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Opinion

2020 AFL draft pick swaps: What history says and what to expect

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6th December, 2020
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In 2007 the AFL introduced a rule which has been a bit of a slow burn but become very popular. For the first time, they allowed clubs to complete trades for draft picks only – with no need for a player to be part of the deal.

West Coast and the Western Bulldogs were the first and only teams to take advantage of it that year, the Dogs swapping pick 22 for 35 and 60, with the most notable outcome of the deal being Scott Selwood’s arrival at the Eagles.

It didn’t inspire any further pick swaps the following year, 2008, when the league suffered its least active trade period in history. In fact, a decade passed before pick trades ever got into double digits.

The arrival of GWS in the competition, and the introduction of the league’s newest bid-matching system in 2015 both gave pick swaps a small boost at the time – but what’s really made them take off is the introduction of live draft trading in 2018.

Now clubs have the ability to swap picks right up until the minute they are used in the draft, and it has made them vastly more active when it comes to jostling for the best position therein.

The option of trading into or out of the future has been a big incentive as well. Melbourne for example have traded a future first rounder away in a pick swap three times, including during this year’s trade period.

Many pick swaps are insignificant or uninteresting – minor exchanges for points or position at the back end of the draft which don’t do much to excite the imagination.

But those that do see early selections change hands now capture our attention as much if not more so than the movements of big name players – with Carlton and Adelaide’s infamous Liam Stocker deal being the best example.

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The rise of the pick swap is part of a trend that has seen the AFL trade period become increasingly more active and convoluted, particularly following the arrival of the bid-matching system.

Last year we saw draft picks change hands no less than 167 times across the trade period and the draft – a competition record, and one that seems unlikely to be broken in 2020.

Where AFL trade deals were once likely to see a player swapped for a single pick more often than not, nowadays it’s just not a proper AFL trade if it doesn’t involve a swap of future fourth-rounders.

It’s no surprise under those circumstances that we have recently seen a record broken – the most traded draft pick in history.

Pick 70 this year originally started as GWS’ future fourth-rounder and was traded to Adelaide for Sam Jacobs before being sent on to Port Adelaide for Billy Frampton.

The Power gave it to Brisbane in a pick swap at the draft last year and Brisbane traded it to North Melbourne this year in a three-way deal that saw Stefan Martin go to the Bulldogs and Lachie Young the Kangaroos.

North passed it on to Collingwood in the Jaidyn Stephenson deal and they recently dealt it back to Brisbane in a swap of four fourth-rounders which may prove a serious contender for the least consequential trade of all time.

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That deal however did make this pick the first one in history to be traded 6 times, separating it from a large pack of selections that have each been traded five times each – most memorably including the Fremantle pick 6 that was involved in deals for Lachie Neale, Jesse Hogan and Steven May and eventually used to draft Ben King.

Pick 70 this year probably won’t prove to be another Ben King – if anything it’ll probably be used to partially match a bid for Reef McInnes or even be passed on entirely – but it certainly has earned an odd place in history, for now.

Jaiden Hunter of WA Black and Logan McDonald of WA Gold

Jaiden Hunter of WA Black and Logan McDonald of WA Gold. (Photo by Paul Kane/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

2020 hasn’t been as active as the last two years on the pick-swapping front – partly because this year’s draft and its associated live trades are yet to come, but also undoubtedly due to the unique circumstances of this draft.

As drafts draw nearer we typically see clubs more keen to be involved in the early stages, but according to reports must clubs in 2020 are if anything looking to trade out of the upcoming draft – and struggling to find buyers.

The appeal of trading into the future is that it’s generally a good investment – teams will pay big for the chance to use a pick now, as Gold Coast did in last year’s draft swapping this year’s pick 13 for that year’s pick 27.

But this year’s picks are so uncertain (and next year’s draft reportedly so enticing) that the same incentive just isn’t there. The fact the Suns have now traded pick 27 this year for the low return of a future 2021 third-rounder is, at least in part, an indication of that.

So it may well be that we don’t get a blockbuster pick swap on draft night. But if we do, the most likely scenario is that it will involve Collingwood.

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The Magpies are known to be willing to trade their 2021 first-round pick, as they’re expecting to match a bid early in the 2021 draft for father-son prospect Nick Daicos and don’t necessarily need to retain it.

But, their situation is made complicated by the need to navigate around a bid for McInnes – who could attract attention as early as Essendon and Adelaide’s picks in the top ten, but could just as easily slip past Collingwood’s early selections at 14 and 16.

One scenario that has been mooted is that the Magpies could trade up, offering say 16 and their future first to Essendon for pick 8, which would essentially guarantee one early selection before McInnes is bid on, and hopefully two.

But it’s a dicey scenario as even then Adelaide could still bid on McInnes with the next pick and see Collingwood effectively give up three first-round picks for one, which can’t be too appealing.

Perhaps the Pies will hold off until after the McInnes matter is dealt with one way or another to trade the selection – or, maybe it won’t move at all, and they will simply have to find a use for it next year instead.

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North Melbourne’s pick 2 is the other selection that has been much speculated about, but by all reports the Kangaroos have categorically ruled out trading it and intend to use it at the draft.

Of course, AFL history is littered with events that were categorically ruled out only to happen almost immediately thereafter. I suspect North do use the pick, but never say never.

If any other club is to make a big move on draft night it will certainly come as a curveball. But, we have seen that happen before – and hopefully on Wednesday night we will again.