Much like Steven Hocking when it comes to rule changes, we don’t often hear a stupid idea we don’t like at The Mongrel Punt.

So, when it was floated in our team meeting (me and the missus) at the offices of The Mongrel Punt (our lounge room) that there should be a malleable rating system for AFL players as we head into the 2019 season, I agreed with myself, and my missus just kind of stared at me, not knowing what I was talking about. Thus, we decided to run with our new ranking system.

Yes, that’s the way things get started here at Casa del Mongrel, and unless we get bought out and have to sell our souls to footy corporates or betting agencies, that’s how they’ll stay.

But vomiting out a list of names based solely on opinion is the sort of thing anyone can do. Some blokes do it every year and somehow get away with it. At the end of the season, there are some he’s changed his mind about and others he hasn’t. It’s a pretty arbitrary way of deciding who fits where…

… much like the All-Australian selectors, it seems.

Well, in our indomitable style, we here at The Mongrel (me) threw caution to the wind and took on a player ratings system. Yep, I royally screwed over my future self by committing to updating the system every second week as each season progresses (the first rankings do not take place until after Round Four, in order to gain a decent sample size of games). I made adjustments to the criteria to get it right after the first two seasons, and that allowed room to correct for any players that were gaining an advantage simply due to the position they played.

So, how did it all go?

Well, here’s the link to our final Mongrel 50 of the 2020 season. It was our second full season; if you could call 2020 a full season, of implementing this system, and I was pretty happy with it, overall. Please note – the in-season rankings were employed for the home and away season only, which may explain why a certain triple Norm Smith Medallist isn’t right near the top.

Mongrel 50 – The Top Ten

However, that system is for the season-proper and really, I’m jumping the gun considerably by talking about that at this point. Right now, we’re looking at the pre-season rankings and that, my friends, called for some drastic measures – I had to do some research.

Yep, I’m pretty damn proud of myself, right now.

Since I started this site at the conclusion of the 2017 season (been a while, now) I have been compiling data for players that I knew I would want to use for things just like this. As of right now, I have comprehensive data from the 2018/19/20 seasons to give us a wonderful overview of the players that have shined brightest in that period.

Things we are factoring in – results in Brownlow, MVP, Coaches award, Coleman, Gary Ayres Medal, Norm Smith voting, All-Australian team and squad selection, B&F placings, if they were named Player of the Month, whether they broke any records in the most recent season, placings in our own Mongrel of the Year award, placings in our defensive player of the year award…

There is a heavy recency bias in this system – it is not done error. I wanted to capture those who have surged in 2020 whilst not completely disadvantaging those with a great body of work over the last three years. We’re basically looking at a breakdown of their 2020 year and award 100% of their score for that year based on the criteria above (and a few others criteria), then we add 50% of their 2019 score and 25% of their 2018 score.

I’m not going to divulge our “top-secret” formula here and now – you know those blokes at Champion Data are just chomping at the bit to throw away their current, well-thought-out, statistic-based system and look closely at The Mongrel’s way of assessing players (and roll on the floor in fits of laughter once they see it).

We don’t have a team of statisticians – I can barely do simple maths at times. However, what we do have is a system that was malleable. We tweaked it over the last couple of years to the point I reckon it’s now just about right.

So, I hope I’ve been vague enough without being too vague, and clear enough without being too clear. Once the season begins, we’ll once again commence ranking players afresh for the 2021 version of The Mongrel 50 and updating every two weeks, but for now, here’s The Mongrel Pre-Season 50 for 2021.

 

50 – TODD GOLDSTEIN (NORTH MELBOURNE)

LAST SEASON – 24

What gets him to the dance?

One of the more consistent big men the league has seen, Goldy has played 20+ games in nine of the past 11 seasons, meaning that if you deduct the Covid-impacted 2020 season, he has failed to hit 20 games in just 2017 – he played 19 games that season.

