CLUB: Peel Thunder / Western Australia
POSITION: Key Defender
PICK RANGE: 5-10
- Interceptor: Reads the play exceptionally well in the back half
- Senior Experience: Excelled for Peel Thunder’s Senior WAFL side against AFL listed players
- Mobility & Endurance: 8.2 in the agility test and 21.8 in the yo-yo
Aaron Naughton has been stealthily moving up the draft ranks all year, and now sits firmly as a mid range first rounder and likely to be the first Western Australian off the board.
His rise up the ranks was in large part due to a stellar U18 Championships in which he excelled in the back half for the Sandgropers. The co-captain played a huge part in WA’s performances throughout the carnival, taking care of a number of highly rated forwards as he marshalled the backline – performances that eventuated in him earning WA’s MVP and an All-Australian nod.
His form on returning to the WAFL virtually cemented his status as one of this year’s premium selections, as he went straight into Peel’s senior side. His debut saw him collect 16 possessions and claim seven marks, despite having to match up on AFL listed talent Fraser McInnes and Jonathan Giles. He went on to play seven League games including a qualifying final, finishing in the best on three occasions.
For our interview with Aaron, click here.
WHY PICK HIM?
Naughton is the mobile, tall intercepting defender that fits the profile of the modern AFL centre half back to a T. His ability to read the flight of the ball and beat his man one on one is elite, as are his smarts – knowing when to spoil and when to mark.
His marking ability is excellent, rarely needing more than one grab, and his mobility makes him as effective controlling the ball low as he is overhead. It’s this mobility and agility that also makes him a real threat offensively. Naughton finished sixth overall in the AFL Combine agility test, and his willingness to roll off his man and attack will be very attractive to AFL clubs.
Naughton’s ability to move up the ground and attack is also benefited by his impressive tank. He registered an elite 21.8 in the yo-yo test at the combine, the only 194cm+ player to breach the top 10, and with the Peel Thunder coaching staff suggesting he has the scope to spend time through the midfield, this is certainly a big uptick for his potential to grow and develop as a modern footballer.
As well as his physical and technical attributes, Naughton has also demonstrated impressive aggression and intensity, putting his body on the line and following up even when outsized at the contest. He is also a keen student of the game, spending hours watching footage of key position players to analyse their positioning. As a Collingwood supporter he pays particular attention to Ben Reid, and in terms of his ability to intercept and rebound offensively, Naughton is of a similar mould.
His experience against bigger bodies in the WAFL, and his scope for further physical development, along with his experience of elite program systems and tactics also tick plenty of boxes for recruiters looking for a ready to go player.
THE QUESTION MARKS?
Other than general physical development, Naughton’s kicking is probably the one area that really needs some work. He has an awkward style, however, it has never proved to be anything but effective. He rarely makes bad decisions, or fails to hit a target, but could perhaps focus on tidying up his shorter kicking, especially when putting teammates under pressure in the defensive half.
His perceived versatility is another area which could affect his value. No matter how good a player is, clubs are always looking for players to impact in multiple roles these days. Naughton’s time in the Peel seniors may have been detrimental in a way as it meant that he wasn’t given the freedom to be tested around the ground – instead playing his primary defensive role. In the Colts, Naughton was used in the forward line to great effect, and his score of 25/30 in the goalkicking test at the combine certainly shows that there is potential there.
One other question mark that allegedly prevented Naughton from a spot in the AFL Academy was that of his commitment to footy. This certainly doesn’t appear the case in terms of his dedication and application this year though, and the reports from coaching staff only praise his professional approach. It may have been the only thing that saw him fly under the radar for so long.
Naughton has put himself in the box seat to be the first tall defender, and perhaps the first key position player to leave the board on Draft night. An elite, mobile intercepting defender who can roll off his man and impact offensively would benefit many AFL lists, and there’s no doubt he’ll be high on a number of recruiters’ lists. Having trained and played with the Peel seniors, Fremantle would be the obvious suitor. He would certainly be of interest to the likes of Collingwood at pick 6, so it’s no surprise that Fremantle were so keen on securing two top five picks in the trade period.