One of my favourite parts of the off-season is when Champion Data confirms that a lot of the people they have analysing the game don’t actually watch football.
And it’s that time again, as the stat gurus have released their list of “elite” players in the AFL.
Now, before I begin, we wrote an article about this last year, right around this time, and we got some blowback as to why we didn’t do our own list, and how it’s easy to pick holes in someone else’s work.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s have a look at what Champion Data have cobbled together, shall we?
We shall. And it’ll save you forty bucks when you don’t have to buy the rip-off that is the AFL Prospectus. Seriously, that is the biggest waste of money in football. They say the coaches use it… possibly as back up toilet paper.
So how do these blokes stack up to your eye-test? When you watch them, do you consider them elite? Do they do the things that make a difference? Or are they just hitting some sort of algorithm that allows them to slot into this list, and that’s it?
Brodie Smith (General defender)
Taylor Walker (Key forward)
A bit of a stretch here, having Tex rated as elite. Watching games last season, he rarely impacted the outcome and went missing when the Crows needed someone to stand up.
Walker gets rated as elite as a key forward, yet Tom Lynch (Richmond) and Ben Brown don’t? Hmmmm….
As for Brodie Smith, he had a very solid 2019 after missing most of 2018, but is he someone who should be considered elite? We’ll look at his competition amongst general defenders a bit later to assess.
Dayne Zorko (Midfielder)
Daniel Rich (General defender)
Mitch Robinson (Wing)
Jarryd Lyons (Midfielder)
Harris Andrews (Key defender)
Lachie Neale (Midfielder)
This is a nice list, but I think they’re probably being a little too accommodating for Jarryd Lyons and not very accommodating at all for Charlie Cameron. Charlie was the best small forward in the game in 2019 but I think CD rates players as “general forwards” as opposed to specific roles. Amore specific rating system, encompassing small forwards as an individual category, would see Charlie ranked right at the top.
Mitch Robinson on the wing is a nice addition, however would you have him rated elite over Hugh McCluggage? Very different players, I know, but they’re both playing pure wing roles. One is elite. The other is not, but I reckon there’d be a fair few people that’d reverse their preference of who makes the cut.
Patrick Cripps (Midfielder)
As expected. Cripps flies the flag for Carlton, and will need one or two others to stamp themselves as elite performers if the Blues are any chance to move out of the bottom third of the ladder.
Is it Docherty that establishes himself as an elite defender, or does he get some genuine help in the middle?
Brodie Grundy (Ruckman)
Darcy Moore (Key defender)
Decent player that Pendlebury guy, isn’t he? I’m actually very surprised that he isn’t on this list, particularly given the season he just had.
In contrast, I’m not surprised at all that Jordan de Goey is missing. Superstar status has been bestowed upon him far too quickly and is something that needs to be earned; not given.
I’m not sure what else Adam Treloar has to do to start generating a bit of respect, and the omission of Steele Sidebottom obviously has not taken into account him operating in a very different role to 2018. He played a fair amount of time on the wing in 2019, or at least as a very outside midfielder. It’d be interesting to see what CD categorises him as.
Crisp and Maynard at half back, and even Jeremy Howe had to have been close. Maybe Crisp’s time in the middle hurt his defensive rating?
Zach Merrett (Midfielder)
Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (General forward)
Conor McKenna (General defender)
I got some blowback in the A-Grade ladder comments about not having Zach Merrett in there as elite, but CD rates him, so maybe I was wrong. I’m happy to concede, but would much rather see Merrett able to play the pure outside role that he is best at, rather than being forced to compensate for the Bombers’ lack of inside mids.
McKenna as elite… my jury is well and truly out on this. Maybe he displayed a bit of form in the Gaelic league this off-season? Or don’t we know about that yet?
Seriously though, McKenna has all the tools to be elite, and so does Adam Saad. Right now, with the benefit of watching games, I’d have them a level or two below that standard.
Nat Fyfe (Midfielder)
Yep – fair call, but Michael Walters would have been agonisingly close, wouldn’t he? Kicking down the fucking door, I reckon.
I also think that a fit Alex Pearce is a lock for elite status as long as he can stay healthy. His start to 2019 was brilliant. It will be interesting to see which Dockers steps up their game in 2020.
Patrick Dangerfield (Midfielder)
Gary Ablett (General forward)
And people mocked me when I had only three Cats as A-Graders i the column linked above. Mock Champion Data – not me! At least I had Tom Hawkins as elite… which he is.
I’m surprised that Tom Stewart doesn’t make the grade for CD. He seems like the sort that is a stats-monster, but obviously there is something missing from his game as a general defender according to them. Makes me feel better about myself.
