If a week is a long time in football, a decade is a lifetime it seems and ten years ago, two players were taken in the ‘mini-draft’, 88 players were taken in the draft, five players were taken in the pre-season draft and an astounding 78 rookies were on board as well.
So, with an inflated draft period, how do you narrow it down to a top 20? Well, no-one is going to agree with every opinion but because my mental health was apparently feeling optimistic, it’s been done.
I’ve taken into account personal achievements but also what they’ve brought to their sides and if it’s a toss up, there’s an imagining of the old ‘line up on the schoolyard wall’ principle. Let’s get stuck in.
20: Jed Bews
One of the more underrated players, not just in the draft, but in the competition, Bews has applied his trade as the triple threat of lockdown defender, speedy rebounder and has played on a wing as well.
Since 2016, Bews has been a constant feature in the side and although he is criticised for not being as good as his dad (which is ridiculous – fans, stop doing it), he is an unsung hero at the Cats and deserves a spot here.
19: Brad Crouch
Pick 2, mini-draft
Traded to the Saints last season, Crouch is an in and under midfielder who came onto the scene as a ball magnet who could break away from the stoppage. Injuries have cruelled that yard of pace but he can still find the footy.
In the Amazon documentary Making Their Mark, Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks criticised his defensive efforts but the man averages 26 disposals over 102 games, which is outstanding, as well as over five tackles and five clearances per game.
18: Jarrod Witts
Speaking of underrated, Witts is the most important Gold Coast Suns player structurally. Add in the fact he’s a leader and a good ruckman and he deserves his dues.
In 2019, Witts was rewarded with the best and fairest at the Suns and averages 31 hit-outs over his career, including 49.45 in his best and fairest year and although he’s out for the year, fingers crossed he’s back bigger and better than ever in 2022.
17: Jaeger O’Meara
Pick 1, mini draft
The expectation upon the arrival of O’Meara when he got to the Suns rivals anyone in the competition at that point and in his first two years, he averaged 21.5 disposals and won a Rising Star.
In 2015 and 2016, he didn’t play a game and only managed half a dozen in 2017 for the Hawks. His 2018 and 2019 seasons were great, too, averaging 24.9 disposals, 5.3 clearances and 5.4 tackles.
Started 2021 very well but has dropped off due to a groin complaint.
16: Seb Ross
Most recently, Ross is a role midfielder among a St Kilda midfield that seems a touch one-paced but his career has been extremely solid.
Two best and fairest awards for Ross, along with being that midfielder that while in a bad side, had to be (and was) the best midfielder and from 2016-2019, averaged 28 disposals a game.
15: Sam Menegola
Pick 19, rookie draft
After struggling on Hawthorn’s and Fremantle’s lists for a few years, Menegola found his home at Kardinia Park in 2016 and after six games in that season, has been fantastic since.
Wing, half forward or centre bounce midfielder, Menegola has many strings to his bow and since 2016, averages 22 disposals, just over three and a half tackles and inside 50s and two and a half clearances. He’s one of those classy pieces who works no matter where you put him and that versatility is priceless.
14: Brad Hill
Has copped it in the media for a bit but forgetting how good he was at Hawthorn and Fremantle would be doing a disservice to the three-time premiership player with the Hawks, who’s also won a best and fairest with Fremantle.
Since his debut year in 2012, Hill has played 20-plus games every year barring 2018, is one of the best wingmen of the last decade and is an elite user of the ball. Gets it nearly 20 times a game and completely dominates the metres gained statistic.
13: Nick Haynes
One of the best interceptors in a while, Haynes has put together 151 games of structural importance, by being behind the ball, with some of the best hands and being an underrated user of the footy.
From 2016-2020, Haynes collected 115-plus marks per season and was imperative in GWS’ grand final run in 2019. Has had a few injuries as of late but is an absolute star and one of the Giants’ best players in their opening decade.
12: Brandon Ellis
Has the footballing world forgotten just how good Ellis was and is? Firstly, he played 21 games in his debut year. Secondly, he’s played more games than anyone else from this draft and thirdly, averages nearly 22 touches for his career as a half back/wing.
Finished second in Richmond’s best and fairest in 2014, made the 22 under 22 side three times as a youngster and won two flags at the Tigers. He is having an ultra consistent season at the Suns and seems to be helping the development of the likes of Wil Powell and Jack Bowes.
11: Sam Docherty
A lot of fans actually forgot the ‘Doc’ was a Lion, however, at the Blues he’s been simply awesome. Would be higher up on the list if he didn’t lose two years to knee injuries.
A natural leader, one of the more consistent rebounding defenders before they became the trend post-2017 and averaged 26 disposals from 2015-2017 before his injuries. In 2021, he is averaging 26 again.
