I’m not going to waste much time writing an introduction piece here, because there’s a lot to look at and I wrote a lot over the past week trying to decipher who I believe are the best 30 prospects out of this year’s Draft class.
I love covering the Draft every year and discovering who the cream of the crop are. In the coming few days I’ll be working on my final copy on my Phantom Draft in collaboration with fellow Mongrel writer, Brett Hodgson.
But in the meantime, here are the top 30 prospects to look out for ahead of the 2021 AFL Draft.
30 – Mitch Owens, Utility, 190cm, 85kg
Tied to St Kilda’s next-generation academy, Mitch Owens is a player that has got fantastic athletic attributes, but is still a fraction raw in regard to talent.
The lack of exposure this year in the NAB League may not help his case much, but what he was able to produce in a small sample size for both Sandringham and Vic Metro suggests that he’s got a ton of upside in his game and has the potential to be crafted into anything. His explosive pace and vertical has seen him spend time in the defensive half to good effect. His contested marking is another strength and has shown on a number of occasions, both in the forward and defensive half that he’s fearless in his approach for the footy.
The change in rules for Next Generation Academy players in Victoria this year means that unless a bid is taken inside the top 20, then the Saints will be free to match a bid for Owens, who should be available after pick 20. He averaged 18.6 disposals, five marks and three tackles this year in his five matches for the Dragons.
29 – Rhett Bazzo, Utility, 195cm, 81kg
Key position players that can prove their worth on either end of the ground are worth their weight in gold, and with Rhett Bazzo, he is probably behind a select few in terms of maximising versatility.
Many other draft experts will argue that Bazzo’s best position is in the defensive half of the ground, and I agree – he has a good knowledge of the play, a fair leap and strong hands to be that ideal intercept-marking defender, he’s got enough poise to make smart decisions out of the back line and also has shown in stages across the year that he is a strong competitor in the one-on-ones.
If he can string together more consistent performances at either end, then he becomes a big player to look out for over the next five years. The best is good, but the bad means that he disappears and have no influence on the contest, but there is enough to suggest that he’s got a future in the game regardless. Bazzo averaged 10.6 disposals and nearly four marks per game in WAFL’s under-18s competition this year, but also kicked 5.6 across nine games, most of them coming in the early stages.
28 – Jesse Motlop, Forward, 177cm, 77kg
Connected to Fremantle’s Next Generation Academy, there’s a bit of intrigue to where South Fremantle’s Jesse Motlop will head come draft night. From what I’ve been told, the Dockers cannot match a bid for him until pick 40 due to being a metropolitan indigenous prospect – geez, who came up with this?
It’s incredibly unlikely that Motlop will last outside the top 40 given his talent, which makes Freo’s pick 19 the most likely option for them to retain him. Why wouldn’t they? One of their key deficiencies this year was the consistent goal-scoring output from their forwards, but in Motlop, it certainly helps create more depth in their small forwards department – Michael Walters had a poor year, Liam Henry is on the come up and Lachie Schultz had a breakthrough year of sorts.
Motlop’s forward craft and nous for the goals are incredibly sublime, his reading of the play and his cleanliness at ground level shouldn’t go unchecked. He’s a very clever prospect and his finishing is worthy of being a top 25 pick. However, nine goals in eight senior games suggests that there is still an underlying consistency issue, and averaging just over eight disposals and two tackles per game in his senior matches suggest that there’s a lot of scope for improvement.
27 – Toby Conway, Ruck, 204cm, 90kg
Under-18 ruck options seem to be few and far between in this year’s draft crop, but with Geelong Falcons’ big man Toby Conway, he remains the number one ruck option in this year’s draft.
Fundamentally, there’s not a lot he does wrong, he positions himself as a kick behind the play beautifully, he presents well towards the ball going forward and his marking hands are very good. Right now, he’s not a capable forward option, but there’s a lot of scope to work with down the track for him to be that elite ruck option that can jag 10-15 goals a year. Not overly quick, but the aerobic capacity for someone his size is incredible, making him a very juicy prospect worth looking at.
But most importantly, his ruck craft this year has been top-notch. A lot of times over the course of the year, whilst only in six games in the NAB League and a couple of representative matches, He’s shown that he can put his hitouts to the advantage of his teammates and we all know at AFL-level, hitouts to advantage are crucial. He averaged 22.3 hitouts per game for the Falcons this year on top of 13.8 disposals, 2.8 marks and 2.2 tackles per game.
