Every year there is a breakthrough player at every club, a player that defied expectation and performed way above their conceived ability and put them on the map.
Let’s look at who your club’s breakout player will be in 2021.
Adelaide Crows: Lachie Sholl
Making his debut in 2020, the talented midfielder applied his trade off the halfback line, playing the final eight games. An extremely classy user by foot, he used this asset to full effect by averaging two rebound 50s per game, ranking elite among his fellow midfielders.
In 2021, Sholl will be looking to develop into a consistent starting player, whether that be off the halfback line or in the midfield. With the departure of Rory Atkins and Brad Crouch, there is space to be filled by the young and developing list. There is much promised from this incredibly talented 20-year-old.
Brisbane Lions: Nakia Cockatoo
Falling out of favour at Geelong, Nakia Cockatoo was traded to Brisbane for a future third-round pick (Melbourne). This should prove to be a very shrewd decision by Brisbane to acquire the explosive youngster.
Having not played a game since 2018, Cockatoo will be looking to rediscover his career-best form and become a part in this finals-proven Brisbane side. His explosive pace and ready-made AFL experience will prove to be a very good asset should he get his body right.
Carlton Blues: Liam Stocker
A big gamble was made in the 2018 AFL draft by Carlton, trading away their first-round pick for the following year’s draft to secure Liam Stocker. With big risk comes big responsibility and many have deemed Liam Stocker not worthy of the pick assigned to him.
Having to return home from the hub last season due to personal reasons, the Carlton faithful still have major confidence that Stocker will develop into the player he is destined to be. Stocker will be looking to break into the Carlton side again, after only playing five games in 2018.
Collingwood Magpies: Caleb Poulter
Drafted with the 30th pick by Collingwood in the 2020 AFL Draft, the big-bodied midfielder could be the long-term replacement for Adam Treloar. He provides grunt and presence, as well as a good tackle on the inside. On the outside, he possesses very clean kicking and an ability to hit the scoreboard.
With the departures of Treloar and Tom Phillips, as well as the ageing nature of midfield mainstays like Scott Pendlebury and Steel Sidebottom, Poulter should look to get valuable match experience under his belt before making a profound and sustained bid to start in that midfield for 2022.
Essendon Bombers: Archie Perkins
Essendon had a wealth of options in the 2020 AFL Draft, boasting picks eight, nine and ten. With pick nine they drafted Archie Perkins, the true modern-day midfielder. He possesses incredible athleticism and the ability to go forward and kick goals. Comparisons to the likes of Patrick Dangerfield and Dustin Martin have been made, so there are big expectations for the 18-year-old.
Perkins should look to gain a starting spot at the earliest possible opportunity, as he has shown that he has the confidence and the build to hang at the top AFL level – whether that be in the midfield or up forward.
Fremantle Dockers: Hayden Young
The talented halfback flanker didn’t have the best of luck in 2020. In his fifth match of AFL football, he suffered a season-ending syndesmosis injury. In the matches he featured in, he showed why he was drafted seventh.
In 2021, Young will aim to get valuable AFL experience and to develop into a very good halfback flanker – just like his defensive counterpart Luke Ryan as a key defender. He has the talent; all he needs is an injury-free season and everyone will start talking about him.
Geelong Cats: Sam De Koning
The potential replacement for Harry Taylor? The tall defender who starred for Victoria Country in the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships. He will take time to develop just like all big men, but he has the athletic attributes to tackle the AFL’s best forwards in the future. Add the fact that he can chip in as a forward, the comparisons to Taylor keep giving.
The cliche when talking about big men is that they take more time to develop into fully-fledged AFL-quality players. While that’s possibly the case for De Koning, in 2021, he could show his class and could easily be the long-term replacement for Taylor.
Gold Coast Suns: Elijah Hollands
Hollands was a possible No.1 pick at the start of 2020, before suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his knee in February. Hollands is dangerous as a deep forward, but can easily play as a powerful, explosive midfielder. He is dominant at stoppages.
Hollands can eventually walk straight into the Gold Coast side in 2021. He has the size and stoppage prowess to be compatible with the likes of Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson and can be a compatible forward with Ben King and Izak Rankine.
GWS Giants: Lachie Ash
The incredibly talented halfback made his name last season after being drafted with pick four in the 2019 AFL Draft. Playing 12 games in 2020, he showed an innate ability to find the ball on the inside – and the ability to break a game open with his pace on the outside.
