Defensive Player of the Year – Round Zero

The Mongrel Punt Defensive Player of the Year fills a hole in the AFL landscape.

With so much attention lavished on the midfielders and forwards, I found that outside of the All-Australian team, there was no real recognition for the best defenders in the game. It was the same for wingmen, and we now cover those players in our Robbie Flower Wingman of the Year Award.

The Defensive Player of the Year does not have the name of a great player attached to it (yet) but what it does have is four years of data analysing the best defenders in the game, ranking them on a weekly basis, and compiling that data into a leaderboard for each season.

We started this in 2020, with Fremantle’s interceptor/defender making the most of the shortened season to win the inaugural award. This accompanied his initial All-Australian selection, however, since then only none of our DPOY selections have worn the blazer – how they missed out is genuinely concerning when you look at who did make it in those seasons.

Previous winners listed below.

2020 – LUKE RYAN





This is normally restricted to our Inner Circle Members, who fork out additional dollars each week, so I try to provide as much info and analysis in each week’s edition as possible. The first part of this one will stay open for all as a way to introduce readers to the concept.

So, how does it work?

Each week, defenders are ranked in a range of categories pertinent to their roles as defenders. These include disposals combined with efficiency, one-percenters, intercepts, rebound 50s, metres gained, tackles, as well as votes from a range of sources.

There is particular focus on the purest of the defensive art – the spoils, and players who excel in that area tend to score consistently throughout the season, as evidenced by Andrews and Weitering winning the award.

That said, before moving into the midfield in 2023, Nick Daicos was the runaway leader, so as that, and this week’s rankings indicate, there is a definite possibility for a running, rebounding defender to take it home.

Have I yapped on enough? I feel like I have. Let’s jump into the top ten defenders for Round Zero of the 2024 AFL season and unpack how they scored, and what made them standout this week.
















Let’s start at the very beginning… a very good place to start

Wil Powell is a name most wouldn’t expect to see at the top of the list, but the Suns defender has long been capable of huge numbers. It’s just that injury has prevented it from occurring. As an interceptor, he reads the ball brilliantly, and was in the process of becoming one of the brightest young defensive stars in the game when he had a horror ankle fracture. The joint was also dislocated in a double-whammy that saw him doubt his ability to recover.

In 2023, his season ended after Round 21, but at over 20 disposals per game, his Round Zero outing could have been one we saw coming. A full preseason and uninterrupted run at 2024 is just the thing to propel him into the top tier of mid-size defenders.

Powell returned 28 disposals at 82% efficiency to be the number two ranked player in that category. He was also third in intercepts and fourth in metres gained, as he looked like the Richmond mids were kicking it right to him, at times.

Whilst much of the focus will be on the exploits of Rowell, Anderson, and King, the Gold Coast defence is starting to look a little ominous. With Sam Collins as the anchor, and Charlie Ballard still looking like a very effective yet awkward second tall, having Powell zoning off and taking possession of the footy bodes well for them this season

I was barracking for Nick Blakey to be ranked number one this week, but that was more because I was captivated with the way he plays the game. He just loved taking it on, doesn’t he?

I’ve written about this before, but Blakey is a complete chaos merchant. When he gets the ball and tucks it under his arm, the defensive setup of the opposition goes into panic-mode. Where is he going? What is he going to do? Do we run at him or corral him? It doesn’t seem to matter for The Lizard, as he dodges and weaves through the striking snakes like he’s the star of a wildlife video.

If someone can dub in David Attenborough commentating on his runs through the opposition players, I might be tempted to donate to their patreon!

He is now a player that does a bit of everything for the Swans. He can play a pure defensive role, come in over the top as an effective help defender, or run to space and be the first-release player once the ball hits the deck. And unlike others who use the mad dash from defence as a weapon, Blakey retains the ability to be in control and spot up a target. One of his inboard passes early in the contest was brilliant after taking off at top speed.

With an increased level of confidence, Blakey should feature heavily in the award this season.

Steven May had a dominant first half against the Swans. At the main break, he had eight intercepts to his name, with seven coming in the second quarter, alone. That is 26% of the Dees’ intercepts for that quarter. With the Swans’ tall forwards looking all at sea, and May looking like he had a vendetta against Logan McDonald by the way he was denying him any room to move, the Melbourne defender looked as though he was going to be the one player the Dees had who could steer them to victory.

