Wayne Harrison looks at those clubs which boast the best collective prospects in the AFL heading into the 2017 season.
There is no better way of evaluating a team’s future chances of success than evaluating a team’s current prospects. Simply put, the more quality prospects a team has, the more likely that team will be competing for a premiership in the future.
Having a strong rookie system is not only a means for teams to build for the long term future but also for the short term. With the trade period becoming increasingly more important as teams look to rebuild their list through the proliferation of other lists in the competition, a quality prospect system may also be a way for teams to trade in stars of the competition for their prospects.
At present, the AFL trading landscape has not evolved into clubs trading out their prospects for stars, with clubs more happy to trade draft picks. Why clubs trade draft picks and not rookies is not obvious, but one can hazard a guess that clubs prefer to take a more cautious route and tend to believe in the saying that it is better the devil you know then the devil you don’t. Of course, it could also be the simpler reason that in the AFL clubs can only trade players with their consent as well as there only being a set number of spots on AFL lists.
In any event, as the AFL continues to model itself more closely to American sports, it is not unthinkable that in the future clubs will start to bundle together prospects with draft picks for stars of the competition. Take a look at Major League Baseball for instance. Last month, the Chicago White Sox traded their best pitcher, Chris Sale, for the number 1 ranked prospect in the game, highly rated infielder Yoan Moncada (who cost the Sox $60M in signing bonuses and luxury tax no less), as well as much touted prospects, Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe and Victor Diaz. While we don’t imagine a situation evolving in the AFL where a number of prospects will be lumped together for the one player, we do see a situation occurring where teams start trading away their up and coming rookies for a shot at a premiership.
How do the rankings work?
For a full-run down of eligibility and how a player qualifies as a prospect, see my article here on the top 25 best young prospects in the AFL.
In compiling this list on the rankings of the top prospect systems in the AFL, we have evaluated the clubs on two factors: quality and quantity. That is, we have ranked the Top 10 systems in the league by considering which clubs have an abundance of elite-level prospects as well as the depth of the prospects on their list.
Without further explanation, here are the top 10 prospect systems in the AFL for 2017.
1. Greater Western Sydney
That is the only way to describe GWS as a club. Not only are they the favourites of many pundits for the premiership in 2017, they also possess the best prospect system in the competition, narrowly edging out the Gold Coast Suns (who are not even close to being considered a premiership favourite).
GWS have the 20th prospect (Matthew Kennedy), 12th prospect (Tim Taranto), tenth prospect (Will Setterfield) and the ninth prospect (Jacob Hopper). Hopper is a jet, having averaged 65 AFL Fantasy points in 2016, the highlight being his 32 possession game in Round 8. Picks number 2 and 5 in the 2016 AFL Draft, Taranto and Setterfield, will be guns, with both set to push for a game in 2017, while Kennedy projects as an above average midfielder who should also see game time this year.
Throw in Harry Perrymen (pick 14 in the 2016 AFL Draft), Isaac Cumming (pick 20 in the 2016 AFL Draft) and Harrison Himmelberg (pick 16 in the 2015 AFL Draft) and it is clear that the rookie system of the GWS is the best in the league in terms of having both elite talent and depth. Perrymen and Cumming are both players who would get much more attention for their talent if they were in rookie systems in Victoria, and along with Himmelberg, may become highly sought after by other AFL clubs in the next 1-2 years if they fail to secure a regular game for the Giants in the next few seasons. But if they do leave, don’t worry GWS fans, for you will either secure ready-made talent or draft picks to use in replenishing the prospect factory.
Unfortunately for the competition, it is likely that GWS will be featuring in the finals at the least for the next half decade with a prospect system this flush with talent.
2. Gold Coast Suns
For a team that lost so much ready-made talent in the 2016 AFL Trade Period, it is no surprise to see the Suns come in at number 2. The most pleasing aspect for Suns bosses is that they boast the highest quantity of prospects ranking above average or better, which points to promising signs for the competitions first expansion side.
The Suns have prospects ranked 18th (Ben Ainsworth), 16th (Jack Bowes), 15th (Jack Scrimshaw) and 11th (Peter Wright). All four prospects are decade long players and capable of reaching their ceiling within two seasons, with Wright the most likely of the four to maximise his potential next season.
Their next level of talent is only slightly behind the aforementioned players, which includes Will Brodie (pick 9 in the 2016 AFL Draft), Adam Saad, Brayden Forini and Callum Ah Chee (pick 8 in the 2015 AFL Draft), any of whom could have got into the top 25 rankings.
Forini in particular looks destined for great things, evidenced in his Round 23 performance where he finished with 32 disposals, 12 tackles, five clearances, 27 pressure acts, seven score involvements, two goals and 166 AFL Fantasy points. Further, if Saad had continued on his 2015 form last year he would have found himself well entrenched in the top 25, however injury and a poor list meant he struggled at times this year. If he recaptures his previous form though, Saad could become one of the more damaging back flankers in the competition this year.
Having finished last on the ladder in 2016, it would not be unreasonable to assume that such a team would have a stocked rookie system and also to be a long way off competing seriously for a premiership. For Essendon only one of those things is true, being the latter.
