I’ve ranked the first 30 picks and separated them into several categories: potential is factored into the rankings, with some consideration into their performances so far.
NB – This is a rankings lists, not a ‘who would have been taken where’ if the draft was redone.
Haven’t had enough of a run yet:
30. Darcy Lang – The 2013 Geelong Falcons team was arguably the best TAC Cup team to not win a premiership. Lang’s injury troubles made him a hidden gem, and the fact that the Cats used pick 15 on him shows how much trust they have in him. A ball winner who can uses the ball supremely, Lang will take a little while to push into the team’s best 22. Against the Hawks he seemed to always find himself in space and showed complete composure. It’s that ability to spot up a target under pressure that is his best asset.
29. James Sicily – The ‘best contested mark for his size’ category could be hotly debated for the 2013 draft class. Ben Lennon and Jack Billings have incredible marking abilities, but Sicily is the type of player who could re-define player roles through his incredible leap. Sicily has the potential to kick 40 or 50 goals in an AFL season, but his thin frame will take a while to develop.
28. Blake Acres – Acres put together a few games last year, but it’s still tough to figure out what kind of player he will be. He looks to have outside class, and the Saints will love his size. His lack of consistency and form on paper concerns me: he’d be my pick for a potential bust, with his injury history particularly troubling.
27. Cam McCarthy – I’ll admit it, I wasn’t sold on McCarthy in his draft year. His goal kicking seemed a little off and he didn’t look like he had the skills to dominate at AFL level. His marking was exceptional as an 18 year old and he had a long frame, but he seemed more likely to become a Tyrone Vickery type than a genuine star. However, his performance against Essendon in the NAB Challenge (despite how weak they were) really showcased his improvement in his goal kicking, his running patterns and strength, as did his game against St Kilda on the weekend. McCarthy could shoot up this list with Tom Boyd now at the Dogs.
26. Matthew Scharenberg – Unlike Acres, Scharenberg had really shown his worth at TAC Cup level, and could have went as high as pick three had he not gotten injured. He’s got the ability to win enough footy at senior level and his body type fits the prototypical tall midfielder. He just needs to get on the park and find where his best footy is.
25. Nathan Freeman – Freeman has the potential to break out as a top five contender. His speed is frightening, while his offensive game is elite and well-rounded. He can kick goals, he breaks lines and he looks for the best option every time. Freeman is not only a great kick and athlete, but a strong bodied midfielder who tackles ferociously and reads the game well. He’s got all the makings of a star – he just needs some luck on the injury front.
24. Sam Lloyd – He’s shown quite a bit at AFL level, but the big question is in regards to how high his ceiling is. Lloyd finds enough of the football to be effective and kick goals, but that seems to be the only string to his bow at this stage. He was a great find for the Tigers and should continue to become a more rounded forward.
23. Zak Jones – There’s no one angrier and tougher in this draft class than Zak Jones. At best, Jones could be a wonderful half back, yet he probably doesn’t quite have that extra level that someone like Jarman Impey has. Jones is a very solid kick and he’s accountable defensively, but he doesn’t have as much offensive firepower as the top-line half backs do. The worst case scenario is that he becomes the heart and soul of the footy club as the unsung lockdown hero.
22. Darcy Gardiner – The best key defender in the draft class hasn’t disappointed at all for the Lions. They drafted a known quantity: he can keep any forward quiet, but don’t ask him for much more. He doesn’t need to do more, as he has Dan McStay (if they use him down back) and Tom Cutler who can provide rebound as tall backmen.
21. Mitch Honeychurch – Perhaps one of the most damaging players of the class of 2013, Honeychurch cannot be disregarded due to his height. He does everything you want a half forward/midfielder to do. He can kick a bag of goals, he finds plenty of the ball (all on the outside mind you) and his kicking is precise. With the Dogs looking towards the Port Adelaide goal-kicking spread model, Honeychurch is an invaluable piece moving forward.
Great seasons, but should be overtaken by those with another gear:
20. Jay Kennedy-Harris – The former Oakleigh captain was someone I rated really highly in 2013. His defensive effort, speed, skill and motor were all astonishing. He could play anywhere on the field and his size didn’t matter. For Kennedy-Harris, it’s hard to see where the improvement will come from, as he seems to have all the small forward boxes ticked. It’s hard for a player of his size to suddenly develop an inside midfielder’s game, so he doesn’t quite have the potential of a Lewis Taylor. He looks to be a really solid player who could be an excellent small forward.
