So, we’re less than three weeks away from the start of the season and it’s that time of the year again.

Supreme optimism, natural pessimism and speculative statements dominate the footy world. Who will be premiers? Who will ‘win’ the spoon? And which player will stand on that dais with the Brownlow around his neck in around nine months’ time?

But I’m a simple man, and whilst I would love to jump up and down about the big picture predictions, I much prefer to look a little closer at teams and focus on the smaller stories that you find within.

As such, today I’m going to be looking at the players who could jump out of the box for each team, and under that, for our members (you should sign up – I do good work, damn it!) I’ll also be diving into those who look like they should be slowly climbing into a box and shipping themselves off somewhere else.

I’ve restricted the selection to one player per team, but believe me; some teams could have easily had two or three in each category – both good and bad.

So, without further ado…

 

PLAYERS TO JUMP OUT OF THE BOX IN 2020.

 

ADELAIDE

TYSON STENGLE

He has played just four games in his career and has incredibly big shoes to fill, but Tyson Stengle as the small forward option in the Adelaide forward line looks to be one of the bright lights for the Crows in 2020.

Teaming with the combination of Tex Walker, Tom Lynch, Darcy Fogarty and Lachie Murphy, Stengle could be the weapon that ignites the Adelaide forward six this season. I thought it might be Murphy that jumps out of the box, and it still may be the case, but after watching the Crows’ first Marsh Series game, it was Stengle who looked dangerous and befitting the role of goal sneak most recently held by Eddie Betts.

Let’s not kid ourselves – Stengle will most likely not reach the same levels as Betts, but at 22, he is nimble, quick and agile, and will provide a handful for opposition defences to contain. With the right players around him, Stengle may be the player that helps get the Crows forward line up and running this season.

 

BRISBANE

JARROD BERRY

Berry has spent a couple of seasons running around with some of the best mids, and that, in itself, is invaluable to young mid learning his craft. Whilst not exclusively a tagger, trailing the likes of Patrick Cripps around, learning how he runs, where he runs and why he does it is the sort of on-the-job training that makes a player better.

Berry is now 22 and ready to make the next step. Surrounded by talent, he won’t be expected to have 30 touches week-in and week-out, but that will work to his advantage. With Lachie Neale, Dayne Zorko and Jarryd Lyons commanding defensive attention, Berry might slip under the guard of plenty of teams.

At this stage, he has never had 30 touches in a game. I think this will be the last time we write that about him.

 

CARLTON

HARRY MCKAY

McKay has the first half of the season to put his stamp on the Carlton forward line in the absence of Charlie Curnow, and whilst I am sure Blues fans would love Curnow out there, it was when McKay was the number one target last year that he opened some eyes.

McKay was available for all but two Carlton games in 2019 and was instrumental in the Blues’ first win of the season over the Dogs in Round Five. In that outing, McKay had 20 touches, took 11 marks (five contested) and slammed home four goals. Whilst his kicking at goal is still a little bit questionable, if a defender allows him a free run at the footy, odds are McKay is clunking a mark.

Over the first six games of 2019, McKay averaged over four contested grabs per game. It looks as though McKay will miss the first week or two with a groin complaint, but anything like his first six weeks last year would make him the most dominant contested mark in the game and might make Carlton supporters ask “Charlie Who?”

 

COLLINGWOOD

RUPERT WILLS

Despite the loss of Dayne Beams, the Collingwood midfield is still a powerhouse. Pendlebury, Treloar, Sidebottom, Adams… they’re a ball-winning collection of A-Graders, but what they lack is an element of hardness that comes with not being the most skilled, or gifted player in every team you’ve ever played on.

And that’s where Rupert Wills slots in.

In his nine games in 2019, he averaged 7.4 tackles per game, ranking him first at the Pies, and third in the entire league. Wills is a competitive beast, and whilst many thought that Brayden Sier would be the next in line to claim a spot in that Magpie midfield, it was Wills that became more than a fill-in as part of the rotation in 2019. See what I did there?

Wills is no spring chicken. He is 27 years old and built to perform right now. His 16-18 touches won’t blow anyone’s socks off, but it is his defensive work that will see him endear himself further to the Magpie army in 2020.