With a combination of the returning 12 suspended players and a rookie system flush with players ready to contribute to the senior side this year, many expect Essendon to push for the finals in 2017. And such a statement is certainly true when you look at the fact that they have prospects ranked 13th (Aaron Francis), fifth (Andrew McGrath) and fourth (Darcy Parish). All three of Francis, McGrath and Parish will play in 2017. It is also not a stretch to say that Parish may finish the year as the Bombers’ second best midfielder behind Zach Merrett (assuming Heppell plays in the backline), which is not a criticism of the Essendon midfield but rather a compliment to the skills of Parish.
Their next level of prospects are Jayden Laverde (pick 20 in the 2014 AFL Draft), Kyle Langford (pick 17 in the 2014 AFL Draft), Jordan Ridley (pick 22 in the 2016 AFL Draft) and Orazio Fantasia. Of those, Laverde (average of 62 AFL Fantasy points) and Fantasia (average of 73 AFL Fantasy points) will play the majority of 2017 and both will seek to take their games to the next level.
The untried units consists of Alex Morgan and to a lesser extent Mason Redman (three games in 2016), with both displaying enough talent to be pushing for selection in ’17.
4. Brisbane Lions
For a club that has not much going right for it, the Lions will be pleased at least with their prospect system, which has the club well-placed for a push at a premiership when these players start to mature. Of course, seeing as how far off the pace the Lions are, they would need to add a lot more talent and established players to this mix, however they are off to a good start.
The Lions hold the 23rd ranked prospect (Rhys Mathieson) eighth (Hugh McCluggage) and seventh ranked prospect (Josh Schache). Of those, McCluggage and Schache rank as elite in their chosen fields, with both likely to become perennial All-Australian selections from 2019 onwards.
Add into the mix the likes of Eric Hipwood (pick 14 in the 2015 AFL Draft), Ben Keays (pick 24 in the 2015 AFL Draft), Jarrod Berry (pick 17 in the 2016 AFL Draft), Alex Witherden (pick 23 in the 2016 AFL Draft) and Cedric Cox (pick 24 in the 2016 AFL Draft) and it is clear that the Lions deserve number 4 spot on this list.
With the sacking of the once-great Mick Malthouse and appointment of Brendon Bolton, Carlton signalled to the competition that it was going to go through a rebuild. Coming in at 5 on the list is a nod of approval to Bolton, who took over a Carlton side with a head scratching lack of young talent for a side that had been middling for the best part of the previous two years. Bolton, however has turned the prospect system of Carlton around dramatically, as evidenced in the Blues having the 21st prospect (Charlie Curnow), 17th prospect (Sam Petrevski Seton) and third prospect (Jacob Weitering).
What is most pleasing for the Blues is that they have great depth behind these elite talents, such as Harry McKay (pick 10 in the 2015 AFL Draft), Jordan Pickett (pick 4 in the 2014 AFL Draft) and Caleb Marchbank (pick 6 in the 2014 AFL Draft). The last two, Pickett and Marchbank, could both turn into elite players in their chosen categories and came at a near steal for the blues, while McKay profiles as an above average centre-half forward, capable of kicking between 30-50 goals per year.
The next level of talent is strong again, with David Cunningham (pick 23 in the 2015 AFL Draft), Zac Fisher (pick 27 in the 2016 AFL Draft), Nick Graham and Jack Silvagni. The last two players look the best of that lot, with Graham (averaging 80 AFL Fantasy points) and Silvagni (key position) set to have bright futures at the Blues.
The Blues fell just short of Brisbane by reason that the majority of their up and coming talent is untried and somewhat injury prone. However, if McKay, Pickett and Marchbank can play out a full season this year without getting injured, expect them to leapfrog the Lions.
The good news for Demons fans is that many experts think that their club should play finals in 2017. The even better news for the same fans is that they have the prospects coming through their system to keep them in the finals for the years to come.
Melbourne have three players ranked in the top 25 prospects, boasting the 22nd prospect (Sam Weideman), 19th prospect (Clayton Oliver) and sixth prospect (Christian Petracca). Petracca is as close as they come to reaching his full potential, which should come in 2017, whilst Weideman is a long-term talent who profiles as an above average centre-half forward capable of kicking 40 plus goals a year. If Weideman can work on his positioning and contested marketing, then that number could increase dramatically.
Christian Salem (averaging 68 AFL Fantasy points) and Jayden Hunt (averaging 57 AFL Fantasy points) are in the next bracket, with both looking likely to have long term careers at the Demons.
It falls away a little to the next level of prospects of Billy Stretch, Oscar McDonald and Alex Neal-Bullen, however in saying that all three players are more than capable and will feature in a Melbourne side next year that will be pushing for finals.
7. St Kilda
St Kilda are a building side and one many predict may surge up the ladder next year. To compliment an even list, the Saints also have an even spread of rookies pushing up through their prospect system.