19. Patrick Ambrose – On exposed form, he’s probably in the top five so far alongside Luke McDonald, Marcus Bontempelli, Lewis Taylor and Tom Langdon. He’s turning 23 this year and averaged 11 disposals, three tackles and kicked 13 goals in 16 games as a medium forward. His potential isn’t as high as someone like Ben Lennon – who plays a similar role – but don’t count on Ambrose simply to get overtaken due to his age.
18. Tom Langdon – Langdon missed out on the draft in 2012 because recruiters thought he was limited. He came back in 2013 and was a standout, but still was a late pick because he wasn’t a great kick. Langdon’s first AFL season was consistent and really promising. He’s still not a smooth ball mover, but he’s an accountable, courageous defender who can find the ball. He doesn’t have the potential of a Luke McDonald, but Langdon looks like he could carve out a 150 game career.
Got another gear:
17. Patrick Cripps – Pick 13 felt really high for Cripps. A big bodied midfielder who wasn’t that dominant? It seemed like there were 10 better options for the Blues, but Shane Rogers deserves credit, as Cripps has morphed into a fine player. He’s showed he’s capable of racking up the ball in the reserves, and his kicking has become much better than expected. Mick Malthouse is trying to turn him into a goal-kicking midfielder which is surprising, as he never seemed to have this many strings to his bow. Cripps should bolt up the list if he gets a lot of games this year.
16. Dom Sheed – A no-risk, solid reward investment in the Eagles eyes. Sheed won the Larke medal despite missing a lot of the National Championships, as his dominance was unfathomable. He seems to be underrated because he’s a pure inside midfielder: people seem to forget he’s got other skills. He kicked four goals against Vic Country, and his decision making is supreme. He’s got the skill set of a young Sam Mitchell, a player who was always knocked for not being a good kick, until the media realised about two years too late that he was dual sided and a supreme kick. Sheed’s got the base to become a Mitchell-type player.
15. Jarman Impey – TAC Cup Impey and AFL Impey are two different beasts. TAC Cup Impey was a highlight reel match winner: against the Rebels, he was best on ground with four goals, three behinds, 26 touches, 11 handball receives, eight marks (three were contested) and three tackles. He played anywhere on the ground and torched whoever he wanted with his speed, strength and goal kicking ability. But as soon as Port drafted him, they turned him into a complete lockdown player. He wasn’t given the opportunity to show off his flair, and you could be forgiven if you were a Port fan and thinking that this guy is the next Steve Morris. Impey has all the skills now to become one of the best two-way players for the best team in the competition. He could easily become a top ten contender if Port lets him play freely.
14. Matt Crouch – First, nobody wanted to trade for the rights to Matt Crouch in the GWS mini-draft. Then, after averaging 38 disposals in the TAC Cup, he slid to Adelaide. No matter how dominant he is, people disregard Crouch because he is a poor kick. However, he finds the ball like no other, while his vision to find people with darting handballs makes his teammates better. He tackles, works so hard and he’s got the ability to translate these skills into the AFL. If his kicking gets even slightly better, he’s a good shot to break into the top ten.
13. Billy Hartung – Athletically, Hartung is the most gifted small midfielder to come through in a while. His endurance is phenomenal, and the combination with his speed makes makes him a perfect wingman for the Hawks. Hartung showcased those two assets and his great kicking last year in limited glimpses, but he’s got plenty of other tricks that are yet to come out. Hartung is an accumulator, and despite being pigeonholed as an outside midfielder, he doesn’t mind getting his own footy. He can impact the scoreboard and he’s an on-field leader. He’s got the kind of winner’s mindset that might come across as arrogant to some, but he’s just so intent on being successful.
12. Ben Lennon – This might surprise some people, especially with Lennon’s mediocre 2014, but he has the tools to become a dynamic player at AFL level. Lennon is the prototypical midfielder. Large frame? Tick. Strong overhead marking ability? Got it. Ability to use both feet to a high standard? Absolutely. Can he play in just about any role? No doubt about it. I hopped on the Lennon bandwagon straight away, knowing he had a massive ceiling, but it was clear that he hadn’t quite figured out how to have an impact in every game. In fact, I rated Lennon much higher than his former Northern Knights team mate Marcus Bontempelli in their draft years. Having said that, Bontempelli seemed to only have his incredible games when I wasn’t at the Knights games.
