The X-Factor Countdown…

No, it’s not a shitty game show – it’s a shitty AFL countdown instead!


We often hear the phrase “x-factor” thrown around in footy circles as the intangible ingredient in the DNA of a player that makes him special. Really, I’m not much of a fan of intangibles  – I like things very tangible. I like to know what I’m getting and how often I’m getting it.

Read into that whatever you will.

With my non-too-subtle preferences in mind, I decided to construct a little formula to try to assess those who have the biggest impact on their teams with this mystical “x-factor” heading into the 2020 season.

I looked only at the 2019 season initially, and will try my hand at this again after the 2020 season as well to see just who stacked up the best when applying this formula. In looking at last year in isolation, I decided to include a few statistical layers and applied a very difficult mathematical formula (addition) to come up with a figure that captured the offensive output of the players.

Now, I should state right from the outset that I opted to exclude key forwards from this countdown, so your traditional full forwards (Ben Brown, Jack Riewoldt, Jeremy Cameron) have been omitted.

Why exclude them?

Good question – it seemed like a good idea at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, and given tackles inside 50 are being used as a measurement tool, it probably wouldn’t be a huge stretch to add them, but the players I wanted to focus on are the zippy forwards, the pressure forwards, or the mids who head inside 50 and make an impact either with their goal kicking, or their tackling pressure. S0, sorry key forwards – maybe I will do one including you at some point… but it is not this day. This one belongs to the mids and small or medium forwards for the time being.

Next, I set a limit of 15 goals for each individual as a minimum for the 2019 season. Yep – it’s an arbitrary number, but one that would ultimately end up separating those who occasionally wander forward and slot a goal or two from those who do it regularly. As a result, there were some big names that missed out. I’m sure you’ll be able to spot them and/or have a whinge about them if you feel that way inclined.

And so, the criteria?

Without going into too much detail, I looked at total games played, total goals scored, total score involvements, number of times a player kicked three or more in a game, and finally, total tackles inside 50. All are hallmarks of the elite small forwards, or those on-ballers who set up the attacking forays for their teams. With a bit of luck, it should all combine to give us an accurate ranking of the x-factor players headed into 2020.

Before I start, it should be noted, the following players missed the cut due to not meeting the goals-kicked criteria, yet still managed to top 200 points, which was around the mark for inclusion for this ranking. Pretty impressive.

Josh Dunkley (Western Bulldogs)

Luke Dahlhaus (Geelong)

Brent Daniels (GWS)

Dion Prestia (Richmond)

Tim Taranto (GWS)

Jack Macrae (Western Bulldogs)

Scott Pendlebury (Collingwood)


But what is the point of having criteria if you’re just going to bend it to allow people in? As such, they all miss out. Kick more goals, fellas.

Now, with all that out of the way, let’s get this party started.



I almost missed him as I was compiling the numbers. I went back, checked and thought “surely not” but lo and behold, here he was with 18 goals for the year, 136 score involvements, working deep inside 50 to lay tackles and he capped it with two bags of three goals.

Lambert is one of those players who just goes out, does his job and you know what you’re gonna get. In this case, it is a position in the top 25 in the comp as a result of his work ethic.



Will be without his fellow gunslinger, Willie Rioli in 2020, but more then held up his end of the bargain for the Eagles last year.

One in four of his score involvements wound up with Ryan kicking the goal, and he kicked 3+ goals on three occasions last season. The Eagles have several forwards that ooze x-factor (Ryan, Rioli, Cripps) and can turn a game on its head with a five minute blast of excellence. And chief amongst them at the moment is Ryan.



His 39 goals for the season earn him a place on the list, with roughly 40% of his score involvements ending up with him successfully having a ping at the goals. An amazing 66% of his score involvements resulted in him having a shot at the big sticks in 2019.

What does that tell you?

