Dons deeds done dirt cheap?

Essendon have emerged as the likely destination for three players who our PAV ratings think, for different reasons, are a bit of a risk and are rating them lower than conventional wisdom may have it. The Dons seem to have identified, and made themselves the preferred home for,  three players available for potentially less than they’ll end up producing.

Devon Smith

Devon Smith had a flying start to his career at GWS, rarely missing games across his first four years. However in his last two he’s missed 17 games with knee complaints, struggled with back issues, and was famously omitted from the finals this year due to match fitness, left out favour of a statue replica of Stevie J.


After his stellar 2015 season (with 16 PAVs, he could be considered to on the fringes of the AA squad), Smith’s rise to the elite level of small forwards who could pitch in the midfield was considered a mere formality. However, the aforementioned injury issues has put the dampeners on that.  Having produced less than 10 PAVs in each of the last two hobbled years, Smith is projecting as poorly as he has at any stage of his career, expected to give another 39 PAV of value. This would be about 4 years of similarly hobbled output or a bit over two years of his best work, equal to pick 35 – with a “fair” range up to about 50 PAVs and pick 24.

It’s unlikely Smith will hit this exact average by the time he’s done. At HPN, we are keen observers of GWS and have long been fans of the Devonstater. His prior record suggests he’s capable of much more, and if his knees get right then he’ll overperform this expectation significantly. However, players with promising careers do crash out of the league with injuries, knees are always a worry, and this risk of this is being factored in thanks to his interrupted 2016 and 2017.

Smith is temporarily out of favour, having been omitted from a finals team and struggled for gametime. For GWS, the rise of Toby Greene and Josh Kelly in similar roles has rendered him more surplus to requirements than thought just a couple of years ago, despite his still lofty potential. Essendon have pounced at the right moment and their 2nd round pick (28) probably looks about right in exchange for Devon.

…except that Essendon have several deals to arrange, not just securing Devon Smith.

Jake Stringer

Jake Stringer was an All-Australian in 2015, in what PAV rated as clearly his best season. After that season, the Dogs could have easily asked for a top 3 pick in exchange for Stringer, and perhaps the number one pick outright.

Since then, injury and form have prevented him from getting back to those lofty heights. Stringer wasn’t really a standout in their premiership run (remember, he was dropped during that season) and now, racked by scandal and allegations of being a “shit bloke” who derailed the club’s premiership defence, he’s looking for a new home.


Like Smith above, Stringer’s value has declined significantly in the last two years, albeit from a higher base than Smith started at. Stringer is projecting to give another 61 PAVs of output, which would barely be four years of his AA-level 2015 output. It’s about the same expected value of the average career of a pick 17. The question marks around Stringer, as well as his injury issues, are also about all off-field factors and the fact that the Dogs really don’t want him around and are probably bluffing about keeping him.

With pick 17 looking about even money, Essendon’s first round pick of 11 does shape as plausible value if generous for Stringer, even on recent output. If a new environment and fresh start is all Stringer needs then it might end up looking like unders for a bloke who’s still quite young and has an AA-quality season in his past. However, it seems pretty unlikely that the Bombers are thinking about parting with that pick for him.  As with Smith, they’ve jumped on a guy they can probably dislodge at the nadir of his value.

Adam Saad

Adam Saad was a mature aged rookie pickup, so for Gold Coast anything they’ve gotten from him has been a bonus, and they seem like they are being pretty compassionate about letting him go back home to be with his large family.

It’s also hard to tell how good Saad actually is. Playing for a terrible side, his defensive PAV score (most of his worth) has scaled appallingly, and more prosaically it’s hard to know how he’ll go at a better side. Much of Saad’s value depends on having the ball in his hands to do damage with leg speed off the half back line – in a better team, he will likely have less opportunity to do that.


Playing every game this year he was, by PAV’s estimations, Gold Coast’s 9th most valuable player. Saad projects to about 50 PAVs from here, which works out to roughly the average career value of of pick 24.

This, again, suggests Essendon’s 2nd round pick of 28 is around the mark.

With Smith and Stringer, there’s temporary question marks around players with prior really good records. With Saad, he’s pretty much a known quantity – a solid half back role player, so this does limit the value he has at the trade table. Unlike Smith or Stringer, it doesn’t seem like Saad has the capability to become an All-Australian level talent, or drift into the midfield, which is where the Dons really need some help.

Aaron Francis

Going the other way from Essendon is Aaron Francis, a former pick 6 wants to go back to South Australia. Having played 5 games in two years, he’s got basically no exposed record. A simple projection based off this output has him barely playing another game:


Instead, we’re probably better off looking at his draft pick as a source of residual value. Having only played for two years, he’s still got some of the aura of having been a pick 6, of Essendon having paid a fair bit of potential trade materiel to get him. A fair look at what he’s done might suggest a big discount on that, but we should still start from his pick. We will look at this question in the coming days – watch this space.

Francis looked to have been a project player from the very beginning, an undersized key forward. He started last year with injuries and then it took him 8 VFL games to get a debut in one of the worst sides in recent history. This year, his SEN-Inside Football match reports do not exactly suggest a star forward or midfielder banging down the door of senior selection:


But we do note that Essendon had very good forward and backlines this year, so breaking in would have been difficult.

The question is really how much two years of really indifferent form depreciates the value of a high drafted player. Last year we dropped about 10% after the first two years based on a simple age output curve, which would leave him worth pick 9. That still seems like overs here.

Perhaps a fairer approach would be to split the difference between his original pick PAV projection (of 92.5 PAVs) and his current projection of just over 10 PAVs – which would be valuing Francis as being worth about 51 PAVs or about pick 23. Adelaide have pick 16 and pick 34, Port enters the draft at 29, and all of those are within about 30% either way from a projected PAV of 51.

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