Draft Day 2018 HPN Consensus Phantom Draft

The future for several clubs will be written today, as the first day of the first two day AFL draft kicks off today. With a bumper crop projected this year, the 2018 draft could make a club with the right decisions, or break them with the wrong ones (let’s ignore player development for a second).

This is the second and (possibly) final version of the HPN Consensus Phantom Draft for 2018 (earlier edition here). For this version, a “most common” or “mode” draft has been added, which incorporates the clubs to which each player is being assigned by the experts.

The updated list of 14 drafters includes a mix of general professional football writers, specialist draft watchers, independent analysts and a group, fan-based phantom draft.

Champion Data’s top 30 player ranking has been removed after the previous edition because while it fit beside power rankings, it’s a fundamentally different exercise to a phantom draft. HPN will include Champion’s rankings in our post draft wrap – as a point of comparison.

Each pick in the basic Consensus Phantom Draft is the mean of the 14 drafters’ positions for each player, sorted simply from highest to lowest. Here’s how round one as it now looks:

Note that the method uses dummy selections for players who fall beyond shorter drafts to maintain rankings. This has tended to drag down the consensus pick (but not impact the rankings) of second round talent compared to the earlier edition of the Consensus Phantom Draft:

St Kilda in the box seat

While stranger things have happened with respect to predicted draft order, it appears that at least the first three picks are locked in. The consensus view on Sam Walsh is absolute, with Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine are generally agreed to follow at two and three. If Walsh were to slip from pick one, with the Blues tabbing either Lukosius or Rankine instead, it is expected that the Suns will pounce on Walsh and the remaining member of the trio.

This leaves the Saints with the first real chance to change the path of the 2018 Draft from popular consensus. The Saints seem to have three options on the table:

  • Picking dominant (but currently injured) key position forward Max King (who has rehabbed at the club all year).
  • Picking the Victorian midfielder Bailey Smith.
  • Trading down in the order to try to swap their one pick for two good lower ones.

Reports say the Saints have already tried to trade down to the Suns’ pick six, unsuccessfully so far. If St Kilda go for King, Port are then expected to nab local utility Connor Rozee. This would leave Gold Coast with a wide open board, with plenty of rumours floating about players wanting to avoid the club. Caldwell, Hately or even Clark may be in the mix here, along with King’s twin brother Ben King (who lands there the “Mode” draft below). Bailey Smith appears to be locked into the Dogs at 7 if he falls past the Saints, but stranger things have happened.

However, if the Saints select Smith instead, Port could consider changing paths and grabbing Max King instead of Rozee, who would likely come into favouritism for the Suns at pick six. This would play chaos with most predicted phantoms (not to mention the real world plans of the actual clubs), and could impact much of the subsequent first round of picks on Thursday night.

This doesn’t even consider the option of St Kilda trading down, which they are still keen on doing. Still, the smart money seems to be on the default option of King at pick four.

Bidding games

Recent phantom drafts have seen a little movement for players tied to academy and father-son selections. The expected bid for Nick Blakey’s has dropped from six to eight, with Rhylee West falling just beyond the first round, Briggs rising and the others remaining fairly steady.

Collingwood’s expected cost for Quaynor and Kelly is still just barely within their budget without needing to dip into next year’s pick – but this may get tight. Both Collingwood and North Melbourne will pay for their targets using multiple selections in the 40s and beyond, which could mean it is in other clubs’ interests to extinguish all those picks completely so they can slide up the order several spots rather than leave those clubs a live pick in that range.

Adelaide’s spite

Rumours have also been floated about the specific Crows’ willingness to bid up the price of academy and father-son picks. In Callum Twomey’s phantom draft for AFL.com.au, Adelaide is speculated to be the club who bids for all of Blakey, Thomas, Quaynor, Briggs and Kelly, the first 5 candidates expected to be taken.

