While the football world are selecting and debating their top 50 players, I decided to go with a different approach, ranking the top 20 key-position players (key-defenders, key-forwards, and rucks) as I see it in today’s AFL.
1. Lance Franklin
The greatest forward in the modern era, will finish his career with over 1000 goals and multiple flags. Buddy’s got it all.
2. Alex Rance
Best key defender in the competition over the last few seasons, his influence on games of football is still underrated despite his consistently elite performance. Beats his opponent week in week out, and rebounds effectively.
3. Tom Lynch (Gold Coast Suns)
Goalkicking machine in a struggling side, still young and with plenty of room to grow. Will be the dominant forward in the competition for the next decade.
4. Max Gawn
All-Australian ruckman for good reason, his dominance in ruck contests is accompanied by an ability to contribute around the ground with his safe hands and towering figure. Could improve even further, just entering his prime at 25 years of age.
5. Josh Kennedy (West Coast Eagles)
The Coleman medallist is as consistent as they come, kicking a goal in every game he played last season. Safe hands and an elite set-shot, Kennedy is the focal point of a potentially contending Eagles line-up.
6. Todd Goldstein
Another consistent performer, the skilled ruckman not only controls the centre of the ground through his tap work, but is also an accurate disposer of the football. Goldstein also provides a dangerous scoring threat, kicking 20 goals last season.
7. Jeremy McGovern
An exceptional intercept marker (ranking second in the league for intercept possessions), McGovern catapults the Eagles from defence into attack at will, and is the centrepiece for the ‘Weagles Web’.
8. Nick Riewoldt
Moved up the field more in season 2016, which resulted in a stellar ball-collecting season, while still managing to average two goals per game. The former skipper took the most marks in the AFL and continues to be a headache for opposition coaches.
9. Nic Naitanui
Say what you want about Naitanui, but the Eagles big man is arguably their most influential player, and will leave a significant gap in their ambition for a top-four finish recovering from an ACL injury. Palms the ball with ease to running players, and oozes game-winning ability. X-Factor written all over this bloke.
10. Daniel Talia
A relentless lockdown defender who has shone against the biggest names in the AFL since his debut season. Already a two-time All-Australian, Talia is starting to contribute offensively as his game matures.
11. Jarryd Roughead
The Hawks skipper has been an elite goal-kicker for the best part of a decade, and is now arguably the most flexible player in the competition, with the ability to play as a forward, midfielder, or even in the ruck. His inspirational return will have a profound impact on Hawthorn in season 2017.
12. Jeremy Cameron
Burst out of the blocks at a young age, being named in the 2013 All-Australian side in just his second season. Hasn’t quite exploded like many expected, however is a constant threat in the forward half, leading the Giants’ goalkicking every year since their inception.
13. Steven May
Simply a gun key defender, May has not received the plaudits of others in this list as a result of playing for an underperforming, non-Victorian side. May excels in all areas as a key defender, winning one-on-one contests, intercepting possessions, and gaining crucial meterage.
14. Harry Taylor
The Cats legend just keeps on keeping on. Three-time premiership centre half back who has built his game on elite marking and kicking ability, and now is often swung into the forward line to create a scoring presence.
15. Dale Morris
Was outstanding on the last day in September, playing a vital role in breaking the Bulldog’s 62-year premiership drought. Can play on tall, medium, and small sized forwards.
16. Jack Riewoldt
His goalkicking has declined since putting through 78 goals in 2010, however Riewoldt’s consistent performances often go unheralded. A team-orientated player who puts his heart on the line every week, Riewoldt is still among the game’s top key forwards.
17. Robbie Tarrant
Tarrant experienced a breakout 2016 campaign, winning the Syd Barker Medal (North Melbourne’s best and fairest) as the team’s most reliable key defender. Still can’t label him ‘Tazza’ quite yet though.
18. Cale Hooker
A difficult player to rank for obvious reasons, the Dons swingman was an elite intercept marker before making the move to centre-half-forward. Is an influential force either side of the ground, and holds the key to Essendon’s finals aspirations.
19. Taylor Walker
Tex ‘Frothies’ Walker kicks goals, sets up his teammates, and does it all while leading the Crows with his larrikin style. Never change, Tex.
20. Ben Reid
The Pies’ most important player, Reid transforms the Collingwood backline every time he steps out onto the field. Reads the play and can hit targets with his raking left boot, the injury-riddled defender is a calming influence on his young teammates, and the leader of an inexperienced backline.