Elite – Cripps, Gibbs, Murphy, Simpson (4)
Highly talented, integral to list success – Buckley, Casboult, Docherty, Graham, Kreuzer, Menzel, Tuohy, Walker (8)
Depth players – Bell, Curnow, Everitt, Holman, Jaksch, Jamison, Rowe, Thomas, White, Tutt, Wood (9)
Depth players with flaws – Armfield, Jones, Watson, Yarran, Warnock (5)
Improving players in debut years – Boekhorst, Smith, Dick, Whiley (4)
Older players (or on the decline) – Carrazzo, Judd, Ellard (all retired) (3)
Development players – Byrne, Fields, Foster, Giles, Gowers, Johnson, Russell, Sheehan, Viojo-Rainbow, Walsh (10)
This list profile gives some ideas to the problems facing Carlton’s list. Only having four elite players is a problem, particularly when one of them is a second-year player in Cripps, and another is a 31-year-old in Simpson. Having Gibbs and Murphy injured for large chunks of the season has also decimated the Blues’ talent pool.
Carlton only has a few older players, with Judd already retired, but also has 14 players who have either recently debuted or are still developing. They also have 27 players under the age of 25, showing that most of their list is still developing. Of the players in the crucial 25-28 age bracket, many fall in the depth or flaws category – Tuohy, Rowe, Kreuzer, Gibbs, Curnow, Everitt and Casboult are probably the only players from that category who will be around for the rebuild.
The list has a surfeit of flawed depth players, and a lack of A-grade talent across the board. Youngsters Cripps, Graham, Buckley and Docherty are all talented and are players who the future can be built around, but outside of those few, it will be a while until a verdict can be reached on the Blues’ other developing players. Given the spate of injuries the Blues have suffered this season, a number of younger players have been thrown into the deep end, which is hardly ideal for their development.
One bright spot this season has been Cripps’ development into a genuine A-grade midfielder at just 20 years of age. Of the highly talented players, Docherty has been in excellent form, as has Krezuer since returning from injury, while Buckley could be anything. Menzel has had a disappointing season and his future at the club is up in the air, but he is one of the most talented players on the Blues’ list. Casboult has improved his biggest weakness – his kicking – this season, and looks to be making the centre half forward position his own.
Of the improving players, Boekhorst and Smith have shown glimpses this year, but the jury is still out on Whiley and Dick. Of the depth players, Bell has been a consistent performer this year and could push into the elite bracket his kicking improves, as could Curnow. Jaksch is still developing and could yet be an excellent player, but has been wanting for form this year.
Dale Thomas from this group appears to be the most likely to elevate himself into the upper groups – injuries have prevented him from returning to the form he displayed during his All-Australian years at Collingwood, and there are questions as to whether he can return to his best form. However, at his best he is sublimely talented.
The off-season acquisition of Jones has failed to pay off – he is contracted for the next two years, but would want to improve drastically on his 2015 form to warrant a new deal from then on. Of the other flawed players, Armfield, Watson and Warnock are likely to be delisted, Ellard has retired, and Yarran is almost certain to leave the club.
The development players have shown some glimpses this year, with Fields and Walsh making their debuts. However, the others have not yet been sighted.
Arguably the Blues’ strongest unit. Jamison has been the mainstay of the Carlton backline for a number of years, but injury problems with his shoulders have meant he has played only 11 games this year. When fully fit, he’s Carlton’s best key defender, but it’s worrying that the team’s ability to defend against key forwards is reliant on a 29-year-old.
At 31, Kade Simpson is also a veteran but has been arguably Carlton’s best player this year, having averaged 23.6 disposals, 6.2 marks and 1.7 tackles. Sam Rowe is a solid if unspectacular defender, while Tuohy and White have also been solid again this season.
This is an area where the Blues have struggled. The move of Chris Yarran to defence after Jeff Garlett and Eddie Betts both sought trades elsewhere has meant the Blues have lacked a genuine crumbing forward. Casboult has competed well and looks to be a key plank of the forward line going forward, while Walker and Everitt have also been handy contributors.
However, they have had little assistance from those tried around them, with Watson, Jones and Jaksch all failing to have an impact. Troy Menzel has undoubted talent and goal sense, but he was in poor form this season.
Of the Blues four elite players, three are midfielders. This bodes well for the future: however, the talent of those who are around them is questionable. Too many of the Blues’ midfielders are honest but lack skill – players like Armfield and Tutt are not going to take the Blues forward. The younger players like Holman, Graham, Fields, Walsh and the more experienced Curnow are talented, and should be kept around for the long-term.
With Kreuzer returning from injury, the Blues’ ruck stocks look much brighter if he remains a Blue in 2016. At his best, Kreuzer has the talent to push into the elite category: injuries have so far prevented him from doing this. In his absence, Cameron Wood has performed admirably, although he lacks polish. Warnock has been a major disappointment, and looks set to be delisted at season’s end.
