Football clubs often have shadow units, not looking as much to the current on field but instead to the future. They focus more on what the team will look like in 12 months, or five years, time rather than right now.
Draft day is their time to shine.
Draft day signals hope, both for clubs and aspiring players. Fans of all stripes can be assured that they have selected the stars of the future, or the busts of tomorrow.
HPN has again collated a variety of phantom drafts from a variety of sources to try to work out where players might fall in the draft. The nominated drafters this year are:
- Ben Waterworth – Fox Sports
- Cal Twomey – AFL
- Jordan McArdle – West Australian
- Jordan Pinto, Dan Batten, and Matt Turner – Herald Sun
- Owen Leonard – The Age
- Chris Doerre – ESPN
- Brett Hodgson and Alex Docherty – Mongrel Punt (two drafts)
- Rookie Me
- Azza, Damo, and Patch – Jock Reynolds
After crunching the numbers, this is where the players are, on average, likely to fall.
Picks have been assigned to clubs in the above consensus phantom draft just for illustrative purposes. Since these rankings are pure averages, it does not mean any individual draft observer has actually predicted a particular club to take a certain selection. For example, Jesse Motlop is ranked around the area of Sydney's first pick but nobody selected him to go to the Swans.
The 2021 AFL Draft follows an extremely interrupted underage football process. Competitions have stopped and started across the nation, especially in Victoria. It’s left recruiters with more estimation to do than normal.
But as the year moved on, the pack at the top started to pull away. The universal consensus view has South Adelaide's Jason Horne-Francis as the number one pick. North Melbourne has been approached by other clubs interested in trading up, but have rebuffed all offers.
They have also considered bidding on Nick Daicos and Sam Darcy, but the view is that (for a variety of reasons) that they will just stick to the player that they will end up taking, as their first ever number one selection.
Nick Daicos, seen for most of the year as the number one or two choice, has fallen down the order in recent weeks. Daicos admitted that GWS haven’t contacted him at all, a sign that he might fall out of the top three choices on draft night. Collingwood have done relatively favourable deals in recent years with North Melbourne and GWS, and might be reaping the benefits of these moves in observing Daicos’ slide.
If Daicos does slide, look for them to trade out their first pick to a 2022 draft pick, and potentially trade back in after Daicos is bid on.
Instead of Daicos, it’s another Father-Son selection - Sam Darcy - that seems likely to be bid on by GWS at pick 2. Starting the year outside of most top-end watch lists, Darcy has made the most of limited football in the last two years and risen up the draft order. Some recruiters, such as Sydney’s Kinnear Beatson, rate him as the best talent in this year’s crop.
Most have GWS then picking Finn Callaghan at pick three, before the draft starts to get truly interesting. Ignoring the imminent bid for Daicos, the Suns could shape the next few picks of the draft with their selection. Most consider this draft having a top group of four players, followed by a wider group of talent. As a result, this draft could have some real sliders.
To see what clubs might take which players, we can instead assign clubs by their “mode” selection – the most selection available to each club at each pick.
There is a level of confidence among phantom drafters at certain points, with most agreeing on everything through to Josh Ward to Hawthorn at pick 7.
Then comes a key divergence point. Fremantle is expected to end up with East Perth's Jye Amiss, with local ties making the connection strong. Some having him going at pick 8, some at 10, with the Richmond pick in between them a relative mystery. Fremantle will likely be trying to anticipate which of their preferred choices is more likely to slip past Richmond. It's the interplay of these three picks that introduces the first source of real variation in the phantom drafts.
At St Kilda's selection at 11, the consensus breaks down. This is because the plurality choice of Josh Gibcus is also seen as likely to go to Richmond. If that happens, phantom drafters differ greatly on who St Kilda take.
Interestingly, though, after this knot of picks from Fremantle to West Coast, consensus re-emerges with a relatively high degree of confidence for a lot of picks in the teens. Essendon (Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera), Port Adelaide (Josh Sinn), Brisbane (Darcy Wilmot), Sydney (Tom Brown) and Melbourne (Blake Howes) are all favoured by a majority to take a particular player.
Whether this collective agreement is groupthink, clubs tipping their hands to well placed journalists, or a clear pattern of likely needs matching certain players, is up for speculation. It will be interesting to see how accurate these "islands of stability" are come draft time.
Bidding their time
A lot of the attention of the draft has gone to where the players "tied" to clubs via the Father-Son, Northern Academy or Next Generation Academy processes will go.
Last year’s draft saw the first ever “tied” number one draft pick in Jamarra Ugle-Hagan. For much of 2021, Nick Daicos looked sure to be the second.
Instead, 2021 might be the first year with two “tied” players in the top 5. It could even be three, with Melbourne NGA talent Mac Andrew coming into late consideration by GWS and the Gold Coast. However, due to a recent rule change, Melbourne won’t be able to match a bid for Andrew unless he (somehow) falls outside the top 20. At this stage, that seems extremely unlikely with nearly every professional phantom draft sending him to the Suns inside the top 6.
However, St Kilda face a tense wait on the bidding for Mitchito Owens and Marcus Windhager. While Windhager is likely to slip to near the third round, Owens may attract a bid around the pick 20 cutoff. If it comes before pick 20, St Kilda will lose access to the tall midfielder.
Fremantle face a similar, but extended, wait on bids for Jesse Motlop. Motlop is tied to Fremantle’s Academy, but under special rules regarding the talent rich metropolitan WA region, can only join the Dockers with a bid outside the top 40 (or if he is chosen by the club directly before then).
Elsewhere, Taj Wowoedin, Jackson Archer and Jase Burgoyne look set to join their father’s clubs under the Father-Son rule with later picks, while Queanbeyan’s Josh Fahey will likely join GWS.
Where are the key forwards?
If the 2020 draft was dominated by tall forwards at the top end, this draft looks to be more midfield and defence heavy. Sam Darcy may end up being the only key position forward drafted inside the top 10 - if he ends up as a forward.
Young West Aussie Jye Amiss also has a real shot to fall inside the top 10, but generally this year has seen fewer talls than normal grab attention at the top end.
This is a normal process, with some years stronger for some types of player than others.
How many draftees will get picked?
As with 2020, the list reductions introduced to help the league fight through COVID might have an impact on the number of players drafted. Last year there were just 59 players taken in the National Draft, an extremely low number,
This year, the AFL have set out a maximum of 91 picks to be taken at the draft. However, many clubs intend to take extra picks into the rookie draft or the Supplemental Selection Period (SPP). In the end, clubs might only take 57 to 70 selections at the main draft.
Some clubs have factored this into their trading strategies, with some clubs expecting their much later selections to slide up significantly.