Although the Saints only have the one player listed in the top 25 prospects, being number 14 prospect Patrick McCartin, they have an enviable second stream of talent, headlined by Jake Gresham, Blake Acres, Jack Steele and Hugh Goddard (pick 21 in the 2014 AFL Draft). Gresham (averaged 61 AFL Fantasy points) and Acres (averaged 71 AFL Fantasy points) in particular are impressive players who will play prominent roles in the Saints midfield in 2017. Steele is only a fraction of a step behind these players, with the hard at it midfielder averaging 72 AFL Fantasy Points for the Giants.
Their untried depth include Ben Long (pick 25 in the 2016 AFL Draft), Josh Battle and Nathan Freeman. All three have shown enough to warrant attention, with Freeman the most curious of the lot. In his prime and injury-free, Freeman has line-breaking speed and a clean pair of hands, but with three injury riddled seasons and dodgy hamstrings, his future is clouded.
Noteworthy players who may also feature in the St Kilda side this year include Jack Lonie (10 goals from 10 games) and Daniel McKenzie (pick 22 in the 2014 AFL Draft), however both would want to play senior footy next year to help secure their careers moving forwards.
Finishing 16th in 2016, it would be safe to presume that the Dockers would have appeared higher on this list. However, such thinking doesn’t take into account that Fremantle finished in the top four on the ladder in 2015, 2014 and 2013 seasons as well as having traded aggressively over the course of this period, meaning that their draft selections have either come late in the first round at best.
Unsurprisingly therefore the Dockers have had no players ranked in the top 25, although Cam McCarthy came into close consideration, however due to the uncertainty surrounding his 2017 narrowly missed out. If McCarthy lines up in Round 1 though expect that he will be ranked within the top 15 very quickly, thanks to his fantastic 2014 and 2015 seasons.
What Fremantle do have though is an even spread of depth, with the likes of Lachie Weller (22 games in 2016 at an average of 63 AFL Fantasy Points), Darcy Tucker (12 games at an average of 65 AFL Fantasy points) and Connor Blakely (15 games in 2016 at an average of 75 AFL Fantasy Points) all showing they are more than capable at senior level.
The untried talent includes Griffen Logue, Harley Ballic and Sam Collins, who all possess considerable talent and likely to be a part of the Fremantle best 22 next year if fit. Of those Logue has the most potential and will not surprise anyone if he finishes the year firmly entrenched in the top 25 prospects in the league.
For last year’s Grand Finalist to make this list is a testament to the astute work of the Swans recruiting and player management team. The Swans have been one of the most consistent teams of the last decade and yet still have a number of special talents coming through. In saying that, their prodigy Callum Mills, the second best prospect in the league, is an Academy Zone selection, which is a testament more to his town of birth than recruiting. Mills averaged 70 AFL Fantasy points in 2016 and comfortably took out the Rising Star Award, clearly demonstrating both his talent and potential.
However, the Swans also have a new wave of talent pressing behind Mills, headlined by their 2016 AFL Draft recruits Oliver Florent (pick 11) and Will Hayward (pick 21). Both Florent and Hayward were first round selections and were rated highly by draft experts and the two will press for selection next year.
Their next level of prospects have seen senior action, headlined by the super impressive Tom Papley (20 games in 2016 for 29 goals and an average of 62 AFL Fantasy points), George Hewett (24 games for an average of 58 AFL Fantasy points), James Rose (5 games for an average of 73 AFL Fantasy Points), Harrison Marsh, Brandan Jack and Aliir Aliir. Aliir in particular is a noteworthy mention, with the tall and athletic defender playing 13 games in 2016 and showing plenty of promise, with the defender able to hold Ted Richards out of the side for the majority of the year.
Having missed the finals in the past three straight years and having declined each year since 2012, Collingwood should be higher up this list. A combination of poor drafting and trading, as well as having players graduate from rookie status means that they come in a lucky tenth, only narrowly edging out North Melbourne and Adelaide
A key reason for their tenth ranking comes from having the number 1 ranked prospect in the competition in Darcy Moore and to a lesser extent the 25th ranked prospect in Matthew Scharenberg. Moore will be the centre piece of a susceptible Collingwood forward line in 2017 and beyond and boasts an array of skills that will likely see him named an All-Australian over a number of seasons in his career. Scharenberg made the top 25 based on his potential and high ceiling, rather than anything done to date, and the early stages of 2017 will show whether his high selection was justified, particularly with so many worthy players missing out.
Their next level of prospects are solid, in Brayden Maynard, Josh Smith, Tim Broomhead and Jackson Ramsay. Maynard (averaging 68 AFL Fantasy points) and Smith (averaging 76 AFL Fantasy points) are dependable foot soldiers, while both Broomhead and Ramsay profile as having potentially above average talent, but have struggled with injury for the best part of their careers.
From these players, the next level falls away to the untried Sam McLarty (pick 30 in the 2016 AFL Draft), and Callum Brown as well as the lowly drafted Rupert Willis. Willis though was solid upon reaching the seniors in 2016, averaging a surprisingly high 84 AFL Fantasy points, however a combination of a strong midfield and having potentially reached his ceiling means that he may not progress much further in ’17.