With the player movement period complete, AFL attention now turns to the draft, and in 2018 it’s going to be even harder to predict than normal.
Why? Because clubs now have the opportunity to trade draft picks up until a week before the draft, and then can trade picks live over the two days of the draft itself.
That makes it pretty tricky to put together a phantom because the chances of the draft order staying the same between now and the draft are pretty much zero.
Still, I’ve had a crack here at a top 25 phantom draft for 2018, and just to keep things as simple as possible, I’m picking as on the current order rather than trying to presume what trades might happen.
Pick 1 – Carlton Blues – Sam Walsh
183 cm, 74kg
Carlton face a rather pleasant dilemma with pick 1 as they’ll look to choose between Walsh or his main rival for the top spot, Jack Lukosius.
Walsh has been the best-performed player of the draft pool certainly – a consistently prolific midfielder with great leadership characteristics.
196cm key forward Lukosius however arguably has the greater scope to develop into a generational match-winning player at AFL level, in the mould of Nick Riewoldt.
My thoughts prior to the trade period leaned towards Carlton picking Lukosius on the basis that his talent might be too good to pass up – you don’t know when you’ll get a shot at a player like him again.
However the fact that the Blues traded in Mitch McGovern makes it pretty clear to me that they believe Walsh is their man here, and reasonably so.
Pick 2 – Gold Coast Suns – Jack Lukosius
Expect the Suns to take whichever of the top two slides through to this pick, Lukosius being the more likely. They’d love to have Walsh though, his character has been highly praised and he seems likely to be the loyal type.
Pick 3 – Gold Coast Suns – Izak Rankine
Obviously a big consideration for the Suns when it comes to their selections will be bringing in players who they believe will stick around at the club long term – the problem is, there’s no clear-cut way to tell who will or won’t.
A lot of theories go around. My logic with this selection is, bring in the player who is most likely to have an instant impact, and that gives them the best chance of feeling like they fit in and want to stay at the club.
Rankine is simply the most talented player left on the board here, if not the most talented in the whole draft. He’s fast, creative and thrilling – the whole package.
His thrilling heroics could help lift the spirits of his teammates and give Suns fans something to get excited about as soon as Round 1, 2019.
Pick 4 – St Kilda Saints – Connor Rozee
If you’re looking purely at talent, key forward Max King is probably the next player off the board.
And St Kilda could well make that call – King has actually been doing his rehab from an ACL injury that kept him out of all but the early portion of this season at their facilities, so they’re going to be pretty familiar with him at this point and have a clear idea of whether or not they want him.
The issue for me with that selection is that if St Kilda draft King there’s just no way he winds up playing in the same forward line as all of Josh Bruce, Paddy McCartin, Tim Membrey and Josh Battle.
Drafting King probably means trading one of Bruce or McCartin out down the line and likely for little in the way of compensation, meaning the Saints probably have only a small net gain of talent on their list.
Instead I’d draft a player who brings the qualities their side lacks in Connor Rozee.
While this is a bit earlier than most pundits would think Rozee goes, if the top three falls as I have it above, his class and creativity make him a great pick for the Saints here.
Pick 5 – Port Adelaide Power – Max King
Given the number of high-quality South Australian prospects in this year’s draft, most have the view that Port’s aggressive efforts to move up the order have been with the goal of snagging one of them.
And that may well be true – Lukosius will be gone by this pick but there’s every chance that one or even both of Rankine or Rozee is available here.
But, on the off chance that the top four falls as I’ve picked, I don’t see any reason why the Power shouldn’t pick a Victorian.
Todd Marshall aside they have little in the way of developing key forwards, and with Charlie Dixon having recently turned 28, his retirement is something they should be planning for now.
King could well have been the No.1 pick this year if not for his ACL injury, and if Port can get him with the fifth selection it could prove a massive bargain.
Pick 6 – Gold Coast Suns – Bailey Smith
The Suns are basically looking at a choice between tall or small here as they decide between Smith or Ben King.
I’d go with Smith – again partly due to the logic that he’s probably the one who is going to be most AFL-ready, and therefore has the best chance of bonding with the team and becoming part of the club most quickly.
Smith is a prolific inside midfielder who has a little bit of speed, and he has also played well as a halfback.
The Suns need talent pretty much anywhere on the ground but I reckon Smith would balance out the other selections of Lukosius and Rankine well.
Pick 7 – Western Bulldogs – Ben King
With this pick the Dogs are left to take whoever of this draft’s famed top seven falls through to them, but they’d have to be pretty happy if it’s Ben King.
Ben – the win brother of Max King – is more of a swingman. He played a lot up forward this year, but many pundits reckon he’ll be a defender at AFL level.
The Dogs would be a good fit because unlike other clubs, they won’t feel the need to try to make him play forward, given they’ve already got top-line prospects Tom Boyd and Josh Schahce to play that role.
They’d be more than happy to play him in defence as the long term partner to Aaron Naughton – something that’s bound to appeal given they just lost Marcus Adams.
Pick 8 – Adelaide Crows – Jackson Hately
This is one of the trickiest spots in the draft order to be as, barring a major surprise, the top seven in the open pool will be gone by now, leaving Adelaide to pick whoever they feel is best from the next tier.
Hately isn’t necessarily the standout player of that next tier, but no one really is. There are a few good arguments for Adelaide picking him.
First, he’s a South Australian, and while that isn’t reason enough to draft him alone, the Crows have made it clear in the past that they do tend to favour local boys if everything else being taken into account is fairly even.
