This fourth part of the six-part series comprises five players that the Sydney Swans, West Coast Eagles and Western Bulldogs could least afford to lose in season 2021 plus a pre-draft honourable mention.
Imagine a starting 18 with one player from every AFL team combined of the most improved players from season 2019 to season 2020.
They must have played a minimum of five games in season 2019 and season 2020 respectively, to be eligible.
Unfortunately, players who were injured for the entirety of season 2019 and those playing their first games of their AFL career in season 2020 were ineligible.
Stop imagining, as it could come to fruition now – albeit hypothetically. Four players remain in the team that were in the all-AFL starting 18 of 2020 this season; Reilly O’Brien, Matt Taberner, Sam Menegola and Caleb Daniel;
For the purpose of this exercise, the players were chosen in the position that they generally played in during season 2020.
There are two captains for the purpose of this exercise: Sam Menegola and Caleb Daniel.
All-AFL starting 18 (season 2020)
Adelaide Crows: Reilly O’Brien
Brisbane Lions: Oscar McInerney
Carlton: Harry McKay
Collingwood: Taylor Adams
Essendon: Jordan Ridley
Fremantle: Matt Taberner
Geelong: Sam Menegola (Co-Captain)
Gold Coast: Lachie Weller
Greater Western Sydney: Nick Haynes
Hawthorn: Chad Wingard
Melbourne Demons: Steven May
North Melbourne: Jy Simpkin
Port Adelaide: Zak Butters
Richmond: Jayden Short
St Kilda: Dan Butler
Sydney Swans: Jake Lloyd
West Coast: Liam Ryan
Western Bulldogs: Caleb Daniel (Co-Captain)
B: Caleb Daniel (Western Bulldogs), Steven May (Melbourne), Jordan Ridley (Essendon)
HB: Jake Lloyd (Sydney Swans), Nick Haynes (Giants), Jayden Short (Richmond)
C: Lachie Weller (Gold Coast), Jy Simpkin (North Melbourne), Sam Menegola (Geelong)
HF: Zak Butters (Port Adelaide), Matt Taberner (Fremantle Dockers), Dan Butler (St Kilda)
FF: Oscar McInerney (Brisbane Lions), Harry McKay (Carlton), Liam Ryan (West Coast)
Foll: Reilly O’Brien (Adelaide Crows), Taylor Adams (Collingwood), Chad Wingard (Hawthorn)
Caleb Daniel improved from fifth placed in the Western Bulldogs best and fairest in season 2019 to finishing first in the 2020 best and fairest.
He was also given recognition of being chosen on the interchange bench in the AFL All Australian 22 in season 2020. His work rate was extremely impressive and he makes the players around him better.
Steven May finished second in the Melbourne Demons best and fairest in season 2020. In season 2019 he played just eight games. He is one of the reasons why Melbourne Demons were a formidable opposition to other teams for parts of season 2020.
Jordan Ridley went from playing six games in season 2019 to being a part of every Essendon game in season 2020. He managed to win the best and fairest for them in season 2020.
Jake Lloyd won the best and fairest for the Sydney Swans in season 2020 from finishing seventh in season 2019! He averaged the sixth most disposals in season 2020 of all the players in the AFL.
Nick Haynes from the Greater Western Sydney went from being a part of the All Australian squad of 40 in season 2019 to being a part of the backline in the All Australian starting 22 in season 2020.
Jayden Short went from playing 15 games in season 2019 to playing all 21 games that Richmond featured in during season 2020, finishing second in the Norm Smith Medal voting!
Lachie Weller went from a below average player in season 2019 where he missed five games and finished outside the top ten in the Gold Coast best and fairest to a reasonable player in season 2020 as he finished seventh in the best and fairest.
It shows how deceptive stats can be as he averaged less disposals in season 2020 compared with season 2019, however, he did manage to hit the scoreboard more in season 2020.
Jy Simpkin went from getting one Brownlow vote in season 2019 to accumulating eight Brownlow votes in season 2020, the most of any North Melbourne player. He has gone from not finishing in the top ten in the best and fairest for North Melbourne in season 2019 and should definitely finish in the top ten in season 2020.
Sam Menegola went from playing just 12 games in season 2019 to playing every game in season 2020 and featuring in the AFL All Australian squad of 40.
The goal that he kicked to give Geelong a glimmer of hope in the last quarter in the grand final from outside 50 was indicative of his improvement into an elite player of the competition; he leads by example. The way in which he played in season 2020, displayed how well he reads the game.
Zak Butters transformed from a player in season 2019 who was rarely spoken about to a player in season 2020 that was selected in the AFL All Australian squad of 40.
Matt Taberner may have averaged nearly double the number of disposals in season 2019, but he kicked more than double the amount of goals in season 2020 as opposed to season 2019. He was also a part of the 2020 AFL All Australian squad of 40.
Dan Butler went from playing just seven games in season 2019 at Richmond to playing every game for St Kilda in season 2020 and being selected in the AFL All Australian squad of 40 in that same season.
Oscar McInerney transformed from being a below average player to being a solid contributor for the Brisbane Lions. He featured in every game and went from not finishing in the top ten of the season 2019 best and fairest to transforming himself into a valuable player finishing fourth in the season 2020 best and fairest.
Harry McKay was a pivotal part of the Carlton structure in season 2020 averaging 1.6 goals per games. With the absence of Charlie Curnow, McKay was more pivotal to the Carlton team from a system perspective than season 2019.
There was also the lack of another target in season 2020, with the exception of perhaps Levi Casboult, with every other player in the Carlton team besides McKay averaging less than a goal per game in the same season.
Liam Ryan went from finishing seventh in the West Coast best and fairest in season 2019 to being selected in the forward pocket in the AFL All Australian team in season 2020. His ability to do freakish things meant that he had a great highlights reel and substantiates why he was in the starting 18 in the AFL All Australian team.
Reilly O’Brien transformed from a player that wasn’t even in the Adelaide Crows top ten in their best and fairest in season 2019 to winning the award in season 2020. In a team that had few positives to take out of the season, he was one of the reasons why they managed to win three games in a row.
It shows how deceptive stats can be as he averaged less disposals and hitouts in season 2020 compared with season 2019!
Taylor Adams went from being a good player in season 2019 to being an elite player in season 2020. He may have averaged more disposals in season 2019 compared with season 2020, but he was selected in the AFL All Australian team in season 2020.
Although he battled with injuries in season 2019, he still showed that he has grown as a player.
Chad Wingard missed a lot of games in season 2019, eight to be exact and played some reasonable games.
He improved in season 2020 as he showed that he had the mental toughness to be a valuable player for Hawthorn, as he finished third in their best and fairest and played every game, which took a lot of resilience having been injured in season 2019. His position is normally of half forward flank, but he was selected in this position in Round 2.