It is difficult to praise May without also examining the setup within the Swans’ forward fifty, and the way they delivered the ball. Both played right into May’s hands, as he was far too strong for McDonald, who seemed content to contest long, high balls inside 50. As such, credit has to be given to John Longmire for the way he altered the approach of the Swans in the second half. Subtle blocks, lowered eyes, and a team-first attitude opened the door for more avenues to goal. That May was able to find just one intercept across the second half gives you an indication as to how much work the Swans put into him at halftime. By the end, even McDonald managed to clunk a big mark inside fifty, so as much as things weren’t working, Longmire was able to make the adjustments to correct it. Those moves likely cost May the number one spot this week.

Still, his numbers from the first half were enough to propel him into the top ten this week, and given the nick he looks in, he may feature in it quite often.

When I’ve watched Lachie Whitfield over the years, I’ve noticed that there has often been a target on his back. A slender running player, Whitfield’s role, whether he has played on-ball, wing, or in defence, is to generate run, but as a result, he is often left open when disposing of the footy after that run. Players chase, players set their sights on him, and when they get the chance, they love to hit this bloke hard.

It is a testament to the work ethic of Whitfield and the guts he possesses, that he takes these hits, gets up, and keeps going.

Playing him inside defensive fifty allows Whitfield a clear path to work his magic, and when given the room to operate, there are few better.

He was the number-one ranked player for disposals combined with efficiency for eligible players, and third in both Rebound 50 disposals and metres gained against the Magpies

Lewis Young is an unsung hero for Carlton, and whilst I don’t trust his disposals (it might be more his decision-making than disposals, actually), I do trust him when the ball is in the air and the contest needs to be killed. Whilst Jacob Weitering is out, the Blues will be leaning on him heavily.

Last season, he came under a bit of scrutiny for not controlling the direction of his spoiling. He can get his fist to most incoming kicks, but at times, he tended to punch the footy back toward the middle of the ground rather than toward the line. It was something hardcore supporters picked up on, but most of the experts didn’t bother to look at. So when he was out of the side, they were asking the dumb questions like “Why is Lewis Young not getting a run in this defence?”

I guess now they know. Right, Joey Montagna?

He had seven intercepts, seven one-percenters, and 11 rebounds in a performance that got better as the game progressed. He and Brodie Kemp have some big shoes to fill (oh, and Mitch McGovern too, if you force me to add him in), but the start has been solid. And that’s all you can ask for from a spoil-first defender.

Not sure where the Tigers would have been without Nick Vlastuin. He, along with Jayden Short, played four quarters and was a wall in defence, picking up 12 intercepts for the game.

Vlastuin has long been one of the better intercept players in the game. Reliable, tough, and good with the footy, he has been the backbone of the Tiger defence over the last three or four years.

I’d love to see him win a Jack Dyer Medal.

Harris Andrews narrowly missed a Defensive Double-Double, registering 12 one-percenters and nine intercepts in what has become an expected day at the office for him. In the intro, I touched on him missing the 2023 AA team, and I reckon he is a victim of his own consistency. Other players would be lauded for the work he does, but when it’s Andrews, it’s just expected that he’ll have returns like this.

That said, one more spoil and the talking points flip to how Carlton let the game slip, how Andrews makes the big play to kill Harry McKay’s chance at redemption, etc…

It would have been nice, but he was a split second too late to save the day…

… this time.

Ones to watch coming into Round One?

Nic Martin played the preseason off half-back and ‘should’ be able to get a tonne of the footy.

Look for Colby McKercher to start taking some heat off Harry Sheezel in North’s defence, which may lead to Sheez being afforded more licence to run forward.

Ready for Mitch Hinge to go to the next level? He excelled once he took over defensive responsibilities from Jordan Dawson in 2023, and could be looking at All-Australian consideration if he repeats that effort over an entire season.

And I like the idea of Brady Hough providing support in the struggling West Coast defence. Having him play as a floating interceptor and rebounder relies heavily on Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern remaining healthy and playing more as lockdown defenders, but Hough could be a real surprise packet back there.


The section below remains locked for our Inner Circle Members. It contains both the updated Defensive Double-Double, and Defensive Triple-Double lists, as well as a new addition to this column, the Young Defender of the Year rankings, which came about via reader suggestion.

Always got my ears open.


Now, I know some of you will ask – I am a member; why can’t I see this? This is for the Inner Circle Member tier – always has been. This is what these people generously pay a bit extra for, so I am more than happy to dive deep for them when it comes to this content. If you’re a Mongrel Member and you’d like to upgrade, go right ahead. If not, that’s cool, as well. But this is not a new thing – has been that way for over three years now.  Wanna join them?