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Your AFL club's breakout player in 2021

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Expert
19th July, 2021
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At the start of every season we try to predict each team’s breakout player. It’s a fun thing to do based on gut feels and projected form.

By now we’ve had a good look at every team’s list and we can identify who’s actually been a breakout player for each side.

A “breakout player” can mean different things for everyone. For me, it’s a player who has gone above and beyond the expectation placed on them, raised their game to another level, a significant improver and someone who has also contributed to their team’s success in some way.

He doesn’t have to be the best player or a first-year player but he could be a 70-game player who is having a career year.

With just over a month before finals kick off, here’s a look at every AFL club’s breakout player for 2021.

Adelaide: Ben Keays
He went from being a discarded Lion who was a bit-part player to a key midfield cog at the Crows. That’s an incredible shift.

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This year he’a averaging 29 touches a game; up from 19 in 2020. “Being around the footy has helped, and my tank is a strength and I’m using that,” Keays told media.

Brisbane: Zac Bailey
Lions fans will remember Bailey’s match-winning goal after the siren against Collingwood from early in the season. He’s finding the ball more now.

He’s gone from averaging 13.4 disposals to 18.1.But the big improvement has come in his goal kicking: 24.9 this year. Last year he managed 13 goals and in 2019 he kicked five.

Carlton: Sam Walsh
He’s always been a natural ball winner but now he’s starting to level up, win games off his own boot and influence momentum.

The match against Fremantle was a classic Sam Walsh game: a boundary line goal and 25 touches with eight marks, eight tackles. On the weekend he delivered another reminder he’s truly busted out this year with 39 disposals against Collingwood in their 29-point win.

Sam Walsh

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Collingwood: Josh Daicos
It’s been a turbulent year for the Collingwood Football Club: head coach Nathan Buckley stepped down, president Eddie McGuire resigned and injuries have mounted. Daicos, though, has been a bright spark among the rubble as an improved ball winner and goal sneak.

The 50-gamer is on track to posting career best numbers for disposals, averaging 18.9. His best outing was against the Swans with 28 touches – 11 kicks, 17 handballs.

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Essendon: Darcy Parish
In a year where the Bombers have turned a corner under Ben Rutten, Parish has busted out into an elite midfielder who’s been racking up obscene numbers. He got a window of opportunity when Dylan Shiel, Jye Caldwell and then Andrew McGrath went down and with the help of Zach Merrett and others, has almost doubled his production this year across the board.

He’s gone from someone who went missing on a forward flank to a top five Brownlow medal fancy.

Fremantle: Caleb Serong
A tried-and-tested tagger, Serong proved he can win and find the ball after a breakout game of 30 disposals against the Hawks. And, he was the second best ball winner against the Cats on the weekend with 20 touches.

If his tagging days are done Serong’s value is only going to increase. He’s still only 20-years old.

Geelong: Cam Guthrie
It’s weird to think of Guthrie having a breakout year when he’s played 197 games. But there’s no overlooking the veteran’s career-best numbers this year. He leads the Cats in disposals with 29.7. It’s been a fairly low-key transition.

And his leap has helped fill void in the midfield after losing the likes of Tim Kelly. He’s second at Geelong for inside 50s (61) and also ranks top two for contested ball, clearances, and efficiency.

Cameron Guthrie of the Cats celebrates

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Gold Coast: Touk Miller
There have been calls for Touk Miller to be in the All-Australian team this year. Here’s why: He’s evolved into a Top 10 player in the AFL with 31.31 disposals per game. In 16 games, he’s hit 30 or more touches 12 times which includes a streak off 11 games in a row.

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His work ethic has gone up a level. And he delivered a 38-disposal game in the 11-point loss against the Bulldogs. Safe to say his hot form has been the glue that has held the Suns together.

Greater Western Sydney: Tom Green
The 20-year old has quickly become a contested ball pig and has slotted in under the radar among the Giants elite on-ball brigade of Josh Kelly, Callan Ward and Tim Taranto. That in itself is a huge compliment to his game and where he’s at.

In only his second year he’s gone from averaging 15.2 a game to now 20.5. He’s had a couple of monster games: 27 touches against the Eagles (13 kicks, 14 handballs), and 28 against the Bombers (14 kicks, 14 handballs).

Hawthorn: Changkuoth Jiath
Just this week Alistair Clarkson said “He has just grown in stature as the year has gone on.” His season-ending injury against Fremantle came at a time as he was trending up, but Clarkson said he’s a pivotal piece to Hawthorn’s rebuild as a dynamic runner across half back.

If you think of his production of 9.6 touches a game last year to his 20.2 this year, it’s been an impressive season which will be remembered as the year he established himself as a key Hawks cog.

Melbourne: Trent Rivers
He has added run, lockdown and intercept value in one of the best defences in the AFL. “They (May and Lever) see the game so well, and they put me in positions where I’ll win the ball. Playing under their leadership, it’s grown my game out of sight,” Rivers told media.

With so many other Demons getting attention for insanely good form – Petracca, Oliver, Gawn, May, Lever – Rivers has used this year to cement his spot as a 19-year old flying under the radar.

North Melbourne: Luke Davies-Uniacke
He’s considered a prized pick at North Melbourne for his clearance work. Now in his fourth year it looks like he’s started to take the leap most thought he would take. He’s averaging 20.5 touches a game and his production has steadily increased each year.

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Port Adelaide: Mitch Georgiades
He’s been a Rising Star twice and seems to be able to do it all: kick goals, take huge pack marks and can find the football. He’s done all of those things this year. Best part about this year are his 27.15 goals, second behind Port’s key forward Charlie Dixon. He’s still only just 19-year-old.

Richmond: Shai Bolton
He’s been brewing for a while now and we all knew he would rise to the top. This year the consistency is obvious, even if the Tigers’ form has been receding. He’s kicked 18 goals and 319 disposals which puts him fourth best for both at Richmond, a position that highlights his growth and value to the team.

He’s been spectacular to watch when he gets going in the same way we were in awe of former Crow and Brownlow Medallist Andrew McLeod.

Shai Bolton

Shai Bolton (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

St Kilda: Jack Steele
Steele’s had a year where he’s looked like former Saints midfield jet Lenny Hayes at times – prolific and his leadership is infectious.

He’s averaging 28.5 touches per game which is up from 21.9 (2020) and has become a useful goal-kicking midfielder – 12 goals this year, 11 in 2020. Even when the Saints have been struggling, Steele’s form hasn’t waned.

Sydney: Will Hayward
It’s not easy to line up in a forward set up alongside Lance Franklin, Tom Papley and Isaac Heeney. But the 22-year old has made himself part of their forward production with 20 goals. His speed and cunning goal awareness have made him a dangerous option. He’s ranked 12th in the AFL for tackles inside 50.

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West Coast: Jarrod Brander
Before his injury, Brander was on track for an obvious breakout year, his fourth season with the Eagles. Last year he was averaging 11.1 touches a game; now it’s 15.9.

Plus, he’s kicked 5.6. His versatility has made him difficult to match up on: a tall winger that does cameos in the middle with good endurance and goal-kicking abilities.

Western Bulldogs: Cody Weightman
He kicked 14 goals in eight games and busted out with a 14-touch and 2.2. game against the Saints in May which earned him a Rising Star nomination. This year the 20-year old has displayed a strong aerial game, being solid at ground level and can kick goals in a team that boasts the best midfield in the AFL and forward line of Aaron Naughton, Josh Bruce and Marcus Bontempelli.

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