A little Hungry Bartlett-esque, huh? Maybe 2020 will see him lower his eyes a little more with a bit more talent on the park? Only 15 tackles inside 50 could use some work as well.



I thought Gunston had a pretty average year, but here we are on the cusp on the top 20.

Rarely misses a game, and his 126 score involvements  help him obtain a spot in the rankings here. Interestingly, if we look at his 2018 numbers and applied them this season, Gunston would have been sitting in outright second place, which gives an indication as to what he is capable of.

If he returns to that sort of form in 2020, pencil the Hawks in for the top eight.



Greene slots into the rankings despite playing as many as six games less than some of the others contained on the list. If you’re looking for creativity, opportunism and skill, you’ll find it in Greene…

… and you can throw in some thugishness as well, which I kind of dig, so don’t go thinking it’s a sleight.

27 goals and 124 score involvements see him cruise into 21st but if he plays a full season, a top five spot awaits in 2020.



Hello mate – didn’t expect to see you here!

Didn’t miss a game all season, and notched 130 score involvements to obtain his spot on the list. Could use a little work on his tackles inside 50 (11) and though he was more than handy in front of goal, managed 3+ majors just three times in 2019.

With another season under his belt, Miers… who spells his surname terribly… could emerge as the number one mid-size/small forward at Geelong, particularly if Gaz has a bit of rest during the season.



Here’s what you want to see if you’re a Brisbane fan – McCluggage making his way into this system despite having no games at all in 2019 where he kicked 3+ goals.

A nice 142 score involvements carried him here, and his 17 tackles inside 50 took a leaf out of his captain’s book in terms of desperation, application and willingness to push deep into forward 50 to create opportunity for his teammates..



Unsung and neglected at your own peril, Cripps has a way of bobbing up and biting teams where it hurts most.

The dick.

I kid, I kid… he bites them on the scoreboard. Cripps notched another 30 goals in 2019 despite missing a handful of games. Whilst the defence concentrates on Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling or even Liam Ryan, it is Cripps that slides on inside 50 and does damage.

Had 3+ goals on six occasions, so when he does start to get on a roll, he certainly makes the most of it. Brad Sheppard is no longer underrated at West Coast, and given how good Cripps has been for a while now, it is about time people stop underrating him as well.



If this bloke ever puts it all together, watch out!

With 132 score involvements and 27 tackles inside 50, Petracca was serviceable in a struggling Demons outfit in 2019. He played every game and whilst a goal per game is nothing to write home about, his overall contributions to the team were some of Melbourne’s best.

Have we just seen peak Petracca, or does he have another gear to go to? I reckon he does, and is capable of much better than the two 3+ goal-games in 2020.



You all know I want to see him find his spot, but the way his numbers reflected his 2019, maybe he already has.

He had good numbers across every category assessed, playing every game, kicking 26 goals and having 130 score involvements. Considering how often he was deployed elsewhere, it demonstrates just how effective Heeney could be as a permanent forward.



Top 15 in his first year of footy – take a bow, Connor Rozee.

With Robbie Gray have a down-year by his standards, Rozee was the panacea for the Power, kicking 29 goals and registering an impressive 34 tackles inside 50, which was good enough for fifth in the entire league.

Whilst other rising star nominees were able to get bags of goals more often (Rozee had 3+ just twice) it was the overall ability of Rozee to make something from nothing for his team that caught the eye of many. 126 score involvements indicates that when the Power opted to go forward through Rozee, he made things happen.

I’d expect a lot more of it in 2020, and I kind of hope Port resist the temptation to throw him into the middle. Let him be a genuine forward – he has the potential to be great at it.



The old fella ain’t done yet!

Well, despite the fact I wrote about how he was basically a shell of himself last season – I guess this proves me wrong, huh?