With the departure of Heath Shaw and Zac Williams, there is a real opportunity for Ash to establish himself as a premier halfbackman in the Giants side. The Giants will look to rebound after a poor 2020 and Ash could become a big part of that.
Hawthorn Hawks: Damon Greaves
The smooth-moving halfback flanker was given a lifeline at the back end of 2020. Being selected in Round 16, he played out the remaining games of the season with class and confidence. Despite only playing three games in 2020, he averaged elite kick efficiency and overall disposal efficiency among his fellow defenders.
The 2021 season should be the real breakout season for Greaves. Should he establish himself as a key component in the Hawthorn system, his elite kicking should help with the Hawks sometimes slow and passive ball movement.
Melbourne Demons: Luke Jackson
Selected with pick three in the 2019 AFL Draft, high expectations were put upon the 199-centimetre forward-ruckman. Seeming to be a long term Max Gawn replacement, unlike Gawn, Jackson can go forward and do some real damage.
With the acquisition of Ben Brown in the off-season, it will be interesting to see where Luke Jackson will fit in for Melbourne in 2021. Getting valuable AFL experience under his belt would be the main priority as he was restricted to only six games in 2020.
North Melbourne Kangaroos: Will Phillips
Will Phillips was arguably the best pure midfielder in the 2020 AFL Draft. A contested-ball beast and very clean user, being taken at pick three shows the talent he possesses, and his grunt and tough attitude will fit right into the shinboner culture at North Melbourne.
He should be in North’s best 22 at the start of the season, a real chance for the rising star – he has the body to fit right into the big time and is a big asset for North Melbourne.
Port Adelaide Power: Jackson Mead
Taken as a father-son at pick 25 in the 2019 AFL draft, Jackson Mead is yet to make his debut, but possesses fantastic courage and always attacks the football. As well as being a very good decision-maker, this should allow him to easily adapt to AFL football.
The midfielder/forward should aim to make his debut in season 2021. If he can have the impact that the likes of Zac Butters and Connor Rozee had, then expect him to be in and around the starting 22.
Richmond Tigers: Riley Collier-Dawkins
Drafted with pick 20 in the 2018 AFL Draft, Richmond have taken their time with pushing Collier-Dawkins, letting him develop via the VFL into the player they want before putting him under the bright lights of AFL football.
The midfielder should make his debut in 2021. He was very, very close to making his debut in 2020. The talented midfielder has gone under the radar since being drafted; he is going to surprise many once he shows how good he can be.
St Kilda Saints: Jack Bytel
Sliding into a late second-round pick in the 2018 draft, the 189-centimetre midfielder made his debut in 2020, playing three games and showing what a shrewd pick it was by St Kilda. A very clean user and with a good ability to find the contested ball, he is fitting into AFL football nicely.
Bytel should be knocking on the door for selection. However, with how strong the Saints midfield is and with the addition of Brad Crouch, it would be hard for Bytel to crack into that midfield. Should he do it, he can prove to be the future of the St Kilda midfield.
Sydney Swans: Dylan Stephens
Dylan Stephens, the speedy midfielder, showed why he was drafted with pick five in the 2019 AFL Draft. Playing eight games in 2020, he displayed cleanliness and can develop into a very good AFL footballer.
With the return of Isaac Heeney, it may be harder for Stephens to stay in the Sydney side, or even have the same impact. But he’s shown he can hang at AFL level and he is a promising talent who can easily level up in 2021.
West Coast Eagles: Alex Witherden
Falling out of favour at Brisbane, Alex Witherden was traded to West Coast for pick 58, which could easily be one of the trades of the off-season. The defender possesses elite kicking and the ability to generate attack from defence brilliantly.
Playing six games in 2020, he’ll need to prove why he deserves to start for the Eagles in 2021. He has the ability, but would need to adapt to the way West Coast play. Should he break into the starting 22, he could become a real difference-maker in 2021.
Weston Bulldogs: Cody Weightman
The obvious choice would be to say Jamarra Ugle-Hagan; however, Cody Weightman will take everyone by surprise. Taken with pick 15 at the 2019 AFL Draft, Weightman’s a dangerous forward who can play above his height and has an incredible eye for goal. Playing three games in 2020 and kicking three goals, he adds a new dynamic to the Bulldogs forward line.
2021 can be a breakout year for Cody Weightman. He has the ability and the X-factor to change a game and will have a very impressive highlight reel in a few seasons. Should he be able to perform consistently for the Bulldogs in 2021, he can be a real difference-maker.