11. Luke McDonald – McDonald played 22 games last year and he’s the most promising player on North’s list, yet he might not even be in their best 22 this year. McDonald is a lethal kick and he’s got a strong body. He looks to be a very solid choice as a defender, but I wasn’t sold on him as a midfielder. He doesn’t win a lot of his own ball, but with his frame, he could if he wanted to. The potential for him to become both an inside and outside player is there, and his average of just under 17 disposals in his first year was phenomenal. He’s not playing to his athletic strengths yet, which hurts his case as a top ten contender. For someone with decent speed, he only took four bounces for the whole of 2014. He also only averaged five contested possessions last year, but with that 189cm 85kg frame, he should be going in a lot harder, especially with his courage.
Top ten contenders:
10. Zach Merrett – The Bombers lost Stewart Crameri, but picked up Merrett with the compensation pick. On exposed form, Merrett had the most encouraging season of any rookie last year. No, he didn’t have the numbers that Bontempelli, Dunstan or Taylor had. However, he was able to string together 20 games with remarkable consistency. The most impressive part was that he played off a half forward flank for the entire year: a spot where young midfielders often struggle to have an impact in every game. Merrett was able to keep out other midfielders who have had plenty more experience in a particularly strong squad. Merrett has wonderful composure, a high football IQ and he was able to not only deliver to the key forwards, but also expand on his own scoring ability – something he didn’t do well at TAC Cup level.
9. Luke Dunstan – Many have been quick to write off Dunstan due to his perceived low ceiling. He is wrongly judged as a player who has already hit his peak. Yes, his body is stronger than most at his age and yes he is an instant-impact inside midfielder. However, he is already an outstanding leader, explosive around contests and he has the ability to hit the scoreboard. Comparisons to Dustin Martin aren’t too far off, but he’s probably not as good a mark or an athlete as Martin. However, a Jobe Watson type role isn’t too far of a stretch: his kicking is decent, he’s an accumulator, has a strong body, can go forward and he’ll bleed for his club.
8. Lewis Taylor – I hate when clubs ignore talent over size. Taylor should have been between pick 8-15 in the draft, yet he slid to the late 20s. Taylor has every skill necessary – speed, endurance, great kicking, goal sense, finding the football and tackling. Winning the NAB Rising Star was never a surprise. He was always going to be solid as a first year player, but he’s probably a peg above where I thought he’d be at this stage. Taylor still has plenty of upside and there seems to be no real issue for him. His game suits his size, so it doesn’t matter that he is less than 180cm. Taylor is the kind of guy who can get 25 disposals and a goal each and every week in his prime.
7. Kade Kolodjashnij – ‘KK’ is an intriguing prospect. Of all the players on this list, he’s the only one who I find it hard to see what he will develop into. As an 18 year old, he looked like he was just an excellent half back who had great foot skills. I queried his ability to find the ball: naturally, he then managed to have a 38 disposal game for Tasmania. In 2014 he averaged 17.1 disposals and showed in spurts that he could tackle and get some inside 50s. However, there would be other games where he wouldn’t tackle at all and couldn’t break free and get forward. I’m not sure whether he will transition into a midfielder, but his skill set is too good for him to be a half back flanker. We don’t know what he’s like when he gets tagged. He’s probably the hardest player to rank despite having great consistency.
6. Josh Kelly – I think the Dees got this one right. I’m not sure Josh Kelly is going to be a top five player in this draft, and picking up Christian Salem and Dom Tyson for Kelly might be wonderful value (that’s if the Dees can keep developing them). Kelly is exactly what we think he is. He hits targets with his kicks and I think he could become one of the best kicks under pressure in the league. However, Kelly is always going to be an outside player. His frame is still very skinny, but what’s more important is that he is going to struggle to put on weight. His potential to be Ben Cousins MK II rests on that ability to put on the weight. Cousins was only 79kgs at his peak, but he was ripped. I’m not sure Kelly could ever reach that Cousins level, despite being an insanely good athlete and hard worker. One positive for Kelly that I didn’t see coming is his ability to go forward, with his 13 goals in 18 games last year an incredible result.