 

ESSENDON

MASON REDMAN

As if Essendon didn’t have enough players that take off and dart down the wing or through the centre from half back, right?

Redman slots in alongside fellow-runners, Adam Saad and Conor McKenna to provide the Bombers with plenty of dash. After five games in three seasons, Redman found a place for himself in 2019, and played 20 games in red and black.

Whilst he could still use a little work in his man-to-man defence, once he gets a little space, he is a wonderful weapon for the Bombers to deploy when either of McKenna or Saad (usually Saad) has a defensive forward play on him. You could argue that Redman’s 2019 was the year he jumped out of the box, but I reckon he just stuck a leg out to see what it was like; this season will be the one where he makes his mark.

Redman had four games of 20+ disposals last year; I’d expect him to double that this season as the Bombers look to him to grow and develop into a premier half back.

 

FREMANTLE

ADAM CERRA

We caught a little glimpse of what Justin Longmuir is planning for Cerra in the first week of the Marsh Series, as he threw Cerra into the midfield mix. The result? 19 disposals, which is nothing to get too excited about.

But the 90% disposal efficiency in a game where the majority of the players were missing the mark left, right and centre.

Cerra is still a pup in AFL terms. At 21, he has been given the time to develop as a defender before being unleashed into the middle. That role, and the associated accountability, should serve him well as he transitions into one of the most important roles in the team.

I don’t want to harp on about the loss of Langdon and Hill, but the Dockers need someone to step up and play their roles, or something akin to them. Cerra, and Andrew Brayshaw look like the two most likely, and I am buying stock in Cerra.

 

GEELONG

BRANDAN PARFITT

I was expecting Parfitt to take the step last season, and… he just didn’t. Instead, it was players like Gryan Miers, Tom Atkins and even Luke Dahlhaus that stole his thunder as the Cats’ breakout players. This year, it has to be Parfitt’s turn.

Splitting time between the midfield and half forward, Parfitt really didn’t excel in either role, hitting the scoreboard for just four goals in 2019. He needs to do that a lot better.

He does, however, provide a nice relief in terms of contested possessions when he moves into the middle, with a nice balance between his inside and outside work.

A target for Parfitt in 2020? He should hit the 20 disposals per game mark this season, with a view to getting around 22-23 per game. If Jack Steven falls over at all, Parfitt should be ready to pick up the slack. He and Charlie Constable are two players that can really aid Geelong in staying in contention.

 

GOLD COAST

WILL BRODIE

The number nine pick in the 2016 draft played eight games in 2019, but if you’re looking at where the Suns improve, look no further than Brodie.

Whilst a lot of the attention will go on Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson and even Izak Rankine as he makes his debut after an injury-riddled rookie year, Brodie may slip under the guard of the opposition, and his style of play is exactly the kind Gold Coast need to improve in a hurry.

The Suns’ midfield is on track to be incredible. Swallow, Greenwood add to the names mentioned above, but watching Will Brodie relishing the opportunity to put his foot on the throats of the defeated Geelong boys in the first week of the Marsh Series, we got to see something we really haven’t had the chance to recognise in Suns players to this point – a killer instinct.

If his 29 touches and four clearances are an indication of things to come, there will be some smiles at Carrara this season, and plenty in the years to come.

 

GWS

SAM TAYLOR

He’s learning from three of the absolute best in the GWS defensive set-ups, with Phil Davis, Nick Haynes and Heath Shaw bringing a wealth of experience and defensive nous to the table. And you can see that Sam Taylor has been feasting on this knowledge.

He was immense late in games in the 2019 finals series, and he started this year with a dominant performance in defence in the Marsh Series.

Taylor looks set to become yet another highly-talented Giants defender, and in the Giants’ Marsh Series opener, he took on the role of the main intercept defender (usually allocated to Haynes) with aplomb, finishing as the only player on that weekend of footy to amass ten intercept possessions.

Taylor will likely be unsung in the mainstream media. It is the way of things in the GWS defence, but I am hopeful he is recognised for his efforts in both our Player Power Rankings, and our defensive rankings, which will be released and updated every week of the season for members (hint, hint).

