Last weekend saw the 2014 fantasy season come to a close, and whether you were drowning your sorrows with wooden spoon, or basking in your superior coaching glory after snatching the flag, there is no doubt that a Aaron-Sandilands-sized hole will be left in your day to day life.
This needn’t be the case, however, as coaches in keeper leagues will attest. The keeper league ensures that the fun never has to end, as when the season draws to a close, it’s time to start the rebuild for next season. Key to the keeper squad is keeping an eye on players that are soon to see a big bump in output, and getting them in on the cheap, or better yet, free. This philosophy of year round planning doesn’t have to just be in the realms of the keeper league though. The earlier you start researching for next year’s draft, the better.
Throughout the year I posted a few articles highlighting these such players in the ‘Eyecatchers’ series, and now the season has ended I have compiled list of the best players that have played under 50 senior games. This is assessed using a scoring system I developed which is called the U50 score.
How is the U50 score created?
The score is generated from a few different factors, including score rate, rate of ‘high scores’, consistency, and also takes into account the player’s experience. Firstly the player’s ‘points per minute’ score is calculated from their average fantasy score compared to their percentage ‘time on ground’. This figure is then multiplied to represent an average full game. I then award proportionate bonus points for fantasy scores over 70, 80, 90, 100 and 120, and also generate a consistency score for the percentage of games where a player scores over 70, 80, 90, 100 and 120. These figures are added together and divided by figure representative of how many career games they have played. The scores are technically as limitless as any fantasy score, but the highest I’ve awarded was 206 for Tom Rockliff in 2011. The highest points awarded for a first year player was 176 for Toby Greene in 2012. In short it is figurative, yet crude, way of demonstrating fantasy potential. The more often players post ‘big’ scores, and the fewer games they have played, the bigger the rating.
I generally tend to focus on players who score over 120, or over 90 for first year players and non-midfielders. These players are potentially the next generation of AFL stars, and picking them out early can give any coach a massive advantage.
Before I take a closer look at the lesser lights to look out for next year, there have been a few standouts that most certainly haven’t flown under anyone’s radar, dominated by players from the 2012 National Draft.
Last year’s impressive trio of Jaeger O’Meara (U50 score – 157), Brad Crouch (136) and Ollie Wines (152) have continued to impress since their fantastic debut years, with Ollie Wines making the greatest leap of all three. His consistency this year has improved massively. Until he suffered a fade out after round 19 his score hadn’t dropped below 80 and he had registered six 100+ scores. Brad Crouch’s ranking dropped from last year, but only due to bad luck from injury. The young Crow still looked every bit the fantasy accumulator when he returned after Rd 15, and when you consider he only has 25 senior games to his name, there is plenty more to come.
Even though those three have continued their ascent, they have actually been overtaken by another from their draft year. Jack Macrae (188) became this year’s fantasy sensation, after coming from seemingly nowhere to average 104.4 fantasy points in the Bulldogs’ midfield. Add to this the generous addition of Forward eligibility, and there was no way he was going to fly under anyone’s radar. I scored Macrae 188 this year, which is the highest score I’ve given any player under 50 games since Tom Rockliff’s 206 back in 2011. With Rocky now the well-known number one, there’s no point in me telling everyone about him any more, so now I’ll turn to Macca. He’ll lose Forward status next year for certain, but he is more than worthy in any side as a mid alone. His career is still only 34 games old, and with a midfield around him that contains the likes of Ryan Griffen and Tom Liberatore, he could very well avoid attention and go even bigger next year.
With the big guns out of the way here is the roundup of the rest by position.
Jack Newnes (U50:117 / 46 games / 21yo / UF avg:82)
Newnes was a common pick last year as it was believed he would spend more time through the midfield, despite being classed as a defender. While he did help in the centre, he still played predominantly at the back this year, and still managed thirteen 80+ including five tons. Despite this he was only owned by 87% of teams at the seasons end.
Sam Docherty (U50:106 / 27 games / 20yo / UF avg:78.8)
While most of the attention was placed on Carlton’s certain other recruits last year, Docherty made a largely unheralded switch from the Lions, and slotted seamlessly into the Blues’ starting line up. He managed seven 80+ scores from his sixteen games including three tons, and showed real quality with his defensive marking and run and carry from half-back. He has a first 22 place sewn up, and at only 20 years old and 27 games under his belt he has stacks more to come. My pick of the backs.
Tom Langdon (U50:104 / 17 games / 20yo / UF avg:68.6)
Langdon was somewhat of a surprise packet in his first AFL season. After failing to be picked up in the 2012 draft (allegedly due to his privileged background), Langdon had to wait until the 2013 draft to be picked up by the Pies. He repaid them immediately with a stunning 105 performance in round 1, and although the predicted drop off came during the season he still managed a further five 80+ scores and one more ton. More importantly, he kept his place in the side, and if he can continue to do so, he could be a very handy late pick up.
