The 2022 AFL MEGATRADE – or when to trade pick 1

In 2018, after completing a bunch of research on Footballistics, HPN wrote a piece designed as advice to Carlton as to when trade pick 1. After all, it had been a fair while since the last trade of that valuable first pick in 2001, and teams may have been out of the practice of trading high draft picks.

At the time HPN wrote:

Keeping pick one is the safest, most conservative option on the table for Carlton (or the Suns) right now, and especially for their recruiters who would stand to be criticised more harshly should such a swap not pan out.

HPN – 2018

For those who don’t want to read a piece that’s way too long, the crux is that most of the time trading down would work well as long as even approximately the same pick value was sent back.

Results from the 2018 analysis.

Yesterday, conservatism was truly thrown to the wind. North Melbourne entered the day with pick 1 in the 2022 draft, and a player chosen at pick 1 in the 2021 draft (Jason Horne-Francis) who wanted out. By the end of the day they had turned those two items into picks 2 and 3 and Port Adelaide’s first pick in 2023. It was a bold move, and one set to shape the futures of potentially four clubs in the years to come.

Yesterday saw a first in AFL trade history – the first three picks being moved in the same deal for the first time. It was the single trade with the most moving parts ever, containing the most value (as per HPN’s valuation system) of any trade ever.

HPN isn’t prone to hyperbole, but it truly was a MEGADEAL.

North were presented with the perfect opportunity to trade down. Across the park they have a need to get better almost everywhere – the sort of situation where just one player would struggle to make a major difference. West Coast, who traded out pick 2, are in a similar position.

On the other hand, Port Adelaide and GWS see themselves as shaping for another charge at the pointy end of the competition. Despite both sides missing finals this year, both won finals as recently as 2021. Both sides suffered bad luck and injuries last year, and might think that they are just a piece or two away from returning to the list of contenders.

This is how HPN sees the impact on the different parts of the MEGATRADE.

Jason Horne-Francis

A year ago, Jason Horne-Frances was regarded as one of the best young talents in the country and was drafted at the number 1 pick. Some preferred Nick Daicos, others stumped for JHF – but given the father-son rules currently in place North only had the option to select the latter either at pick 1, or after bidding for Daicos, at pick 2.

Having had a difficult year at a struggling and unstable club, Horne-Francis now requested a trade to his home state where Port Adelaide are offering him a long term contract.

This saw North in a dilemma – if Horne-Francis couldn’t be retained, how best to recoup their losses? How should he be valued, and how can North retain that value in trading him?

Let’s start with projecting Horne-Francis into the future. This can be done two ways – either by assuming he’s still effectively a pick one, or by trying to compare his first season to historical players and project from that. Pick 1 projects to average about 147 PAV projected, so that is fairly simple.

The latter method, based on his first season, sees HPN project about 91 PAV off the first season of his career. That’s equivalent to about pick 6, which does seem low and a bit unfair given the turmoil, but should also serve as a note of caution about the certainty of Horne-Francis panning out as a star.

In the most blunt terms, the potential stardom that Horne-Francis showed in the SANFL in 2021 only revealed itself for brief flashes at North. His dynamic play erred slightly towards the erratic side, and his best moments were tempered by mistakes.

Plenty of 19 year olds have struggled in their transition to AFL football, and taken time to acclimatise to the bigger bodies and increased pace. Horne-Francis wouldn’t be the first to live through a worse than expected first year and later evolve into being a true star of the game. Horne-Francis also had to deal with a historically poor North supporting cast, the changing of much of the football department and other issues.

In short, it may have been as bad an environment to drop a highly rated talent in as you could imagine.

Richard Little, for his part, came up with names like Touk Miller and Dom Sheed as the upside of similar players in their first year to Horne-Francis, but also Callum Brown and Nathan Hrovat on the lower side. Of particular note is that JHF was at the bottom of this cohort when it came to Player Rating Points – echoing his performance in PAV.

