The top ten AFL players in 2025

Josh Elliott Editor

By Josh Elliott, Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor


69 Have your say

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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)

    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.

    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.

    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.

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

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.

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    The Crowd Says (69)

    • Roar Guru

      January 8th 2018 @ 8:28am
      Rick Disnick said | January 8th 2018 @ 8:28am | ! Report

      Too old most of them.

      I’d say the top 10 best players in 2025 haven’t been drafted yet.

      • Editor

        January 8th 2018 @ 8:42am
        Josh Elliott said | January 8th 2018 @ 8:42am | ! Report

        You’re probably right Rick, but 2025 was such a nice round number.

        • Roar Guru

          January 8th 2018 @ 9:36am
          BigJ said | January 8th 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

          Morning Josh, nice to see something thinking outside the box for a top ten list. You have motivated me to do the same thing for the Nrl. Thanks mate

    • January 8th 2018 @ 8:33am
      Macca said | January 8th 2018 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      Josh – there is plenty to like about that list from a Carlton supporters point of view but the more exciting thing is that players like SPS, Dow, Weitering, Kennedy or even McKay could also be in discussions to make the list by 2025.

      One small thing though Cripps 2017 was hit by numerous injuries but 2016 saw him play 21 games, average 8.8 clearances a game, 26.9 possessions, 6.6 tackles and 16.9 contested possessions.

      While on Cripps the thing that people have missed from his 2017 was that he averaged 3 more kicks per game and 1 more mark – he started evolving his game beyond his clearance work and being handball heavy, with his first full pre-season and an injury free run (touchwood) and a self declared intent to hit the scoreboard more in 2018 I think the Cripps we see in 2018 will be even better than the one that impressed in 2016.

      • Editor

        January 8th 2018 @ 8:46am
        Josh Elliott said | January 8th 2018 @ 8:46am | ! Report

        Fair point re Cripps in 2016 Macca, I’ve updated the text of the article a bit to put it more accurately.

        SPS and to a lesser degree Weitering both came into my consideration here (along with twenty or so other players).

        • January 8th 2018 @ 9:09am
          Macca said | January 8th 2018 @ 9:09am | ! Report

          If Cripps, Curnow, SPS and Weitering are all around the mark for top 10 (even with 25 others) the blues will be contenders

        • Roar Guru

          January 8th 2018 @ 10:43am
          Col from Brissie said | January 8th 2018 @ 10:43am | ! Report

          Kade Simpson surely.

    • January 8th 2018 @ 9:19am
      Birdman said | January 8th 2018 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      Curnow? Not sold

      • January 8th 2018 @ 9:37am
        Macca said | January 8th 2018 @ 9:37am | ! Report

        Have a look at his stats for the second half of last year, remembering he was a second year player who missed most of his first year with glandular fever and a knee injury and it should change your mind

      • Editor

        January 8th 2018 @ 11:35am
        Josh Elliott said | January 8th 2018 @ 11:35am | ! Report

        To be honest I’m fairly comfortable with my top six but spots 7-10 were much harder to pick, so I can understand the scepticism. He’s got a good combination of height, endurance and talent, I think he’s built very well for the direction that the game is going in.

      • Roar Guru

        January 8th 2018 @ 11:39am
        Paul D said | January 8th 2018 @ 11:39am | ! Report

        I’m with you Birdman – mainly because I’ve been saying Curnow is a Casboult clone. Accuracy of a Trump press statement and a kicking action modeled on an epileptic giraffe. In for a penny, in for a pound.

        Will have a lot of humble pie to get through if he does wind up being top ten.

        • January 8th 2018 @ 11:56am
          Macca said | January 8th 2018 @ 11:56am | ! Report

          PaulD – it seems to me you are the one exhibiting Trump like behaviour, you have been provided evidence that Curnows kicking is in fact quite accurate but still cling to your disproven belief

          • Roar Guru

            January 8th 2018 @ 12:00pm
            Paul D said | January 8th 2018 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

            Fake news Macca

            • Roar Guru

              January 8th 2018 @ 12:27pm
              Col from Brissie said | January 8th 2018 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

              Charlie Curnow 25 goals 14 behinds.
              Marcus Bontempelli 78 goals 66 behinds.
              Eric Hipwood 41 goals 32 behinds.
              Joe Daniher 173 goals 124 behinds.

              I have to question your accuracy statement Paul.

              • January 13th 2018 @ 8:50pm
                Don Freo said | January 13th 2018 @ 8:50pm | ! Report

                Where are the out on the full numbers or the 20 metre kick that falls short? They are the stats that count.

    • Roar Guru

      January 8th 2018 @ 9:28am
      AdelaideDocker said | January 8th 2018 @ 9:28am | ! Report

      I guess I’m so accustomed to seeing articles about 2018 footy, but I had a minor existential crisis about what the year was when I saw that title this morning.

