What a game to show in USA prime time!
It’s the time of year when anticipation for the AFL draft is at fever pitch. Journalists, fans and clubs are all desperate to find out the order in which the names will be read out later this month.
But while the publicity has focused on the talented and high-performing crop who’ve excelled in their respective draft years, it’s often the lesser known prospects who make their mark on the league in quick time.
The likes of Rory Sloane (pick 44), Ben Brown (47), Luke Parker (40), Lachie Neale (48), James Sicily (56) and Harris Andrews (61) have all had no issues finding their way to the top level despite falling through to later picks.
More recently, clubs such as Richmond and Hawthorn have built a strong reputation of picking up steals later in the piece. Liam Baker, Jason Castagna, Kane Lambert, Jayden Short and Ivan Soldo went on to become premiership players with the Tigers despite all five going undrafted in their particular national drafts.
Citing these recent trends, here are some potential draft sliders that will look to make a name for themselves despite being selected later in the piece.
Among the most talented key position players in this year’s pool is the Western Jets’ Emerson Jeka and Oakleigh’s Cooper Sharman. Arguably the best contested mark of his peers, Jeka was previously being floated in the top-five mix, however a knee injury meant he missed a chunk of football mid-year and slid down many draft boards.
However, his talent can’t be questioned and given his remarkable athleticism, he has the traits to develop into an elite key position player.
Sharman has terrific athleticism and X-factor. The 192cm key forward is among this year’s best set shots. Although he is still quite raw, he has the makings of a future key forward at AFL level if a club can put time and effort into him.
Western Australia’s Mitch Georgiades is another who fits this mould. Likely to fall in a pick between 30 and 50, the club that picks up Georgiades will receive a high flyer with serious talent. Although undersized at 191 centimetres and not playing this year due to injury, he could be a diamond in the rough later in the draft.
South Australian duo Dyson Hilder and Karl Finlay are also promising key position prospects. Both provided great strength and rebound out of defence in the under-18 championships this year and are ready-made physically, standing at 195 and 192 centimetres respectively.
This year’s midfield crop also goes deep.
Sam Philp and Jay Rantall are two Victorian midfield bulls that will add immediate grunt and competitiveness to teams that pick them up. Philp is a Northern Knights mainstay who has a rare mix of speed and endurance to which many inside midfielders aspire, while Rantall was a junior Australian basketballer who will be looked at as a player who will have no problems keeping up with the modern game.
Both have the scope to build upon the foundations set by their under-age performances this year and could end up great players out of this draft.
Sandringham Dragons trio Jack Mahony, Darcy Chirgwin and Hugo Ralphsmith are all expected to fall during the second and third rounds of the draft. Mahony, in particular, is an exciting prospect who is a noted match-winner for Vic Metro and school side St Kevin’s. His combination of spread from the contest and ball use going forward makes him exciting to watch, either as a potential midfielder or forward flanker at an AFL club.
Chirgwin has shown this year that he can be that big-bodied inside midfielder who wins the hard ball, dishes it off to teammates, wins the disposals, and provides an elite number of tackles per game. From a pure inside midfielder perspective, the 191cm prospect has the skills to thrive at senior level.
Meanwhile, Ralphsmith is an extremely talented mid/forward who was able to perform one of the plays of the year with a long range banana for Vic Metro. Similar to Daniel Rioli, he is the type of player who could excel in a team like Richmond that like to move the ball selflessly and quickly.
Rounding out this group of midfielders are Thomson Dow and Tasmanian Mitch O’Neill. Dow, who is the brother of Carlton’s Paddy, is an athletically talented midfielder with great inside ball-winning abilities, and is often able to hit the scoreboard.
O’Neill has spent a lot of time with North Melbourne hailing from Hobart, and is close mates with 2018 draftees Fraser Turner (Richmond) and Tarryn Thomas (North Melbourne). Although injured for parts of the year, O’Neill is a proven ball-user of either half-back or through the midfield. With some development to add to his 72kg frame, if he can stay injury-free at an AFL club, he will slot in nicely as an accumulator.
One of this year’s hard luck stories is Bendigo midfielder Flynn Perez, who unfortunately missed all year with an ACL injury. The 188cm midfielder is a developing talent with a strong vertical leap and class with ball in hand. Perez will hope he has done enough in his bottom-age year to earn a spot on a club’s list.
Josh Honey, Riley Garcia and Elijah Taylor are all small to medium-sized forwards who can occasionally go into the midfield and provide a spark and goal sense to their team. All three should be snapped up in the national draft and have great athleticism and skill, most notably WA duo Garcia and Taylor.
Although clubs are often reluctant to pick up ruckmen early on in the piece, both Oakleigh’s Nick Bryan and Gippsland’s Charlie Comben are great prospects with scope for development.
The 202cm Bryan pieced together some strong performances on the big stage, and showed recruiters just what he could do while still having plenty of development and time on his side. Comben also has some athletic traits which he puts to good use rotating between ruck and key forward. Standing at almost 200 centimetres, Comben can have an impact at ground level as well as in the air.
So while not getting the publicity of Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson, these players may well slot straight in to your club next year and have an impact from day one, so get excited.