Goldstein now sits second all-time for hit outs, and assuming he plays the majority of the season, should surpass Aaron Sandilands as the holder of the all-time record (and accrue more points for the 2022 version of the pre-season 50).

Amazingly, despite being the standout ruckman of the first half of 2020, Goldstein failed to make the All-Australian squad. This was perhaps reflective of the overall poor season of the Kangaroos more than his own performance.

Opting to stay with the Kangaroos rather than fleeing to a contender, Goldstein is set to become a one-club player and should end up as another 300-gamer for North.

 

49 – TOM STEWART (GEELONG)

LAST SEASON – 45

What gets him to the dance?

Huge years in 2018/19 that saw him win the hotly-contested race for the AA half-back position.

I’m a Hawthorn man, and when I watch the way Tom Stewart goes about his business, I find myself wishing that James Sicily would play that way. That’s about as big a compliment as I can give.

There are not many things the dual All-Australian cannot do. He intercepts well, can match up and contest in body-to-body situations, and he is one of the better Rebound 50 players in the game.

The Geelong defence is one of the best in the game and a huge reason for their success over the past few seasons has been the emergence of Stewart as one of the premier defenders in the league.

He missed three games early in 2020, which probably cost him a third AA blazer.

 

48 – MITCH DUNCAN (GEELONG)

LAST SEASON – N/A

What gets him to the dance?

A very good 2020 finals series gets him over the line, here.

He is the unsung hero of the Geelong midfield, had a standout 2020 and really stepped up in the wake of Tim Kelly’s departure.

Billed as a wingman, Duncan actually played most of his minutes in the guts and was a central part of a Geelong on-ball department. Perhaps a little overshadowed by the ascension of Cam Guthrie over the past 12 months, Duncan has been a tireless worker for the Cats and an integral part of their continued (relative) success over the last few years.

Duncan finished the 2020 finals series behind only Dustin Martin in the Gary Ayres Medal in 2020 and picked up votes in the Norm Smith last season as well.

 

47 – CALEB DANIEL (WESTERN BULLDOGS)

LAST SEASON – N/A

What gets him to the dance?

A very solid 2020 season, an AA berth and a best and fairest.

The Charlie Sutton Medallist for 2020, Daniel was one of the architects of the Western Bulldogs’ transition from defence into attack.

Rarely wasting the footy, the diminutive defender was able to use his precise kicking to open up the game for his team and create opportunities further afield.

In a rather unique aspect of his game, Daniel was able to shape the way he kicked around an oncoming player. I haven’t seen many people do that consistently – hang the ball out to the side and kick drop punts at an angle to avoid outstretched hands and STILL manage to find the chest of a teammate. Sam Mitchell is the best I’ve seen at that – Daniel is not far behind.

An intelligent player, he was able to avoid having his height used against him in most games, which is a credit both to him and the coaching of Luke Beveridge.

 

46 – DAYNE ZORKO (BRISBANE)

LAST SEASON – 21

What gets him to the dance?

His form and results over 2018/19, if we’re being completely honest.

A bit of a down season in 2020 compared to what we’re used to seeing, Zorko did manage to maintain the one aspect of his game that has separated him from most midfielders over the past several seasons – his tackling inside 50.

Zorko actually picked up no points in any category in 2020, which is both a blessing and a curse. Whilst I am sure the Lions would have liked to see him excel in some areas, the fact he was a little down and the Lions were actually very good indicates that they are becoming a more balanced team, capable of covering for stars who are not at their best.

The four-time best and fairest winner will turn 32 before the start of the 2021 season and would be looking at this year as his best chance at a flag.

 

45 – JEREMY CAMERON (GEELONG)

LAST SEASON – 20

What gets him to the dance?

His 2019 season.

Does it feel dirty to read “Geelong” next to his name when it was his work as a Giant that got him to the dance in these rankings? Well, it was also his lacklustre 2020 season with GWS that saw him tumble down the list as well, so I guess there’s that.

