All year, The Mongrel has been compiling a list of the top fifty players in the league. And now… to channel Frank Sinatra, the end is near…
Well, it’s not “near”. For some, the end of 2020 has already sent them into exit interviews, free agency, or in some cases, a different career. As some players prepare for finals, we’ve been busy(ish) preparing our year-end top 50 players of the season.
You may be familiar with the concept of The Mongrel 50, but just in case you’re not, I’ll give a brief rundown.
Every round, we compile a ranking based on stats and votes pertinent to a player’s role. For instance, defenders are assessed on spoils/one-percenters, intercepts, metres gained and disposal efficiency as well as several more. A player has to hit a certain number in each category to register points. The player who does that most often will obviously rate higher.
It’s the same for mids, forwards and rucks – all assessed on criteria pertinent to their actual positions. It’s no use trying to award a forward points for rebound 50s, or a defender for tackles inside 50. So, we disregard the stats that don’t matter to a position and concentrate on those that do.
We then add the coaches’ votes and our own Mongrel votes to the mix as well as a small bonus for any player who scores points on a winning team – after all, winning games of footy is what it’s all about.
And what we end up with is a mix of all positions, and the Mongrel Punt’s top fifty players of the season. My vision with this was to be able to have a list representative of the best players on the best team.
If you haven’t had a gander at the first twenty players, please do so in the links below before jumping into the next ten.
Let’s jump in with the players ranked 30-21 in our countdown.
30 – TAYLOR ADAMS (COLLINGWOOD) 292 POINTS
It’s probably fair to state that without Taylor Adams, Collingwood would have been in real trouble in 2020.
Making the All-Australian team for the first time, Adams’ tough inside work was the foundation on which the Pies built their season. Along with Darcy Moore down back, Adams’ work in the clinches gave Collingwood the grunt they desperately needed. With Pendlebury and Treloar out and Sidebottom both suspended and taking time to be with the family, Adams found himself as the number one man in black and white.
And he delivered.
Notching double figures in both clearances and tackles twice apiece, Adams vaulted up the AFL rankings to sit third overall in total clearances and fourth overall in tackles. His combative nature and tenacity at the contest has seen him become a real leader at the club, to the point where his name now comes up when people discuss who will eventually replace Scott Pendlebury as Collingwood captain.
Relishing the big stage, Adams is one of the few players whose finals numbers are better than his home and away output, and the Pies will need him to provide something special as they take on the Eagles this week.
29 – TOM STEWART (GEELONG) 295 POINTS
Even though he missed three games, and that probably cost him yet another All-Australian selection, Stewart has come on with a rush in the second half of 2020.
He finished the season with a solid ranking of seventh in rebound fifty disposals per game and was supreme overhead, notching the second most marks per game per game.
Stewart is one of the keys to a superb Geelong defence, and on-balance, would be one of their most potent weapons. Always hard at it, and always in the right spot to relieve the pressure on this teammates, Stewart’s presence in defensive fifty is one of the keys to the Geelong composure as they repel opposition attacks.
On a personal note, I would rate Stewart as close to the best half back in the game. There are a few in consideration there – Haynes, Vlastuin and Luke Ryan all strong competition, but I love the combination that Stewart offers – great overhead skills, poise and composure, and a springboard for attack. He is the player I wish James Sicily was at Hawthorn.
28 – ZACH MERRETT (ESSENDON) 299 POINTS
For a period there in 2020, Merrett was the best wingman in the game. And he looked as though he was ready to challenge for Sam Menegola for the title of the best wingman of the season.
Of course, that meant that the two-headed monster that was the Essendon coaching panel moved him out of that role and back into the middle.
Regardless, Merrett flew under the radar in 2020, ranking third overall in total inside fifties and fourth in disposals per game.
In terms of outside mids, Merrett could probably feel a little snubbed in regard to All-Australian consideration. Ranked first in uncontested possessions and fifth overall in effective disposals, Merrett used the ball well and his run and carry was a weapon that made the Bombers look dangerous. yet he was unable to crack the squad of 40 this season.
