot and give you the players who have something to prove in 2020.

Please take note – this is an edited article. The full list, featuring over 40 players is available for Patrons. Please consider joining to support our site in staying betting-ad free.

ADELAIDE

TOM LYNCH

When Tom Lynch is up and running, the Crows are an infinitely better team. The problem is, recently he cannot stay on the park. While his numbers are still excellent, it seems as though every time Lynch starts to gain some momentum, his body fails him and he spends a couple of weeks on the sidelines, robbing him of continuity, and robbing the Crows of one of their most potent weapons.

For the past five seasons Lynch has hovered around the 20 disposals per game mark as a half forward. His tank is elite, and after edging back over a goal per game in 2019, perhaps there is still some quality to come from the former Saint.

So, what does he require to hep elevate the Crows? 20 touches, 20 games, and 30+ goals would do wonders for Adelaide, and remind people just how good the “other” Tom Lynch is.

BRISBANE

DANIEL MCSTAY

I likened him to a guy who can’t walk and fart at the same time a few weeks ago, inasmuch as he either takes contested grabs and misses goals, or kicks goals and doesn’t take contested grabs.

He took 31 marks inside 50 in 2019, and 42 contested grabs overall, but finished with just 21 goals for the season. McStay needs to start converting and he needs to pull his finger out on it. The Lions were wasteful against the Tigers in the Qualifying Final, amassing 25 scoring shots to Richmond’s 22, yet went down by 47 points. McStay was not the main offender that day, but 53% conversion rate needs to show some improvement in 2020.

CARLTON

MITCH MCGOVERN

“It can’t get much worse…”

Thanks John Lennon.

McGovern’s 2019 was a stinker. Moving from the Crows to the Blues, McGovern seemed to drag whatever was ailing Adelaide with him to Carlton. Out of shape and unable make an impact, he was almost a liability.

With fewer than ten touches in ten of his 16 games for the Blues, Gov will need to get his body right, and start getting more heavily involved in general play. His 1.38 goals per game are respectable, but the Blues need something more like 30+ goals from him to justify his pay packet.

COLLINGWOOD

JOSH THOMAS

He was down 16 goals in 2019 on his previous year’s tally, and you’d put that down to the return of Jamie Elliott, who recommitted to the Pies instead of making the move to Brisbane. As soon as that deal was inked, Thomas’ place in the Collingwood team became a little less concrete.

Thomas’ deal is until after the 2021 season, but if the Magpie forwards are all healthy, where does he fit into the mix with De Goey, Stephenson, Elliot, Hoskin-Elliott, Cox and Mihocek? Who gets squeezed out? Thomas, or Hoskin-Elliott?

ESSENDON

ANDREW MCGRATH

Someone was trying to convince me that McGrath was a potential A-Grade player. Look, he might end up as one, but not based on what we’ve seen this far. He is basically the same player he was in his rookie season. I’ll wait while you look at the stats.

Okay, I’m done waiting. Whilst Tim Taranto and Hugh McCluggage have elevated their games, the Rising Star winner has stagnated. Not really a defender and not really a midfielder, McGrath needs to settle into a role and make it his own in 2020.

The problem is that I reckon his best spot is in the midfield, and he has to compete with Heppell, Shiel, and Merrett, who are all better currently at doing that which McGrath does best.

FREMANTLE

ADAM CERRA

Pick Five in the 2017 draft showed a fair bit in his first season, but was moved into defence by Ross Lyon in 2019. Is defence where he will stay under Justin Longmuir, or will the new coach see more in the abilities of Cerra?

There seems to be some openings in the Freo midfield currently, and a player with the talent of Cerra would have to be eyeing off one of those roles. Does he make the move into the midfield? Will he be satisfied remaining in defence? Cerra is contracted until the end of 2021 but with talks that Melbourne clubs are already interested in him, you’d like to see him move into a role where he can capitalise on his vast potential in the next 12 months.

GEELONG

SAM MENEGOLA

He’s a chronic underachiever. Menegola is a notch or two below Duncan on the Geelong totem pole, and reminds me a bit of a Ken doll. All seems okay at first glance, but when you look closely, something is definitely missing. Am I saying he has no balls? No, but I am saying that looks can be deceiving. He has a great pair of hands, and looks like a million bucks at points in games, but usually plays like he’s worth a buck and a half compared to others running around out there over the entire game.

Menegola is 27 and experienced a decent decline in output in 2019. Maybe the absence of Tim Kelly allows the Cats to shuffle the deck and Menegola more time to operate in the middle? He’d want to hope so.

