Ranking the best talents in this year’s crop

Toby Conway gets a quick kick away as opponents apply pressure to him

The AFL draft is almost here and dozens of the country’s best young footballers are hoping their professional footy careers are about to be launched.

Assessing this year’s crop has been made difficult, with COVID-19 wiping out large portions of the season, but the consensus is this is an even draft beyond the first few selections.

Here we list the best 30 prospects on their own individual merit: Keep in mind, this is not a phantom draft predicting where each player will go, simply a ranking of the best talents available.

30 – Rhett Bazzo

Key defender, WA

One of the best intercept defenders in this draft, Rhett Bazzo’s laconic style sees him glide around the defence, often picking off attacks at will.

Bazzo will need to fill out his frame to compete at AFL level, but his strong hands and excellent reading of the play should stand him in good stead.

29 – Toby Conway

Ruck, Vic Country

In a draft a little short on ruck talent, Toby Conway presents as the most AFL-ready option available.

Conway is already a healthy size but covers the ground well, getting to plenty of aerial contests. His tap ruckwork will develop, but there is much to work with.

Toby Conway gets a quick kick away as opponents apply pressure to him
Toby Conway is the most AFL-ready ruck selection in this draft.(Getty Images: Martin Keep)

28 – Blake Howes

Midfielder/forward, Vic Metro

It remains to be seen which position Howes makes his own at AFL level, but a player of his athletic quality should have no problem slotting in somewhere.

Tall and quick, with a good engine and a physical presence, Howes may well end up a big-bodied midfielder in time. For now, Howes will likely be a hard-working half-forward option who is as dangerous in the air as he is on the ground.

27 – Mitchito Owens

Midfielder, Vic Metro

Another really strong-running midfielder who has height on his side, Mitchito Owens will cover the ground as well as anyone in this draft.

Owens has versatility on his side, too, and can practically fill a role anywhere on the ground. Unless a bid comes in for him inside the top 20, Owens will be headed to St Kilda as an NGA prospect.

26 – Campbell Chesser

Midfielder, Vic Country

One who, perhaps, would have been higher up this list if not for the amount of footy he missed this year, Campbell Chesser has plenty of appealing attributes.

Chesser has an explosive turn of pace and looks to take the game on with his speed. He finds most of his ball on the outside, but is strong enough in the clinches too. Could be a sneaky hit for whoever drafts him.

25 – Jesse Motlop

Forward, WA

Jesse Motlop has everything you want from a small forward. He’s quick and agile, super creative in front of the goals and is a monster at applying forward pressure.

Motlop has already had a taste of senior footy in the WAFL with South Fremantle, and was not out of place. Would be a great addition to just about any forward line.

Jess Motlop prepares to kick the footyJess Motlop prepares to kick the footy
Jesse Motlop is an exciting small forward who doesn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities.(Getty Images: Paul Kane)

24 – Jacob van Rooyen

Forward/defender, WA

With relatively few key position prospects likely to be selected in the first round or two, why not get a player who could cover both ends of the ground?

Jacob van Rooyen has been a genuine swingman throughout the past year and has been just as good as a key forward as he has in defence. He’s big, tough and strong and will just about be AFL-ready from day one.

23 – Mitch Knevitt

MIdfielder, Vic Country

He’s a bit of a project player, but Mitch Knevitt’s ceiling is incredibly high. Knevitt is a tall, gangly inside ball-magnet who is deceptively quick and incredibly fit.

That may not sound like much of a project, but Knevitt will need to put on some size and tidy up his disposal at the top level. But if he puts it all together, he has qualities that could make him a seriously good AFL midfielder.

22 – Angus Sheldrick

Midfielder, WA

Angus Sheldrick shot up draft boards after a series of excellent performances against WA and for Claremont Colts, and is destined to be a fan-favourite wherever he ends up.

Sheldrick is just a relentless ball of energy, winning clearances and sticking tackles and launching forward thrusts seemingly without a backward step. There are rough edges to iron out, but there is just so much to love about this nuggety bull.

Angus Sheldrick prepares to gather the ball while running in spaceAngus Sheldrick prepares to gather the ball while running in space
Angus Sheldrick is an infectious bundle of energy in midfield.(Getty Images: Paul Kane)

21 – Tom Brown

Defender, Vic Country

Tom Brown seems like a pretty safe bet as an athletic, composed rebounding defender.