26 – Mitch Knevitt, Midfielder/Forward, 193cm, 81kg
I often like to say that ‘Potential’ is a dirty word, especially when it comes to draftees, but with Geelong Falcons prospect Mitch Knevitt, here’s a kid that has got potential written all over him.
First up, he’s got that great height that a lot of today’s elite midfielders have. The thing that I love the most about his game is his contested marking, he showed plenty of it during his time at the Falcons in the NAB League this year. Along with his contested ball-winning abilities, this high-flying midfielder comes to mind of Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe. He certainly has the scope to be a goal per-game elite inside midfield bull.
With that, however, his composure needs a bit of work as he tends to use it before he thinks at times. However, I like the athletic attributes that he does bring to the table – he’s quick, got a good vertical leap and is already strong for his size, the upside is enormous and could prove to be a very damaging player in due time. Knevitt averaged 24.3 disposals, 4.7 marks, 4.3 tackles and kicked five goals across nine games this season.
25 – Josh Fahey, Defender, 186cm, 76kg
As the leading Giants Academy prospect ahead of the 2021 AFL Draft, there is a great chance that the Giants will land him on Draft Night. These new rules on Next Generation Academies are very specific and confusing, but I believe that the Northern Academies (GWS, Sydney, Brisbane and Gold Coast) are able to still match for bids in the top 20.
Nonetheless, Fahey is a player that can easily go within the top 20 come Draft night, he’s a cracking rebounder and his use of the ball by foot coming out of the defensive half is simply sublime. It also helps that he can put some significant metres on his kicks, there would be at least another half a dozen football sides that love to take the game on that would be extremely stoked to get their hands on this young man if he wasn’t tied down to the Academy.
However, the lack of games he has played in comparison to others will set him back from the pack a little, he played three games for GWS’ VFL side this year and averaged about 13 disposals, but it must also be taken into consideration that he was the AFL Academy’s best in their practice game against Geelong’s VFL team, showcasing plenty of his drive from defence and his willingness to take the game on through the middle at every opportunity.
24 – Sam Butler, Forward/Midfielder, 184cm, 73kg
Much like his brother Dan at the Saints, Sam Butler is a player fleet of foot and he has the capacity to play both forward and in the midfield. Having seen some of his games for Greater Western Victoria in the NAB League this year, I think I’d rather him as the former.
Yes, his speed matches that of his older brother, but he also works hard and bounces from contest to contest to get involved as much as he can, and he gets himself into a lot of very capable goal-scoring positions as a forward. Towards the end of the year, he was playing more as a midfielder and adjusted himself accordingly, being able to burst away from stoppages with the ball in his hands and also do the in-and-under stuff to a tee.
Like many players that tend to enjoy running with the football, Butler can make some silly decisions with the ball at times, but the fact that he busts his guts running to get to the next contest means that the decision-making skills can be worked on easily as he gets older. He averaged 17.1 disposals and 4.8 tackles for the Rebels this year, and managed seven goals from nine matches, most of them coming early in the season when he was stationed more forward.
23 – Angus Sheldrick, Midfielder, 179cm, 88kg
In Claremont’s Angus Sheldrick, there’s not much you can describe him other than being a ‘GND’ player – that’s guts and determination for all of you playing at home.
There’s not much of him height-wise but he’s already a very strong boy for his age and the way he has played in the under-18s this year, both at state-level and at national level, he’s shown every bit of that strong boy around the stoppages and around every contest he can get to. His work rate is solid, his appetite for the contest is evident for all to see and his ability to win the ball from the source and extract is first-rate.
His kicking skills and decision making at times have been put under the microscope, but he’s always been more reliant in working at the foot of the pack and dishing it out to the outside runners. He’s also shown during Claremont’s finals campaign in the WAFL Colts competition, that he can pop up for a goal or two, having snagged six goals in his three finals games this year. He averaged a goal per game across nine matches this year, on top of averaging just under 26 disposals and four tackles.
22 – Leek Alleer, Key Defender, 196cm, 84kg
After his season with Central Districts in the SANFL, Leek Alleer’s rise and value on the draft board has rapidly gained traction and is a player that might just sneak towards the end of the first round.
