With an ageing midfield, the Blues have used the draft over the last few years to get their hands on specialised players to help replenish their stocks.
They’ve taken players above where they were generally rated, in order to get their hands on the type of player they want.
The first instance of this was Patrick Cripps. In the 2013 National Draft, Carlton took Cripps at pick 13, despite many not rating him so highly.
Cripps has done nothing but impress since arriving at the Blues, with many touting him as a future leader at the club. He has also re-signed with Carlton until 2017, alleviating fears that he would follow his cousin Jamie, who plays for the Eagles, from Melbourne back to Western Australia.
The big-bodied midfielder was serviceable in his first few AFL matches, despite not quite having the stamina to run out full games. Cripps’ best performance came on debut against Melbourne where he had 17 disposals and laid five tackles.
His year was then halted by a broken leg that he suffered while playing for the Northern Blues.
This pre-season has been a lot kinder to Cripps who has not been hampered by injury, while credit has to go to the young midfielder for his improved fitness. Cripps hired his own personal running coach during his time back home in Western Australia over the off-season on his own accord, and the results are speaking for themselves so far.
He had 14 disposals against the Eagles in the Blues’ first NAB Challenge match, but what was most impressive was how he led the Blues’ midfield at stoppages in the absence of Chris Judd, Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs.
Despite the Blues not really being in anyone’s calculations to make the eight, they have a strong midfield group, with Judd, Murphy, Gibbs, Dale Thomas, Kade Simpson and Andrew Carrazzo all integral parts of it.
The issue lies with the fact that the average age of the players above is 29, with Gibbs being the youngest at 25.
Cripps has an AFL-ready body and is a contested possession machine who can feed players like Gibbs and Murphy. His main strength lies in getting handball clearances out of congested situations and with Carrazzo and Judd approaching the end of their careers, Carlton will be relying on the next generation of players like Cripps, Tom Bell and Nick Graham to step up and fill their positions.
Carlton fans haven’t had a lot to smile about in recent times and as the club is in the middle of rebuilding its list, fans will be watching someone like Cripps – whom the club has invested in heavily – and hoping he can be their missing link in 2015.