Phantom AFL draft: how the first round could play out

Don’t miss a pick: follow our live blog of the first round of the AFL draft from 6.30pm Wednesday, with news and expert analysis of top players and club strategies.

This year’s draft shapes as arguably the most intriguing since the concept was first implemented in 1986.

Top Victorian prospects show their wares at a draft training day earlier in November.Credit:AFL Photos

Victorian prospects are difficult to rank due to a lack of football in the state over the past two years, while premier father-son choices Nick Daicos and Sam Darcy have fuelled speculation on how the top-end will play out.

Also worth noting is that clubs can still trade their picks on the night. West Coast, for example, have been strongly linked to both Campbell Chesser and Neil Erasmus, and may yet aim to trade in another early pick to snare both prospects.

Here’s how the first round could play out.

1. North Melbourne
Jason Horne-Francis (midfielder)
South Adelaide, 185cm/81kg

The South Australian bull already has a season-and-a-half of senior league football under his belt and is established as a generational talent out of South Adelaide. He wins the ball, explodes out of stoppages, and hunts down the opposition like a predator when he tackles. He is a brilliant overhead mark for his size which also helps him have an impact in attack. He had 18 contested possessions and booted three goals, as well as hitting the post twice, in a SANFL preliminary final. His traits are not dissimilar to those of Patrick Dangerfield. Horne-Francis is a ready-made AFL talent who should have an immediate impact for North Melbourne.

2. Western Bulldogs (matching GWS’ bid)
Sam Darcy (key forward/defender/ruck)
Oakleigh Chargers, 205cm/93kg

Darcy is an athletic freak in the King-twin mould; composed, balanced, a good shot for goal and always a marking threat. He has played well in defence and in the ruck but dominated as a forward, particularly through a six-goal effort against Vic Country earlier in the year. A bid on Darcy makes positional sense for the Giants due to their need for a developing tall, but the Bulldogs are certain to match it and will welcome the third-generation Dog with open arms.

3. Greater Western Sydney
Finn Callaghan (midfielder)
Sandringham Dragons, 191cm/86kg

Callaghan’s athleticism is no surprise given his father, Brett, competed at the 1994 Commonwealth Games as a 400-metre runner. But his composure and class are the chief facets of his game, and at 191cm, his taller frame and left-foot boot have reminded onlookers of Marcus Bontempelli. Has had a chip on his shoulder since being overlooked for the under-16 Vic Metro squad, but grew taller and stronger in the two years that followed to establish himself as a ready-made talent. The Giants already hold a bevy of midfield talent, but Callaghan offers a point of difference with his height and class.

4. Collingwood (matching Gold Coast’s bid)
Nick Daicos (midfielder)
Oakleigh Chargers, 182cm/73kg

Daicos put up video game numbers in the NAB League this season and although his year was cut short by Victoria’s lockdowns, he is still arguably the best player in the draft. Daicos averaged 36 disposals (22 kicks), two goals and six marks per game while playing for the Chargers. His numbers are prolific, but his ability to evade tacklers and find teammates under pressure is an equally eye-catching facet of his game. If you are wondering about his ability to take on senior bodies, he amassed 26 disposals playing for the AFL Academy in a 130-point loss to Geelong’s VFL side in April. He also suited up for Collingwood in a pre-season VFL scratch match and earned Nathan Buckley’s plaudits, impressing off half-back. The Magpies will be pleased that a bid is unlikely to come until Gold Coast are on the clock — it means they will need to spend fewer draft points to match it — although Daicos has been left disappointed by the likelihood of GWS ignoring him with pick two.

5. Gold Coast
Mac Andrew (ruck/key forward/defender)
Dandenong Stingrays, 201cm/74kg

Sure, Andrew is a big man, but the exciting key-position prospect plays more like a midfielder after the ruck contest with his elite athleticism and agility, and can also be deployed forward, where he is likely to start his career, or even back. He competes in the air, reads the ball well around the field and follows up at ground level seamlessly. Andrew may take a few pre-seasons to develop physically, but he is a rare talent who could one day form an exciting trio with Ben King and Mabior Chol.

6. Adelaide
Josh Rachele (small forward)
Murray Bushrangers, 179cm/81kg

Rachele is the best small forward in the draft and is an excitement machine. He possesses a booming right boot and holds an intrinsic sense of where the goals are. He was a soccer prodigy as a junior who graced the training track with Tim Cahill at Melbourne City, so he learnt elite habits from a young age. Plays a high-impact rather than a high-number game, and could form a thrilling small-forward fleet alongside Shane McAdam, Lachlan Murphy and James Rowe.