He’s a mature-aged player, having just turned 20 in August, but that doesn’t mean much when you take into consideration how much improvement he’s shown over the span of 18 months, when he started the 2020 year playing in the under-18s last year as an over-age player. This year in the SANFL, Alleer’s insane vertical leap and athleticism was used to full advantage as he became one of the top intercept marking defenders in the competition.
In some respect, he reminds you of the way Aliir Aliir played at Port Adelaide this year, almost every chance he got, he flew at the ball as if he had nothing to lose and Alleer has a similar style. His contested marking and intercept marking in the seniors this year was something special and his work in reading the play was outstanding in large parts of the year. He averaged 8.9 disposals, 4.4 marks and 2.5 tackles per game in 11 games for Centrals this year, but under an AFL environment, this young man has a chance to fully flourish.
21 – Jacob Van Rooyen, Utility, 194cm, 91kg
In a draft class that doesn’t boast as many key position players as it did last year, Claremont prospect Jacob Van Rooyen is someone that has versatility at either end of the ground, and he can make an impact as a tall option.
Van Rooyen’s biggest strength lies in his work in the air. When he attacks the ball in flight, he becomes nearly impossible to stop, he’s more of a strength player than anything else. Whilst there is footage that suggests that he is more than capable playing as a key defender, a lot of this year has seen him stationed more as a key forward and particularly in the latter stages of the season in the WAFL Colts competition, he’s proven to be more than up to the task.
It was in his last six games of the year in the WAFL that Van Rooyen kicked 24 of his 34 goals, this included a bag of six, a bag of five and two bags of four, one of which was in the Grand Final and the other was a Semi-Final. He has also had senior experience under his belt, playing five games but showed that there is still a way to go for him to compete against bigger, older and stronger bodies – he’ll most likely fall towards the back end of the first round or start of the second.
20 – Tyler Sonsie, Midfielder, 181cm, 77kg
Tyler Sonsie is a player that despite the inconsistency issues, his best football has been documented as game-changing and has proven to be the difference in years gone by. But that gap between his best and worst is at a wide gap.
In terms of his style, he’s a player that can not only win his own ball but can also push forward to provide as a goal-scoring option. As we know in the modern era, elite goal-scoring midfielders are few and far between and we’re immediately drawn to players like Dustin Martin, Christian Petracca and Marcus Bontempelli when we think about goal-kicking mids. I’m not saying Sonsie will be the next star, but his upside is capable of being elite when he jumps into his prime.
He was named Vic Metro’s MVP in the under-16s championships a couple of years ago in a campaign that saw him dominate in games, including a game which saw him kick 4.3 – This year for Eastern Ranges in the NAB League, he’s managed to average 23 disposals and a goal per game in five matches, but also averaged low tackle numbers this year, which means that he will need to improve his defensive game. He did also manage a senior game for Box Hill in the VFL this year and acquitted himself quite well, kicking two goals from 24 disposals and five inside 50s.
19 – Zac Taylor, Midfielder, 180cm, 74kg
Zac Taylor’s draft value was rocketing up just as the NAB League was abruptly cut short, which is a shame, because he was putting in some monster numbers in his last three games.
Taylor, despite a lack of height that the modern-day midfielder usually possesses, is a player that has very little problem in extracting the football out from the source and then receiving it on the outside to then make a smart decision with the ball in his hands. Combine this with his speed and agility and here’s a player that has got potential to be a game-breaking midfielder down the track and the last few games Calder played this season will attest to this
Especially in their last game of the season against the Murray Bushrangers, Taylor recorded 37 disposals, 22 of them were contested to go along with 11 clearances in a clear best-on-field performance. His last three games for Calder saw him average over 34 disposals per game. It remains unclear if he’s capable in other positions around the ground, but his pure gut-running abilities and his high football IQ as a midfielder should be more than enough for clubs to consider as a potential draft bolter.
18 – Arlo Draper, Midfielder/Forward, 186cm, 75kg
There’s plenty to like about South Adelaide’s Arlo Draper. Watching some of his highlights footage, he loves to bring his teammates into the game and looks to be more well-versed in helping get his team in the best position to score.