 

HAWTHORN

JACK SCRIMSHAW

At 22, Hawthorn picked Scrimshaw up as a complete bargain – they have a habit of doing that, don’t they?

Assuming the role now vacated by the oft-injured Grant Birchall, Scrimshaw played ten games in 2019 as he learnt the Hawthorn system, and will occupy the role of rebounding defender more often in 2020.

Already averaging 6.7 intercepts per game in 2019, I expect Scrimshaw to combine with James Sicily as a potent rebounding and intercepting duo in 2020. Scrimshaw was the seventh overall pick in the 2016 draft, and his time at Gold Coast was largely forgettable, with just four games in his two years there.

The Hawks need value from Scrimshaw this season, but what does it look like? Improvements on his ten disposals per game are likely, with a ceiling of around 15-16 touches per game this year, which the commensurate amount of intercepts as well, Between Scrimshaw and Sicily, you’d be hoping for somewhere in the vicinity of a combined 17-18 intercepts per game.

Sounds like a lot, right? It’s not – they averaged 15.2 combined last season.

 

MELBOURNE

JAY LOCKHART

I watched this bloke with interest in the first Marsh Series hit out, and was met with a bit of a surprise – not because I expected him to be better, or worse, but because Lockhart was played in an entirely different position than I thought he would.

Lockhart spent a fair whack of his 12 games in 2019 roaming around the forward half for the Dees, but in his first hit out of 2020, he was given licence to range far and wide, and spent most of the game in defence, where he racked up six intercepts.

But it wasn’t just about the numbers; Lockhart looked at home in providing an option coming out of defence, and I wonder just what Simon Goodwin has planned for him this season?

His emergence as a potential permanent small forward was a rare 2019 highlight for the Dees, but could his move to defence provide a lot more in 2020?

Look, it may have been an experiment for just one pre-season game, and we could see something completely different from him in 2020, but in his first run as a defender, Lockhart showed plenty.

By the way, Dees fans, I watched the North v Melbourne practice match at Arden Street (well, the first half, anyway) and Jake Melksham was easily the best player on the park. Found space, won the footy and delivered on multiple occasions. He will make a huge difference this season.

 

NORTH MELBOURNE

AIDEN BONAR

I wrote just above about the practice match at Arden Street between the Dees and Kangaroos, and the North player that stood out to me in the first half was Aiden Bonar. He looked powerful and was able to stand in tackles several times before releasing to his running teammates in the middle during the first half, and looks to be warming into life as a Shinboner quickly.

He was starved for opportunity at GWS, but should win a bit more of a run for North as they look to round out their midfield group.

Bonar’s size means that he has the strength to match it with some of the league’s big boys in the middle, and provide some much-needed help for Ben Cunnington in the clinches. Whilst I don’t expect him to set the world on fire, I do expect clear career-high numbers from him.

It shouldn’t be too difficult. In his two seasons with GWS, he played just six games, and he has a game-high of just 16 touches. I could see him breaking that mark in either his first or second outing with North.

 

PORT ADELAIDE

ZAK BUTTERS

I read with interest a story detailing Zak Butters’ struggles in being away from home in 2019. With a couple of issues on his mind, Butters struggled to remain focused on footy. Still, he was part of a young foursome (Butters, Rozee, Duursma, Drew) that breathed new life into a club that was having a pretty unspectacular run.

Of those four, Butters probably failed to hit the same highs as Duursma and Rozee, but 12 months on, we could see an improved version of him. He managed 19 games last season, and averaged 14.6 touches and 0.6 goals per game, but he is far too talented to have those numbers two consecutive years.

Expectations are high at Port due to the statements of their coach, Ken Hinkley, but the improvement of Butters could go a long way to making Hinkley’s statements seem a little less outlandish.

Are 18 touches and a goal per game too much to ask from him 2020? I don’t think it is.

 

RICHMOND

NOAH BALTA

Talk to any Richmond supporter over the last couple of years and it is inevitable that the name of Noah Balta would have come up.

An athlete like few others, Balta has all the physical tools to become a power player in the league, but it seems that the 21 year old was hampered by being in such a fantastic team. Playing a number of positions over the course of his 13 games in 2019, Balta was a makeshift defender, forward and even a ruck. It is hard to settle into a role when you don’t actually have one.

