Will the Bombers continue their outstanding off-season into free agency or take their lot into the draft?
Essendon had arguably their best trade period in history, gaining Jake Stringer, Devon Smith and Adam Saad, thus firmly putting themselves back on the map as a destination club. They are a side on the rise with many tipping them to push for premiership contention in 2018. We look at three possible free agency pickups they could make to help take that next step.
After his role in the blockbuster 1-point win over Sydney in round 3, former Collingwood defender Henry Schade was being praised for his incredible efforts in keeping Lance Franklin goalless. Six months later, he was shown the door. It’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong, but at only 24 years old the former Suns and Magpies player still has plenty of good footy left in him.
Whilst his disposal numbers and efficiency show room for improvement, his endurance and defensive stopping ability are exactly what the Bombers need for fullback depth.
With the Cale Hooker experiment up forward set to continue, the Bombers lack depth at the key defender position. Michael Hurley, Michael Hartley and Patrick Ambrose hold the fort down back with Mitch Brown the only conceivable option thereafter. There is scope for the Bombers to give Schade a lifeline to continue his career at a third club and bolster their key defender stocks.
Not that there is much room across the half-forward line for Essendon these days, but the temptation of Ben Lennon’s unrealised potential may be worth a look from the Bombers. Drafted by Richmond with pick 12 in the 2013 NAB AFL Draft, Lennon only managed 21 games in four years due to a string of injuries, inconsistent form, and the depth of the Richmond squad. Only 22 years old, Lennon still has plenty of time to turn his career around if given the opportunity.
The addition of Jake Stringer and Devon Smith means Lennon will face similar depth issues he did at Richmond, but the competition and surrounding talent could bring out the best in him. If successful it could allow the Bombers to release both Stringer and Smith through the midfield with more regularity while Lennon holds down that half-forward spot.
His effort and defensive pressure needs work and he must work hard to earn and keep a place in Essendon’s best 22, but if he can piece it all together, there’s no telling how good he could be.
Anyone who learnt the ropes of AFL football under the guidance of Alastair Clarkson and leadership of Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell is worth a look and Kade Stewart fits that profile. Selected by Hawthorn with pick 36 in the 2016 AFL Rookie Draft, Stewart found senior opportunities hard to come by given the depth of the Hawthorn side.
At VFL level he thrived as an inside midfielder who could be a handy goalkicker when pushing up forward. With the departures of Jobe Watson, Heath Hocking, Ben Howlett and Craig Bird, the Bombers’ inside midfield depth is severely depleted so there is room for a player of Stewart’s calibre.
At only 20 years old and with 7 senior games under his belt, there is still plenty left in the tank and has plenty of time to establish a solid AFL career if given the opportunity.