The Roar’s 2017 AFL top 50 players: 10-1

Jay Croucher Columnist

By Jay Croucher, Jay Croucher is a Roar Expert


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    Introductory spiels to lists are something between a bad Oscar monologue and a frustratingly resilient bag of chips.

    So, comrades, let’s do away with it all and just eat. We start with the AFL’s most sumptuous dish.

    See the rest of The Roar’s top 50 countdown
    » 50-41
    » 40-31
    » 30-21
    » 20-11

    10. Scott Pendlebury (Collingwood Magpies)
    This time two months ago, I was riding the Trans-Siberian Express, reading Anna Karenina, with the vast, magnificent desolation of a snow-coated Russian nowhere as my backdrop.

    Then I decided I needed to do something more literary. I opened YouTube on my phone and started watching Scott Pendlebury highlight packages.

    (Yes, YouTube works fine in Siberia. There is no corner of the world that the Internet does not reach.)

    Pendlebury is one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, the concluding medley of Abbey Road, and whatever the best Stanley Kubrick film is. He is not the best player in the AFL, but he is inarguably the most divine.

    Time is a measurement for most but it’s a weapon for Pendlebury. An underrated contested ball maestro, he has gradually added a supreme toughness and grit to his ethereal skills and general sublime football existence.

    Cam, Ryan and I all had Pendlebury in our top six because we are God-fearing men. Josh had him 11th, which is defensible. Ken did not have Pendlebury in his top 50. Ken and I literally have not spoken since his list was divulged.

    Collingwood's Scott Pendlebury.

    9. Luke Parker (Sydney Swans)
    In many ways the anti-Pendlebury: a vicious, unrelenting ball of ferocity, Parker favours devastation over grace.

    Second in the league in tackles last year, Parker is the rare perfect combination of mania and technique. He’s an accumulator, and while his disposal isn’t always pristine (third in the league in clangers in 2016), he compensates by hitting the scoreboard with astounding volume for a midfielder.

    Last year, Parker belonged to the esteemed 25-25 club (average of at least 25 possessions per game and a total of at least 25 goals kicked), one of only two members, the other being Robbie Gray.

    8. Josh Kennedy (Sydney Swans)
    There was a period in the second quarter of last year’s grand final where it seemed like Josh Kennedy’s absurd, square frame was going to be powerful enough to crush minor concepts like fate, destiny and the universe all by itself.

    Most midfielders excel because of a unique attribute or a mastered nuance. Sam Mitchell is smarter than everyone, Nat Fyfe leaps highest and Patrick Dangerfield accelerates fastest.

    Kennedy doesn’t quite fit that mould. He’s just a bigger, stronger, more frightening human than everyone else.

    Last year Kennedy was the league leader in contested possessions per game, second in clearances and third in disposals. I had him fourth on this list, higher than anyone else, and consider him the best ‘human’ AFL player, outside of the three aliens at the top.

    The grand final was Kennedy’s masterpiece, a game he briefly turned on its head by sheer force of will and muscle. Bulldogs fans will remember that day as a dream, the ultimate dream, but the sight of Kennedy will still, surely, be the hint of a nightmare that almost was.

    7. Tom Lynch (Gold Coast Suns)
    Two things we know about the next five years of the AFL: GWS will be a premiership dynasty and Tom Lynch will cement himself as the best forward in the game.

    In the battle of the expansion teams, Gold Coast has very much been the Inherent Vice – incoherent, spiralling, with fleeting moments of promise – to Greater Western Sydney’s Boogie Nights – a star-studded juggernaut that leaves you breathless.

    But the Suns can at least content themselves with the knowledge that between the two clubs, they’ve had the best player of the past five years, and seem poised to have the best of the next five too.

    With Gary Ablett Jr sidelined, Lynch has been the only real reason to watch the Suns for the past two years. But he’s been a sight.

