McEvoy-Hawthorn

It’s a wonderful day, you’ve just turned 18 and have blitzed your driving test, now as an added gift you’ve been given the chance to pick out your first vehicle with a decent budget to boot. Only catch is, your parents worked extremely hard to raise the funds for your gift and the vehicle has perform well and last the distance. It makes that first choice fairly important in the scheme of things for that youngster.

A similar fate awaits each of the 18 AFL clubs when going to the NAB AFL Draft with their first round picks.

Over the past decade, there has been a trend away from picking talls in the first round, with clubs seeking players that can have a more immediate impact on their footy club.

There have been exceptions to this, with 15 players over 200 centimetres selected as first round draft picks since 2005, each with varying levels of success.

Beginning with the 2005 national draft, Mitch Clark and Max Bailey were the first round selections chosen by Brisbane and Hawthorn respectively.

The talented Clark’s on and off field issues in his stop-start 111 game career have been well documented, at first the Lions, then Melbourne and now at Geelong where a persistent calf complaint restricted him to just eight senior appearances this season.

Max Bailey’s story is one of misfortune that ultimately culminated in finishing his league career as a premiership player.

Bailey debuted for the Hawks late in 2006, but his 2007, 2008 and most of his 2009 seasons were ruined by successive knee injuries.  He returned late in 2009, only to suffer another knee injury in his second comeback match, costing him another year on the sidelines.

Finally fully fit, with luck on his side, Bailey managed 16 games in 2011, but it wasn’t to last with a wrist injury costing him in 2012. Signing a one-year deal, 2013 was to be Bailey’s breakout year, playing 19 games, including the Grand Final win over Fremantle. However, ongoing knee concerns forced Bailey into retirement at the age of 27, where he joined Richmond as a development coach where he remains at present.

2006’s National Draft saw Brisbane select Matthew Leuenberger with pick four and the Blues grabbing Shaun Hampson as a compensation pick at 17.

Leuenberger debuted in 2007, playing 19 games in his first two years at the Lions, before suffering a cartilage injury in 2009, restricting him to just three games. He fought back with fruitful years in 2010 and 2011, resulting in consecutive top 10 placings in the Lions’ best and fairest.

However, since then Leuenberger’s career has varied with a sixth-placed finished in the 2013 best and fairest, countered with injury and poor form, as he was below his best for much of 2015.

Shaun Hampson struggled to make headway in the Blues’ senior line up for much of his career, managing 63 games in seven seasons at Carlton. He moved to Tigerland in exchange for pick 28 at the end of 2013, but has continued to struggle for senior selection, playing second fiddle behind Ivan Maric much of this time, with 15 games in two years as a Tiger, including just four in 2015.

The 2007/2008 drafts bore the most successful fruit from a recruiting point of view, with four of the six players drafted reaching the 100 game mark.

Arguably the best performed has been West Coast’s Nic Naitanui, who in 127 games, often rucking in tandem with Dean Cox, has often dazzled with exceptional skill, highlighted with his selection in the 2012 All-Australian team. While at times consistency has been an issue, this season the form Naitanui has shown has been one of the drivers behind the Eagles’ rise up the AFL ladder.

The number-one pick of 2007, Carlton’s Matthew Kreuzer was the Blues’ best first year player in 2008 and in 118 games has shown he can be a talented ruckman often used in a pinch-hitting role up forward if needed. However, injury has restricted Kreuzer to just 13 games in the last two years, though he has played the last 12 in succession and will play a key role in new coach Brendon Bolton’s plans for 2016 and beyond.

Ben McEvoy had seemingly established himself as the number-one ruck at the Saints but was surprisingly traded to the Hawks before the 2014 season. McEvoy was rewarded with a premiership medal in Hawthorn’s win over the Swans, sharing the ruck duties with David Hale, at the expense of the unlucky Jonathon Ceglar who had been the first choice ruck throughout most of the second half of the season.

The much-maligned Ty Vickery had struggled to make his mark at Richmond only reaching his 100th game last week in his seventh season as a Tiger. Vickery has shown his worth as a forward, kicking 127 goals, including 76 in the last three seasons. 2015 has shown Vickery in his best form with 26 goals in 13 games, including a career-best haul of six in round 21, showing at the age of 25, the best for Vickery is still to come.

Port Adelaide’s Matthew Lobbe had to wait until round five, 2010 to make his AFL debut, after being selected with pick 16 in the 2007 draft from the Eastern Ranges.  Lobbe struggled to make an impact even after debuting, making just 22 senior appearances from 2010-2012. However, 2013 established him as the number-one ruck at the Power, ranking sixth in the league for total hitouts and fourth again last season. Lobbe hasn’t quite matched these high standards this season, with the addition of Paddy Ryder to the Port Adelaide squad making his position in the side just a little unclear.

Unfortunately, Western Bulldogs’ father-son selection Ayce Cordy has been unable to make his mark, playing just 27 senior games in seven years at the Bulldogs. Cordy, selected with pick 14 in the 2008 NAB AFL Draft has averaged eight disposals and five hitouts per game, kicking just 15 goals in his league career. While he is still only 24, Cordy may have run his race at the Whitten Oval, falling behind fellow talls Jordan Roughead and Tom Campbell as first choice rucks.

Since 2009, the number of 200 centimetre players drafted with first round selections have been few and far between, and it is still too early in their respective careers to judge how far they will go as AFL players. While Daniel Gorringe and Billy Longer haven’t been able to score regular senior games, Essendon’s father-son selection of 2012, Joe Daniher has been the most promising with 65 goals in his 47 games, including 34 this season, though the last three weeks have seen him rendered goalless with the Bombers struggling to kick a winning score.

2013’s number-one pick Tom Boyd played just nine games at the GWS Giants in 2014, before signing a multi-million dollar, seven year deal to join the Bulldogs in exchange for former Bulldogs’ skipper Ryan Griffen and pick six in the last years national draft, which the Giants used to pick up Caleb Marchbank. Boyd has played 14 games for 16 goals this season, mainly used up forward, though in recent weeks has found himself confined to the VFL to continue his development.

As the above examples show, picking taller players with first round picks is a high risk strategy, as it usually takes a lot longer for these players to reach the peak of their form, and are often more susceptible to injury.

The trend of using later draft picks in picking very tall players successfully is highlighted by two of the most successful rucks over the last decade, Dean Cox and Aaron Sandilands who were both overlooked in the national draft and selected in the rookie drafts of 2001 and 2002 respectively. Even this years likely All-Australian ruckman, North Melbourne’s Todd Goldstein was picked as a third round pick at 37 in the 2006 draft.

Unless the 200-centimetre plus modern player possesses an exceptional amount of talent, clubs are now more willing to bide their time, using their early selections on ready made players, rather than taller types that take longer to develop and to be frank don’t always reach the heights shown in their junior careers.