With five games registering 30+ disposals, and an incredible 32 uncontested touches against the Hawks in Round 14, Merrett cut teams to shreds, but with little to kick to up forward at times, he was often let down by his undermanned forward line. With five games of 20+ uncontested disposals, Merrett seems back to his outside running best – how good would he be if the Bombers actually recruited a couple of good, genuine inside mids to feed him the footy?
27 – ROBBIE GRAY (PORT ADELAIDE) 301 POINTS
It has been a season where Robbie Gray has flown under the radar, and with a ranking in the top 50, I’m guessing a few would be surprised at how good he has been, without being the Robbie Gray we’ve come to expect.
The Robbie Gray we know has kicked five in a quarter. The Robbie Gray we know has won the AFLCA player of the year award, and the Robbie Gray we know has racked up All-Australian selections and Showdown medals.
But this Robbie Gray is a little different. He started the season slowly, not registering a 20+ disposal game in the first ten rounds of the season, but as the season progressed, so too did Gray’s influence.
From Round 11 onwards, Gray averaged 20.57 touches and over a goal per game as he started to split time between his role up forward and the midfield.
He finished the season seventh in goal assists, seventh in score involvements and eighth overall in tackles inside fifty.
As the finals loom, a firing Robbie Gray may be the difference between Port Adelaide proving their doubters wrong, or proving them right
26 – RORY LAIRD (ADELAIDE) 303 POINTS
Laird’s switch into the Adelaide midfield may have been a real eye-opener for the Crows. Usually a reliable defender, Laird was swung into the middle around the midway point of the season to provide a strong body at stoppages.
He responded with performances that saw him record 10+ clearances on two occasions and 7+ tackles three times.
Laird’s standout display of the season saw him record 37 touches and nine tackles against the Magpies in Round 11, and as the Crows improved, the stability Laird provided around stoppages was a relief for a team under siege.
The Desk finished the season in strong style, averaging 27.2 touches and over four inside fifty deliveries per game over the last five rounds. With the future of Brad Crouch up in the air, a full time move of Laird into the midfield could be considered to allow the younger Crows to develop with some strong bodies around them for support.
25 – ADAM SAAD (ESSENDON) 304 POINTS
With Saad’s future up in the air at the time of writing, he appears to be wonderfully poised to cash in on what has been an excellent 2020 season.
Notching career-high numbers in disposals in a season with reduced game time, Saad’s value to the Bombers shot through the roof with the retirement of Conor McKenna… and clubs are circling the bearded star as a result. Their gain could be a huge loss for Essendon.
Saad finished the season ranked seventh in metres gained and ninth in total rebound fifties as he relished the opportunity to tuck the footy under his arm and take off, however critics (including me at times) tend to think he throws it on the boot and kicks as long as humanly possible as though he is playing in one of the early eighties teams. Whilst there is a definite advantage to that tactic at times, it has made him predictable and the lift doors tend to close on him whenever he gets the footy with a bit of space now.
With a well-structured defence, I could legitimately see Saad leading the league in both metres gained and rebound fifty disposals in 2021, but the Bombers would need to set him up the way Richmond sets up Houli or Carlton were setting up Docherty earlier this year. Given the troubling stories we’re hearing out of Essendon right now… how much of their defence will be left to structure up around him?*
24 – MAX GAWN (MELBOURNE) 310 POINTS
A third All-Australian berth for Big Max came as a bit of a surprise to some, myself included.
Gawn missed three games for the season, which knocked him down to sixth in total hit outs, but he still ranked second overall in average taps per game and was good enough to maintain a spot in the overall top ten in contested marks.
Gawn often assumes the role of old school ruckman, winning hit outs to advantage and falling back to play a kick behind the play, impacting any team who opts to go down the line to get out of trouble. In addition, his ability to clunk a mark as the “get out of jail” target are as good as any in the league.
On his day, Gawn is still the best ruck in the game, but this season saw Nic Naitanui jump past him in terms of impact on the contest.
A clean run at the 2021 season could see Max resume his status as the number one ruck in the competition, and with that may come a Melbourne revival… however, Demon fans have probably heard enough ifs and buts at this stage.