    Those who will not be named call Jake Stringer ‘The Package’, a moniker that belongs to Lynch. He has everything that you want in a key forward, a rounded athlete who can look up to Wayne Carey and Lance Franklin and not feel compelled to back down.

    The game’s best-contested mark, a tireless workhorse and an unrelenting competitor, after 66 goals for a dreadful team last year, the league will watch nervously in 2017 to see what Lynch can do for a team that could flirt with competence.

    Tom Lynch Tom J Lynch Sam Day Gold Coast Suns AFL 2015

    6. Alex Rance (Richmond Tigers)
    Outside of the top two on this list, Richmond’s defensive general, spearhead, commander and saving grace was perhaps our most agreed-upon pick for excellence, with everyone placing him between sixth and ninth on their lists.

    If Lynch is the complete package defender, then Rance is his defensive mirror. A beast in the contest, with elite closing speed and Matthew Scarlett-type spatial intelligence and decision-making, Rance is the game’s best defender and no one else is close.

    A little unlike Scarlett, perhaps, Rance is prone to the occasional head-twitching moment – some bouts of ill-discipline and brain fades, like his final stanza against Collingwood in the Brodie Grundy game last year (remember that one, Cam Rose?). But those rare times, surely, are just the anomalous manifestation of the Richmond disease that Rance, for the most part, has remained spectacularly immune from.

    5. Dustin Martin (Richmond Tigers)
    Has there ever been a team with two of the six best players (according to us) in the competition that was as aesthetically and existentially dire as the 2016 Tigers?

    Rance versus Martin is one of the more fun debates, the AFL corollary to Jack versus Locke on Lost and Keanu Reeves in John Wick 2 versus the field for next year’s Best Actor Oscar.

    Rance is a genius and Martin is a monster, yet somehow Martin is the more graceful of the two. His brutality is so brazen, so magnificent, that it can’t help but be beautiful.

    He’s an acquired taste, something that you can’t just devour with a spoon. Chopsticks, perhaps, would be the better option.

    But when he’s on, he’s glorious; an impossible blend of violence, deft skill and preternatural football intelligence. His greatest weakness – all those shanked kicks – is a by-product of his greatest strength: the desire to take the game on and break it open, an aggressive mentality that his team so often lacks.

    4. Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs)
    We might overrate Marcus Bontempelli – a midfielder who has exceeded 30 touches in a game just twice in his entire career – but if we do that’s only a good sign for society.

    The Bont is the most understated sporting icon we’ve had in a while. He doesn’t have blinding speed or giant numbers – he’s just a football player, and an almost perfect one at that.

    A mountain and a viper, he’s the seamless mix of Josh Kennedy and Scott Pendlebury, with the former’s powerful, towering modern midfielder’s frame, and the latter’s extra-terrestrial perception of time and space. His skills and footwork are immaculate, and in the loudest moments everything seems quiet for him.

    A Bontempelli possession might already be the most valuable in the game. When he learns how to accumulate – and he will, don’t worry – he will be unstoppable. It’s only a matter of time before the public’s favourite player becomes the sport’s best.

    Western Bulldogs player Marcus Bontempelli

    3. Nat Fyfe (Fremantle Dockers)
    The forgotten king, Nat Fyfe, remained on the throne at number one on the lists of Josh, Cam and Ryan – measured men with long memories. I had him third and Ken had him 16th.

    Unlike the omissions of Pendlebury, Joel Selwood and Sam Mitchell from the entire top 50, Ken has the semblance of an argument in having Fyfe so low. This list is somewhat prospective, and placing Fyfe, a player who is essentially coming off 18 months in the football wilderness, in the top three is a leap.

    But then you remember Fyfe’s own leap, and then the ranking seems a lot more grounded.

    Nat Fyfe is the most talented player in the AFL. He is the game’s premier athlete, a majestic cocktail of toughness and explosion. No one defies convention and changes what we hold to be true as often as he does. He’s one of the few players in the game who feels like an event all by himself.

