The 2020 AFL draft shapes as perhaps the most unpredictable of all, with Victorian under-18s not playing this year and the other second-tier competitions having shortened seasons.
Draft experts, recruiters, scouts, pundits, punters and hacks have spent this year scouring the underage records and statistics to try to come up with 2020 predictions, which has been virtually impossible considering travel bans and the lack of useful data.
This industry is becoming a massive annual free-for-all, with clubs employing talent scouts across the country, while literally thousands of super-keen amateurs add their opinions to the experts.
Ultimately, the decisions regarding live selections are governed by list management teams at all 18 clubs, with live trading really creating a spectacle of draft night and making predictions for the first round close to impossible to predict.
Following on from Josh Elliott’s “very early” 2020 AFL phantom draft, this is an analysis of how the top five picks could play out, what kind of trades could tempt 2020’s bottom five clubs into moving back and which top ten smokies could potentially emerge.
But first things first. Jamarra Ugle-Hagan is the consensus No. 1 pick in this draft and the Crows are historically the busiest bidders for club-tied players. Ironically, North Melbourne and Sydney are also clubs with form when it comes to bidding on academy, NGA and father-son players, so JUH isn’t going to slide very far, if at all, in this draft. Let’s just assume it’s very early.
In fact, given the Western Bulldogs’ trade period and sheer luck at grooming such a highly rated Next Generation Academy player in the final year, the draft will be compromised in this fashion. There are 16 clubs hoping that Adelaide makes the Dogs pay the highest price when matching the bid.
So the Adelaide Crows are the reigning wooden spooners and on pole position for this draft. The recent history of this pick is that it just shouldn’t ever be traded. Fremantle traded their Pick 1 for Trent Croad in 2001 and Hawthorn used it to select Luke Hodge. Nobody with the first pick has traded it since.
Another trend with early picks, especially Pick 1, is to choose the best player available against positions of need. Adelaide, therefore, has a conundrum in that West Adelaide ruck-forward Riley Thilthorpe is a local with none of the go-home factor that has burnt them so much, while 2020 WAFL second leading goal-kicker Logan McDonald is consensus top two with Bulldogs-tied Jamarra Ugle-Hagan.
Who do they pick? Riley Thilthorpe
Moving onto North, who are never shy of making a bid on a tied player, they might yet trade back, but they are looking at both key position players and midfield depth. Watch for them to do a live trade if McDonald goes to the Crows given they could get a quality midfielder and more early picks to go with their Pick 11. Even if they do drop back, they’ll still probably try to bid on someone else’s tied player. Just assume they’ll do so at some stage.
Who do they pick? Logan McDonald
Coming to Sydney, who sit in a position where there’s still going to be an elite tall remaining and maybe even two of them to choose from if a midfielder goes earlier. Given their defence could really use a player of Denver Grainger-Barrass’s skill set, they are heavily favoured to take him. Could Sydney move back in the draft? Yes, but there is a strong caveat. Should they exchange picks with the Suns, they risk Braeden Campbell being bid on inside their first pick. This risk is worse with other clubs, so this is the only viable trade.
Who do they pick? Denver Grainger-Barrass
As ever, Hawthorn is always a mystery. Would they truly take Elijah Hollands with their midfield injury history? Local boy Will Phillips would be a better fit, but should either go earlier and DGB slides to them, I don’t think they’d hesitate to fill their position need down back. Look for them to trade back live if they don’t like what they have left to choose from.
Who do they pick? Will Phillips
As far as the 2020 draft goes, the Gold Coast are all in here, but they need a key defender or key forward. They need all the dice to fall their way if they are to get one of the four elite prospects. Basically they need the two mids in Phillips and Hollands to go early or they need to get up the board. If they can get Logan McDonald by trading up with North, it will fill the club’s self-inflicted position shortage up forward. After the top pair of talls are off the board, the next two are on the second rung, yet if either Grainger-Barrass or Thilthorpe fall to what will be Pick 6, they more than fit the list needs profile.
Who do they pick? Nik Cox
Wait, what?! After all the hype about the ‘fantastic five’ and consensus top players, a smokey?
Okay, this is very left field, but there are reasons. Many, many reasons. Firstly, recency bias has flooded the top 25s of 2020 draft predictions with non-Victorian players who have been playing high-level competitive footy this season. Has this boosted the chances of these players being more AFL ready? Maybe, but the draft is meant to be where players are chosen on potential rather than immediate impact.
But why Nik Cox? Well, this 200-centimetre kid has a highlights package that demonstrates he could have been top-five pick if COVID hadn’t cancelled his draft year. He is a swingman in the mould of Justin Westhoff, who mainly starts in defence, can fly up the wings, kicks accurately off either foot and loves going forward to kick a goal. His endurance is elite, as his six minutes two seconds, two-kilometre time trial performance would have placed him fourth in 2019 and first at any draft combine before that.
The Gold Coast Suns have elite midfielders, a solid ruck division, wingers and flankers for days, very high draft picks at small forward and utilities to fill in at need. However, the areas that they are thin at is in the tall forwards and tall defenders. Nikolas Cox can do both.
This prediction is no slight on the abilities of Elijah Hollands, but the fact is that he could slide even further.
Sydney academy prospect Braeden Campbell is an elite ball user and could also attract an early bid, while Lachie Jones played a full SANFL season in defence for premiers Woodville-West Torrens and looks like getting an early bid too.
Zach Reid is the other tall defender in the conversation for an early pick, having managed to get in game time for Leongatha this year.
Tanner Bruhn was firmly slotted as the best midfield prospect after his under-16 year, but injuries and COVID have seen him slide, but maybe not so far for all clubs.
Predicting this draft is, as they say, a crapshoot. We might even have a second draft window before final list submissions, and live trading and bid matching will doubtless shuffle the order. I can’t wait!