Kade Kolodjashnij (U50:89 / 16 games / 19yo / UF avg:68.3)
Kolo’s U50 score of 89 is borderline what would make my watchlist after his first year, but having watched him play, I am amazed that he didn’t manage at least one ton this year. The young Sun is such an incredibly smooth mover around half back, and has the ability to rack up plenty of possessions. He definitely tired towards the end of the year, but after another pre-season he should be a much better prospect next year. He will be a staple fantasy back for years to come.
Best of the rest
Martin Gleeson (90) : The young bomber made only a few appearances for the first team last year, but when he did he looked something special. A quad injury meant he lost his chance of pushing for a permanent first team spot, but he had an immediate impact as the sub in his Rd 23 return, and will push for a place next year.
Will Langford (94) : At 22 years old his induction into senior footy has been typically measured, as is the Hawthorn way. His four 90+ scores this year are promising, but his evolution as a tagger will likely see him lose defender eligibility.
Dom Tyson (U50:149 / 34 games / 21yo / UF Avg: 90)
Tyson was one of the first Giants to leave Spotless Stadium, making his move to the Demons last summer. Many questioned why the Dees gave up pick 2 for him, but after his first year in Blue and Red not many will question that choice now. With twelve 90+ scores, including seven tons, Tyson showed exactly why he was taken at pick 3 in the 2011 Draft. He injury problems seem to be behind him and his homesickness has been cured by a return to Victoria – expect his stocks to rise over the next few years.
Dylan Shiel (U50:132 / 50 games / 21yo / UF Avg: 90.1)
Not exactly in the ‘under’ 50 games category, having just played his 50th last weekend, but Dylan Shiel definitely deserves to be mentioned. The young Giant continues to fly under many coaches’ radars, yet he keeps improving each and every year. With six tons this year, and only one score below 80 since round 12, Shiel is developing into star. He averaged 97.8 across the last five games of the season; a score that is much closer to his value than his season average of 90.
Lachie Neale (U50:125 / 42 games / 21yo / UF Avg: 82.3)
Neale has been eased along in his development at Freo, and with the likes of Barlow, Mundy and Fyfe for company in the midfield, has done so largely un-noticed. His liberal use as the substitute throughout his first two years have affected his fantasy average, but when he played he had the ability to rack up big numbers. He got a 110 score from me in my U50 rankings last year, and his 125 this year shows that he is on the up. Five tons this year including two in the last two rounds, he is a big one to watch next year.
Luke Dunstan (U50: 116 / 16 games / 19yo / UF Avg: 74.4)
Dunstan was a popular choice in salary cap formats last year due to his ‘ready to play’ physique that was sure to find him early game time in a struggling St. Kilda side. After two tons in his his three games, however, he suddenly became of huge interest in draft formats too. As the season wore on, as expected of a player his age, his scores were inconsistent. He managed, however, another four 80+ scores including a 119 against Freo in Rd 19. His year was then cut short by a shoulder injury that required surgery, which could be a blessing for the astute coach. With a full pre-season next year, he could come out firing.
Best of the Rest
As expected, the midfield group provides the largest amount potential, and there is a large list of players that scored over 90 points in my rankings – here are the most noteworthy.
Lachie Whitfield (102): The number one draft pick from the 2012 National Draft has yet to hit the heights of fellow draftees O’Meara, Crouch, Wines and Macrae, but next year should see him join those four. His use of the footy is impeccable, and he was in fine form before injury cut his season short. He could be an absolute draft steal next year.
Anthony Miles (134): Another GWS cast off. The Tigers’ struck gold when they picked him up and he starred when elevated to the senior side. Ball magnet.
Matt Crouch (118): Got an early chance due to big brother Brad’s injury, and took it with both hands. Five of his eight appearances were sub affected, so his average score of 65.8 belies his score rate of 1 point per minute. The thought of both Crouch’s in the Crows’ midfield is very exciting.
James Aish (108): Difficult to remember that he is 18 considering how easily he adapted to AFL footy. Three tons this year including a huge 140 – expect more next year.
Marcus Bontempelli (99): Bont has shown real glimpses of his undoubted talent this year, and it almost led him to this year’s rising star award. He’s kicked crucial goals, and looked dangerous around the footy. I gave Macrae a score of 96 at this stage last year – could Bontempelli emulate his team-mate next year?
Tom Mitchell (U50:111 / 20 games / 21yo / UF Avg: 86.7)
Despite a season mainly spent in the wilderness of the NEAFL, Tom Mitchell is undoubtedly the best fantasy ‘forward’ with less than 50 games under his belt. Titch had coaches pulling their hair out at his apparent exile from the Swans first team, but he came back just in time to deliver a huge 138 in what would have been many teams’ Grand Final. Mitchell is an absolute ball magnet, but the fact is, he’s essentially a midfielder – it remains to be seen what he will be in UF next year.
Zac Merrett (U50:98 / 18 games / 18yo / UF Avg: 67.8)
Merrett is player that seems to polarise opinion here at Footy Prophet, but whatever way you look at it, he has plenty of fantasy potential. Merrett managed seven 80+ scores including one ton, and seemed to go from strength to strength throughout the year. He has the ability to rack up possessions quickly, kick goals and his tackling is immense for such a small player (10 against Gold Coast in Rd 22). Another pre-season will do a lot for his body, and he could be a real bolter next year.