    2017 has many narratives, but one that every football fan will get behind is Fyfe’s return to transcendence.


    2. Lance Franklin (Sydney Swans)
    Still the league’s most cinematic champion, Buddy has a habit, more than any other player, of making a game of football seem like his stage alone.

    His 81 goals last season, after a puzzling 2015, saw Franklin reassert himself as the best forward in the game, and one of the season’s two standout players.

    He wins games and finals by himself, his joyful destruction of Geelong in last year’s prelim equal parts artful and cruel.

    He still, though, doesn’t have the crowning achievement of a dominant grand final performance. That – and perhaps a Brownlow medal that convention will likely continue to withhold from him – is the last box to tick on Franklin’s historical resume.


    1. Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong Cats)
    The athletic and spiritual successor to Chris Judd, Dangerfield comes in at number one, the top choice for Ken and I, second for the others.

    The argument for Dangerfield as the game’s best player is simple – alongside Fyfe and Franklin, he’s inarguably one of the top three players in the league, and of those three he’s the surest bet. Fyfe is coming off a serious injury and Franklin is 30.

    Danger, meanwhile, is just 26, and has been remarkably durable – he hasn’t missed a game since 2013.

    He creates space for himself like no other player in the league, and perhaps no other player in history outside of Judd. In a game of presses and congestion, Dangerfield is the game’s best cheat code.

    Like Judd, Dangerfield isn’t an elite kick, but his gift is not delicately threaded passes – it’s generating momentum and driving the ball forward, often violently, on the ground or through the air.

    Judd’s freakish pace abandoned him at 25, although injuries were the primary cause. About to turn 27, Dangerfield might not have that many years left with the same absurd, magical explosion. This year, though, should be one of them, so savour it while it lasts.

    Jay Croucher
    Jay Croucher

    From MSG in New York to the MCG in Melbourne, Jay has spent his adult life travelling the world, indulging in sport and approaching it from the angle of history and pop culture. Follow him on Twitter @CroucherJD

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    The Crowd Says (89)

    • March 17th 2017 @ 6:22am
      Murray Bowles said | March 17th 2017 @ 6:22am | ! Report

      From memory, just the one bulldog in the top fifty. Guess that proves the old adage a champion team is better than a team of champions. Or a coach that gets the absolute best out of his players at the right time of year is priceless.

      • Roar Guru

        March 17th 2017 @ 8:47am
        Penster said | March 17th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        Yep, booby prizes. And you’d take a premiership medallion or Jock McHale over a Brownlow or AFLCA Award every time.

      • Roar Guru

        March 17th 2017 @ 9:03am
        Peppsy said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:03am | ! Report

        Tom Libratore (49)
        Easton Wood (37)
        Marcus Bontepelli (4)

    • March 17th 2017 @ 6:58am
      I hate pies said | March 17th 2017 @ 6:58am | ! Report

      I reckon Dangerfield is overrated, for the simple fact that he wastes his kicks (or disposal by foot in modern parlance). Fyfe and Franklin should be one and two.

      • Roar Guru

        March 17th 2017 @ 1:20pm
        Cat said | March 17th 2017 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

        In their Brownlow years there is exactly 0.1% difference in the disposal efficiency of Dangerfield and Fyfe.

        • March 17th 2017 @ 2:40pm
          I hate pies said | March 17th 2017 @ 2:40pm | ! Report

          The stats don’t always tell the tale. Watching Dangerfield burst out of the guts and shank another kick to nowhere does though.

          • Roar Guru

            March 17th 2017 @ 3:13pm
            Cat said | March 17th 2017 @ 3:13pm | ! Report

            or maybe you only see what you want to see.

          • March 17th 2017 @ 6:27pm
            Brendon the 1st said | March 17th 2017 @ 6:27pm | ! Report

            I agree, he burns it, Id much rather have a Mitchell or a Burgoyne delivering the ball over a dangerfield shank any day.