Cameron’s 2019 props him up, here. Without it, or without the Coleman that it produced, he would be out of the top 50 entirely, which is a little damning.

Still, he has the tools to be the best forward in the competition right now and could very well be the difference between Geelong winning that elusive premiership. Great aerobic ability, deceptively fast over the ground and a beautiful kick of the footy, if there is a vein of form anything like that which he experienced in 2019, the Cats leap to premiership favouritism.

But a repeat of 2020 and… well, questions will be asked.

 

44 – DARCY BYRNE-JONES (PORT ADELAIDE)

LAST SEASON – N/A

What gets him to the dance?

Similar to Caleb Daniel, his AA selection and club best and fairest vault him into the 50 this pre-season.

Terrible hairstyle aside, DBJ gave Port plenty of run off half back and was integral in the Power’s push to the top of the table. At 25 years old, he is about to hit his absolute prime and if you’re looking for the reasons Port were able to successfully climb the AFL ladder and looked most likely to unseat the Tigers, the play of DBJ was definitely a factor.

With Port looking to back up their 2020 form, the continued rise of Byrne-Jones will be vital in 2021, and if he improves again, could be a decisive factor in whether the Power are able to go one step further and challenge for the flag.

 

43 – ANDREW GAFF (WEST COAST)

LAST SEASON – 36

What gets him to the dance?

Consistency over the last three seasons.

Reliable, dependable, durable.

No, I am not describing the preferred traits of your birth control – I am talking about the West Coast wingman. Andrew Gaff has been a pillar of strength for the Eagles since he missed the 2018 flag. His gut-running is close to the best in the league, if not the best, and his willingness to get in and get his hands dirty when required sets him apart from other wingman.

Case in point – Brad Hill. Gaff could easily play the way Hill does, but whilst Hill seems content to pick up his 2.3 contested possessions per game, Gaff will win his share of contested footy as well and move into traffic to help his team. His career numbers in that department sit at 6.98 per game. Hill is at 3.98. Gaff just wants it more and doesn’t blame teammates when he doesn’t get it.

Despite dipping to 24.28 touches per game in the shortened season, Gaff’s previous five years were all above 29 touches per game – he is the best wingman of the last ten years.

 

42 – BACHAR HOULI (RICHMOND)

LAST SEASON – 27

What gets him to the dance?

His excellent finals series in 2019 and his AA blazer in 2019.

He’d be happy with three flags, but there would be a little part of Bachar Houli that must wonder how different things would be had he slotted another goal in the 2017 Grand Final.

The two-time Norm Smith Runner-Up has been a wonderful contributor for the Tigers in recent seasons and is one of the rare players that has played his best footy around 30 years old and later – it has coincided with Richmond’s stellar run at the top of the AFL tree.

There was a little conjecture around whether Houli would remain at Punt Road for 2021, with rivals poking their nose in to check his availability, but he will be fronting up in yellow and black again this season, looking to add a fourth flag to his collection.

And maybe his first Norm Smith – how fitting would that be?

 

41 – LUKE PARKER (SYDNEY)

LAST SEASON – N/A

What gets him to the dance?

Consistently good Brownlow finishes and consecutive top-three finishes in the Bob Skilton Medal.

Earlier this off-season, I compiled our annual “Five Year Brownlow” and was a bit shocked when I saw Luke Parker slot in at fourth overall. Only Lachie Neale, Dustin Martin and Patrick Dangerfield ranked ahead of him.

Yet, how much do you hear about Parker?

With just one All-Australian blazer to his credit, Parker has been rather conspicuous by his absence in terms of recognition, but if you follow footy closely, his ability to both work in the midfield and go forward to hit the scoreboard simply cannot be missed.

At 27, he has a heap of good footy left and could be in the mix when the Swans once again climb the AFL mountain of success, particularly if some of these young blokes come on quickly.

So, there we go. Happy with that? Reserving your judgment until you see who is rated above them? Yeah… that’d be wise.

Keep your eyes peeled for 40-31 coming in the next few days.