He can play taller than his height thanks to an excellent leap, and is particularly quick off the mark. Recruiters will know what they are getting with Brown, and it’s a solid package.

20 – Arlo Draper

Midfielder/forward, SA

Arlo Draper is a smooth mover in the midfielder who looks to get first hands on the footy and use it creatively.

He’s also strong in the air, which makes him a viable forward option but whatever he does usually has a tinge of class.

19 – Tyler Sonsie

Midfielder, Vic Metro

Injury brought Tyler Sonsie’s 2021 to a premature end, but he has shown enough through his junior career to keep him in first round contention.

Sonsie is a creative, classy and exciting midfielder who hits the scoreboard. But there’s still a bit of the unknown about him due to a lack of action this year. One to watch.

18 – Sam Butler

Midfielder/forward, Vic Country

Sam Butler will likely start his career as a speedy, dangerous forward, much like his brother Dan at St Kilda.

However, a midfield future beckons for Sam Butler thanks to his work-ethic and clean hands. He has proven to be a natural ball-winner throughout his junior career, so expect those qualities to shine through at some point in his AFL career.

17 – Zac Taylor

Midfielder, Vic Metro

One of the most creative and prolific ball-winners in this draft, Zac Taylor racks it up and almost always uses it well.

He’s a smaller midfielder, but he lacks nothing in toughness. However, he is at his best on the outside, linking up attacking chains and nailing targets inside 50.

Zac Taylor puffs out his cheeks as he speeds away from a chaserZac Taylor puffs out his cheeks as he speeds away from a chaser
Zac Taylor is a highly creative ball-magnet.(Getty Images: Martin Keep)

16 – Josh Sinn

Defender, Vic Country

Another player whose 2021 was interrupted by injury and COVID-19, but recruiters will know what Josh Sinn is all about.

Maybe the most natural rebounding defender in this draft, Sinn is a complete blend of speed and precision kicking. You want the ball in his hands when coming out defence, and his left boot will be wreaking havoc for years to come.

15 – Darcy Wilmot

Defender, Vic Country

Darcy Wilmot is the sort of player who makes defending look fun. He can play on tall or small opponents, but will give absolute hell to whoever is in his sights.

He balances his defensive nous with a hunger to take the game on, making him a seriously appealing, all-round package. Another that could end up a cult hero at his new AFL club.

Darcy Wilmot follow through with a shot for goal as other players watch onDarcy Wilmot follow through with a shot for goal as other players watch on
Darcy Wilmot is an unrelenting defender with a natural attacking instinct.(Getty Images: Martin Keep)

14 – Josh Goater

Midfielder, Vic Metro

There is a future in which Josh Goater becomes as good as any midfielder taken in this draft, such are the natural athletic gifts he has at his disposal.

Goater is quick, evasive and boasts an impressive leap. He wins the ball and bursts out of stoppages at pace. The next step is adding some polish and consistency, but Goater is surely a risk worth taking.

13 – Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera

Midfielder/defender, South Australia

Put the ball in Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera’s hands and watch the game come alive. This guy is the best kick and possibly the smoothest mover in the draft.

Wanganeen-Milera’s frame may be light, and he may go missing through games at times, but he has as much hurt factor as any player available. Play him on a wing or off half-back and just let him go to work.

12 – Matthew Johnson

Midfielder, WA

Matthew Johnson is the kind of midfielder who makes time stand still around him, who seems to see the game two steps ahead of his opponents.

Johnson is a good size and has tidy skills, but his greatest attributes are his footy brain and his agility. Just a natural footballer.

Matthew Johnson gets a handball away while an opponent looks to tackle himMatthew Johnson gets a handball away while an opponent looks to tackle him
Matthew Johnson’s silky skills and coolness under pressure make him an attractive prospect.(Getty Images: Dylan Burns)

11 – Neil Erasmus

Midfielder, WA

Having initially risen to prominence as a forward, Neil Erasmus moved into the midfield and suddenly became a whole new proposition and a seriously exciting prospect.

Erasmus can win his own ball and break out of congestion, or be a link in the chain through his excellent running power. He’s also incredibly good in the air and, once he fills out his frame, has the potential to become a proper midfield bull.

10 – Jye Amiss

Forward, WA

The best thing you can say about Jye Amiss is that the guy kicks goals. Lots and lots and lots of goals.

