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The Roar’s 2018 AFL top 50: 20 to 11

Trent Cotchin of the Tigers celebrates a goal during the round 21 AFL match between the Geelong Cats and the Richmond Tigers at Simonds Stadium on August 12, 2017 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
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12th February, 2018
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Yesterday Ryan Buckland took us through the top ten players in the AFL – today, we continue The Roar’s 2018 AFL top 50 with a look at the players from 20 to 11.

20. Michael Hurley
One of the interesting things about doing a collaborative exercise like this is that it reveals your biases – or, in my case, the cases where I’m right and everyone else is wrong.

One of those is how I value key position players. On a comparative basis, there are very few key position players who I didn’t rate as high or more highly than every other contributor in our top 50.

Hurley is a classic example of this – I have him at No.18 on my personal list, while he ranges in between 23rd and 29th overall for the rest of the team.

Maybe you feel less (or maybe more!) bullish on talls than I do, but even if you’re an ardent smallball believer, well, that way of thought should say that the truly elite talls are even more valuable.

Hurley is a tall defender who averaged 25 disposals last year – more than the average midfielder, really. He might not have Alex Rance’s influence or Jeremy McGovern’s unbeatability, but he’s definitely a top-three tall defender in the league.

Michael Hurley

19. Callan Ward
Where the collaborative top 50 reveals how highly I value key position players, there’s a flipside to the coin – apparently, I don’t rate midfielders of the Callan Ward archetype highly enough.

Don’t get me wrong, on a purely personal level, I’ve got a deep-seated affection for the archetypal cement-headed inside grunt worker, and Ward is one of the best.

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He’s also obviously got significant leadership skills – not only has he been captain at Greater Western Sydney for six years, but you’d have to think his influence is a large part of the good culture the club has created.

Maybe those are things that you really, really value when you’re putting together a list of the best AFL players – for me, as much as I admire them, they aren’t.

I still had Ward in my top 50 of course, albeit at 44, the lowest of the bunch. Maddy and Ryan both had him at 15, the highest he featured on anyone’s individual list.

Callan Ward

18. Tom Mitchell
A lot of what I said about Callan Ward goes for Tom Mitchell – he’s the kind of player who is definitely in my top 50, but not as high up as some others might put him. I had Mitchell at 28 overall, while Cam put him in at 15.

If you want to talk purely about those guys who are ball magnets, then Mitchell is the best in the league.

He may not do as much damage per disposal as most players in the top 50, but by sheer weight of numbers he has to be considered one of the best midfielders in the game.

This was perfectly encapsulated by the stat that in May last year, Mitchell was ranked 123rd overall in the comp for metres gained, but led the league for assisted metres gained.

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From a purely philosophical point of view, I’d still argue that the player who gets the metres gained is playing the more valuable role – but, Mitchell is the best at what he does, no question.

Tom Mitchell Hawthorn Hawks AFL 2017

17. Josh J Kennedy
There were two players in my personal top ten who didn’t make it into the consensus top ten, and Josh J Kennedy is one of them (yes, the other one is also a key forward).

The simple thing about Kennedy is that he has kicked more goals in the last three years than any other player in the competition and it isn’t even close.

He’s won two Coleman medals in that time and if it wasn’t for injury he would have won a third in a canter in 2017.

These days there’s a lot of focus on what key forwards do when they’re not kicking goals and how much of a contribution that makes to a team’s success. Look, I like it when my new smartphone has some groovy new features too – but I wouldn’t buy it if it didn’t make calls.

Kennedy is a top-ten player in the league, and I won’t hear any different.

Josh J Kennedy West Coast Eagles AFL 2016

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16. Josh P Kennedy
Let me start by saying that I’m a huge fan of Josh P Kennedy – so hopefully when I say that I had him ranked a little lower than this, you won’t think I’m one of his detractors.

If you wanted to pick the modern player who has been most often skipped over for All Australian status when he really should be in the team, Kennedy would be at the top of the list.

If he played in a Victorian side and didn’t have the likes of Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery and Isaac Heeney to shine alongside him, he’d probably be a much more widely appreciated footballer.

Perhaps the highest compliment I can offer as a North supporter is that if Luke Davies-Uniacke turns out to be a clone of him, I will be a very happy man indeed.