Jack Billings (U50:93 / 16 games / 19yo / UF Avg: 66.9)
Billings was one of my absolute favourites from this year’s batch of new draftees. The Saints suggested that he wouldn’t see much in the way of senior footy this year, but after a sub appearance in Rd 1 and a succession of fine VFL performances he had forced his way into the starting 22 by rd 5. Billings was impressive from the start, racking up three consecutive 80+ games, and showing fantastic awareness and efficiency. He tailed off, as would be expected, as the season went on but rarely had a bad day. He will be an integral part of the Saints’ forward line for years to come, and has the potential to be a huge fantasy scorer.
Adam Tomlinson (U50:89 / 45 games / 21yo / UF Avg 73.5)
Tomlinson is yet another star waiting to explode in a GWS side that is packed with the best young talent in the country. Used primarily as a forward up to this point, he was subject to a lot of position tinkering this year, as the Giants looked to fit in their latest haul of key prospects. They experimented with him down back, and he showed a lot of promise including a 24 possession, 12 mark, 100 point game against Melbourne in Rd 21. He has been compared to Nick Riewoldt in terms of endurance, and he could turn out to be an elite ‘swingman’. Look for possible B/F status next year.
Best of the rest
Tom Lynch (90): A succession of unfortunate injuries (a broken jaw and a broken neck just this year!) have seen Tom Lynch see just only 37 games in his five years of senior footy. His injury affected games this year give him a deceptive average of just 61.5, as he scored 80+ in four out of five full games.
Jackson Merrett (87): Even though eventually eclipsed by his younger brother, Jack Merrett showed some stunning form early in the year averaging 95 after the first six rounds. It all went downhill after that, however, averaging a woeful 42.2 for the rest of the year. He obviously has promise, but should only be watched for now unless showing off season progress.
Sam Mayes (78): One of the out and out disappointments of the year for me was Sam Mayes. I scored him 106 last year and had him behind only O’Meara, Crouch and Wines. The problem this season was the insistence on trying him as a rebounding half-back, a position that didn’t really work. Hopefully a return to a high half-forward/ midfield role can see a big improvement next year. Huge sleeper potential.
Lewis Taylor (79): Taylor has to get a mention after an impressive first year that netted him the Rising Star award. To come in and play the high half-forward role as well as he did demands respect, and he managed some eyecatching performances including a fantastic 115 against North. Brisbane have a promising group of young players coming through, and despite Taylor getting only 79 on my ratings, he definitely has potential.
Ruckmen are notoriously late developers, however, this year has seen a few young Rucks put in some very promising performances.
Scott Lycett (U50: 93 / 22 games / 21yo / UF Avg: 72.3)
With continued issues surrounding Naitanui’s fitness, and Dean Cox not getting any younger, Lycett was given his chance in the Eagles’ ruck and he didn’t disappoint. After a few early games he finally got a solid run in the side after round 13 – a run that started with an average of 90.5 in the first four games, and finished with a big 119 in Round 23. With Big Cox retiring, Lycett is in the box seat to take over and has the potential to be a star.
Jarrod Witts (U50: 93 / 27 games / 21yo / UF Avg: 66.8)
After Rd 1 this year, I wouldn’t have thought that I would be writing about Jarrod Witts in this article. He seemed way out of his depth, and in need of a lot of development before threatening a first team berth. Fast forward 10 rounds and the big man was starting a run of form that saw him score an average of 89 between rounds 11 and 16. He still needs to improve a lot for fantasy selection, but he developing slowly.
Tom Hickey (U50: 84 / 30 games / 23yo / UF Avg: 75.5)
Somewhat of a forgotten man after an injury affected season, the young ruckman showed plenty of promise in the games he did play. After McEvoy left for Hawthorn, Hickey took the number one ruck spot at the Saints and impressed in his first two games scoring 85 and 119. Following injuries to his foot and then knee, he managed only four more games for the year. Despite Billy Longer filling in well, I would expect Hickey to keep the number one spot going into next year.
Max Gawn (U50: 79 / 26 games / 22 yo / UF Avg: 58.3)
After his incredible fantasy score of 201 in a VFL game last year I was looking forward to seeing Gawn star in the AFL this year. Sadly, he found chances few and far between, but he showed plenty of promise. This was especially the case when kicking 2.3 on his way to 111 against Hawthorn in Rd 20. With Jamar still the number one ruck, Gawn will have to make do with being utilised as a deep forward for the time being, so his numbers are unlikely to improve. If he can force his way to the number one spot, however, the sky is the limit, we could have Stefan Martin MkII.
Best of the rest
Brodie Grundy (78): Disappointing this year after a debut year full of promise last year. It could be just a case of second year blues for one of the most promising young ruckmen around. Back him in to improve next year and make the number one spot his.
Jon Ceglar (82): Another top talent that is being nurtured by the Hawks. He’s worked hard this year and has shown real potential with a couple of 90+ scores, however it still remains doubtful that he will knock McEvoy from the number one spot.