Adelaide sit alone as the only established club without a successful father-son pick to date, and their only successful “academy” pick (NSW Scholarship player Taylor Walker) could not happen under the current rules., with Broken Hill now a GWS Academy area. Bryce Gibbs was stolen from their grasp on what still seems like a technicality, and none of the children from the 97-98 flag era have developed as hoped just yet. In short, Adelaide’s might be a fair rage against the system.

Both the father-son and academy systems place a significant inequality into the fairness and effectiveness of the draft, with 20% of the consensus top 25 this year off limits to the general competition. As this becomes the new normal, it’s going to represent a significant and regular imbalance within the draft pool, and one that could hurt attempts at equalisation down the track. If this high concentration of top end talent that is off limits continues, the AFL can expect pushback from clubs that fail to secure talent via these means.

Other points of interest

  • Several players have risen sharply in the past two weeks, including Chayce Jones, Ian Hill and Kieren Briggs. Of these players, Hill is rumoured to be heading to Fremantle to join his cousins, while Briggs is locked into GWS as an overage academy selection from Carlingford in Sydney.
  • AFL Combine king of 2018, Sam Sturt, is one of the more widely placed players but has slipped in the average rankings since the previous consensus. Sturt rose sharply in draft discussions since the end of the season, but has seen his projections soften a bit. He appears a chance to go earlier to a couple of clubs (Geelong or Fremantle), but otherwise slip to the second round.
  • Of the early selections, Jye Caldwell and Chayce Jones seem to be the hardest to place. Caldwell could go to Gold Coast at six, or potentially slide right out of the top 10 to the edge of the first round. Jones, another strong combine performer, is equally hard to pin down, with a variety of clubs being linked to the midfielder.
  • Later in the draft, Bailey Williams and Jez McLennan seem to have particularly fallen out of favour over the last fortnight.
  • Seven players have either had their nominations for the draft withdrawn, had them held over to the pre-season draft or nominated payment term demands for the draft as a Category 1 draftee. Not all of these players are guaranteed to be on a list in 2019 (let alone play senior football), and none appear in the list above.

The “mode” draft

While the mean of draft positions informs about how the draft cohort looks from a talent ranking perspective, the gaps between each player are mostly small. For most selections, clubs are choosing from several very similarly valued options, and have preferences within them. As an example, in the current Consensus Phantom Draft, Ben King is ranked 5th and sent to Port Adelaide, but it’s more common for Connor Rozee to be identified as Port Adelaide’s actual pick there in the actual phantom drafts. The spread of ratings for Ben King by some drafters, from 3rd to 11th, moves his average ranking and places him 5th.

To combat this a little, the “mode” draft below looks for the most commonly picked player for the club with that pick in the first round. Ties are broken by average pick position.

This draft pulls Ely Smith up from an average Consensus Phantom Draft position in the early second round (29th overall), due to the link with West Coast in two drafts. Ned McHenry (21st overall) is the player missing from the Mode Consensus Phantom Draft despite being ranked in the top 24. He misses this cut due to being scatttered across a wide range of other picks, not strongly tipped to go anywhere. Through perceived quality he might be considered a chance to land at the Eagles instead of Smith.

The mode draft illustrates that some club are more strongly tied by expert consensus to specific players than others. For example, Max King is generally linked to St Kilda at four and Bailey Smith to the Dogs at six, but Adelaide’s ninth selection is more widely spread, partly because the players they’re linked to are often already taken.

The drafters seem to have a strong view on some later players, such as Richmond taking Liam Stocker and GWS being strongly linked to Jordan Clark and Riley Collier-Dawkins. Luke Valente, the player Champion Data ranked 10th in the draft class, is now by relatively strong consensus expected to go to Adelaide around pick 19. These sorts of highly agreed later picks are interesting when compared to uncertainty for others in the same range.

At the end of the day, any sort of draft watcher consensus can represent genuine inside knowledge or an accurate assessment of need. However it can also represent groupthink that turns out to be off base. Tonight we will find out which was which.


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