23 – LACHIE WHITFIELD (GWS) 311 POINTS
Similar to Zach Merrett, you have to wonder just how good Lachie Whitfield could be if his coach allocated a position and actually allowed him to stay in it, play it week to week and develop the role as his own for an entire season.
Whitfield was thrown from half back onto a wing, had stints in the middle and I don’t particularly care what people say about having many strings to your bow, I am a believer that this unpredictability throws a player out of rhythm and detracts from any momentum he might build throughout the season.
Whitfield had big weeks on the wing, but he played his best footy on the half back flank in the latter stages of the season. Avoiding the defensive pressure that can accompany a midfield role, Whitfield found the freedom to gallop away from defensive fifty over the last six games of the season to average 23.3 touches. During that period he also averaged over 400 metres gained per game and around five rebounds as well.
This is the first season in a while that GWS have failed to make finals, and though the group has kept the faith in recent years, believing their window is wide open, you have to wonder how they’ll respond to such a disappointing season. Whitfield is now an eight-year veteran and with a season that saw him finish fourth in uncontested touches, second overall in marks and 11th in total disposals, he must be wondering where it all went wrong in 2020.
And he wouldn’t be the only Giant pondering it, either.
Whitfield is a Giant, though-and-through and is secured on a long term deal. It is players like him who have to lead the Giants in 2021, lest they find themselves no longer a team that dangles success as the carrot to keep players on their books.
22 – BRODIE GRUNDY (COLLINGWOOD) 312 POINTS
After his dominant 2019, Grundy was underwhelming in 2020.
This time last season, we were celebrating Grundy’s unbelievable season where he continually picked up points and ran the table in these rankings, sitting at number one after our first release following Round Four and remaining there in every Mongrel 50 for the whole season.
But after giving Tim English a nice old whack in Round One, Grundy was unable to hit the heights we got so used to last season.
I reckon Grundy is one of the players that was severely impacted by the shorter quarters. His tan is one of his greatest weapons and he was still galloping about in last quarters at the same pace he was in the first quarters last season. With shorter game time, it has allowed his opponents to catch their breath more often and given them a reprieve.
Believe it or not, Grundy was number one in total hit outs for the 2020 season – not bad for a bloke who was down in form from the season before. However, his output in other areas decreased markedly. He was -6.53 in disposals, -2.73 in clearances and -4.77 in contested touches for the year, which led many to speculate that he was playing like a man with a nice fat contract, as opposed to a man trying to earn a big fat contract.
I am a firm believer that longer games will benefit Grundy greatly, and whilst I am not sure we’ll get to see much of him this post-season, I expect a huge 2021 from him.
21 – DARCY MOORE (COLLINGWOOD) 317 POINTS
The All-Australian centre half back had a ripping season, collecting his first blazer and seemingly putting the injury worries that plagued him over the last few years to rest.
Ranking in the top ten in both spoils and intercepts, Moore was a constant thorn in the side of the opposition forwards this season, attacking the ball in flight with an almost reckless nature.
This week, news has started trickling through that Moore has no intention of leaving the Magpies, despite a not having a new contract in place beyond 2020. And that is a great thing for Collingwood. Moore is the kind of player you can build around in defence – a beautiful reader of the footy in flight and with the wheels to dart out of defence, Moore gives his team an A-Grade defender every single week.
I have to hand it to Nathan Buckley. When he moved Darcy Moore into defence a couple of seasons ago, I was a little sceptical. At the time, Moore’s career trajectory matched that of Joe Daniher at a similar age, and I was wondering whether the Pies were going to waste what could have been a generational forward across half back.
Well, there is a very good reason Nathan Buckley is coach of an AFL team and I am not, and here we are a couple of years later and Darcy Moore is the best centre half back in the game.
So, should be rated higher? Who is nowhere near the top 50 for the season? As always, I am open to feedback.
Check out ranks 20-11 coming in the next couple of days.
*For the record, I reckon most of the reports about Essendon this off-season are completely full of shit.
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