Eddie had 37 goals in 2019, and added an impressive 25 tackles inside 50, indicating that he still works hard without the footy in his hands. He had 3+ goals on five occasions last season but only once against a finals team, and 12 of those goals came against Gold Coast. I can’t see him making the top 20 this season…

… but if you choose bookmark this article and throw it in my face if I’m wrong, that’s okay too. I’ll be rapt for him. Not so much for me…



If anyone doubted whether Lloyd’s decision to move away from the talent-bottleneck at Richmond, his 2019 season should have silenced them.

Lloyd led the Dogs for goals, and did not miss a game for the entire season. I don’t think those opportunities would have been forthcoming at Tigerland. His 135 score involvements came with 38 snags of his own as he continually bobbed up as an option to assist Aaron Naughton.

What role he takes on with Josh Bruce now inside 50 with him will be interesting to watch, but as far as I am concerned, this was a great move for him, and a great pick up by the Doggies last season.



Some would be pleased to see “West Coast” next to his name, and others… not so pleased.

Tim Kelly had a mammoth 158 score involvements in 2019 as he burst forward and look for Hawkins, Ablett and company. Now with Jack Darling, Josh Kennedy and with both Jamie Cripps and Liam Ryan already appearing on this list, could he enter the top ten in 2020?

He had only one game with 3+ goals in 2019 – just a couple more could see him close in on a top five spot this season.



Okay, this one surprised the hell out of me – and imagine he kicked straight in the Grand Final?

Castagna had just two games with 3+ goals to his name in 2019, but his 144 score involvements indicate that he loved being where the action was. With 27 goals and 24 tackles inside 50, he was able to pressure the opposition and earn second chance opportunities for his team.

Often underrated, Castagna played 24 of a possible 25 games for the Tigers in 2019, and at just 23 years old, should get better.

As if the rest of the competition need that – another Tiger getting better… far out.



If we could select the top six or seven games as an x-factor-kind of player, Walla could be number one.

37 tackles inside 50 put him third overall in the league, and his ability to kick bags of goals saw him register five games with 3+ goals, including a memorable seven goals in a best on ground performance against Brisbane.

If Walla can get rid of those single-digit disposal games (he had eight of them last season), we could be looking at a future number one player on this list.



So, why were the Blues so keen on Papley? And why were the Swans s keen on keeping him?

37 goals and 141 score involvements are the sort of numbers that simply cannot be ignored. His 37 goals broke the tie with McDonald-Tipungwuti for ninth place, and at just 23, he has plenty of improvement left in him.

Will he be a Blue by the end of 2020? I reckon they will have to pay a fair whack for the privilege, particularly if he can replicate his 2019 form.

Or build on it.



The Bont… here’s where he does things his closest contemporary, Patrick Cripps doesn’t.

Bont hurts on the scoreboard, and with 169 score involvements to his name, he was ranked equal with Dustin Martin (spoiler alert) and behind only Patrick Dangerfield (another spoiler alert) in midfielders in that stat category.

His 24 tackles inside 50 demonstrate Bont’s willingness to get forward and not just do the flashy stuff, but apply tackles as well.

With just one game of 3+ goals, Bont could well score much higher this season if he puts his goal kicking boots on. He just made the cut with 15 goals in 2019.



Another I thought had a bit of an ordinary season, but I guess I was comparing Breust’s 2019 with his previous season.

He was equal third for tackles inside 50 in 2019, with 37, which was actually down on his 41 the previous year.

I don’t want to do this for too many, but if we took his 2018 numbers, Breust would have scored well over 300 points – enough to put him in clear first place.

But that was then. In 2019, he was down 20 goals on his 2018 numbers yet still comfortably makes the top ten.



Dangerfield was second only to Jeremy Cameron overall in score involvements in 2019, meaning he was the best for those eligible for these rankings. He had a whopping 174 for the season as he missed just one game for the year.

If there was one area he fell down (if it could be termed that) it was that Danger had just one game in 2019 where he kicked 3+ goals. He was consistent, but he didn’t have that stand out patch where he went forward and dominated. As a matter of fact, he has fallen away quite a bit in the last two season (27 and 24 goals) from his brilliant 2017 season in front of goals (45).

