It was always going to be a close count between the Collingwood co-captain and the Fremantle star… and it certainly was!
The second part of the six-part series comprises the five players the Collingwood Magpies, Essendon Bombers and Fremantle Dockers can least afford to lose in 2021, plus each side gets one honourable pre-draft mention.
The Magpies will take few positives into 2021 after being annihilated by the Cats in their last game of 2020. It sums up their current predicament, having lost Adam Treloar and Tom Phillips in particular. Here are the players that they could least afford to lose in 2021.
Honourable mention: Scott Pendlebury
Pendlebury led from the front in 2020 despite a disappointing finish to the season. He missed four games in the home-and-away season and still managed to get selected in the All Australian squad of 40 in 2020. He is heading towards the end of his career, but his leadership is integral.
5. Josh Daicos
He proved that he has plenty of potential in 2020. He kicked the goal of the season despite playing most of his footy on the wing. He will have even more responsibility with Tom Phillips being traded.
4. Brayden Maynard
He was named in the All Australian squad of 40 in 2020. Expect Maynard to be a pivotal part of the Collingwood Magpies back six, once again in 2021.
3. Jack Crisp
He finished third in the best and fairest, one place ahead of Darcy Moore. Crisp just does his job with no fuss. He even has the capability to play in the midfield if needed but is first and foremost a back pocket or halfback flanker. Expect the Magpies to rely heavily on him once again in 2021.
2. Darcy Moore
Moore was the centre halfback in the 2020 All Australian team. He is a player Collingwood will need fit and firing if they are to play finals in 2021.
1. Taylor Adams
Adams won the Collingwood best and fairest in 2020 and was named on the interchange bench in the All Australian team in the same season. With the loss of Adam Treloar, Adams becomes an even more pivotal player in 2021 than he was in 2020.
The Bombers need to improve on their 2020 campaign if they are to take positives into 2021. These are the players they can least afford to lose if Ben Rutten is to make any progress with his side.
Honourable mention: Kyle Langford
Langford is capable of making a difference to the Bombers if 2020 is any indication. He came fourth in Essendon’s best and fairest in 2020 with an average of 18 disposals per game. Every time he has a disposal he makes a difference.
5. Andrew McGrath
McGrath averaged the third most disposals of any Essendon Bombers player in 2020. He missed three games but still managed to finish fifth in the team’s best and fairest. He has the capability to play on a wing or in the midfield and will be an important part of the team if they are to move in the right direction.
4. Jake Stringer
He averaged the most goals per game of any player for Essendon in 2020 with an average of 1.5 goals per game. He is a mobile tall forward who will need to perform should the Bombers play to their optimum level in 2021.
3. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti
He’s Essendon’s main crumber and will have a lot of responsibility to improve in 2021 given he was also the side’s leading goal kicker.
2. Zach Merrett
Merrett is a pivotal part of the Essendon team. He is arguably their best player. If 2020 is any indication, he will continue quietly playing a key role in the midfield or on the wing. He averaged the fourth most disposals of any player in 2020, including finals. He should get better as he has the capability to do so in 2021.
1. Jordan Ridley
He was the only Essendon Bombers player who was part of the All Australian squad of 40. He won the Bombers best and fairest in 2020. He can play anywhere in the back six and the Bombers need him fit and firing in 2021.
The Dockers will be looking to improve in 2021 and perhaps even play finals.
Honourable mention: David Mundy
Mundy was part of Fremantle’s leadership group in 2020 and finished equal third in the best and fairest. First and foremost he is a leader, but then there’s his playing ability, which is still at an optimum level given he always plays with maximum endeavour. Expect that to continue in 2021.
5. Michael Walters
He may have played just 14 out of 17 games, but he kicked three goals in each of Rounds 16 and 17, which the Dockers won against the Melbourne Demons and North Melbourne Kangaroos respectively. He averaged the second-most goals and the sixth most disposals of any Dockers player in 2020. He needs to improve for the team to make finals in 2021, which he should do.
4. Andrew Brayshaw
Brayshaw finished equal third in the Dockers best and fairest in 2020. The fact he has shown he can be an integral part of the Dockers midfield will mean Nat Fyfe can play forward in 2021.
3. Luke Ryan
He was named as a part of the back six in the AFL All Australian team in 2020 and won the Fremantle Dockers best and fairest. He will be an extremely important player and will need to perform at his optimum level should the Dockers make finals in 2021.
2. Nat Fyfe
Fyfe was one of three Fremantle Dockers who was a part of the All Australian squad of 40 in 2020. Expect Fyfe to play forward and in the midfield to try to keep himself injury-free. He is arguably one of the best players in the AFL and has the opportunity to substantiate why in 2021.
1. Matt Taberner
He was a pivotal part of the Dockers in 2020 and was part of the All Australian squad of 40. He was extremely consistent, as he failed to kick a goal in just one of the 16 games he played – in Round 16, when the Dockers defeated the Demons. That showed that he doesn’t only have to kick goals to have an impact on the game. In the game he didn’t play, which was Round 18 against the Western Bulldogs, the Dockers lost by 30 points, which could mean that he is a bit of a barometer for the side. Hopefully he will improve even more in 2021.