GOLD COAST

LACHIE WELLER

I really can’t shake how much Weller cost the Suns, and though he showed signs in 2019, averaging 22 touches per game playing largely in defence, Weller has the opportunity to elevate his game an start to do away with those perceptions that he was not worth what the Suns gave up for him.

Whilst he is no way in danger of being displaced at Gold Coast, Weller has the opportunity to be a driving force behind the Suns’ rise up the ladder over the next few seasons.

GWS

JOSH KELLY

Righto Mr A-Grader, Mr Rolls Royce… you’ll be 25 years old by the time the 2020 season kicks into gear. It’s time that people stopped attaching the word “potential” to your name and started attaching the word “superstar”.

Josh Kelly could be the difference between GWS making another Grand Final and bowing out in the first or second week of the finals. He has all the tools to be one of the best players in the league, yet come September, it was Tim Taranto standing up for the Giants whilst Kelly..

.. well he kind of went through the motions. He is too good to be the fourth best midfielder on this GWS team, but right now that’s where I’ve got him sitting – behind Coniglio, Whitfield and Taranto, with Jacob Hopper making up ground fast. Yes, he was great in 2017, but the Giants need him to be great again in 2020. If he isn’t, maybe the word “potential” will still be attached to his name, with another word accompanying it – “wasted”.

HAWTHORN

ISAAC SMITH

Are the rumours about potential trades enough to give Smith a foot up the backside in 2020? Smith has cruised along for the past couple of seasons, collecting his 21 or 22 touches per game but has only very rarely put his foot on the throat of an opposition. There are those who would say that Smith only needs 20 touches to truly hurt an opposition, and they’d be correct at times.

However, it’s the quality of those touches that and the distance he’s generating for the team that’s a little bit of a worry. Ricky Henderson was more important to Hawthorn in 2019 than Smith was, and with Tom Scully having another year under his belt (and a full pre-season) I expect more of the hard run to be provided by him. 2020 will see a 30 year old Isaac Smith run out for the Hawks. He needs to lift his game if the Hawks are to leap back into the eight. At the moment, he is in cruise control, and has been for a while.

MELBOURNE

STEVEN MAY

So, how’d those trades go? Dees lose Jesse Hogan to Freo, Suns lose Steven May to Melbourne, Freo loses pick six to Gold Coast and Gold Coast drafts Ben King, who has just recommitted to the team. As of right now, the Suns are way out in front on those transactions, but after a season of injury, lack of fitness and some undisciplined play, there is the chance that Steven May could have worked things out.

He learnt a harsh lesson about being under-prepared in 2019 and simply has to do better this coming season. He was supposed to underpin the Demon defence and actually undermined them instead last season. This is his chance to make a positive impact, and truth be told, he owes the Demons a big season.

NORTH MELBOURNE

JED ANDERSON

This bloke is one of the most underrated players in the game, which is probably why he plays for North – so many people overlook the talent coming through on their list.

Anderson adds a hard edge to the North midfield to give Ben Cunnington aid, and can influence a game with his physicality as much as he can in winning the ball. At 20 touches per game, some may think he is doing enough, but after a horror stretch with injury and illness, Anderson has put together two solid years, and at 25 years old, should be ready to make another step.

North has some class emerging in Davies-Uniacke and still possesses the class of Shaun Higgins. Anderson’s fierce competitive nature and willingness to throw his body in is the perfect complement to the silk (both current and emerging) of Higgins/LDU and the grunt of Cunnington/Simpkin. If he gets going in 2020, I could see North really surprising a few people.

PORT ADELAIDE

SAM POWELL-PEPPER

Potential… dirty, dirty word. There were those comparing SPP to a young Dustin Martin at one stage. Those comparisons have ceased, as Powell-Pepper failed to take a forward step in 2019.

A midfield battering ram, SPP looked messy at times in 2019, kicking indiscriminately forward and appearing more as a manic, under 14 hacker than a third year inside mid at AFL level.

He was back in the SANFL for a game at the midway point of the season, which should have sent a loud and clear message to him, but his inability to have composure with the footy in hand plagued him all season.

It must be noted that SPP is still just 21 years old (22 in January). There should be a large amount of organic improvement as his tank develops and he can become more consistent and less of a burst player. With so many Port stars on the wrong side of 30, and with their emerging stars under 20, SPP needs to be one who bridges the gap and makes Port a force again.