Personally, I reckon teams worked the Cats out in terms of switching opponents when Danger went forward, but as he gets a little older it will be interesting to see whether Danger starts spending more time up forward, and whether he can start nudging 40-50 goals per year.



Ah yes… x-factor – Dusty has it in spades.

169 score involvements and four games in which he registered 3+ goals saw him push past Patrick Dangerfield and into the top five.

Now hang on, Tiger fans… I know you’ll jump on this and claim Dusty is the best player in the game with the biggest x-factor. You may be right, and this system may not be perfect, but it’s also measuring things Dusty doesn’t do well – he had ten tackles inside 50 in 2019. Considering how much time he spent up there, that’s actually an area he could improve.

Hey, everyone needs something to aim for, right?

I could definitely see Dusty transitioning to… a forward (what did you think I was gonna say?) in the next few years. He is one of the most difficult match-ups in the game when he goes to the goal square, and could have six or seven bags of 3+ goals per season down there.

Then again, at his best he could do that playing the position he currently does.



Walters breaks the tie and pips Dusty by way of having more goals in 2019, as he gained his first All-Australian blazer. His 40 goals whilst splitting time between the midfield and forward line are testament to just how damaging he can be if given any space.

Walters was the game winner on two occasions in 2019, and his willingness to throw himself into tackles inside 50 (27 to his name) is exactly what you want from one of your leaders.

He played every game for the injury-riddled Dockers, and if he can replicate that kind of output again, he may well take a huge amount of pressure off Nat Fyfe.



So, in a couple of columns I have written about the need to get Ablett rest and sit him out against the weaker sides in preparation for September.

And then we see a result like this and it becomes apparent that Gaz, though older and slower still has x-factor coming out of every orifice like Joe Ganino the morning after the night before.

Score involvements? The lazy 161 of them. Tackles inside 50? Those shoulders must be okay if he has 33 of those tackles. Goals? Just the 34.

Look, Ablett probably should have been All-Australian for a record-breaking ninth time in 2019, but the short memories of the AA selectors completely neglected his first half of the season.

I doubt we’ll see Gaz as much in 2020, but when we do, it should be a fresh Gary Ablett, with x-factor aplenty.



Allow me to educate you on the value of Dayne Zorko.

When you think of tackles inside 50, you think of the forwards that chase people down, or lurk around packs and nail unsuspecting defenders, right?

Think again. The leader in tackles inside 50 in 2019, by seven over Paul Puopolo, was Dayne Zorko. Oh but wait – he accomplishments did not end with forward pressure. He slotted 23 goals and had an impressive 157 score involvements as he ran the ball forward and then followed it up by getting deep inside 50 to pressure the defenders.

Zorko set the bar high with his defensive efforts, and more than a few Lions followed suit. He may not have won the Lions Best and Fairest for the first time in forever  (sorry, too much Frozen with the kid) but he won plenty over with his commitment without the footy.

A very worthy runner-up.



And the runaway winner – the only 300-point scorer, and the All-Australian forward pocket – Charlie Cameron.

Charlie did it all in 2019, and didn’t quite get the fairy tale when he ran into Dylan Grimes in week one of the finals (and Round 23) and then had his arm injured against the Giants the following week and had to play the remainder of the game cradling it at times.

But that should not detract from how good he was all season. He didn’t miss a game, kicked 57 goals to establish himself as the clear best small forward of the season, and laid 27 tackles inside 50 for the year.

The killer stat for Cameron was his ability to hit the scoreboard with 3+ goals on eight different occasions last season. They’re the sort of numbers you expect from a key forward, but with McStay and Hipwood as the marking targets, Charlie was able to feed off the crumbs and make teams pay.


The following content is for members only. Team-by-team breakdowns and 2018 comparison stats are below Want to read more?