Vic Metro draft prospect Josh Ward.Credit:AFL Photos

7. Hawthorn
Josh Ward (midfielder)
Northern Knights, 183cm/77kg

Ward can win the ball on the inside, use it well on the outside and runs hard both ways. He played on the wing for Vic Metro as an under 16 but has ramped up his gym work over the last couple of years to improve as an inside midfielder. Ward is an aerobic beast and posted a sub six-minute 2km time trial, so he is likely to commence his AFL career as an outside runner. The left-footer has been praised for his leadership ability, so he is also attractive in an off-field sense. He was a keen Hawthorn supporter growing up and as an outside midfielder, would complement inside on-ballers like Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara, James Worpel and Jai Newcombe. The Hawks could swing a surprise and pick Matthew Johnson here, who Sam Mitchell is understood to be eager for, but Ward shapes as a talent who is too hard to pass up on with this selection.

8. Fremantle
Jye Amiss (key forward)
East Perth, 196cm/83kg
The only thing Amiss about the East Perth product is his last name. The key forward booted a mountain of majors at under-19 level in 2021, kicking 51 goals from 15 games. His accuracy in front of goal was also on display — the left-footer kicked just 15 behinds for the year — while also averaging five marks a game. The Dockers need another key forward to develop alongside Matt Taberner and Josh Treacy and as a local product, Amiss does not pose a flight risk. It would be risky not to pick him with their first choice — the Tigers also loom as a possible destination with the next selection.

9. Richmond
Josh Gibcus (key defender)
Greater Western Victoria, 196cm/87kg

Young defender Josh Gibcus.Credit:AFL Photos

Gibcus is the best key defender in this year’s draft. He makes his presence felt in the air with his intercept-marking prowess but has also proven his ability to restrict opposition forwards. He is athletic, so would suit playing on the new wave of key forwards like the King twins, Harry McKay and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan. Gibcus is a perfect fit for Richmond, whose key defensive stocks remain thin despite bringing in veteran Robbie Tarrant during the free-agency period. He could construct a long-term partnership with Noah Balta.

10. Fremantle
Ben Hobbs (midfielder)
Greater Western Victoria, 183cm/79kg

Hobbs, a ball magnet, is a tough inside midfielder who would have an eye on the position left vacant by Adam Cerra. Hobbs is often seen drifting forward to kick goals and is an impressive character known for his leadership. He racks up a lot of the ball and as a true inside midfielder, draws comparisons with Lachie Neale and Tom Mitchell, but he is also a one-on-one danger when drifting deep into the forward line. He tackles with intent and plays with fiery competitiveness, so it would not surprise to see him line up in round one.

11. St Kilda
Josh Sinn (rebounding defender/midfielder)
Sandringham Dragons, 187cm/78kg

Josh Sinn shows poise at the draft training day.Credit:Getty Images

Sinn, once viewed as a top-five chance, played six of nine NAB League games this year as he battled minor injuries, which also prevented him from piecing together a consistent showing of his best form. Despite not showing his talent to its full extent this year, he remains one of the best prospects in the draft due to his speed and line-breaking ability. He also has undeniable dedication and work ethic, is known for ‘extras’ at training and constantly reviews vision of his games. Played across half-back and in the midfield but could develop into a winger due to his running ability and knack of taking marks around the ground. He could complement young inside midfielders like Ryan Byrnes and Jack Bytel long into the future.

12. West Coast
Campbell Chesser (rebounding defender/midfielder)
Sandringham Dragons, 186cm/83kg

Chesser would be labelled something of a bolter at pick 12, but in reality, he attracted the eye of talent scouts long before confirming his status as a first-round draft prospect. He made his NAB League debut as a 16-year-old for the Sandringham Dragons in a 2019 preliminary final against the all-conquering Oakleigh Chargers, who at the time were led by Matthew Rowell and Noah Anderson. A niggling knee injury slowed his progress throughout the year, but his athleticism and explosiveness remain attractive traits. Chesser hails from Lavington and boards at Melbourne Grammar, so is not viewed as a flight risk having already lived away from home for several years. The Eagles could select local product Neil Erasmus with this pick instead, but Chesser’s attributes as a rebounding half-back might better suit list needs. West Coast may yet trade for another pick in this round to acquire both talents.

13. Essendon
Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera
Glenelg, 187cm/71kg

Arguably the best kick in the draft, Wanganeen-Milera is all class. The talented winger has family ties to Essendon as the nephew of Brownlow Medallist Gavin, but slots onto the Bombers’ list nicely with his potential to complement onballers such as Zach Merrett, Darcy Parish, Andy McGrath and Dylan Shiel with his silky skills on the outside. Essendon could also pick Neil Erasmus here, who would offer a point of difference as a taller midfielder.