GOLD COAST (1)
Hugh Greenwood (Mid-forward)
Really happy to see Greenwood get recognised, but I am not sure he is in truly elite company just yet. The mid-forward category assigned probably aids him a bit here, but it is the potential A-Graders at Gold Coast that “should” hold them in good stead going forward.
King, Rankine, Ballard and then add the kids from the new draft crop… they could be a monster team in the next few years if things go their way and Greenwood can improve as his gametime in the middle increases.
Zac Williams (General defender)
Jeremy Finlayson (Key forward)
Jeremy Cameron (Key forward)
Lachie Whitfield (Mid-forward)
Callan Ward (Midfielder)
Stephen Coniglio (Midfielder)
Not sure I’d have Finlayson in as elite, especially if we use the “you’re only as good as your last game” criteria.
Ward, after being out for the year is a bit of a stretch as well, but his form over the last few years as consistently great. Williams, Whitfield, Cameron and Coniglio are all walk-up starts for elite/A-grade status.
I’d like to know what Nick Haynes has to do to be considered elite, and if the form of Toby Greene isn’t enough to have him in the top bracket, I’ll headbutt a cop.
Also, Lachie Whitfield is an elite mid/forward now? He kicked 11 goals in 2019 and had around the same number of rebound 50s as he had inside 50s. That’s a poor positional decision. He’s a midfielder. The way Coniglio was sneaking forward in 2019 he’d be a better candidate to be rated as a mid/forward than Whitfield.
Ben McEvoy (Ruckman)
Luke Breust (General forward)
Ricky Henderson (Wing)
So hang on… Callan Ward sits out the year and is rated elite. Majak Daw sits out the year and is rated elite. Tom Mitchell wins the Brownlow, wins the MVP, gets injured and sits out the year and… nah, sorry Tom? I don’t pretend to understand this system.
Surprising to see McEvoy in as elite. I don’t think he is anywhere near as dominant as the Grundy/Gawn/Goldstein types of the footy world, but there ya go.
Breust had a bit of a down year, but is still one of the best small forwards in the game.
Henderson’s career-best season probably saw him in front of the Hawks’ B&F halfway through the season.
Max Gawn (Ruckman)
Gawn is probably the only player deserving of elite status at Melbourne, but they have plenty that can push into that bracket over the next 12 months. Oh, maybe Clayton Oliver as well. he does a lot of the grunt work, yet gets minimal credit compared to some performing similar roles.
Brayshaw, Petracca, May, Lever… they could all be in the elite bracket with one good season under their belt at the Dees.
NORTH MELBOURNE (3)
Todd Goldstein (Ruckman)
Majak Daw (Key defender)
Ben Cunnington (Midfielder)
That Ben Brown guy must have slept with someone’s wife at Champion Data. 60+ goals in three straight seasons, yet the bloke can’t be considered elite.
But Taylor Walker is?
Robbie Tarrant disrespected again… he’d be used to it by now, I guess.
Putting it out there right now – I reckon Jared Polec is right back in the mix in terms of elite in his second season at Arden Street. With a whole year learning how the Roos play, I think we’ll see him emerge as a potent weapon once again.
Cunnington a more than worthy addition to the elite bracket, but surprising that Shaun Higgins didn’t join him. Another career-best stat year for Higgins in 2019.
PORT ADELAIDE (1)
Travis Boak (Midfielder)
Not a pretty picture for Port, with Boak the only representative. Robbie Gray would have to be thereabouts, but the emergence of players like Darcy Byrne-Jones, Connor Rozee, Dan Houston and Xavier Duursma could be their saving grace.
Of them, I wouldn’t be surprised to see DBJ rated as elite by the end of the season, and Ollie Wines has a bit to prove as well.
Dustin Martin (Mid-forward)
Dion Prestia (Midfield)
Shane Edwards (General defender)
Nick Vlastuin (General defender)
Sydney Stack (General defender)
Given Majak Daw made the North Melbourne list, I’d like to know the reason Alex Rance isn’t on the Richmond list? I suppose I could do some research, but I much prefer uneducated complaining. That’s why you like me, right?
I reckon Dylan Grimes is one of those players that is great in terms of the eye test, but fails the CD test. I know which one I’d prefer to be.
Even after a disappointing year, Jack Riewoldt is an A-Grader in my book, and so is Tom Lynch. Did CD miss some of those dominant forward performances late in the season?
Interesting to see Sydney Stack rated as elite by Champion Data already. I had him as a potential A-Grader, and I recon Shai Bolton is the one to keep an eye on at Richmond.
ST KILDA (2)
Paddy Ryder (Ruckman)
Rowan Marshall (Ruckman)
So, Ryder is elite, huh? Is that why he couldn’t stay in the struggling Port Adelaide side in 2019? Makes sense…
Rapt to see Marshall recognised for his efforts. He was a genuine find for the Saints, and has turned himself into a potentially dominant ruckman. I genuinely can’t wait for him to start taking it up to Grundy and Gawn.