Josh P Kennedy Sydney Swans AFL 2017

15. Trent Cotchin
It’s amazing to think that just 12 months ago, many – myself included – thought Cotchin’s position as captain might be one of the biggest problems at a struggling Richmond.

Fast forward to right now and he is a premiership captain, and one of the most respected leaders in the league.

How did it happen? Personally, I’d suspect that the truth is never as good, or bad, as it seems.

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Cotchin was probably never the worst captain in the league, but probably isn’t the best one now either – safe to say though that the criticism he used to draw week-in, week-out is a thing of the past.

He’s one I had a little lower – 29th overall, while the rest had him in the teens. I can’t argue too much with that, he’s a fine player.

Trent Cotchin Richmond Tiger AFL 2017

14. Jeremy McGovern
In keeping with my habit of ranking key positions players highly, I put Jeremy McGovern in at No.11 overall, higher on my personal list than eventual consensus top-ten members Rory Sloane and Scott Pendlebury.

Why? He is the best one-on-one key defender in the league. Sorry, Alex.

Yes, Alex Rance is the best key defender overall, and a very fine one-on-one player. What puts him on top though is his ability to play off his man, his rebounding attacking edge.

McGovern on the other hand is just as good as pure stoppers come – and where someone like Daniel Talia will spoil the ball to halve the contest, McGovern will take the mark to win it.

Jeremy McGovern West Coast Eagles AFL 2017

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13. Dayne Zorko
There was a long stretch of time where Zorko was known as one of the most underrated players in the league, but after yet another stellar season in 2017 it feels like he’s getting the recognition he deserves.

It was his third best-and-fairest win in a row for the Lions and he was named All Australian for the first time. He’s also been Brisbane’s leading goalkicker three years straight.

With the exceptions of Dustin Martin and Paddy Dangerfield, there’s no one in the league who defines the phrase ‘goalkicking midfielder’ as prolifically as him.

I really, really hope we get to see the 29-year-old light it up in finals someday before his time is out.

Dayne Zorko of the Brisbane Lions AFL

12. Joel Selwood
This is exactly where I had Selwood in my rankings and it’s where Cam had him as well. Maddy had him the highest of us all, at No.8, Ryan put him at 19.

Joel Selwood and Scott Pendlebury (who I’ll mention here too because they’re both in this boat) are two of the best players of the modern era.

While players like Dangerfield and Martin have had those individual seasons where they are just a class above everyone else in the game, Selwood and Pendlebury have been consistently among the best midfielders year after year.

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They’ve never quite been at the absolute top though and it’s why neither has a Brownlow Medal to their name – despite the fact that Selwood has the tenth most Brownlow votes of any player in history, and Pendlebury the 17th.

In fact, in 2018 Selwood might somehow be only the third best midfielder at Geelong.

However, if he earns 22 more Brownlow votes in his career (an inevitability) without winning a Brownlow (hopefully not one), he’ll have the most career Brownlow votes in the history of the game of any player not to have actually won the gong.

Joel Selwood Geelong Cats AFL Finals 2016

11. Robbie Gray
On the topic of players who haven’t won Brownlow Medals but really ought to have one way or another, this section of the top 50 finishes off with the man who probably should’ve claimed the 2014 prize, Robbie Gray.

It’s amazing to think of the amount of injuries that Gray copped in the early half of his career, only to become one of the best in the game.

In the midfield, he’s a dyanmic presence, Gary Ablett-esque. In the forward line, he is as dangerous as they come.

Outside the top few, Gray was one the most consistently ranked players in our top 50, with everyone putting him somewhere between 10 and 14.

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Robbie Gray Port Adelaide Power AFL 2015

The Roar’s 2018 AFL top 50 so far
1. Dustin Martin
2. Patrick Dangerfield
3. Lance Franklin
4. Nat Fyfe
5. Alex Rance
6. Josh Kelly
7. Marcus Bontempelli
8. Scott Pendlebury
9. Gary Ablett
10. Rory Sloane
11. Robbie Gray
12. Joel Selwood
13. Dayne Zorko
14. Jeremy McGovern
15. Trent Cotchin
16. Josh P Kennedy
17. Josh K Kennedy
18. Tom Mitchell
19. Callan Ward
20. Michael Hurley