CLUB: Oakleigh Chargers / Vic Metro
POSITION: Small Forward / Midfield
PICK RANGE: 5-15
There is always a player that screams ‘Mr Football’ in each draft year, and this year no-one screams it louder than Oakleigh’s Jack Higgins. The AFL Academy player has excelled throughout his junior career, winning the Kevin Sheehan medal for the division one best and fairest at the U16 National Championships before embarking on an impressive bottom age year for Oakleigh in the TAC Cup.The small forward / midfielder averaged 21 disposals and kicked 19 goals in 10 games playing as a forward and on the wing, and a starring performance in the U17 All-Stars game at Punt Road on Grand Final day set him up for a big top age year.
After quitting school, Higgins was able to play 14 games for Oakleigh in the TAC Cup, and this year has seen him develop his midfield craft. He finished the year averaging 23 disposals, five tackles and more than two goals per game, including an incredible 7 goal performance against Bendigo, and earned himself the competition best and fairest, the Morrish Medal.
It was his performances for the eventually victorious Vic Metro at the U18 Championships that cemented him as a blue chip prospect, however. Higgins relished the big stage and rose to the occasion, with his gut running and impact a highlight, averaging a big 27 disposals, and kicking 6 goals across the four shorter format games.
WHY PICK HIM?
There are fewer players that come through the system that have a work ethic that matches Higgins. Since very early on, he has set himself the task of becoming the best he can be, whether through externally seeking specialist coaching, or the daily skill practice he performs in his hallway to improve his bi-lateral skills in confined space. This is evidenced when he plays, with incredibly clean hands and quick release at the contest. He is able to find teammates even when in the tightest of situations, either with a pinpoint handball or clever flick.
While the extra work has no doubt brought his skill and athletic abilities higher than perhaps it would have otherwise, it is Higgins’ natural footy IQ that sets him apart, and bodes well for his move into a professional sphere. Higgins is quick (he can run a sub 3 second 20m), but his ability to read the play and anticipate allows him to lead and provide options as contested marking forward, despite only measuring 178cm. He has terrific goal sense, and his ability to snap on either side of his body makes him one the most dangerous players inside 50 in this year’s draft pool.
THE QUESTION MARKS?
The biggest question marks over Higgins are both his size and his scope for improvement. At 178cm, he doesn’t hit that desired level of 180cm that AFL clubs look for in a top-end player these days, and with a history of additional strength and conditioning coaching, it could be argued that there may be little to improve on physically. These are both relatively minor arguments. Andrew McGrath proved last year that sub 180cm players are certainly worthwhile selections when they can impact around the ground, and Higgins can certainly do that. As for physical development, no matter how much training Higgins has had, a full time elite environment will still raise standards, and he has proven he has the constitution to get the absolute maximum out of it.
One area that could be his biggest knock is his impact as a midfielder. Although a prolific ballwinner, it’s his penetration that’s the issue. At TAC Cup level he disposed by boot over 60% of the time, and with an efficiency of 61%, but the majority of Higgins’ kicks, 74% in fact, were short to an easy target. This is highlighted also by his average of less than two inside 50s per game. This is an area of work for Higgins, however, and his work in the U18 Championships and also late on in the TAC Cup show that he was opting for longer options. Increasing his strength as he develops may also see improvement in this area.
Higgins is without a doubt one of the best players heading for the draft in November. His work ethic and football brain set him aside from any other player, but his size and perceived lack of scope could well see him slide out of the top 10. If that does happen, the club that snags him could end up with one of the steals of the draft. At worst, Higgins looks like he’ll be one of the elite handful of small forwards in the competition, but if he continues to work and develop his midfield craft then he could become a key cog in any successful AFL side.