Furthermore, when called upon, he can also provide a very decent scoring option when he’s planted deep in attacking 50. His frame suggests that he may take some time to adjust to playing in the big time before he’s ready to make his debut, but he’s showed both in the under-18s and in the reserves that he can fill a need in a few areas of the ground. Injuries have held him back as others have flourished, which will mean that he’ll most likely be a pick in the mid-high teens.
In his nine games for South Adelaide in the SANFL Under-18s, he was able to display both his contested ball-winning abilities in the middle as well as his forward craft on many occasions. He kicked 10 goals in nine games, whilst averaging 24.1 disposals, five tackles, four marks and over six clearances per game. In his three games in the reserves, he’d average 15.7 disposals, five tackles and four clearances per game.
17 – Campbell Chesser, Midfielder/Defender, 186cm, 83kg
Sandringham’s Campbell Chesser is a player that’s blessed with a terrific blend of great speed, endurance and foot skills.
Had it not been for a torn meniscus early in the year, Chesser would have probably been higher up in the rankings, possibly on the cusp of cracking the top 10, but the injury meant that he was only limited to three games this year in the Dragons colours. However, his work rate to win the footy in the defensive half and then push to the next contest are perhaps the two biggest things I love about his game and will no doubt appeal to many clubs looking for elite running players.
Despite being more based on the outside and lacking the tackle numbers others around him might have, Chesser’s got a great kick on him, not just able to gain significant meterage, but can also hit targets both near and far. Chesser only averaged 18 disposals and three marks per game across his three games for the Dragons this year, but there’s no doubt in my mind that whoever picks him up will have a kid who’s ready to work and put the yards in.
16 – Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, Midfielder, 188cm, 70kg
Perhaps one of the purest outside midfielders in this year’s draft cohort, Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera is a player that has class in spades and then some and would make a handy addition to any side that does lack that outside class.
It is common knowledge that players that play solely on the outside genuinely tend to lack the ability to win contested possessions and Wanganeen-Milera is no exception with his very light frame. However, his skills with the ball in his hand and his ability to make quality decisions under pressure immediately cancel out any concerns with his contested ball. He finds space easily and even under pressure, he can find an extra second or two to make sure he hits his teammate on the chest.
He spent most of his time this year for Glenelg in the reserves and in doing so, showed how much he relishes taking the game on. He played 13 games and averaged just under 16 disposals, but he did see some senior games as well and didn’t look too out of place against bigger and stronger bodies either, averaging just over 11 disposals in his four games in the firsts.
15 – Josh Goater, Utility, 190cm, 79kg
There’s a lot of intrigue with Calder Cannon’s Josh Goater. He’s a player that is blessed with good height, has got great speed and has been trialled in several positions over the past few years to a very good effect – a player that could genuinely be anything.
Athletically, he’s got fantastic attributes all around, not just with his speed, but he’s got a good vertical leap and his agility has seen him weave out of congestion with ease at times. Whilst it remains unclear where his best position is, he played most of this year in the NAB League in the middle and averaged 24 disposals and over three inside 50s per game, showcasing very little doubt with his ability to find the ball both in space and in congestion.
He has also seen time across the half-back line, which is where I suspect where he may begin his career off. Some have argued that the defensive half is where he’s best suited, because he’s a capable reader of the play and can play both as that intercepting defender and brilliant rebounder and with this, he can help create offence a lot easier here, averaging three rebound 50s per game for Calder this year.
14 – Josh Sinn, Defender/Midfielder, 186cm, 73 kg
At the start of this year, Josh Sinn was touted as a potential top-five selection, funny how a few months can diminish one’s value.
Instead, he’s a player that is more expected to slide towards the back half of the first round come draft night. At the start of the year, he was a player that had high credentials across the board for his elite pace and his consistently excellent use of the ball by foot, some had him top five, others even higher at the start of the year.
A hamstring injury ruled him out for two months of action, before an ankle injury in a game against Vic Country put the full stop on his 2021 campaign. The risk for more injuries is there, but his five games for the Dragons this year suggests that the sky is indeed the limit if he can keep fit. Sinn averaged 17.6 disposals per game, with 12 of those being kicks. His ability to both rebound and be a source of generating inside 50s was also evident in his games this year, averaging over four inside 50s per game and nearly three rebound 50s per game.
13 – Jye Amiss, Key Forward, 195cm, 85kg
As far as key forwards go, East Perth’s Jye Amiss is one of the more accurate and consistent to come out of this year’s draft cohort.
