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The top ten AFL players in 2025

Marcus Bontempelli. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
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7th January, 2018
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Those who are regular readers of my writing will know that when it comes to taking the risk of potentially being horribly wrong, I have no fear.

And January, being not really the time to discuss real footy, seems instead like the perfect time to start up a classic pub debate – so here we go, with the ten players I’m tipping will be the AFL’s best in 2025.

An important note here would be that I haven’t considered players drafted in 2017 and, obviously, those who will join the league in 2018 or beyond.

While at least a couple of 2025’s top ten are likely to be drawn from that group, there simply isn’t enough to go on for picking which just yet.

10. Ryan Burton
Age in 2025: 28

One of just two first-round draft picks the Hawks have taken in what feels like roughly a millenium, Burton is a good example of why clubs should be willing to take risks in November.

A horrific broken leg described as being like that of a car crash victim had many questioning whether he would ever play an AFL game, and more cautious clubs decided not to take the risk.

However Burton debuted in his first year on Hawthorn’s list and looked promising, before rocketing up the order of the AFL’s elite youth in 2017 following a shift to the backline.

I doubt he’ll play his whole career there though – eventually he’ll probably become primarily a midfielder, but one capable of drifting back or driving forward as required.

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His combination of supremely classy skills and the forward nous we haven’t gotten to see that much of at AFL level just yet says potential superstar, and he’s at a club that knows how to develop them.

Ryan Burton Hawthorn Hawks AFL 2016

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

9. Joe Daniher
Age in 2025: 31

There’s something a bit infectiously likeable about Joe Daniher.

While other AFL players talk about work-life balance and have haircuts you could set your watch to, when you watch Daniher play you can tell he is just absolutely loving life.

2016 was the kind of season that would be trying for any key forward when you consider that Essendon’s depleted midfield was built largely of chewing gum and prayer.

However, he still managed a then-career-high 43 goals in a sign that he was ready to come of age. And he delivered on that in 2017, kicking 65, being named All-Australian, and giving the Coleman Medal a shake.

He’s just at the beginning of his peak now and as the careers of Lance Franklin and Josh J Kennedy enter their twilight, he’s every chance to enjoy a few years as the AFL’s premier key forward.

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By 2025 he’ll be getting into the final years of his career himself, but I suspect he’ll still be a force to be reckoned with.

Joe Daniher Essendon Bombers AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

8. Patrick Cripps
Age in 2025: 30

We didn’t get to see as much of Patrick Cripps’ talent as we’d like in 2017, as his memorable 2015 breakout season has been followed by more injury trouble than he’d like.

However, I reckon that when Cripps’ luck comes good and he is able to play his regular footy again, he won’t have lost any of his talent.

His combination of height, strength and sheer ball-winning dominance is something that will never go out of style in the AFL.

7. Charlie Curnow
Age in 2025: 28

Carlton fans are loving this list so far I imagine. It might not be too long before we look at Cripps and Curnow as one of the scariest midfield one-twos in the competition.

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Of course, Curnow is more than a midfielder – at the moment he plays predominantly forward and there would be plenty who’d suggest he’ll play the majority of his career there.

That may well become the case depending on how Carlton’s other forwardline prospects develop. Just how good can Harry McKay get? Or will the Blues target another key forward in the draft or by trade or free agency? Time will tell.

My gut feel, though, is that eventually you’ll see Cripps and Curnow showing up in tandem at the majority of centre bounces – a pair of 190cm-plus behemoths to make other midfields shake in their boots.

Charlie Curnow Carlton Blues AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

6. Jake Lever
Age in 2025: 29

I hate to say it Adelaide fans, but I reckon we are going to spend a lot of time over the years to come looking at just how good Jake Lever is.

Like Ryan Burton, he’s another great example of the value of clubs backing themselves in to help a kid with some injury history get the best out of themselves.

He settled into Adelaide’s backline quickly and for a while now has been regarded as the best up-and-coming key defender in the land.

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Plenty will point out that he has often played an unaccountable third-tall role, and that’s not untrue. But it wouldn’t be untrue of Alex Rance either.

Find him his equivalent of David Astbury to work alongside at Melbourne, and he will star.

5. Isaac Heeney
Age in 2025: 29

There’s a reason the AFL radically changed the rules around academy players the year after Sydney was able to draft Heeney with a late-teens pick – he’s just that good.

2017 was earmarked by many as the year of Heeney. Coming into his third season – often regarded as the ‘traditional’ breakout year – he looked set to make good on those sneak peaks we’ve had of superstardom in his first two seasons.

Glandular fever saw him miss the start of the season, four games in total, but a move into the midfield led to great form regardless, with career-high averages in kicks, disposals, marks and tackles.

He’ll only keep improving as time goes on and as he finds the right balance between creative play through the midfield and drifting forward to kick goals.

Isaac Heeney Sydney Swans AFL 2017

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

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4. Christian Petracca
Age in 2025: 29

To have a player many rated as the No.1 prospect in the draft slip to them at pick 2 was a dream that quickly turned to a nightmare for Dees fans when Christian Petracca’s first season was wiped out by an ACL injury.

Melbourne fans, having blown many a high draft pick over the last decade, were no doubt anxious that they may have been hit with the bad luck stick once again.

However, the way Petracca has recovered to play great footy over the last two years has been nothing short of inspirational, and you get the feeling watching him play that there is massive potential there just waiting to be realised.

3. Marcus Bontempelli
Age in 2025: 30

Marcus Bontempelli is the man who proves that, every now and then, pre-draft comparisons to Scott Pendlebury might not be entirely insane.

In just his third year in the AFL, Bontempelli became an All-Australian, best-and-fairest winner, and a premiership player.

The only thing left to complete an elite midfielder’s trophy case is a Brownlow Medal – and I’d say he’s more likely than not to pick one of those up somewhere along the way.

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The Bont combines the kind of physical domination you can only get at his size with that slow-motion Pendlebury class, and he’s not slow either.

He’s not going to get any smaller or less skilled as time goes on. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Marcus Bontempelli Western Bulldogs AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

2. Josh Kelly
Age in 2025: 30

When Josh Kelly was drafted at No.2 to GWS, most of the talk around him was that he was largely, if not purely, an outside midfielder.

My suspicion at the time was that he would probably develop into an Andrew Gaff type player, which is by no means a bad thing to be, but is always a bit limited.

However in 2017 he showed that he can win the ball just as well as any of the rest of them, and it’s given him a kind of complete game that has pushed him into superstar status.

He may not have the physical size and dominant ability of a Cripps or a Bontempelli, but his creativity with the ball is second to none.

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You’ll notice I’ve been well behaved and not included a North Melbourne player in this top ten list… but I’d like to dream that Josh will be one by the time 2025 rolls around.

Josh Kelly GWS Giants AFL 2017

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

1. Eric Hipwood
Age in 2025: 28

Eric Hipwood being on this list at all, let alone No.1, might seem a bit more speculative than many of the other players included here.

However, if you could pick one young player in the AFL to build a list around for the future, he’d have to be close to the first choice.

It’s not easy to be a young key forward in the AFL but it’s even harder to do at a club like Brisbane where goals can be hard to come by and there are no obvious role models in the position to learn off.

Hipwood has hurdled over those challenges with ease. His football is punctuated with those Lance Franklin-esque moments that leave you wondering what planet he was born on, because surely it can’t be this one.

Picture him in five years time with a battle-hardened body and the force of a mature and talented Brisbane midfield behind him – it’s scary as all hell.

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It won’t surprise me even a little if he rises to the very top of the AFL.