With Christmas behind us and 2017 in full swing, AFL clubs are in the midst of their preseason training. For the majority of players, work put in during the sweltering summer months shows the best results over half a year later, in the depth of winter. And so it is for fantasy coaches also. While January may seem to early for some to begin planning for their fantasy drafts (and too late for some others), one thing is for certain: those who prepare well are best-placed for success at the business end of the season.
Using Footy Prophet’s customised VBD (value-based drafting) model, which has been developed and refined over the course of the past five years, I’ve earkmarked the elite talents that loom as first-round selections for 2017 fantasy drafts. Given positional announcements to date, these rankings apply to all of AFL Fantasy, Dream Team and Ultimate Footy.
There are many ways to cut up the available data. Our VBD model factors in basic information such as historical performances, trend analysis and each player’s availability due to suspension and health, and then incorporates more complex concepts such as positional scarcity and depth, player movements and strength of schedule.
These rankings are subject to – and likely to – change in the leadup to Round 1, but if a fantasy draft was to be held today, these names are those that I’d expect to be off the board in the first round of a 10-team league. Special mention to Scott Pendlebury, Zach Merrett, Nick Riewoldt and Tom Mitchell, among others, that haven’t made the cut. This year is as strong at the top end as I can remember in the past dozen years of fantasy football drafting.
10. Dan Hannebery (MID)
That an elite midfielder in his prime, surrounded by just-as-elite talent, who has averaged circa-110 for the past two seasons can be as low as 10th should give you a sense of two factors: firstly, that the talent at the top of the draft board is outstanding, and secondly, that the talent at the bottom of the board for a couple of positions is deplorable. This means that several non-midfielders are ranked higher than you might expect, given their relative. Hannebery is still a brilliant prospect, however, and you would be ecstatic to land him this low in a 2017 fantasy draft given his form. Tough, durable, high scoring – he’s among the very best available prospects right now.
9. Taylor Adams (DEF/MID)
He hasn’t played a full season in his five-year career, yet Adams’ defensive eligibility in 2017 sees his value skyrocket. He should average between 100-105 this year – a mark that he’s achieved in his past two seasons – and could yet improve if he’s able to generate some consistent games. At 23, there’s also some natural improvement left, and he’s in a lineup and part of a game plan that allows him to accumulate plenty of the ball. Think Dane Swan 2.0. Yes I know he’s not durable, but I’m only projecting him to play 17 games and he still makes the top 10. If he was able to produce a 22-game season, Adams would be the number one selection in 2017 drafts.
8. Max Gawn (RUC)
In fairness, Gawn could be higher. Certainly with a projected average of close to 110 and the changes in the third-man-up rules, he could be in a fantasy tier of his own in 2017. On the rule change: while it will help Gawn, I don’t necessarily see it impacting him significantly more than it impacts other ruckmen. If every ruck was to average an additional 5 points over 2016, it doesn’t make Gawn worth more relative to the rest of the position. Still, he’s an outstanding prospect and with durability concerns somewhat behind him, he deserves his place at the top of the draft board. Just be wary – history tells us that elite fantasy ruck seasons are rarely backed up. Dean Cox was the regular exception – Gawn could well be the next Cox.
7. Jack Macrae (MID/FWD)
As a forward, Macrae is the top of his class in 2017. He’s an elite accumulator about to enter the prime of his career, who already has two 104-point seasons under his belt. Phenomenal stuff. He had a down year in 2016, which is to say he averaged just 99 fantasy points, or good enough to beat out every other forward-listed player in 2017 not named Nick Riewoldt. I fully expect him to outscore every other forward on a per-week basis this year, and to improve his durability somewhat to play a minimum of 20 games. At that level of production, some fantasy coaches may swoop even earlier.
6. Sam Docherty (DEF)
The Carlton half-back had a breakout 2016 season to average 100 fantasy points for the first time in his career. The fact that he managed the feat before his 23rd birthday bodes well for his future. The Blues are in for another tough season where the ball will spend plenty of time in their defensive half, meaning there will be ample opportunity for Docherty to clean up. He’s not yet damaging enough with ball in hand that he’ll see significant opposition attention, and while 2016 may represent a high water mark for his scoring ability, he should go close to those numbers again in 2017.
5. Heath Shaw (DEF)
For those that thought his personal best 2015 was as good as it was going to get for Shaw, he went to another level again last year as the Giants charged up the ladder. In truth, Shaw averaged 100 for much of 2015, only to see his average suffer with a quiet closing fortnight. He’s played every game over the past two seasons, and has seen his thirties produce the best football of his career. Sam Docherty and others may be nipping at his heels, but Heath Shaw remains the best fantasy defender in the game, and the Giants are only going to get better in 2017.
4. Adam Treloar (MID)
It would need to be a good top three to keep Adam Treloar out of the mix (it is), such has his ascension been over his short career. Treloar brought his elite ball-winning ability to Collingwood last year, and produced a career-best fantasy season. I actually expect him to improve his average again this year to around 114 points per game, and he should continue to run free – I just can’t see coaches switching tagger attention away from Scott Pendlebury. Treloar is one of the best prospects in the game, in the conversation for the number one selection in keeper leagues, but finds himself just missing out on the podium for early 2017 honours.
3. Tom Rockliff (MID)
When it comes to fantasy scoring ability, Tom Rockliff has no peer. I have him projected to average over 120 fantasy points – the only player in this tier for 2017 – but he fails to make the top two for one reason alone: durability. Rockliff’s last four seasons have yielded 17, 16, 18 and 21 games respectively. He’s actually only averaged 120 points once in his career (and just two other seasons over 110), but his ability to find the ball is uncanny. For those that take him first overall I understand completely; I just can’t ignore the injury affected games or absences, because they can cripple a fantasy side.
2. Lachie Neale (MID)
Neale is just about the complete fantasy package. Prolific, consistent, almost never likely to be subjected to a tag and still only 23 years of age. His time on ground stats are still in the low 80s (cresting the 80% mark for the first time in 2016) so there’s a little upside there, while I expect that the return to health of Nat Fyfe to help boost his scores somewhat. He’s played every game over the past two seasons, and missed just one in 2014, so he has durability on his side too. That gives him the edge over most of the remaining midfield class, and makes him an outstanding fantasy candidate in 2017.
1. Patrick Dangerfield (MID)
Moving to Geelong and playing with a genuine elite compadre in Joel Selwood was the crowning moment of Patrick Dangerfield’s career thus far. His 2016 season was spectacular, but he did everything with such ease that there’s little doubt that he could do it all again. With 18 scores over 100 (including 14 over 110) he would have dragged many teams to fantasy success. It’s a two-man show down in Geelong, but Dangerfield is the new king. He’s missed one game in three years – startling considering how ferociously he throws himself at the contest – and he’s the surest bet there is in 2017. He may just be the first man to go back to back in the Brownlow medal since Robert Harvey, and if he did so, no one would be surprised. If you have the first pick in your draft this year, don’t even think twice.