Whilst I was so tempted to talk up Shai Bolton in this section, seeing Balta roaming around half back got me to thinking that with the permanent absence of Alex Rance, we could see him finally find his place in this side and make it his own.

Balta averages a modest 9.3 touches per game and adds 2.2 intercept and two spoils per game, but I have a feeling we may start to see him realise his potential in 2020 and provide the Tigers with yet another star playing above expectations.

And if he doesn’t, I meant to talk about how good Shai Bolton was going to be, okay?

 

ST KILDA

HUNTER CLARK

There is plenty of optimism around Hunter Clark in 2020, with many Saints fans believing he will take the next step. In a team where there are five or six who could potentially the next step, the 21 year old Clark looks the most likely.

Topping 20 touches per game [playing off half back in 2019, Clark will be looking to establish himself as one of the better rebounding defenders in the game this season.

At 4.5 intercepts per game, Clark has the ability to run and carry that can punish teams on the rebound, yet he averaged just 279 metres gained per game last season – good for just 11th on the St Kilda list.

With Armitage, Steven and Newnes all no longer on the list, and all sitting above him in that category last season, more will be expected of Clark.

I would hope to see his disposal efficiency elevated from 71 to 75% this season, whilst a couple more touches per game would add an extra bit of “oomph” to the Saints heading forward.

The Saints are in a very interesting position heading into 2020 and will need some stability as Hill, Langdon, Howard, Ryder and Jones acclimatise. They need players like Hunter Clark to elevate their game until they do.

 

SYDNEY

OLLIE FLORENT

We saw a bit of a taste of it in 2019, and then again this past weekend, with Ollie Florent running more through the middle of the ground, using his pace to get out into the open and pick up 17 uncontested disposals in a game where his team was under pressure just about every time they got their hands on it.

What wasn’t so great was what he did with the footy. 24 disposals, and just 12 of them hitting the mark. That means that a minimum of five of his uncontested touches were either ineffective, or resulted in a turnover. That needs some work.

I’d love to see Florent play regularly on a wing and use that run to create for both himself and his teammates. An average of 22 touches per game and disposal efficiency on 70% is the target. If he hits them, the Swans are a helluva lot better off for it.

 

WEST COAST

OSCAR ALLEN

Playing third forward for the Eagles must be a joy. Oscar Allen seemed to really relish the “all care and no responsibility” of the role in 2019, but in 2020 much more is expected than occasionally bobbing up and slotting a goal or two

The combination of Darling and Kennedy will command the bulk of the attention from key defenders, allowing the third tall every opportunity to sneak under the guard. After two games in 2018, Allen played 18 in 2019 but is yet to really take the game by the scruff of the neck. 15 touches remains his career-high for a single game, and he has kicked three goals on two occasions.

But that won’t be enough in 2020.

At just 20, the expectations on Allen are high, and justifiably so. This Eagles team is a legitimate contender. Carrying kids to give them experience isn’t something they’re in a position to do. Everyone has to deliver, and what better way than to contribute to a flag?

Allen has nursed an ankle injury through the pre-season, but is close to being right to go.

 

WESTERN BULLDOGS

ROARKE SMITH

I’ve gone a little left-field on this one and thrown Smith into the mix. His career-high for games in a season is just ten, in 2018 and he really needs a clean run at it for the Dogs to know exactly what they have.

In the flashes we’ve seen, Smith loves to run, and is absolutely willing to take the game on. It’s that sort of dare that can either make or break a player, and in 2020 this could be the case for Smith.

He’s good in the air, can shut down an opponent when drifting back into defence and his run and carry provide the Doggies with another option as they stream forward. The Dogs have talent everywhere and whilst I don’t think Smith will be ranked alongside them as one of the better players in the league, settling into a role and getting a string of games under his belt may very well see him become a reliable option through the middle.

There’s some that will argue that he is not best-22 for the Dogs, and with a full list to choose from, they may be correct, but how often does a team have a full list to choose from? Smith’s 11.8 touches per game won’t cut the mustard in 2020. He needs to elevate his game and sit around the 17-18 disposals per game mark to cement his spot.

 

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