Whilst he has only played at an under-18s level this year and hasn’t had experience at senior level the way others in his state might have experienced this year, what Amiss has still managed to prove is just how consistent and sharp he is around the big sticks – 51.15 in just 15 games in any level is nothing to scoff over, and if anything, it proves just valuable he could be to a side going forward. Among this 51-goal season includes a bag of seven goals without a blemish against Peel, 6.1 against Perth and a couple of bags of five.
Despite two finals performances that he’d rather forget, kicking zero goals in either match, there is a lot of scope for Amiss to be something big in the AFL. On top of being a deadly accurate force in front of goal, his leading patterns are elite as he leads up towards the ball carriers with promising conviction and when the ball is in dispute inside the forward 50, his ability to gather the ball cleanly at ground level is critically underrated.
12 – Matthew Roberts, Midfielder, 183cm, 81kg
South Adelaide’s Matthew Roberts is a player that, despite the lack of any explosive athletic attributes, does not lack the fundamentals required to play the game.
What I’ve liked about Roberts’ year in the SANFL in 2021 is that he played both in the under-18s and in senior footy and showed in both levels that he should be firmly entrenched within the first round of the draft. In his three games in the under 18s, he dominated, averaging 32 disposals and over a goal per game. He also averaged over eight marks, seven tackles and six clearances in those three games too.
In his seven senior games for South Adelaide, he showed that he can also be adept to playing more forward of centre, kicking six goals from seven matches, whilst averaging 11.1 disposals and just under four tackles per game. Roberts is a player that is incredibly intelligent in knowing where to go from contest to contest and his ability to read the play and use it effectively is what will entice a lot of clubs to look at him.
11 – Josh Rachele, Forward/Midfielder, 180cm, 78kg
Josh Rachele is a player I have some mixed feelings about. As one of the leading general/small forward-types in this year’s draft class, he can do some mercurial things with the ball in his hand, but there are a few flaws with his game.
The first is his size, players around the 175cm-180cm range don’t tend to be looked at so early. But once you start to look at his game and the things he can do with the ball forward of centre, it overrides the size factor by a long way. His endurance capabilities do need working on, and in turn, this plays into his consistency problems a fair bit. If he touches that up, when we look back upon this draft in a few years, we’ll be saying this kid is amongst the top five or six players.
What makes draft analysts and recruiters salivate over this kid is that he leads well up the ground as a high half-forward type and his foot skills and vision are quite elite for his age. Playing deeper forward, he remains a more constant threat, crumbing out of packs and turning half chances into goals. He averaged two goals per game for Murray across four games in 2019 and in the same number of games this year, he nearly averaged three goals all whilst averaging 18.5 disposals, 6.3 marks and 3.8 tackles per game.
10 – Matthew Johnson, Midfielder, 192cm, 82kg
Midfielders in the 190cm-plus range look to be few and far between in this year’s Draft class, but Matthew Johnson is a player that has got good height, elite agility and already possesses great poise with the ball in hand for a teenager.
This is a beaten-horse comparison, but the way he moves the ball in traffic truly does remind me of a young Scott Pendlebury in the way that he knows how to weave his way out of congestion and slice the game open with his ball use by hand and foot. He’s still very rangy for his height, so some kilos will need to be put on in the weight room before he takes off in the topflight, however, the upside he brings for any side in that middle-of-the-rung area is tremendous.
He only averaged 6.7 disposals per game across three games for Subiaco this year in the WAFL seniors, but he also managed to average over 20 disposals per game across four reserve-grade games and six under-18s games as well this year. In addition to his work in the WAFL this year, he was also named best afield in Western Australia’s five-point win over South Australia in the most recent under-19s state match, showcasing his capabilities to stand up when a game is up for grabs.
9 – Josh Ward, Midfielder, 181cm, 79kg
Josh Ward is one of the more balanced midfielders in this year’s draft class and is a player that can see plenty of game time straight away with the right team.
On top of his abilities to find the ball both in space and in congestion, his clean use of the ball, excellent reading of the play and his elite aerobic capacity makes him quite the dangerous player and the scope for him to be a future star in the league is on the back of what he’s managed to produce this year for the Northern Knights in just a small sample size this year.
