While American fantasy games have long been associated with sports like the NFL, NBA and MLB, they have only been a relatively recent sensation when it comes to AFL.
AFL Fantasy (formerly Dream Team) and Supercoach are now an intrinsic part of the football experience, for better or worse. You can’t go on the AFL website, the Footy Live app, or Twitter without being bombarded by who’s scored what and how.
Pre-season is the most crucial part of setting up your fantasy side, and everyone is looking for that decisive edge. Which third or fourth year player is going to have a breakout season?
Which rookies are going to hold a spot in their side’s best 22 and contribute to your team? Which superstars are about to fall from their lofty perch?
This week we’re going to look at what is often the trickiest part of the ground in fantasy football – the defenders.
A structure that I like to follow is something like: two premiums that you can set and forget, one under-priced premium who is a strong chance to be in the top six scorers for the section by the end of the year, a breakout young player, an under-priced senior player returning from injury, and then three players that are as cheap as possible, mainly in the form of first year players.
At the very top end of town are the likes of Jimmy Bartel, Sam Mitchell, Jarrad McVeigh and Andrew Walker.
The first three have made their names as midfielders, but spent time running through half-back in 2013, while Walker had previously played his best football as a forward, but could have won All-Australian selection as a rebounding defender.
Mitchell and McVeigh are the two most solid and trustworthy of this lot, and will be starting in my team.
The whispers suggest Bartel will play more forward this year, and he’s been a little up and down in latter years, while Walker should get more attention this season, and I’m always wary of spending big money on someone who has only delivered the fantasy goods for one season.
On the next pricing rung down are players like Heath Shaw, Luke Hodge, Grant Birchall, Michael Hibberd, Corey Enright, Pearce Hanley and Kade Simpson. Hibberd and Hanley are the two who still have their best football in front of them, and should be popular picks over the next four or five seasons.
You won’t go wrong including them.
Shaw will be the interesting one, coming from a usually cohesive Collingwood defence used to winning matches, to a struggling Giants outfit.
He finds it hard to break the tag of a defensive forward if playing back, and may also get some attention if playing on a wing.
Birchall is very much under-priced if based on his best free-running form, but he also fell victim to a tag too many times last season, paying for his hot start to the year.
He’ll be in many a starting line-up.
Break-out players can be the crowning glory of a fantasy side, but they can also cause you to rue your very existence, leaving you with a burning feeling of disgust in the stomach ten minutes into Round 1.
This year, popular targets in the defensive zone will be Shaun Atley (again), Luke Docherty, David Swallow, Cam Guthrie, Elliot Yeo and Sam Darley.
Swallow and Guthrie look the pick of these. Both players were well regarded in the year they were drafted, and are entering their fourth season off the back of some very good football in 2013.
Graduation day is upon us for these guys, and they should provide solid scoring and a decent profit when we look to upgrade them later in the year.
Swallow is the safer pick, but you’ll also have to pay more for him accordingly.
Matt Suckling is returning from injury, and is priced 20 or 30 points under what he was delivering prior to the ACL injury that prevented him from playing a game last year.
Known for slipping forward and kicking goals from outside fifty, he should have no problem returning to his best.
Beau Waters and Alan Toovey are other examples of this type of player. The former is simply too injury-prone and will have an interrupted start to the season, while the latter has never been a prolific fantasy scorer, and won’t be worth the minor prize rise that he’ll achieve.
Three players under $200,000 are required to fill out the final places, preferably for as cheap as possible.
Keeping an eye on the Nab Challenge is the best way to determine which rookies are going to play, looking to see who is having an impact, and whose spot might be likely taken by returning senior players.
Possessions are important, but tackles are also something to monitor, which is often an indicator of work-rate, desire and a team-first attitude, something all coaches love.
Young players are often rewarded for doing the one-percenters.
Luke McDonald from North Melbourne will be on everyone’s radar, having already impressed in the pre-season comp so far.
Tom Clurey from Port and Melbourne’s Alexis Georgiou are others to have looked comfortable at the level.
Many are hoping the mature age Matt Fuller from the Western Bulldogs can have an impact immediately, while others will be thinking Kade Kolodjashnij will settle nicely into Gold Coast’s back half.
Will Jeremy Laidler be able to cement a spot in Sydney’s best 22, and thus find his way into our teams?
All of these questions and more will need to be answered as we close in on the season proper, and are forced into locking down our teams.
In real AFL terms, a good team is built from the defence up. In fantasy, a stable and performing backline gives a coach peace of mind. We want to minimise risk and maximize returns.