HPN has run with the lower valuation of 91 PAV for consistency, but readers are advised to note that it’s hard to predict out a career with relatively little data available. The error bars for a 20 year old are much larger than a 30 year old. It is reasonable for North to treat Horne-Francis as still worth pick 1 and try to trade accordingly, and as it happens, it appears Port Adelaide agreed.

A pick 1 going sour on a struggling club is a far from ideal situation, and as GWS and St Kilda have learned in the last decade, sometimes when this happens you don’t get any real returns for it to make up for the lost potential.

The Kangaroos probably never seriously considered the prospect of holding him to his contract after their experience this year. The risk of him sitting out next year and tanking his trade value, as in the Cameron McCarthy situation, would have been real in everyone’s minds.

For North, all they could try to do is get another bite at the cherry – turning their reigning pick 1 into something as valuable as another effective pick 1. As it happened, they did have another pick 1 this year which they were willing to part with as well, and their goal in this megatrade was simply to get as much elite draft capital back as possible, using their two blue chip assets and the strong desire of Port Adelaide and GWS to get their hands on them.

Junior Rioli

Junior Rioli is one of the few players to mount the highest summit in the game (winning a premiership) and also face one of the biggest challenges (a doping suspension).

Between his late start and his suspension, Rioli has played just 51 games in three seasons to the age of 27. He’s also worked his way back into the league twice, which speaks to hard work and resilience on his part. HPN’s projection for Rioli is incorporating his zero game seasons due to suspension, so his projection in this trade is low and he would outperform it by playing to his established level for multiple seasons.

After a difficult 2022 for the Eagles where Rioli averaged a goal a game across 13 matches, Rioli has asked for a trade to Port Adelaide. He was out of contract, and the Eagles while feeling a little aggrieved, and certainly displaying this grievance for their fanbase, would have understood they needed to get this trade done.

They also saw an opportunity to use Rioli and pick 2 to reposition in the draft to suit their own needs. Port have viewed Rioli as a missing piece to their forward line, at the very top end of any potential projection.

The trade

The quick summary is that the balance of the trade favours North Melbourne and West Coast, suggesting it was Port Adelaide and to a lesser extent GWS whose strong desire to make things happen drove the deal, while North and West Coast just took the opportunity to improve their draft position.

In terms of detail, every piece is laid out below, followed by a club by club analysis of outcomes.

Port Adelaide

Port have taken several big bets here.

Most obviously they’re betting on Rioli’s returns of several seasons of good Junior Rioli quality footy, and on Horne-Francis’ boundless potential coming to fruition. They’ve cashed in a lot of draft chips on the young star and a 27 year old who has taken the hard road to his current footy career.

Neither of the players are sure things, of course, but in both cases there’s reasons to think the projections here are at the low end of the scale. Rioli probably plays regular footy for a few seasons and even if Horne-Francis doesn’t come to dominate the league, it’s hard to see him slipping below being a handy best 22 player for a decade. Regardless, Port have traded effectively an entire draft and then some, and that’s always a big call.

Furthermore, though, the other bet Port are taking is on themselves next year compared to Collingwood and to a lesser extent Fremantle. As well as giving up their two own first rounders both years, a key to the trade was the way they generated surplus value to share to the other clubs by swapping away their remaining draft hand for Collingwood’s second and Fremantle’s third.

If Port were to climb the ladder, the lost value would diminish substantially, reducing the boons of their future picks to North and West Coast.

Then there’s the teams they’ve bet against. Collingwood did incredibly well this year making a preliminary final against expectations, and a lot of statistical measures based on close game randomness suggest they are a prime candidate to drop down the ladder. Port have taken that exact bet, and might reasonably hope the Pies future pick rises into the 20s. The Dockers third rounder is a smaller bet of the same type.

Overall, Port will expect Horne-Francis and Rioli to outperform these low-side projections, to climb the ladder in 2023 based on better close game luck, and Collingwood to drop down the ladder for the same reason. All those things would even out the balance of this trade substantially.

North Melbourne

Considering they were trying to retain the value of a pick 1 gone wrong on them, North has made out very well.

North’s draft hand is enhanced even if we value Horne-Francis as exactly a pick 1. Giving up two pick 1s for a 2 and 3 this year, another first rounder next year, and some usable stuff in the 40s this year, all means they likely come out ahead in the aggregate.