14. Port Adelaide
Neil Erasmus (midfielder)
Subaico, 190cm/82kg

Erasmus did not drop below 27 disposals in each of his four outings at WAFL Colts level and was particularly impressive in the AFL Academy game against Geelong’s VFL side earlier in the year. As a taller midfielder, Erasmus has shown an ability to take overhead marks and is also blessed with a notable vertical leap. His height and marking ability mean he could split time between the forward line and on the ball early in his career while working in tandem with Connor Rozee and Zak Butters. He would also aid Ollie Wines and Willem Drew at stoppages in the years to come with his handballing-in-traffic prowess.

15. Greater Western Sydney
Sam Butler (midfielder/forward)
Greater Western Victoria, 184cm/76kg

Given he’s the younger brother of clever St Kilda forward Dan, it should come as no surprise to learn Butler’s game is defined by cleanness at ground level and an ability to bring teammates into the game. He can accumulate the ball when positioned further afield but also makes himself a goalkicking threat when playing as a deeper forward. His burst of speed away from the contest is another prominent strength. The Giants will not select a midfielder with this choice after picking Callaghan earlier, and their need for a creative forward is heightened by the unclear future of Bobby Hill.

16. Brisbane Lions
Darcy Wilmot (medium defender)
Northern Knights, 183cm/76kg

Leads by example with his physicality and aggression out of defence, and is not afraid to fly for marks and back into packs. Wilmot also backs himself to take the opposition on and regularly starts offensive chains. His toughness and leadership are appealing, having captained Vic Metro in a trial game. As a bonus, he was only one day away from being eligible for the 2022 draft, so his upside is significant. The retirement of Grant Birchall and the veteran status of Daniel Rich places Wilmot in the ‘list needs’ category for the Lions, but he is also one of the best available talents at this pick.

17. Richmond
Matthew Johnson (midfielder)
Subiaco, 192cm/81kg

Johnson was Western Australia’s best in the AFL grand final curtain raiser against South Australia and caught particular attention after that contest. He is a tall midfielder but rather than imposing himself at the contest, he hurts opposition with his class and decision-making on the outside. It may seem an injustice to place Johnson this low considering the Hawks could take him as early as pick seven, but a combination of list needs and differing club views in the picks to follow mean it is not unrealistic that Johnson slides to the Tigers’ second pick. Here, he would be too good a talent for Richmond to pass up and offers the young midfield talent the Tigers will likely target.

18. Sydney Swans
Josh Goater (midfielder)
Calder Cannons, 190cm/80kg

Goater is an athletic, tall midfielder who takes marks around the ground. He explodes away from congestion and uses his leap to establish an aerial presence. The 18-year-old runs a sub three-second 20-metre sprint, too, so has all the attributes of the modern-day midfielder. His athletic makeup shapes him as another who is a possible bolter on draft night, but the Swans, who have shown interest in the Calder talent, are likely to be tempted if he is still on the board at their initial selection. It is worth considering the age of Josh Kennedy here, who recently turned 33 and is out of contract at the end of 2022. A couple of pre-seasons may be enough for Goater to establish himself as a talent worthy of filling the on-ball position likely to be made available by Kennedy sooner rather than later. Goater is a prospect with enormous potential who could one day prove a bargain if he slides beyond Sydney’s prime pick.

Blake Howes is capable of taking marks up and down the ground. Credit:Getty Images

19. Melbourne
Blake Howes (midfielder/forward)
Sandringham Dragons, 191cm/79kg

Where he plays his best football might be the biggest query on Howes. His height allows him to play as a leading, third-tall type forward, but his athleticism means he can also play as a winger who can take marks up and down the ground. He played his best football on the wing this year, where he can also use his pace — he runs a sub three-second 20-metre sprint. His attributes might even suit an intercept marking defender down the track, a position the Dragons had planned on trialling him in before the season was forced to an early conclusion. He is another known for doing ‘extras’ at training and is strongly fancied by the premiers.

20. Brisbane Lions
Jacob van Rooyen (key defender/key forward)
Claremont, 194cm/91kg

The Claremont product holds a demonstrated ability to play at either end of the ground. He booted 30 goals in just eight games at colts level, proving how dangerous he is when deployed in attack, but many believe he plays his best football in the backline. His proficiency at either end of the ground — combined with his height of 194cm and his ready-made weight — means van Rooyen boasts a scarce skillset, particularly when compared to others in this draft pool. He offers the Lions immediately flexibility and could eye off the position left vacant by Eric Hipwood, who will take time to recover from a knee reconstruction or bolster a defence led by Harris Andrews and Darcy Gardiner.

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