And it needs to start in 2020.

RICHMOND

JACK RIEWOLDT

I’d be interested to hear from tiger fans as to where they think they would have finished without Tom Lynch in 2019, particularly given the horrid season Riewoldt experienced.

After sneaking in to snag ten goals against the Suns in 2018 and pinch the Coleman, Riewoldt had a big letdown in 2019, suffering a couple of injuries to severely limit his influence on the season. Luckily, that decision to lure Lynch from the Suns was made, and it paid huge dividends.

That said, given the competitive nature of Riewoldt, you’d be hard pressed to think he’d be satisfied with the way his season panned out. Yes, a premiership wallpapers over a lot of cracks, but personally, Jack’s 2019 is largely forgettable, and say what you will about him, forgettable is not usually a word associated with him.

ST KILDA

DAN HANNEBERY

Fell down the stairs at his sister’s house already this off-season, breaking his foot. Way to go, Dan.

After signing a 4+1 deal with the Saints, Hannebery managed just five games for the season. The good news is he played the last three games… IN A ROW! How this latest injury impacts his pre-season, and then his 2020 remains to be seen, but upon hearing the news of his broken foot, how many of you rolled your eyes? I certainly did.

The Saints spoke about rebuilding Hanners in 2019. They recruited a bloke who needed to be rebuilt? At 29 before the season begins, St Kilda will be wanting/needing something big out of Hannebery this season. He is three years removed from AA selection, and four years removed from being crowned the coaches association’s player of the year. How much of that form has not been compromised by his ailing body? The Saints will be hoping he can get 15-18 games in 2020.

How many think that is realistic?

SYDNEY

ISAAC HEENEY

Righto Ike, time to start shining. And righto Horse, time to pick a position for this budding star.

Heeney has been Sydney’s Mr Fix It, being thrown all over the park depending on need, but does using him as a red and white band aid prevent him from really taking flight as an elite player in the competition?

Here are a few numbers to back up the belief that Heeney is stagnating in his current role at Sydney.

2017 – 20.55 possessions, 5.0 marks, and 2.90 inside 50s per game

2018 – 20.36 possessions, 4.5 marks, and 2.95 inside 50s per game

2019 – 20.05 possessions, 5.73 marks, and 2.95 inside 50s per game

Lower clearance numbers and slightly higher contested mark numbers indicate that Heeney is changing his game slightly, but the Swans need him to have a breakout season, and to do so in a position where he can make a difference; not as a stop gap.

WEST COAST

NIC NAITANUI

Five games in 2019, 15 in 2018… the Eagles have one glaring weakness in a formidable team, and that is that when Nic Nat is injured, the drop off is sharp.

Tom Hickey is serviceable, but he is not going to win you games, and against the monsters… well, he’ll get monstered. But no one monsters Naitanui, and in 2020, the Eagles need him to start doing some of the monstering, himself.

West Coast have the midfield to rival any in the competition, but too often in 2019 found themselves having to rove to the opposition big man. It put them on the back foot and prevented Adam Simpson from being able to structure stoppages the way he wanted. With a fit and firing Naitanui feeding a midfield now boasting Tim Kelly, the Eagles are immediately a better team.

They just need to keep the big fella on the park.

WESTERN BULLDOGS

TIM ENGLISH

You know how schools have anti-bullying programs? Maybe the AFL should start one for players, because Brodie Grundy bullied the shit out of Tim English last season… and it has to stop.

This is largely on English – no one else can do this for him. If Brodie Grundy is the blonde kid from karate kid, Tim English needs to channel his best Ralph Macchio, stand on one leg and crane kick Grundy right in the damn chin!

Metaphorically, of course.

English has shown plenty, and the Dogs are being patient, but they are on the cusp of contending again, and they can’t afford to wait forever. English has to start matching the real big men of the league physically and hurting them on the outside. He’s got to at least break even and not be dominated.

It can be done – look at Rowan Marshall at St Kilda. He simply will not permit another big man to get to him – there is a sense of pride about the way he plays. English needs a touch of that about him. He needs some F-U, some ratbag, and some… mongrel in him.

Imagine that trio of Bont, Macrae and Dunkley if they start getting first use from English? It could get messy for opposition teams.

So there you go. Don’t forget a full 8K-word article with dozens more players addressed is available for Patrons. It’s about five bucks a month to help support us and keep the site betting-ad free. No one wants betting ads on The Mongrel… no one. Who did we miss, and who did we get wrong?