But there’s some draftee specificity to consider too, which helps North immensely – there’s a very strong argument that they did not in fact give up this year’s pick 1 at all but instead just doubled it.

Clubs discuss their drafting with each other and North almost certainly know who GWS want to take at 1, with the Giants having telegraphed their interest in the key forward Aaron Cadman. Doing this trade suggests North likely had their eye on someone else anyway, probably metro Victorians like midfielders George Wardlaw and Elijah Tsatas or mid/forward Harry Sheezel.

If North didn’t fancy Cadman at 1, they’ve lost nothing by going from pick 1 to pick 2, and have gained the extra pick at 3 as well, to take two of these prospects rather than one. They’ll be upset to lose Horne-Francis, but they’ve still cashed in effectively his full pick value just by getting their two draftees this year. They walk away with two players who might have been their pick 1 anyway, having lost two other pick 1s to do so. But then after that, they still have other picks to use, especially the future first round selection.

Pick 1 busts can go a lot worse than that – just ask GWS and St Kilda about their most recent experiences with that.

West Coast

For the Eagles this swap is also about draft position. Rioli is a loss for a struggling side in an early rebuild who would have loved retaining the high quality play ad experience he provides. However, pick 8 and 12 is historically at least an even money prospect over the next few seasons versus pick 2 alone, as counter intuitive as that may seem. On its own, they’ve earned a premium by trading away pick 2.

The extra pick also especially helps a team in need of bulk youth talent like West Coast, one which does not have a lot of proven youngsters right now and needs to accumulate a lot of talent.

The Eagles also likely have their eye on specific local players and value that more highly than a single player from Melbourne who may be a flight risk during their potentially prolonged rebuild ahead. North’s experience with Horne-Francis may provide a warning there.

Jedd Busslinger, Reuben Ginbey and Elijah Hewett will all figure in the Eagles calculations, and their past successes with trade-downs like the 2013 trade-down with Collingwood which netted them Dom Sheed will give them confidence in this exact “trade down for Perth boys” move.


Finally, the Giants get pick 1, meaning the player they really want (reportedly key forward Aaron Cadman). They’ve given up a small draft pick premium in turning 3 and 12 into 1. This was is the value they needed to sacrifice to get their target.

One can assume the Giants think this player is both better at football than the other options, and more likely to stick around at the club by becoming their number 1 key forward as quickly as possible. The Giants have paid over the odds for their trade up, especially since they could have been a good chance to get Cadman at 3 assuming that North and West Coast would have otherwise held the picks.

The biggest potential reason that GWS made this trade is that there was several rumours of other clubs trying to trade up into pick 1 or 2 to leapfrog the Giants and take Cadman. Assuming that GWS had some knowledge that North either preferred the other players in the top four (aside from Ashcroft) or had no real preference, their motivation was to ensure that another club didn’t make an offer to pry pick one or two away and lose Cadman.

In a sense the Giants were bidding against other (publicly) unknown offers. GWS were the club who probably had the biggest cache of assets to use on pick one, and North forced them to do so. It is, however, less than Adelaide was willing to pay for pick one last year.

However, more than nearly any other club, GWS have a different view of draft picks and their worth. GWS operate in a high pick intake, high pick attrition economy. They have to choose players based partially on how likely they are to retain a player, what it might cost them to do so, and how easily they can get something back if they need to trade them. Given their internal priorities, making a certainty of Cadman is a reasonable objective for them and they’ve done it.

Verdict: The MEGATRADE has risks for Port Adelaide in particular, and North and West Coast come out best off.

Note: This post is part of a series of posts using a valuation method called Player Approximate Value (PAV) to evaluate trades for fairness and balance. Readers can explore these values with tools such as the HPN Trade Calculator to evaluate potential trades.

Elsewhere, read much more about the method and theory behind PAVExpressing the value of players and picks in terms of expected future PAV provides a common currency for comparing them in trades and other movements. Players are projected using PAPLEY, a method to derive expected future PAVs.

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