Dougal Howard is the one I can see jumping out of the box at the Saints. With the tools he has, if played in position and injury-free, he should make the list by the end of 2020.
Dane Rampe (Key defender)
Lance Franklin (Key forward)
These two are the usual suspects for the Swans, but Buddy faltered in 2019, to the ppint it started to look as though that 1000 goal mark might have been looking like a bridge too far. An early start to pre-season is a great sign that the big fella may not yet be done with his elite status.
And this is a nice tip of the hat for Rampe, who had a stellar defensive season overshadowed by a couple of bizarre incidents.
WEST COAST (6)
Nic Naitanui (Ruckman)
Jeremy McGovern (Key defender)
Jack Darling (Key forward)
Elliott Yeo (Midfielder)
Jamie Cripps (General forward)
Shannon Hurn (General defender)
If fit and firing, Nic Nat is elite, but have we seen that recently? If this is supposed to be the top ten percent of each position, I’m starting to wonder how many ruckmen we have in the league?
Cripps has been underrated as a forward for a while, and I’ve even seen him as the whipping boy for some Eagles fans. When he is on, the Eagles are as well.
McGovern, Yeo, Hurn and Darling are no brainers. Not that I think they have no brains… I meant in terms of their status in the game.
Yes, of course I did.
WESTERN BULLDOGS (4)
Marcus Bontempelli (Midfielder)
Matthew Suckling (General defender)
Jack Macrae (Midfielder)
Caleb Daniel (General defender)
Hey, where’s Josh Dunkley?
Wanna know how I know that actual in-game performance, or impact on a game isn’t taken into account with these lists? The addition of Caleb Daniel as an elite general defender. He was exploited at times by intelligent forwards and at one point was cleanly losing many of his one-on-one contests in the air.
The Dogs were 7-10 with Daniel in the team in 2019, and as much as they like his disposal from half back, I reckon his presence there was responsible for plenty of goals for the opposition.
And yeah, Matt Suckling doesn’t belong on this list. He is a great kick of the footy, but that’s about it.
So, if we go by position, here are the elite players in the league.
KEY POSITION DEFENDER – HARRIS ANDREWS, DARCY MOORE, MAJAK DAW, DANE RAMPE, JEREMY MCGOVERN
GENERAL DEFENDER – BRODIE SMITH, DANIEL RICH, CONOR MCKENNA, ZAC WILLIAMS, SHANE EDWARDS, NICK VLASTUIN, SYDNEY STACK, SHANNON HURN, MATT SUCKLING, CALEB DANIEL
WING – MITCH ROBINSON, RICKY HENDERSON
MIDFIELDER – DAYNE ZORKO, JARRYD LYONS, LACHIE NEALE, PATRICK CRIPPS, ZACH MERRETT, NAT FYFE, PATRICK DANGERFIELD, CALLAN WARD, STEPHEN CONIGLIO, BEN CUNNINGTON, TRAVIS BOAK, DION PRESTIA, ELLIOT YEO, MARCUS BONTEMPELLI, JACK MACRAE
MID/FORWARD – HUGH GREENWOOD, LACHIE WHITFIELD, DUSTIN MARTIN
GENERAL FORWARD – ANTHONY MCDONALD-TIPUNGWUTI, GARY ABLETT, LUKE BREUST, JAMIE CRIPPS
KEY POSITION FORWARD – TAYLOR WALKER, JEREMY FINLAYSON, JEREMY CAMERON, LANCE FRANKLIN, JACK DARLING
RUCK – BRODIE GRUNDY, BEN MCEVOY, MAX GAWN, TODD GOLDSTEIN, PADDY RYDER, ROWAN MARSHALL, NIC NAITANUI
Seven rucks seems a little too many to my liking. Maybe 3-4 would be a little better?
Are the categories too general? General forward or general defender categories do not allow for the elusiveness of a Charlie Cameron, or the run of Adam Saad to be truly recognised. It lumps Tom Stewart in with Caleb Daniel. It probably needs some expanding to truly highlight those who are elite in their specialised positions.
Who are the glaring omissions? Off the top of my head – Rance, Sicily, Stewart, Hawkins, Dunkley, Shuey, Charlie Cameron, Treloar, Pendlebury, Crisp, Walters, Greene, Taranto, Tom Mitchell, Shaun Higgins, Tarrant, Riewoldt, Brad Hill, Houli and Papley.
So, who deserves to be rated as elite? Who should not have made the list? Forget the numbers Champion Data give you (or refuse to give you, more accurately). What do your eyes tell you? Seriously, who passes the eye test, and who is nowhere near it?
Keep your eyes out for the Mongrel members packages available very soon. Great Xmas present for someone you love… or barely like.