He’s a terrific balanced midfielder and worthy of his top 10 status – in a way, he reminds me about how Jack Macrae in terms of his work rate to run from contest to contest to get on the end of a disposal or three – and he’d then use it well setting his teammates up. In just five games this year for the Knights, Ward averaged over 30 disposals this year, as well as good averages of 5.2 marks, 4.8 tackles and over three inside 50s per game.
8 – Josh Gibcus, Key Defender, 195cm, 84kg
The best pure key defender in this year’s Draft cohort, Josh Gibcus is a young lad that is quite likely to thrive in the AFL system down the track.
What makes him the best key defender in this year’s draft class is that his ability to read the ball in flight is first class and he’s got the marking hands to match it. In games in the NAB League for Greater Western Victoria, Gibcus is hard to beat in one-on-ones and at worst, he’ll often bring the ball to ground, even if the direct opponent has a metre or two on him, Gibcus’ closing speed is often underrated and as such, makes him a very handy forward stopper and often reliable in these types of situations.
Of course, there’s plenty of room for development in the offensive components for his game, only averaging 12. 8 disposals and 3.3 rebound 50s, but also averages just under five marks per game as well. The numbers might look meagre, but there’s an enormous amount of scope for him to further develop his offensive craft in defence. Especially given in a draft that these pure key defensive players look to be in short supply in this year’s draft class, he’s a kid that’ll go and go early.
7 – Neil Erasmus, Midfielder/Forward, 188cm, 80kg
Neil Erasmus is perhaps my favourite player to come out of the Draft, watching him play at Subiaco this year, there are elements of his game that remind me of Zac Bailey.
In terms of this comparison, Erasmus is a player that offers both accumulation and efficiency with his disposal and it’s because of this reason that many people rate him as a top-10 selection, he’s a very damaging player. As a midfielder, he’s already a sound contested ball winner and his ability to extract the ball out of both centre bounces and stoppages around the ground is already well developed, but he can also push forward and help create scoring opportunities if he’s not kicking them himself.
The thing that also helps with his draft value too is that Western Australia managed to get almost a full year of footy in, whereas other states have had severely compromised seasons. Unfortunately for Erasmus, he missed the last month of his draft campaign due to a leg injury, meaning he missed both of WA’s under-19 representative games against South Australia, but it shouldn’t do much to hurt his chances too greatly. Erasmus played just four games for the WAFL Colts this year, but averaged 28 disposals, four tackles and 7.7 marks per game.
6 – Mac Andrew, Utility, 200cm, 70kg
With Mac Andrew, there’s a huge sense of excitement in the way he goes about his footy. If he was draft-eligible last year, he would’ve been a lock to go to Melbourne under the Next Generation Academy bidding process.
But now because all of that has changed, he’ll now be most likely heading to whichever club is willing to take the punt on him. There isn’t a single doubt in my mind that he’ll go inside the first round and there’s a big chance he goes within the top 10. His upside and trajectory in draft value remind me of Luke Jackson a couple of years ago. I was certainly a sceptic of that, but the return investment paid off quite handsomely.
A similar thing applies with Andrew, whilst it’s true that he may need to put more muscle on that frame, the athletic attributes that he possesses can make him hard to stop and if he continues to work hard with his craft, then he certainly will have us footy scribes talking for a good while. He’s shown his small sample size of games this year for Dandenong that he can find the right spots to win and receive the footy and be able to use it effectively, averaging 12.7 disposals and 12.7 hitouts per game, as well as averaging 2.7 marks this season.
5 – Ben Hobbs, Midfielder, 183cm, 80kg
Not quite fast, but most definitively furious is how I’d describe Greater Western Victoria prospect Ben Hobbs. He’s a player that’s got enormous scope to be so much more than just an inside midfielder.
Hobbs is among one of my personal favourite prospects to study about this year. Whilst he lacks height, speed and agility that others around him do possess, what he offers is a lot of grit, determination and grunt work around the stoppages and congestion. He’s perhaps one of the top five youngsters in this draft cohort in terms of winning contested possessions, but he’s equally as damaging when his team doesn’t have the football.
Another good trait that he brings is his goal-sense. For someone more classified around the stoppages and prides himself on his contested footy, his ability to pop up for goals with such regularity is something that elevates him to that upper echelon of midfield talent. On top of averaging 24.8 disposals and nearly six tackles in five games this year, Hobbs also managed to kick four goals in total.
