The 2023 AFL Consensus Phantom Draft

Consensuses are often tough things to swing. There’s usually a few flies in the ointment that prevent a strong decision one way or another – free radicals acting against the tide.

HPN has been tracking draft prospects through the thoughts of others for a decade now, trying to follow where industry thought has shifted when evaluating the best young players in the country. It’s seen an increasing accuracy amongst some forecasters as the leak of information has slowly flowed to different media sources.

At the same time HPN’s own knowledge of the offseason process has continued to evolve. First, here’s the 2023 HPN Consensus Phantom Draft. HPN has compiled this from latest phantom drafts from nine draft watchers to see what the consensus view is amongst them regarding the 2023 crop.

There are a lot of commonalities above, with nearly everyone agreeing on the top few draft picks in some order. The general suggestion is that five or six tied player bids will be made on the first night, meaning round one will balloon to at least 27 and probably 28 picks.

An “average” pick isn’t the only way to break down how the consensus will fall. Looking at the mode is a way of working out which picks (and usually clubs) are tied most commonly to which players. There’s some subtle differences to the consensus above.

Perhaps the biggest mover in this look is consensus average pick number 7, Dan Curtin, sliding down to 13 in the mode draft. That has come as draft watchers have somebody else being picked by each club in that part of the draft. They are also torn on whether a club will trade up to pick Curtin and who will do so if they do.

Koltyn Tholstrup (consensus 16th) also proves difficult to place, not assigned to the same club by more than a couple of phantoms.

Adelaide, Melbourne and North Melbourne in general proved tricky to find consensus on, as they have multiple picks clustered together, with draft watchers split on the order in which they may prioritise players they’re thought to be interested in.

Moving parts

This year the very top end is clear, at least amongst media speculation. Tongala’s Harley Reid is set to hear his name called out first, unless there has been a successful swerve played by several interested parties.

But the shadowplay this year happening behind the scenes is as great as in any other year. West Coast have declared their public admiration of Reid, as have several other clubs. There was some thought that Reid would be hesitant to move west, a rumour possibly propagated by keen Victorian clubs or perhaps the ever-eager Victorian tabloid footy press.

From where HPN sits, if any preference exists about Reid’s location it is likely to be a minor one. If the Eagles did end up trading away pick 1 for multiple lower picks, it will likely be more about the often greater value of taking multiple top players at once, rather than a slight on Reid’s mindset.

West Coast has also been publicly tied to Daniel Curtin, a 195cm notional key defender who might end up as a Cripps-like supersized ballwinning midfielder. Of particular note is that he is a West Australian. The promise of Curtin is huge, nearly prototypical as a hype machine-type prospect but without the high level consistency of some of the other prospects.

For much of the offseason it was assumed that North and West Coast would negotiate a deal involving picks one and two, with some smaller parts moving each way to even the balance, on draft day. That would allow North to grab Reid and the Eagles Curtin, and everyone would be happy.

But in the last two weeks both clubs have tried to play harder to potentially get a better deal. North, and Alistair Clarkson, have been increasingly tied to picking Curtin with the former Hawthorn coach “enamoured” with the youngster. West Coast, by contrast, have been publicly exploring trades for a very early pick to grab Curtin if he slides past the top four or five picks in exchange for their 2024 first rounder - trying to grab both extremely talented youngsters. Whether any of this interest is real or just leverage is anyone’s guess right now.

There’s also some speculation that Curtin could slide right to pick seven or eight. In short, due to the number of potential trades floating around and floated “interest”, Curtin’s situation is hard to read in particular. If North grabs Curtin against expectation, it could see another highly rated player fall a little lower than expected.

Both the Giants and Crows have been mooted to be listening to offers for their first picks - something worth monitoring as all this plays out.

There’s also some thought that neither Reid or Curtin are the pick of this year’s crop. Darwin’s Jed Walter has fans across the footy world, with the Suns Academy member shaping as a prototypical modern forward - if not a couple of centimetres shorter than the ideal. Walter is perhaps the highest rated KPF coming into the draft since the three excellent 2018 talls. This speaks to the depth of this year’s draft - with perhaps eight players worthy of “top three level” consideration in an ordinary year.

Due to some shrewd trading by Gold Coast, Walter is a chance of sliding past the top three picks - perhaps even to pick five. Similar situations exist for their three other Academy talents - with the chance of Gold Coast cashing in on some bargains.

Some clubs have also floated the idea of trading their draft pick next year in order to get inside those top eight selections, or higher up the order. That speaks to both the strength of this year’s top end and the uncertainty in the open draft pool next year. Several top players next year are Academy or Father-Son tied, including the Camporeale twins and Levi Ashcroft.

Looking forward to the prospective 2025 Draft crop (that’s a long way out but humour us), there were TWELVE Father-Son or Academy prospects in the Under 16 All Australian team this year. That includes six Suns Academy members. Over a three year period the Suns may have access to a full dozen elite talents outside of the open draft pathway.

Not all young talents a year or two out from their draft class end up panning out. Up north, some academy prospects are multi-code athletes who can get juicy deals from other sports so that number may thin for the Suns. But with this quantity of talent looming, look for the Suns to continue to gain draft pick currency in the 2024 draft if Walter and co slide this year, which they will look to turn into 2025 picks next year.

The type of player

Usually the top end of the draft is full of two types of players - key position forwards and pure midfielders. Instead, this year is heavier on players elsewhere. Walter is possibly the only true KPF set to go inside the top 10, with the Dogs’ Jordan Croft perhaps the only other to go inside the top 20.

Colby McKercher is the likely to be the only “pure” midfielder to go inside the top 10 as well - depending on how you categorise fellow Taswegian Ryley Sanders. Reid is likely to fulfill more of a mid-forward role at the top level, making the most of his goal sense and explosiveness.

In the place of these traditional types stand rucks and tall defenders and hybrids in between. Some may end up filling one of these more traditional roles, but as it stands the cream sits elsewhere on the ground. The unusual distribution of talents has the potential to complicate assessment of the draft class. One could ask, for example, whether the more dominant defenders and weaker midfield class mean talented forward prospects are struggling to shine.

It will be interesting to monitor whether this is a longer term trend or just a one-off this year, and whether this odd skew of talent results in hindsight bargains.

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