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The not-so-traditional pathway of the Rookie Draft: Top 10 stars who have used this route to success in the past decade

Roar Rookie
21st November, 2023
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Roar Rookie
21st November, 2023
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It comes to this time of the year when the hopes and dreams of young footy stars come to fruition and a time when teams down the bottom of the ladder can climb up quickly.

People always look at the top echelon of draft picks to indicate the quality of players available but this is only sometimes the case.

A ton of the stars who run out onto the ground today have made the not-so-traditional pathways and have come from the rookie draft.

From Charlie Cameron, and Brody Mihocek showing off their class in this year’s spectacular grand final to the tough nut Liam Baker. Yes, all these stars who are on show came from the rookie draft.

So l decided to make a list of the top 10 rookie draft players in the past decade. Obviously, it is subjective and it was tough work sticking to a top 10 list but my list is based more on individual talent rather than team accolades.

1. Charlie Cameron 2013 (pick 7 rookie draft) Adelaide/Brisbane

It all started at the Adelaide Crows for Charlie Cameron playing 73 games over four impressive seasons at the club until returning home.

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Ever since joining the Lions, he has not looked back becoming a cult figure with his famous motorbike celebration and the speed and forward to match.

From two-time All-Australian in 2019 and 2023 to four-time leading goalkicker for the Brisbane Lions the 29-year-old is certainly a consistent small forward.

Falling agonisingly close to a premiership he and his team will certainly do all they can to raise that premiership cup.

2. Tom Papley 2015 (pick 19 rookie draft) Sydney

Tom Papley is certainly an excitement machine entering the competition as a fiery customer who loves the competitiveness and the hunt of AFL football. And not much has changed.

Papley has won Sydney’s leading goal-kicking award twice in 2019, and 2020 and was named All-Australian in 2021.

After almost leaving at the end of 2019 to the Blues the 27-year-old has thrived being one of Sydney’s most integral players and would love to add a premiership to his 164-game career.

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Tom Papley celebrates a goal.

Tom Papley. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

3. Jack Sinclair 2014 (pick 1 rookie draft) St. Kilda

Jack Sinclair’s development over the past three seasons has been quite amazing transforming himself into an A-grader who oozes class.

His versatility has turned him into ‘Mr reliable’ who can play half-back, midfield or even half-forward where he started his career.

The 28-year-old has won two Trevor Barker Medals in a row as well as being named All-Australian two years in a row across the half-back line.

The speedster continued to impress this season averaging an elite 28.9 disposals and 501.4 metres gained with the flowing mullet in full flight.

4. Liam Baker 2017 (pick 18 rookie draft) Richmond

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Liam Baker may not be the biggest guy on the field at 173cm but we certainly know the team stands taller with him in the side.

Baker has made a reputation for himself as one of the most courageous players in the competition and has two premierships to show for it.

Similar to Jack Sinclair, Liam Baker is extremely versatile showing his ability to play as a pressure forward, midfielder and dashing half-back being an integral cog to the Tiger’s make-up.

The 25-year-old has 110 games under his belt and it will be interesting to see where Adam Yze uses him in the new Richmond era.

5. Rowan Marshall 2016 (pick 10 rookie draft) St. Kilda

Rowan Marshall was picked up as a mature-aged recruit at the age of 21 and took a couple of years to settle into the AFL just 13 games in his first two years.

After completing his apprenticeship under Paddy Ryder he has developed himself from a forward/ruckman into a full-time ruckman flourishing in 2023 almost receiving an All-Australian jacket.

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In 2023 he played every game emphasising his durability averaging an elite five clearances and 11.5 contested possessions.

6. Brody Mihocek 2017 (pick 22 rookie draft) Collingwood

After winning the 2017 premiership for Port Melbourne in the VFL the mature 24-year-old finally got his crack at the AFL level and has taken it with both hands.

The defender-turned-forward has not missed a beat for the Pies playing in the 2018 grand final in his first season and winning a much-deserved premiership in 2023.

Mihocek epitomises the term blue collar footballer whereby every Pies fan who goes through the gates knows what they are getting from the forward, winning Colliingwood’s leading goalkicking award five times out of his six seasons in the AFL.

Brody Mihocek celebrates Collingwood's preliminary final win.

Brody Mihocek. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

7. Dan Houston 2015 (pick 45 rookie draft) Port Adelaide

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Dan Houston has been a steal to pick such a skilful and classy player all the way back to pick 45 of a rookie draft.

The 26-year-old has made himself a nice spot across the half-back line grabbing his first All-Australian jacket with his elite ball use.

He averages 20.2 disposals across his whole career and 350.8 metres gained per match, and he is lethal by foot.

8 Callum Wilkie 2018 (Pick 3 rookie draft) St. Kilda

After being overlooked in four National drafts accountant Callum Wilkie got his chance after playing in the SANFL for North Adelaide.

Since then he’s been a fan favourite by Saints fans due to his consistency and reliability not missing a single game after debuting in 2019.

The blue-collared defender got his hard work rewarded in 2023 by being named in the All-Australian team after getting named in the squad of 40 in the previous year.

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9. Jayden Short 2014 (pick 11 rookie draft) Richmond

Three-time premiership Jayden Short is definitely on the list with his booming right boot that you can hear from the sidelines.

It is not just his kicking but his proven lockdown defending that proves difficult for small forward oppositions.

He was second best on the ground in the 2020 Grand Final win against the Cats with Dustin Martin taking the medal home with his great performance.

Mason Cox and the Magpies celebrate

Mason Cox. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

10. Mason Cox 2014 (60 pick rookie draft) Collingwood

Who would have thought that an American who debuted in 2016, who had no background in the game would end up a premiership player with 113 games under his belt and counting?

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Richmond fans still would have nightmares about the famous 2018 Preliminary Final where the favourites the Tigers were booted out.

You can still envisage the chants of ‘USA’ across a packed MCG. That night Mason Cox had 8 contested marks the second most in AFL history behind Chad Cornes in 2002, and 3.1 tearing the game apart.

Hopefully, these bold selections will inspire other clubs to look overseas more.

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Of course, there are a few who narrowly missed out in the top 10 such as blue-collared players Ben Keays, Tom Atkins, Kane Lambert, the bull Cameron Zurharr and dashing defender Adam Saad.

In this decade it looks like the Saints and Tigers have excelled in this department – let us see this year if clubs secure another superstar in the rookie draft.

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