THE national draft has historically been the panacea for struggling clubs — the cellar dwellers who almost sought failure late in the season in return for first crack at top end talent.
But after the past two AFL seasons the logic is shifting.
The role of the player has become almost as important as the player’s talent itself.
Damien Hardwick and Luke Beveridge have devalued the worth of cumbersome, labouring second ruckmen and almost certainly committed the third tall forward position to a bygone era.
If Josh Caddy and Jacob Townsend can compete in the air then why draft the Todd Elton and Liam McBean types, who either make it as a one position player or become a complete bust.
In fact Hardwick should thank the failed Tiger forwards Elton and McBean for challenging the match committee to adopt different methods to maintain a scoring profile.
Expect next week’s draft to contain very few tall forwards who cannot put on pressure or perform another meaningful role, keeping in mind that a back-up ruckman is now a position being filled by extra midfield types such as Richmond’s Shaun Grigg or even Jack Watts at Melbourne this year.
I wouldn’t waste any picks on low possession talls that appear unlikely to become a primary focal point inside the forward 50.
Of this year’s crop, Oscar Allen from West Perth is a genuine target but Sam Hayes as a forward/ruck is a risk in my opinion based on the evolution of the game.
This is despite many pundits expecting Hayes to be selected inside the top 20.
Intercepting half-backs or key backs have become critical recently and this draft is loaded with these types.
Nick Coffield (Northern Knights) will be taken inside the top 25 and epitomises the future of the game as a 190cm, lightning-quick, goalkicking runner who could play across the half-back line at AFL level almost immediately.
Ed Richards is another running, creative back man who will draw attention and a player I would desire at my football club.
Considering Jason Johannisen won the 2016 Norm Smith Medal and Bachar Houli went close this year, the importance of line-breakers has reached new levels.
The absence of Adelaide’s Brodie Smith in the last week of September was understated by all in the post Grand Final wash-up.
Outside the gun clearance players, elite running half-back flankers are the AFL’s most influential in terms of gaining territory and making an impact on the scoreboard.
Ignore that style of player and be lost in the football abyss in the coming seasons.
This year’s draft appears to have an abundance of midfield stocks, particularly at the top end, but the sprinkling of small pressure forwards is fascinating as the game’s territory evolution takes effect.
Locking the football in your team’s forward half is the new black and players in this year’s draft such as Lachlan Fogarty from the Western Jets elevate themselves to the top 10-15 selection zone when historically they’d be closer to pick 25-30, at minimum.
It’s a very good time to be a quick, pressuring, goalkicking small forward.
Take Dylan Moore from the Eastern Ranges. At 175cm I’m sure some will bypass him but given the impact of Caleb Daniel at the Bulldogs, the data from his TAC representative games is significant.
Moore is a data star of the future and the numbers don’t lie. He wins his own footy at the contest and everything he’s involved in has an impact on the scoreboard.
Rory Sloane was a data champion through his Eastern Ranges days, winning the best and fairest playing only half of his final year.
Clubs must cringe when they look back at Sloane being selected at pick 44 back in 2008. Don’t disregard the data!
I genuinely don’t know if Richmond’s plans for 2017 were mapped out as they unfolded or they made the best of what talent stocks they had on hand.
But either way, they’ve changed the game forever, and in doing so altered longstanding recruitment philosophies.
Don’t underplay the copycat nature of AFL football as trends become everyone’s friends.
The most important question of all this week is to ask not whether an individual can play AFL football, but what role or position he will play AFL football for your club?
If an answer doesn’t spring to mind with authority then be wary of this player’s longevity or impact.
It is an exciting time for all AFL lovers and potential draftees and their families but the futuristic vision of your coach, football department and list management is critical for the types of players your clubs seek.
Alastair Clarkson mastered it years ago, while Hardwick and Beveridge made the most of the hands they were dealt.
What will your coach do?