As a big-bodied midfielder, Hately is someone who could potentially make an impact for the Crows early in 2019. Even if he doesn’t, he could be a key cog of their midfield in the future, and would relish the opportunity to learn from Rory Sloane.
Pick 9 – GWS Giants – Jordan Clark
A Western Australian halfback who has risen quickly in the later portion of the year, Clark is in with a chance of being a top ten pick.
He makes sense for the Giants – their ball movement off half-back lately hasn’t been what it was, due to the decline of Heath Shaw, the departure of Nathan Wilson and injuries to Zac Williams.
Clark would bolster the Giants ability to move the ball with class out of defense, giving them more confidence to play Lachie Whitfield up the ground where he can do more damage.
Pick 10 – Sydney Swans – Nick Blakey (matching bid from Port Adelaide)
Although Blakey is regarded as one of this year’s ‘elite eight’ prospects there’s a good chance a bid doesn’t come for him until this point.
Most clubs in the top seven will look to the open draft rather than go after him, and after that Adelaide don’t really need a player of his type, while GWS may let him go out of northern state solidarity.
Port would have to think pretty strongly about making a bid here and the Swans will comfortably match when they do.
Blakey, a 195cm key forward, picked joining the Swans through their academy over being a father-son selection to North Melbourne or Brisbane earlier in the year.
Pick 11 – Port Adelaide – Zak Butters
Having lost Chad Wingard and Jared Polec at trade time, Port Adelaide would love to bring in someone with a bit of outside class and although he’s a little undersized, Butters fits the mould.
Pick 12 – GWS Giants – Riley Collier-Dawkins
The Giants like big bodied midfielders, and while Collier-Dawkins hasn’t yet dominated like some might hope he could, he could be a significant asset when he puts it all together.
Pick 13 – North Melbourne – Tarryn Thomas (matching bid from Geelong)
Thomas was looked at as one of this year’s top prospects after some brilliant early form, but struggled to reproduce it at the national championships. He’s the complete package though – tall but also fast, dynamic but also defensively sound.
Pick 14 – Geelong – Curtis Taylor
The Cats have a need to find more avenues to goal and have shuffled a few players around during the trade period with this in mind already. Picking up a classy half-forward like Curtis Taylor would give them another good option.
Pick 15 – Collingwood Magpies – Isaac Quaynor (matching bid from Adelaide)
Although they traded out of the first round to bring Dayne Beams back to the club, Collingwood are set to return to it by matching a bid for next-gen academy player Isaac Quaynor. Quaynor’s a creative rebounding defender who ironically won the draft combine’s goalkicking test.
Pick 16 – Adelaide Crows – Jez McLennan
The Crows are again spoiled for choice and without having any obvious needs to fill on their list (except perhaps a ruckman, which isn’t really on the cards here), could look for the next-best South Australian talent in McLennan.
The intercepting defender could give the likes of Rory Laird and Brodie Smith license to use their class further up the ground.
Pick 17 – Fremantle Dockers – Jye Caldwell
Caldwell is one of the more difficult prospects to place in this year’s draft – the inside midfielder has promised plenty, but didn’t get to show it much this year due to repeated injury setbacks. A good choice for Fremantle to balance out the loss of Lachie Neale.
Pick 18 – Port Adelaide – Xavier Duursma
A really versatile prospect, Duursma is good at most things so while he’ll probably look to become a midfielder, he could start his career forward or back depending on where Port Adelaide want him.
Pick 19 – Adelaide Crows – Sam Sturt
A relative latecomer to the under-18 system, Sturt has rapidly risen up the order. He’s got great athletic capabilities and though he has relatively little exposed form, what we’ve seen has been impressive, damaging footy. A very strong change to rise further up the order.
Pick 20 – Richmond Tigers – Liam Stocker
Stocker won this year’s Morrish Medal as the best player of the TAC Cup. The inside midfielder is physically ready to play AFL and if the Tigers would like to get better at clearances next year, he could help with that.
Pick 21 – Brisbane Lions – Bailey Williams
Moving in on Lachie Neale means they Lions won’t get a chance to go for one of this year’s elite key forwards, but they could take a very good prospect here in Williams. He doesn’t have the proven form of the King twins, but with a bit of development could be a good longterm partner for Eric Hipwood.
Pick 22 – GWS Giants – Ned McHenry
A nippy little prospect, the combination of small forward McHenry and Toby Greene could give opposition defenders headaches for years to come. The defensive side of McHenry’s game is one of the strongest in the draft pool, meaning he could come right into AFL level.
Pick 23 – West Coast Eagles – Chayce Jones
After drafting a lot of taller or smaller players last year, the Eagles could bolster their future midfield stocks with a solid prospect in Tasmanian Chayce Jones here. His form has been of good quality and his efforts at the combine showed he has the athletic profile to back it up.
Pick 24 – Adelaide Crows – Luke Valente
A solid midfielder who can use the ball well, Valente captained South Australia during the national championships and was awarded the team MVP – as voted by his peers – up against some pretty big names. Seems a good character and could be a future AFL captain.
Pick 25 – Rhylee West – Western Bulldogs (matching bid from West Coast)
The son of Bulldogs legend Scott West could easily attract a bid earlier than this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes a little later. Has some similarities to Luke Dahlhaus as a smaller inside mid who can play forward, he could step into that spot at the Dogs fairly quickly.
Roarers, this is my last piece for a little while as I’m about to jet off for three weeks in Greece with a splash of Singapore and Italy on the side. Not that that’s relevant to you of course – I just wanted to brag.
Thanks for your patronage throughout the 2018 AFL season! I’ll be back to write more about the draft in a few weeks’ time.