Is Caleb Serong the most valuable player in the AFL? Introducing 2021’s PAPLEY projections

After a furious 2021 season, featuring a drought breaking premiership for Melbourne, attention of fans of the other 17 clubs turns firmly to the second season – the offseason.

The ink is barely dry on the pages detailing the season, but preparations for 2022 are firmly underway. Already there have been a host of retirements, delistings and nominations of potential new homes.

The free agency period officially kicks off today, with the trade period commencing on Monday. For the eighth year, HPN have kicked our models into gear and projected the future value of every player in the league using PAPLEY.

What’s PAPLEY?

Originally created in 2017, PAPLEY stands for PAv Player Linear Extrapolated Yield. The name lies to you – it is not “linear”, and player is repeated twice. HPN revised the calculation of PAPLEY in 2019, significantly improving the quality of the projections.

PAPLEY measures value in PAV – Player Approximate Value. PAV is due for a review sooner or later, but it is relatively accurate as an approximate measure of player value.

PAPLEY tries to predict the future career paths of players based on their performances to date and the paths of players past. While all projections of how players will perform in the future are guesswork – at least to some degree – PAPLEY is a pretty damn educated guess.

The most valuable players of 2021

There’s a bunch of ways you can use PAPLEY to evaluate the value of players, but the two that are worth focusing in on is the career value and the “right now” value. Some teams may overpay for maximising their current window, while others will want to play the long game.

Let’s look at the most valuable players, over the course of the rest of their careers, according to PAPLEY.

Serong, CalebFremantle20219.08
Walsh, SamCarlton21209.06
Smith, BaileyWestern Bulldogs21204.31
Lukosius, JackGold Coast21196.47
Oliver, ClaytonMelbourne24170.85
Bontempelli, MarcusWestern Bulldogs26167.54
McCluggage, HughBrisbane23160.13
Anderson, NoahGold Coast20159.66
Petracca, ChristianMelbourne25149.00
Parish, DarcyEssendon24147.04
Bailey, ZacBrisbane22146.25
Brayshaw, AndrewFremantle22146.07
Gulden, ErrolSydney19145.80
Bolton, ShaiRichmond23143.27
Pickett, KysaiahMelbourne20142.57
Thomas, TarrynNorth Melbourne21134.35
King, BenGold Coast21134.29
Worpel, JamesHawthorn22129.48
Rozee, ConnorPort Adelaide21129.08

As seen above, Serong is seen by PAPLEY as being most likely to have the most value to add across the rest of his career. Subjectively, there might be something in that as well.

Serong won the Rising Star award in 2020, and also took out the AFLPA best first-year player award as well. This year, he added the AFLCA best young player award. Serong can win hard ball on the inside and also cause damage going forward – not just mindlessly accumulating but also helping his side get ahead. Despite lacking some of the media focus of number two Sam Walsh, Serong has more than proven himself at AFL level in his short career to date.

For reference, 146.95 PAV predicted career of the average number one, and about 136 is the midpoint between picks one and two. That means that somewhere between 10 and 15 players are predicted to deliver more value to a team than the average pick one.

This list is dominated by older players, with Bontempelli and Petracca the veterans at 26 and 25 respectively. The projections have more room for error the younger a player is.

For 2022, the most valuable players should come as no surprise.

PlayerClubAge2022 PAPLEY
Bontempelli, MarcusWestern Bulldogs2629.96
Petracca, ChristianMelbourne2525.12
Oliver, ClaytonMelbourne2425.11
Gawn, MaxMelbourne3024.00
Macrae, JackWestern Bulldogs2723.83
Steele, JackSt Kilda2623.62
Goldstein, ToddNorth Melbourne3322.59
Naitanui, NicWest Coast3122.50
Boak, TravisPort Adelaide3322.43
Parish, DarcyEssendon2422.33
Grundy, BrodieCollingwood2721.70
Lyons, JarrydBrisbane2921.67
Merrett, ZachEssendon2621.62
McInerney, OscarBrisbane2721.23
Wines, OlliePort Adelaide2721.18
McCluggage, HughBrisbane2321.14
Parker, LukeSydney2920.71
Zorko, DayneBrisbane3220.71
Walsh, SamCarlton2120.03
Smith, BaileyWestern Bulldogs2119.70

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the top 20 is Todd Goldstein at number 7. Those who closely watched any North game this year know how important the big veteran is to the Shinboners.

Beyond that supersized surprise, the rest mostly goes to plan. Dustin Martin, Patrick Dangerfield and Nat Fyfe are absent from the list after injury affected seasons, with the top dominated by Dogs and Dees.

The Trade Calculators

HPN have also updated the career and short term trade calculators for another trade period.

HPN Career Trade Calculator


The Career HPN Trade Calculator looks at the long term gains and losses for each club – for who will likely end up ahead in the after all players retire.

HPN One Year Trade Calculator