            Nat Fyfe is number 1, Buddy 2, Kennedy 3

        • March 17th 2017 @ 2:45pm
          Birdman said | March 17th 2017 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

          that just means they’re both clanger merchants by foot – kicking under pressure may be a factor to be fair

    • March 17th 2017 @ 7:47am
      Bob said | March 17th 2017 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      Dustin Martin should have appeared between 30 and 40. Or just do a straight swap for the eternally underrated Sam Mitchell

      • March 17th 2017 @ 2:45pm
        Birdman said | March 17th 2017 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

        hear hear

    • March 17th 2017 @ 7:50am
      jonty smith said | March 17th 2017 @ 7:50am | ! Report

      Great list. Just wondering, will the individual votes of each panelist be released

      • Columnist

        March 17th 2017 @ 8:03am
        Cameron Rose said | March 17th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

        I’m happy to do so Jonty, maybe we’ll do that on Monday.

      • Columnist

        March 17th 2017 @ 9:08am
        Ryan Buckland said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        Absolutely. Let me think about the best way to do it so it isn’t a 15 page scroll…

        • March 17th 2017 @ 12:57pm
          Arky said | March 17th 2017 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

          Still think you should also release a “top 50 without Ken’s votes” at the same time as an alternative. No Pendlebury is just the latest WTF moment that makes the whole thing a bit random.

          • March 19th 2017 @ 5:38pm
            Kavvy said | March 19th 2017 @ 5:38pm | ! Report

            Totally agree. Given some
            of the mind boggling placements on Ken’s list, the that are counter to pretty much every expert analyst out there, a Ken-free list would be good to see for better parity

        • March 17th 2017 @ 2:13pm
          Macca said | March 17th 2017 @ 2:13pm | ! Report

          Anyone get Docherty into their top 50?

    • Columnist

      March 17th 2017 @ 8:02am
      Cameron Rose said | March 17th 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      Golden finish to the Pendlebury section.

      I thought me made a gentleman’s agreement during that awful Richmond v Collingwood “game” of “football” that neither of us would bring it up again.

      Re Lost – Locke all day, every day, and five times on Sunday’s.

      All up, elegant prose befitting the talents of our top ten.

    • Roar Guru

      March 17th 2017 @ 8:17am
      DingoGray said | March 17th 2017 @ 8:17am | ! Report

      My own personal belief is that Dangerfield should be @ 4 due to his wasteful ness.

      His kicking efficiency is quite poor. And at times in big games going missing.

      Certainly can pull of a mesmerising quarter, but far too often then has a quite 2 or 3 quarters.

      I’d have Buddy, Fyfe and The Bont all above him.

      • March 17th 2017 @ 8:59am
        I hate pies said | March 17th 2017 @ 8:59am | ! Report

        I’m with you Dingo – I pretty much wrote the same thing further up. Disposal by foot (used to be called a kick) lets Dangerfield down big time.

        • Roar Guru

          March 17th 2017 @ 1:26pm
          Cat said | March 17th 2017 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

          Comparing their Brownlow years Fyfe is exactly 0.1% higher in disposal efficiency than Dangerfield.

          If Dangerfield is so bad by foot, but matches up overall, than Fyfe must cough it up just as much but by hand instead.

          If a player is going to cough up a ball (and all players do) would you rather lose it by hand or 40m further up field by kick? I’d rather turn it over in the forward 50 than in the centre every day of the week. Opposition has further to go (and more chance to turn it over themselves) to score.

      • March 17th 2017 @ 9:42pm
        Grubba said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:42pm | ! Report

        Thats footy these days. Congestion. When you are what, top 2/3 in contested possessions in the comp, your disposal efficiency is not going to be same as someone like Johnson off the HB flank.

        Personally I’d rate Danger over Fyfe. He is more dynamic and impacts the scoreboard more often.