Departing veteran Easton Wood has backed the Western Bulldogs’ defensive unit to play a key role in keeping the AFL club firmly in flag contention next year.
The combination of a plethora of solid premium options and a lack of mid-priced options may mean that this is a good year to load up on defender premiums.
Lachie Whitfield is the easiest choice of the lot, coming off two fine years scoring in the 110s. While priced at an average of 105, Whitfield averaged 111 when you take out his injury-affected eight.
Tom Stewart is my next selection, also priced at six points below his real average (106) due to injury. Stewart has been very durable otherwise though, only being injured one other time over the past four years. An average of 98 in 2019 suggests he will likely average somewhere between 98 and 106 in 2021, making him a reliable pick.
After that it gets a little trickier, with four players fairly equal in my mind. Luke Ryan is one option, and he is a player on the rise. Entering the peak of his career and going into his fifth year, Ryan looks set to dominate again in 2021, but his inconsistency might make him cheaper at some point during the season.
Caleb Daniel continues the defy the laws of physics, both by hitting impossible targets and by being a shining light at just 167 centimetres. As he relies on uncontested possessions, he may struggle if he gets tagged more often, though his 154 in the semi-final against Jarryn Geary suggests otherwise.
Callum Mills took his game to a new level in 2020, and always threatens to move into the midfield. His average was boosted by a 173 in the wet, but he still would’ve averaged 96 without that game.
Rory Laird is good value if he plays midfield again, after averaging 121 over the last seven rounds. However, I doubt he can back that up over a full season, and there’s a risk he may move back into defence if Adelaide want to give youngsters Jackson Hately and Harry Schoenberg more midfield time. Nonetheless, he’s a reliable option if he holds his midfield spot, while his DPP status could be useful for strategic trading.
Jordan Ridley had an exceptional year in 2020, and I’m not too concerned about his disappointing late form after suffering a rib injury in Round 10. He’s had an injury-interrupted pre-season though, so there’s no need to take a risk on him given the strong options above.
There are two popular picks I’m less keen on: Jake Lloyd and Zac Williams. Lloyd is probably slightly overpriced, as he jumped from 109 to 122, so he can come in later in the season. Williams misses at least a couple of games through injury every year and has only ever reached a top premium average once (2019).
Whitfield and Stewart are both good value and reliable. Then take your pick from Ryan, Daniel, Mills, and Laird.