Armfield and Warnock are experienced Blues who don’t look likely to be offered new contracts next season, while Matthew Watson has failed to develop and has surely run out of chances after being trialled as both a forward and defender with no success. David Ellard has retired to pursue alternative career opportunities, but would most likely have been delisted.
Lachie Henderson is already out the door, having told the Blues he wishes to be traded at the end of the season. Yarran is as good as out the door with Richmond his rumoured new home, while Menzel has seemed disinterested this year, and could look for a move home to Adelaide. Tom Bell is reportedly exploring a move home to his native Queensland to be with his ill father. Krezuer is another player out of contract, and his future remains up in the air.
Dylan Buckley has developed well this season, and after taking a while to find his feet under Malthouse, has thrived in the latter stages of 2015. Buckley played the last 15 games in a row and vindicated Blues fans, who have long touted him as a future star. Tom Bell has also developed into a consistent player this season, bringing a tough edge to the Blues’ midfield.
There can only be one player here: Patrick Cripps. The young midfield bull has improved his kicking and outside ball-winning ability this season, and at just 20 has developed into a bonafide elite midfielder. He re-signed until 2017 prior to the season commencing, which is good news for Blues fans.
Troy Menzel has shown glimpses of his talent this year, but has been mostly inconsistent, failing to fire after an impressive 2014. Blues fans had hoped 2015 would be the year when he fulfilled his prodigious talent, but that has failed to materialise.
Dale Thomas’ continued run with injury was also a disappointment for the club, who was hoping for him to make a mark this year. The Blues’ off-season recruits have also disappointed – Jaksch, Whiley, Dick, Jones and Tutt all failed to cement spots in the team.
2014 draft crop
Despite Carlton’s injury woes, the 2014 draft crop has not been much sighted. Blaine Boekhorst has shown pace, but has struggled to adjust to the rigours of AFL. Clem Smith played a few games at the start of the season and showed glimpses, but needs to drastically improve his fitness and endurance. Viojo-Rainbow is a pacy, precise kick, but has not been seen at AFL level this year, while Jayden Foster is seen as a long-term proposition.
Of the rookies, Walsh and Fields have shown promise in their few games, especially Fields, who has shown he can comfortably kick the ball 80 metres. Russell and Gowers are yet to make their debuts.
MVP/Best and Fairest
Cripps and Simpson are the frontrunners here.
What they need
There are a number of gaping holes on Carlton’s list, and they have too many depth players on their list who don’t look like taking the next step. Carlton’s drafting over the past few years has been among the poorest in the competition, which has left them void of the players in the 25-28 age bracket who should be pushing into the highly talented and elite criteria. In general, the team needs a big injection of class.
Chief among them is the need for a key forward. Casboult is developing well, but needs some support. They are also desperate for a quality crumbing forward, and if Menzel leaves, they’ll need another half forward capable of eventually pushing into the midfield. The midfield needs pace to complement Murphy and Cripps in the clinches, and given Jamison’s injury troubles, a key defender would be handy.
Jaksch could develop into this player, but whether his best position is as a forward or a defender is still yet to be seen. Another young ruckman to develop will also be beneficial. What the Blues need most is talent and quality ball users, in all areas.
Draft and trade strategy
Carlton will have the coveted number one draft pick, which will allow them to net a quality tall. The two standout choices are key forward Josh Schache and key defender Jacob Weitering. Both will be excellent players, so the Blues really can’t lose either way. It will be a tough choice, as the Blues are crying out for a key forward, but Weitering will be a 200+ game defender. However, the difficulty of recruiting decent key forwards may see them favour Schache.
An aggressive approach to trading should see the Blues end up with several top draft picks in the top 25. They will most likely demand a first round draft pick for Lachie Henderson, while Yarran and Menzel could also command high prices. The Blues also have first call on potential father/son nominees Jack Silvagni and Bailey Rice.
If the Blues lose Matthew Kreuzer to free agency, they could be compensated with pick two in the draft. This would be a tremendous coup which many footy pundits are calling their ‘Buddy/Roughead’ moment, in reference to the Hawks’ super 2004 draft that saw them acquire the two star forwards as well as premiership midfielder Jordan Lewis.
Three or four first-round selections, as well as Schache, would set the Blues up well for what looks to be a long rebuild. Early selections would allow them to get a few quality midfielders or a classy small forward, while other midfielders and ruckmen could slide to their later picks.
The club may also be an active player in the trade period, with the club in the running to acquire both Jake Carlisle from Essendon and James Aish from Brisbane, although the latter in particular is unlikely. Otherwise, given the parlous state of the Blues’ list, it’s hard to see them attracting too many free agents. Regardless, the club should be looking to the draft for the talent it is seeking.