Wayne Harrison is looking at the Top 25 prospects in the AFL heading into the 2017 season. There have been five articles published counting down Wayne and Footy Prophet’s thoughts on the best players who are both under 22 and have played fewer than 30 AFL games. Today we feature the Top 5.
5. Andrew McGrath / Essendon
Games played: N/A
Average fantasy score: N/A
Strengths: Football intelligence, speed and leadership
The number 1 pick in the 2016 AFL Draft, McGrath excelled at the national championship and in the TAC Cup for the Sandringham Dragons. McGrath is blessed with great attributes, possessing a smart football brain, defensive awareness and exceptional leadership for a player of his age.
McGrath’s defensive abilities were on display when he was sent to Country’s star forward in the national championship, Ben Ainsworth, who had already kicked four goals. Not content with just completely shutting down Ainsworth, McGrath continued to provide dash out of defence, finishing the game with 23 possessions.
Champion Data had McGrath averaging the most disposals in the TAC Cup as a midfielder and the most disposals in the championships as a defender, demonstrating his ability to dominate any position he plays in. The silky teenager, who averaged 124 AFL Fantasy points across the season, has also shown an ability to dominate on the big stage, evidenced in his best-on-ground performance in the TAC Grand Final for Sandringham. Possessing a strong vertical leap and clean hands, he also has line breaking speed and agility, making him almost the complete player.
Prospect status: Developing (short term) With the return of the banned Essendon players, expect McGrath may be forced to work hard for a game in 2017, however opportunities will come. Profiles as an elite defender, capable of receiving All-Australian selection from 2020.
4. Darcy Parish / Essendon
Games played: 20
Average fantasy score: 74
Strengths: Elite skills, contested possession winning ability and speed
Similar to Mills, Parish could well be the number 1 selection on many prospect lists. Instead, the pick number 5 of the 2015 AFL Draft finds himself at number 4, a worthy position when you consider the talent around him.
A back-to-back All-Australian at under-18 level, Parish averaged 98 AFL Fantasy points at the TAC Cup, to be one of the best midfielders available in the draft. Parish made a seamless transition into the AFL this year, averaging 21 disposals and a AFL Fantasy score average of 74, which saw him finish in the top 10 for the Best and Fairest. Only Zach Merrett picked up more contested possessions for the Bombers through the season, with Parish also finishing fourth for tackles. Parish collected 25 possessions on debut for the Bombers in round one against Gold Coast and the following week gained 21 disposals and laid eight tackles to earn a Rising Star nomination.
Parish possesses all the attributes required to excel as a modern AFL midfielder, having elite skills as well as being a natural ball hunter, capable of winning his own ball or tackling hard when he is not in possession. He also has a brilliant burst of speed which allows him to outrun opponents and deliver the ball forward with class.
If asked to choose between Andrew McGrath and Parish you get the feeling Essendon would find it a hard task given the quality of the two players. However, we have Parish edging McGrath simply on the basis that he has already showed he can mix it with the best.
It will be interesting to see how Essendon manages Parish following the return of the banned players from suspension, with the midfield time Parish experienced this year likely to be taken away by the return of midfield dynamos such as Watson, Myers and co..
Prospect status: Building. Similar to Mills, Parish had a superb 2016 and will expect him to build upon his form in 2017, however it may be off the half-back line in tandem with McGrath, which may see a reduction in his AFL Fantasy scores. Parish profiles as an elite midfielder and a team’s number 1 midfielder who will win multiple All-Australian selections.
3. Jacob Weitering / Carlton
Games played: 20
Average fantasy score: 57
Strengths: Marking, intercepting skills and leadership
The 2015 No. 1 draft pick stands at 195cm tall and has already been touted as Carlton’s future captain when Marc Murphy stands down.
The 19-year old prospect played 20 games this year and showed plenty in his debut season, averaging 15 disposals and five marks, including twice gaining more than 20 disposals in a game, to finish third in the 2016 AFL Rising Star nominations.
