The Three-Year Draft
Every year, AFL fans spend the season marvelling at players such as Patrick Dangerfield, a 26-year-old at the peak of his powers. We dream of what lies ahead for young guns the likes of Marcus Bontempelli and Isaac Heeney. And we debate the worth of past-their-prime veterans, pondering how much they have left in the tank.
Pub conversations revolve around the competition’s rising stars and superstars, and what we’d give to have them wearing our team’s colours. We bookend the season with player rankings, in which we try to compare guys of different positions, prowess and potential, essentially boiling it all down to one question: Who would you rather?
As the dust finally started to settle on the Bulldogs’ drought-breaking premiership, it dawned on many of us just how far we were from seeing a game played for premiership points – it was enough to make the season-opening Richmond-Carlton “blockbuster” seem appealing. Months from being able to watch live, meaningful football, we’d settle for quibbling over draft-day bolters, which clubs won the trade period and what next year’s fixture holds.
Sure, these topics are worthy of our time, but they can only hold our attention for so long. What we crave is the action on the field, where endurance and agility meet courage and brute force. Where dreams come true, hearts are broken and magicians show off their tricks.
Deprived of that, 10 footy tragics gathered to do the next best thing: build our own teams and envision them running rings around hypothetical opponents.
Imagine a world in which the AFL – in a radical last-ditch effort to improve equalisation, eliminate decade-long rebuilds and produce fewer low-quality games – reduced the number of clubs to 10 and held a draft every three years, in which every player became available.
No more under-contract players requesting trades. No point trying to offload veterans for draft picks or to ease salary cap pressure. Every club would be drafting a team to have as much success as possible over the next three seasons, therefore giving each of them the same three-year premiership window before squads would be dissolved and players drafted all over again.
Ten coaches would enter a snaking draft to select their 25-man squad, with the goal of putting the most competitive team as possible on the field over the next three seasons. (Note: in the case of a player retiring or spending large chunks of time on the sidelines, the assumption was that the team would receive a replacement-level player to plug the hole.)
In this draft, Gary Ablett Jr was moments from being picked outside the top 100, ultimately forced to settle for a spot between Caleb Daniel and Cam Guthrie.
Matthew Boyd is only several weeks removed from being named an All-Australian, but he failed to earn selection here. Luke Hodge, Brendon Goddard, Andrew Swallow, Bob Murphy and Jarrad McVeigh captained their teams in 2016, but couldn’t gain a guernsey. Of the 250 players drafted, there was no room for Bernie Vince or Stevie J. Better luck next year, Angus Brayshaw.
So while plenty of quality players missed out, the early picks indicated who our panel deemed worthy of building a team around.
Here’s how the first three rounds went…
Conflicting strategies emerged early – Josh E, Barron and Troy took gun mids with their first three picks, while Adrian, Nick and I steered clear of the midfield almost entirely. Here's how the rest of the draft played out…
Morgan: "My biggest regret is perhaps Darcy Moore, who may be a bit too young to hold down the forward line as my key forward."
Nick: "I probably took Chad Wingard a little early. Luke Breust went 16 picks later."
Barron: "I regret taking Jack Hombsch in Round 8. Not because I think he's a bad player, but I probably could have picked him up 4-5 rounds later."
Robert: "If I had my time again, I’d probably reconsider picking Charlie Cameron before Michael Walters, who rates very highly for score involvements."
Barron: "Dayne Zorko was a bargain in Round 9. Rated as a top-10 player in the AFL Player Rankings and he can be thrown into the midfield for spurts, too."
Josh E: "I wouldn't say any of the players I picked up is an incredible bargain, but Cale Hooker at pick 91 seems like pretty good value."
Adrian: "Dayne Beams at pick 95 has the potential to be my best pick. He’s a top-25 player when healthy and totally changes my midfield dynamic."
Robert: "I was pretty surprised to see Sidebottom drop outside the top 100."
OA: "Taylor Adams has averaged more than 27 touches a game the past two years and is just 23 next season, but I think I could’ve taken him or a similar player a few rounds later."
Adrian: "I like Nic Nat at pick 126. I should have a top-three ruckman for two years."
Troy: "Dion Prestia is probably a bargain in Round 15. He was great in the Suns’ midfield and will be just as good at Richmond."
OA: "Brett Deledio and Mark Blicavs gave my team plenty of flexibility at this point in the draft, when defenders were all the rage – eight of the 18 players chosen between my picks settled in the back six for their respective teams.
OA: "Picking David Swallow started a run of other players coming off seasons ruined by injury, including Jamie Elliott, Adam Saad, Shaun Higgins, Aaron Sandilands, Jackson Thurlow and Marc Murphy. I was really hoping Thurlow would slide another round or two."
OA: "Time for the young guns. Unfortunately for me, I waited one round too many on Aaron Francis. Also not sure how I feel about taking Heath Grundy in Round 20, considering I ultimately listed him as an emergency."
Troy: "I regret missing out on Lachie Weller. But I got Jade Gresham instead, so that mitigates it somewhat."
OA: "Still struggling to see why the Cats offloaded Josh Caddy, but let’s hope Richmond doesn’t ruin him. Doesn’t turn 25 until next September – good thing he'll be able to celebrate without any of those pesky finals to worry about."
Josh E: "I like the late Sam Mitchell pick [by Ryan] as a one or two-year boost. In retrospect, I would probably take him over one of Lewis Taylor or Luke McDonald."
So after all that, in much the same way we yearn for the contest on the field, we are competitive people off it. We had to crown a “winner”. Here are the final teams…
As mentioned, plenty of quality players were left on the board by the time the 250 picks had been made.
"Stewart Crameri should definitely have been drafted," Adrian said, while Jackson Trengrove, Kyle Cheney, Rhys Stanley, Blake Acres and Ed Curnow were among those mentioned as guys who would have been taken if we'd had a 26th round.
Each of us voted Brownlow-style for the three teams we thought would have the most success over the next three years (excluding our own, of course). We also voted for which teams we thought would have the most success in 2017 alone.
Reflecting our widely varying views for what would bring success, every team received multiple votes from their peers as a top-three team from 2017-19, while all but one got at least one vote to be among the most successful next season. Here are the consensus picks…
Most success from 2017-19
1. Adrian (15 votes)
2. Troy (13)
3. Josh E, Ryan (6)
Most success in 2017
1. Adrian (16)
2. Josh E (12)
3. Nick (11)
"I really like the quality of his spine," one rival said of Adrian's team. "All the key-position players can be match-winners on their day. The midfield depth is good, too. There may not be an A-grader but the combination of Hill, Bennell, Heeney, Heppell, Cunnington is a good mix."
Adrian's strategy was relatively simple one but effective.
"I really just wanted the best players available at the best value," he said. "With only 10 teams every line-up was going to be stacked, so I tried not to worry too much about position.
"Having said that, I thought I’d be able to get good contested-ball players late (and I was right), so I wasn’t too worried about paying a premium price for a Josh Kennedy/Patrick Cripps-type."
Only time will tell how the league's youngsters develop and how much the veterans have left to offer. In the case of Adrian's team, would it be a huge shock if Sandilands, Beams and Bennell failed to get their bodies and minds right, or if Naitanui never fully recovered from the injury that will sideline him next season?
Anything can happen. I guess we'll have to check back down the road to see if Adrian – and those who voted for him – got it right.