4 – Finn Callaghan, Midfielder, 189cm, 82kg
Time and space are the first words that come to mind when I think about how Finn Callaghan plays the game, he always seems to find a way to weave himself out of stoppage and into the open and when he does do that, he is often counted on to make the opposition pay.
He’s not a renowned contested possession getter yet, but what he does offer on the outside is fancy footwork and skills by foot that have been rated by some as the most elite of this year’s draft cohort. His remarkable agility and evasive skills make him a very valuable contributor in terms of his composure with the ball in hand and doesn’t hesitate in trying to take the game on or break the game open.
Some have drawn comparisons to his ball use to Marcus Bontempelli and if he even turns out to be half as good, he’s a star in the making. Primarily on the wing for Sandringham Dragons this year in the NAB League, Callaghan’s ability to find the football consistently and get from contest to contest helped mount his case even more to be a top-five pick come the Draft. In six games for the Dragons this year, Callaghan averaged over 24 disposals, 4.5 marks, 3.2 tackles and over four inside 50s per game.
3 – Sam Darcy, Key Utility, 204cm, 75kg
A father/son prospect I had the joy of watching Sam Darcy’s father Luke for many years at the Western Bulldogs and was quite the player for a lengthy period.
Despite the slender frame and probably needing a few years in the gym before he can really build on that body that can tear the game apart at senior level, what Sam Darcy has proven this year in both his NAB League campaign and in Vic Metro’s matches against Vic Country this year is that he is capable of tearing the game apart.
His attack on the ball aerially, strong bursts off the lead and his strong contested marking would make him a terrific partner-in-crime for Aaron Naughton and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan up forward. But he has also shown that he can float down back and have a positive impact on the play in terms of reading the play.
Darcy averaged 16 disposals and over six marks per game for Oakleigh in the NAB League this year playing more in the defensive half, albeit it was only just in three games. However, he did showcase his talents in the Championship games for Vic Metro more as a forward, kicking six goals in one match in a best afield effort against Vic Country.
2 – Nick Daicos, Midfielder, 183cm, 72kg
Collingwood are going to get themselves some player here, aren’t they? The son of the great Peter Daicos is going to be a best 22 player for the Pies next year beyond, perhaps much better than just a best-22 addition.
Questions remain about whether he can find a more consistent defensive side to his game, but these inconsistencies are still shined out by his offensive capabilities with the ball in his hands. Daicos finds the footy in a manner that is both consistent and effortless. On top of that, he shows a lot of class and poise with the ball in his hands and his agility in the congestion this year makes him a very smooth operator, to say the least and that only bolsters his value up significantly.
The Pies are going to be more of a rebuilding side in 2022, and having Daicos there for the ride will only help fast-track the overall development of the team. Daicos only played five games at the Oakleigh Chargers this year, which is only a small sample size and a small dent in terms of the concerns about his draft value, but his averages of 35.8 disposals, 5.8 marks, 3.4 tackles and two goals per game just makes it hard to ignore once you see what he’s capable of producing, he’s a star in waiting.
1 – Jason Horne-Francis, Midfielder, 184cm, 78kg
It has been the case of who’s better between the top two in these rankings for most of the year, but the amount of exposure that Horne-Francis has had this year in South Australia in comparison to Nick Daicos in Victoria has him in the box seat for the number one pick over Nick Daicos.
What he’s managed to produce in his games for South Adelaide in the SANFL seniors against the more experienced bodies, his capabilities as a footballer are clear as day and I have no doubt that he’ll adjust himself into the league straight away. For an under-18, the strength and power that he possesses around the stoppages is already amazing,
He’s an excellent two-way midfielder that can not just win the ball from the source, but can also apply a lot of pressure around the stoppages and in that forward half of the ground and he will make the opposition hurt with his tackles. What he brings will suit North Melbourne to a tee and will no doubt slot right into their team round one next year and beyond – he’s the number one player in this year’s draft class.
Whilst not a possession accumulator in the fashion that Daicos is, Horne-Francis makes more of an impact with his touches both in the middle and forward of centre, having kicked 15 goals in his 20 games at senior level, showcasing, whilst averaging 16.5 disposals, 4.2 tackles and 3.2 clearances per game.