10: Mark Blicavs
Pick 54, rookie draft
Anyone who thinks the rookie draft is anything less than a potential goldmine, look no further in modern times.
Blicavs was the man who nearly could’ve gone to the Olympics (don’t miss those days with commentators ramming that down our throats) but has developed into a star.
Used best as a quick and mobile key defender, Chris Scott has used him as a second ruckman and a winger.
The two-time best and fairest winner is still a touch underrated but is as structurally important as any Cat in the last few years.
9: Taylor Adams
An inaugural Giant, Adams moved to Collingwood after getting the pill 20.6 times at the Giants but has become an ultra consistent midfielder at Collingwood.
Critics will bag his ball use but Adams is one of the premier ‘bottom-of-the-pack’ midfielders and in 2020, made the All Australian side, won the best and fairest and was the runner-up in 2017. Look at Collingwood’s midfield in 2021 and you can see how important he is.
8: Stephen Coniglio
The captaincy hasn’t gotten off to the strongest start for Coniglio but don’t let it distract from the fact the man is a star.
A rough 2020 and an injury affected 2021 may have had his stocks fall for some but over his career, averages over four-and-a-half clearances and tackles, as well as better than half a goal a game which is very good for a midfielder, especially with only 2013 being the only season he hasn’t averaged 20 or more touches.
7: Jack Crisp
Pick 40, rookie draft
The world’s greatest set of ‘steak knives’ is what Crisp was known as when the infamous Dayne Beams took place when he went up to Brisbane but the Pies received an elite half back flanker.
Crisp has not missed a game while at Collingwood and averages 22 disposals while there, is a great user of the ball and is underrated in a lockdown role, but works best as one of the best rebounding defenders in the league.
6: Rory Laird
Pick 5, rookie draft
It would be easy for young fans to see Laird as a tough inside midfielder but this man was also an elite back pocket for many years.
Averaging 25.5 touches for his career, Laird is a two-time All Australian and did it both in defence, won the 2018 best and fairest at the Crows and finished sixth in the Brownlow in 2018, also as a defender!
5: Elliott Yeo
Injuries and a couple of grand final performances that didn’t set the world on fire have kept Yeo from jumping higher on this list but coming from being a highly touted youngster at Brisbane, he’s gone to West Coast and been a fantastic midfielder.
A two-time All Australian and two-time best and fairest winner (both at the Eagles), Yeo averages 4.5 tackles across his career as an inside bull and averages nearly ten contested possessions as well.
4: Tom Mitchell
Has there been a more polarising Brownlow Medallist since Shane Woewodin in 2000?
Mitchell is an accumulation beast who could find a footy blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back and was a worthy winner of the Brownlow in 2018, when he dominated the competition.
Opposition fans criticise a perceived lack of penetration and quality ball use from Mitchell but at some stage fans need to acknowledge players for what they can do. This man hunts the footy better than most, averaging 29.2 touches across his career, 4.7 clearances and 5.5 tackles.
3: Chad Wingard
At Port, the man known as ‘The Chad’ was simply electric. From being a two-time All Australian, to a best and fairest winner, Showdown Medallist, two-time leading goal kicker, a three- time 22 under 22 feature and averages 1.5 goals a game for his career.
Wingard is extremely dynamic, there is no doubt.
At Hawthorn, he was expected to be the saviour, given the Hawks gave up a first round pick and touted youngster Ryan Burton and he’s been extremely solid with touches of class, showed by his third placing in the Peter Crimmins Medal last season.
2: Toby Greene
Love him or hate him, Toby Greene is a superstar. Whilst comparisons to Dustin Martin are extremely lazy, what Greene provides is a genuine forward threat with hands greater than his stature: he’s a match winner, a leader and as of late, quite the unselfish ball user (which goes underrated).
Sure, he’s been known to do the silly thing now and then but expecting everyone to be a robot is simply ridiculous. Can go into the midfield and get 30 and kick four.
1: Lachie Neale
Yep, the best player from this draft was a pick 58, which is genuinely astonishing (not about the pick your selection is at, but who you choose) and the Dockers struck gold here.
Neale won two best and fairest awards and three Ross Glendenning Medals in Derbies and was perhaps overshadowed by the likes of Nat Fyfe, David Mundy and Michael Walters.
He then moved to the Lions in 2019 and won back-to-back best and fairest awards for Brisbane, a Brownlow, an AFLCA player of the year and a Leigh Matthews Trophy.
A genuine superstar mid who finds out and can seperate from the contest. Just needs to finish his work off at goal a touch more but is a premier midfield in a competition with plenty of them.