He does it with intelligent movement, a deceptive turn of pace, strong hands and a reliable set shot. Key forwards are at a premium in this draft, and Amiss is among the very best.

9 – Josh Gibcus

Defender, Vic Country

Josh Gibcus is the best intercept defender in this draft, and it’s no secret how much of a premium clubs put on that position in the modern game.

Gibcus is a natural at reading the ball in the air, complemented by his vertical leap and strong hands. He can play as a lockdown defender too, but is at his best flying for the footy in defence.

Ben Hobbs at trainingBen Hobbs at training
Ben Hobbs is an all-action, in-and-under midfielder with natural leadership qualities.(Getty Images: Michael )

8 – Ben Hobbs

Midfielder, Vic Metro

A hard-nosed, pure inside midfielder, Ben Hobbs is already being spoken about as a future captain at AFL level, and he doesn’t even belong to a club yet.

However, his leadership credentials are obvious, and his style of play — all-action, hard-hitting and team-first — means he will be a popular teammate. It’s hard to see how any club could go wrong with Hobbs.

7 – Josh Rachele

Forward, Vic Country

For a small forward to be as high up draft boards as Josh Rachele is, they need to have two things — the ability to push into midfield, and a serious X-factor.

Rachele has both in spades. Few players in this draft are as fun to watch as Rachele, and his speed, creativity and dare are likely thrill crowds from day one.

6 – Josh Ward

Midfielder, Vic Metro

Josh Ward is simply a complete midfielder. Fit, skillful, tough and hard-working, he’s a player who can compete just as strongly at the bottom of a pack as he does on the outside of one.

There are few discernible weaknesses to Ward’s game. He’s just a natural footballer in every sense, and a prized catch for whoever drafts him.

5 – Mac Andrew

Forward/ruck, Vic Country

With Mac Andrew, you are getting limitless potential. It’s so rare to see such an immense athletic talent come ready-made with such a polished skill set.

At this point, it’s impossible to say what position will best suit Andrew, or how long it will take his body to hold up to the rigours of AFL football. But Andrew is already more than just an athlete, he’s a seriously good footballer.

Mac Andrew flies above an opponent to win the tapMac Andrew flies above an opponent to win the tap
Mac Andrew is an athletic wonder, but has the skills to back it up.(Getty Images: Daniel Pockett)

4 – Finn Callaghan

Midfielder, Vic Metro

There’s a reason there has been a late scramble from clubs to move up the order, and why GWS has been so determined to hold onto its pick two. Finn Callaghan is that reason.

As graceful as they come around the ground, the tall midfielder has a steely edge that complements his impressive work rate and excellent skills. Callaghan has elevated himself above a pack of midfielders to become a genuine top-five prospect, and one of the easiest players on the eye in this group.

3 – Sam Darcy

Forward, Vic Metro

The Western Bulldogs are getting a beauty here. Sam Darcy will be a father-son selection for the Dogs, and they will be delighted to secure the premier big man in the draft.

Though his aerial ability is imperious, it’s when the ball hits the deck that Darcy really stands out. He moves incredibly well for his size, and has clean hands at ground level. Throw in a solid set shot and you’ve got yourself one hell of a young full forward.

2 – Jason Horne-Francis

Midfielder, SA

It’s a flip of the coin as to which of the top two prospects is better, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. Jason Horne-Francis will join North Melbourne with the first pick in the draft, and the Roos will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Horne-Francis is the dream midfielder. He has pace, strength in the contest, an excellent leap, clean hands, good skills and a willingness to do the defensive work. He is a proven performer in senior SANFL finals, and is AFL-ready as we speak. Destined for big things.

Nick Daicos poses for a photo wearing his Oakleigh Chargers jersey and holding a footyNick Daicos poses for a photo wearing his Oakleigh Chargers jersey and holding a footy
Nick Daicos will head to Collingwood under the father-son rule.(Getty Images: Quinn Rooney)

1 – Nick Daicos

Midfielder, Vic Metro

It’s hard to quantify just what makes Nick Daicos so good. The best way to put it is that he controls games as a midfielder, winning the ball in every area and in every way, pulling the strings with his skills and creativity.

As the name might tell you, Daicos was born to play footy. He wants the ball in his hands as often as possible and very rarely wastes a touch. He will go to Collingwood with heavy expectation but the ability and confidence to wear it.



Author: Ivan Robinson