5. James Aish – I can’t believe Aish is ‘only’ at number five. Essentially, Aish does everything Kelly does, but he also wins his own contested ball and tackles hard every week. Aish missed a sizable chunk of his draft year, and if he didn’t, he would have certainly been a top three pick. I think Aish needs to trust his kicking a bit more. He always hits targets, but his kick to handball ratio was exactly 1:1 last year. Aish was expected to show his talent in flashes last year, but somehow he showed remarkable consistency and an ability to find his own ball on the inside and the outside. Aish ranked first in total contested possessions for rookies last year and he also came in third for total uncontested possessions among first years. Incredible.
Pushing for top spot:
4. Jack Billings – Billings is a really rare player. His peak could be Nathan Fyfe, albeit with a wonderful kick. Billings is one of the best contested marks for his size. He throws himself at the ball in the air and on the ground. Yet having said that, he has the perfect outside midfielder’s skill set. Most of Billings’ damage comes from his forward nous. He kicked 14 goals and 15 behinds in 2014, while ranking second in both total goal assists and inside 50s per game among rookies. His best game was 25 disposals, eight marks and three goals against the Eagles last year. Despite starring last year, Billings still has plenty of room to grow in terms of getting his own ball (which we know he can), defending and learning how to be a leader. If everything goes right for Billings, he has the ability to become a top ten player in the league.
3. Tom Boyd – I’m not worried about how Boyd has performed in comparison to some others. His contested marking and set shot kicking is absolutely incredible. We’ll see him dominate a few quarters this year, and that’s all he needs to do to convince me that he was the right number one pick. If he can kick above 20 goals this year while co-existing with some unconventional forwards in Jake Stringer and Stewart Crameri, that will be an absolute win. The only way I can see Boyd being a bust is if his career is ruined by injuries. His strength is up there in the Tom Hawkins category and his goal kicking is better than most key forwards. Boyd played with Christian Petracca, Dan McStay and Michael Apeness at the Ranges and he was able to not only play alongside them well, but actually complement those players. The Dogs have a similar goal kicking spread with those unusual pieces, so Boyd could be a perfect fit. Having said that, Boyd will need at least two seasons to get used to playing alongside Stringer, Crameri and Bontempelli, just to understand the spacing his teammates need. I have no issues with saying Boyd will be in the top five key forwards in the league at his peak.
2. Christian Salem – Here’s the curve ball, but I’ve never been more excited for a player than Christian Salem. From round one of the TAC Cup season in 2013, Salem showed that he had those intangibles that could make him the most damaging player of the draft. Salem kicks goals from all angles, he can lead out while understanding forward spacing, and his crumbing is elite for someone I wouldn’t call a forward. Salem is an absolute bull around the contests. He was already strongly built from day one, and yet he might be the best outside midfielder of the draft. His kicking is superb in every aspect, which for mine is underrated. Over 25 metres, he’ll hit the target every time. He can weight 55 metre passes over the top of defences for forwards to run into perfectly, and he will always honour the lead. Having that clutch gene is also an intangible, and despite being somewhat disappointing on the stats sheet last year, that goal to beat Essendon just defines how he is as a player. Salem has never been a great accumulator, but his 20 disposals per week will be much more influential than most other players. Salem playing off the half back line is a great move for him this year, given he needs a year of building confidence and having trust from his teammates. At worst, I can see Salem being a Brett Deledio-type, but at best, there aren’t any players who have as wide a skill set as Salem.
1. Marcus Bontempelli – I was wrong about ‘The Bont’. He never impressed me in the TAC Cup. Then there was about a month stretch where he went bananas. From the 13th of July to the 24th of August, Bontempelli’s averages over five games stood at: 24.2 disposals at 67% disposal efficiency, 1.8 goals, 5.8 marks, 7.4 handball receives and 3.2 tackles. We knew Bontempelli could kick goals, after his bag of 10 for Marcellin. The question was whether he’d have the consistency and also whether or not he was going to be able to find the footy at AFL level. Lo and behold, he comes out and sits in the top five for inside 50s, contested possessions, clearances, goals and contested marks. His desire for the ball is absolutely incredible. Not many would have predicted that he would have been as good a contested player as he is already, because he was considered more of a highlights reel player with a great frame. At this stage, Bontempelli is without doubt the top player in the draft, but what else can he add to his game? He was meant to be the project type with plenty of upside, but he seems to have already reached a high level. Indeed, at his peak, we might be looking at a top 20 player in the league.