      It’s a good article – but obviously we’ll have to wait seven years to see what’ll eventuate! I’d suggest Bontempelli, Cripps and Burton will probably be the ‘best’ of those you’ve listed, purely because they’re just so, so good now, and I can just see them getting continually better.

      Hipwood though? Kid strikes me as an enigma – he could be anything, to be honest. And to me a fair bit of his development will be influenced by Brisbane’s development. If Brissy stays perpetually rubbish until 2025 (god forbid), how much talent will we see Hipwood display? Or maybe I’m just reading to much into it..

      • January 8th 2018 @ 10:12am
        Mattyb said | January 8th 2018 @ 10:12am | ! Report

        I think your just looking to much into it AD,this is clearly just a wild guess article,you make a good point about Brisbane though. Same thing with Hawthorn,I’d take a wild guess they’ll be back up the ladder by 2025 so a top ten player would probably come from there and it’s hard not to imagine the Eagles will develop some top ten players between now and 2025 as they unfortunately always seem to produce good sides.
        Hopefully Rylee West gets drafted and is top 10 by 2025 or for the Dockers Darcy is going alright. Hopefully my boy Liam Ryan has taken the League by storm by 2025.
        Maybe by 2025 we will have a whole new club in the league and only 16 players on the field per side.

        • Roar Guru

          January 8th 2018 @ 10:37am
          AdelaideDocker said | January 8th 2018 @ 10:37am | ! Report

          Freo’s Darcy is a good one. If he’s anything like Sandilands (which we’ve seen he is – arguably besting Sandilands at this stage of his career), one can hope he’d be the league’s premier ruckman (or close to it) but 2025!

          You make a good point with your last sentence: we very well might have a new club in the league! Man, it’s interesting to hypothesise, but there’s a very high chance the future of the sport + it’s players is going to be nothing like what we expect.

          • Editor

            January 8th 2018 @ 11:37am
            Josh Elliott said | January 8th 2018 @ 11:37am | ! Report

            I did look at including a ruckman somewhere in the top ten, with Tim English being the one I was thinking of, but Darcy wouldn’t be too far off… or of course the Pruess Moose.

            • January 8th 2018 @ 3:22pm
              Slane said | January 8th 2018 @ 3:22pm | ! Report

              Can a ruckman ever really be a top 10 player in the comp? Maybe the same year that a ruckman wins a brownlow? Currently I wouldn’t have Ryder, Jacobs, Gawn, Goldstein, Nic Nat or anybody else even remotely close to a top 10 spot.

              • Roar Guru

                January 8th 2018 @ 4:59pm
                Dalgety Carrington said | January 8th 2018 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

                Yet I would argue there’s no one other position on the field that has as much potential to be influential on a teams fortunes.

                For a long long time Polly Farmer was seen as the best player ever by many. That has changed over the years, but I think we have lost the capacity to evaluate the contribution of ruckmen with suitable clarity.

              • Editor

                January 8th 2018 @ 5:13pm
                Josh Elliott said | January 8th 2018 @ 5:13pm | ! Report

                That line of logic is the main reason I opted not to do so, though you could maybe make an argument for Todd Goldstein in 2015.

          • January 13th 2018 @ 12:36pm
            Steve009 said | January 13th 2018 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

            And hopefully a few less teams in Melbourne

      • Editor

        January 8th 2018 @ 11:37am
        Josh Elliott said | January 8th 2018 @ 11:37am | ! Report

        I really look forward to reviewing this in 2025 and then predicting the best players of 2032…!

        I reckon the Lions are on the right path and with the talent they’ve acquired can be very very good, and perhaps sooner than people expect, so I’m definitely on the Hipwood bandwagon.

    • January 8th 2018 @ 9:34am
      Kangajets said | January 8th 2018 @ 9:34am | ! Report

      My son will be about abt 19 in 2025 , maybe he will pinging goals from outside the 50 m for North Melbourne in 2025 .

      • Editor

        January 8th 2018 @ 11:38am
        Josh Elliott said | January 8th 2018 @ 11:38am | ! Report

        I am 1000% in support of this.

        • January 8th 2018 @ 12:20pm
          Kangajets said | January 8th 2018 @ 12:20pm | ! Report


    • January 8th 2018 @ 9:44am
      Tony said | January 8th 2018 @ 9:44am | ! Report

      Nothing to write about ? Boring and ridiculously speculative.

      • Roar Guru

        January 8th 2018 @ 10:14am
        AdelaideDocker said | January 8th 2018 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        It’s January 8.

        We’re a month away from AFLX + AFLW, and more than two months away from season proper.

        So, no, there isn’t much to write about at the moment other than the obligatory season previews and the like. Props to Josh for something fresh and different, even if it is “ridiculously speculative”.

        • January 9th 2018 @ 1:28pm
          I ate pies said | January 9th 2018 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

          Yeah 2 months until the footy’s back, it’s a long wait.