In September this year Weitering signed a four-year, performance-based deal, expected to net him around $400,000 annually, a smart move by the Blues considering Weitering is already providing himself to be more than capable, evident in him winning the clubs Best First Year Player award this year.
Weitering is super professional for his age and reports are he is already priming himself for a big 2017, where he will become the general of the Carlton defence. Destined to play for over a decade for Carlton, Weitering will begin to to impact the game even more in 2017 with his intercept marking and decision making out of the backline set to be a hallmark of his game. Having run a 15.1 beep test at the 2015 NAB AFL Draft Combine and 3.04 seconds in the 20m sprint, there is not much Weitering needs to improve on, making him a scary prospect.
Prospect status: Building. Weitering arrived to a certain extent this year, but expect his 2017 to be significantly better than his 2016, particularly if he can get help from his teammates. He profiles as an elite tall defender and a lock for a number of All-Australian selections at centre-half-back.
2. Callum Mills / Sydney
Games played: 22
Average fantasy score: 70
Strengths: Elite skills, speed and decision making
Mills has elite skills and decision making, as well as having outstanding speed, attributes which could have led him to being number 1 on this list. The 2016 AFL Rising Star polled 49 out of a maximum 50, a clear indication of just how good a 2016 season he had.
Mills was rated the best midfielder in the draft when Melbourne made a bid at pick 3 in the 2015 AFL Draft and is the best midfield prospect in the game. Not only blessed with elite skills, Mills is also strong and tough, showing plenty of aggression at the contest and has shown he can also take a mark over his head. He is a great size, standing at 188cm, and uses it to his advantage by drifting forward where he can to hit the scoreboard.
Averaging 19 disposals and five marks for an AFL Fantasy score average of 70 across 22 matches during the season, Mills injured his hamstring in the qualifying loss to GWS, however returned for the Grand Final where he had a quiet game by his lofty standards. No doubt this disappointing end to his season will be a driving force for Mills entering into 2017.
Prospect status: Arrived. Difficult to beat the year Mills had but expect that he will, given the departure of Tom Mitchell will allow him increased midfield time in 2017. Profiles as an elite midfielder and a team’s number 1 midfielder who will be a perennial All-Australian selection from as early as next year.
1. Darcy Moore / Collingwood
Games played: 26
Average fantasy score: 52
Strengths: Contested and aerial marking, speed and courage
Selected with pick number 9 in the 2014 AFL Draft as a father-son selection, the Collingwood centre half-forward is an excellent size (200cm), boasts a great vertical leap and has an aerobic capacity of that of a much smaller player. Moore rarely gets beaten in one-on-ones and often follows up at ground level with a similar competitiveness as in the air, with his ability to offer a second and third repeat contest a highlight of his game.
In the U18 Championships, Moore was used more as a defender than forward, but since arriving at the Holden Centre he has played predominantly forward, a position that seems to suit his high jumping. Boasting sharp skills and clean hands, he repeatedly throws himself into marking contests many assumed he could not get to, either because they considered it was physically impossible for him to make it or otherwise would be reckless from him to do so.
Moore announced himself in Round 19 this year, kicking three goals from six first half marks before sitting out the match after tweaking a hamstring. He finished the season with 24 goals from 17 matches and an average AFL Fantasy score of 52.
Few players in the game have the ceiling as Moore does, with the 20-year-old hampered by injuries over various occasions in the past two years, meaning he has yet to unleash his full potential. He is destined to be a future captain of the Pies and will almost certainly be elevated into the Magpies leadership group in 2017.
With the departure of Travis Cloke to the Whitten Oval, Moore’s importance to Collingwood is undisputed, particularly as he will be the primary avenue towards goal for the Magpies not only for 2017, but for the next decade as well.
Prospect status: Building. Moore will seek to become one of the league’s premier forwards next year. He profiles as an elite tall forward and will likely win multiple All-Australian selections from 2018 onwards.