While a clear Pick 1 favourite remains, there’s a fascinating tussle going on among prospects for the podium placings.
Plus the latest on two father-son guns and why multiple clubs are considering ‘splitting picks’.
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ASHCROFT FIRMS FOR PICK 1 … BUT THE RETURNING TSATAS IS CLOSING
As every week passes by, the more likely it seems Will Ashcroft will be selected at Pick 1 in November’s draft — even though he’s already nominated the Brisbane Lions as his preferred destination.
Ashcroft, the son of triple premiership Lion and 318-game player Marcus Ashcroft, has barely put a foot wrong during his 2022 campaign, highlighted by his stunning first three carnival games for Vic Metro that saw him boot two goals and average 33.3 disposals, 15.0 contested possessions, 10.0 clearances, 6.7 tackles and 6.7 inside 50s.
Since the national championships, the gun midfielder has continued to impress, booting one goal from 32 disposals for the Lions’ VFL side against Sandringham Zebras, along with NAB League disposal hauls of 42, 38, 33 and, most recently 31.
Most recruiters expect Ashcroft to receive a bid at Pick 1 due to his unquestionable form and the fact his main No. 1 selection competitors have had injury issues this season. There seems to be a bigger chasm between Ashcroft and other possible Pick 1 contenders this year compared to last year’s draft class, hence Nick Daicos slid to Pick 4.
Oakleigh Chargers on-baller George Wardlaw, who’s been widely viewed as the second-best prospect of this year’s class for most of the season, recently returned from a hamstring injury at a school footy game, only to suffer another hamstring setback just over one minute into the match. Recruiters now aren’t expecting Wardlaw to play for Vic Metro in the final national carnival game against Vic Country.
Like Wardlaw, fellow Chargers star Elijah Tsatas didn’t feature in Vic Metro’s first three championships games due to a foot injury. But he’s returned to the field in recent weeks – and he’s turning heads.
Tsatas was a standout in his past two NAB League matches for Oakleigh, finishing with 38 disposals and 13 inside 50s against the Sandringham Dragons in a stunning return game before booting 1.2 from 34 disposals and eight marks against the Bendigo Pioneers on the weekend. After spending ample time on the sidelines, Tsatas’ performances rubber-stamped his standing as a genuine top-four contender … for some, now a top-two contender.
A speedy mover with clean hands and an efficient kick that can break lines, Tsatas is a prototype athlete and everything a club is looking for in a wing/midfield prospect. Wardlaw, conversely, is a powerful, competitive and combative inside midfielder that plays with great intensity and models his game on Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver.
Most clubs pre-season, universally, would’ve had Wardlaw ahead of Tsatas – and many still do. After all, Wardlaw’s epic Round 1 NAB League performance against Sandringham, followed by his best-on-ground performance for the AFL Academy against Collingwood’s VFL side in May, showed just how damaging he can be.
But other recruiters now have Tsatas ahead of Wardlaw on their draft boards. That could be due to recency bias or because Wardlaw’s hamstring issues in recent months have genuinely spooked some scouts.
Nonetheless, clubs with early picks will face several conundrums come draft night.
CADMAN COMING WITH A RUSH
Most of this year’s best prospects are midfielders.
But Aaron Cadman is a key forward that’s now not only in the top 10 mix, he’s also in the same top-three conversation as Ashcroft, Tsatas and Wardlaw, according to some recruiters.
And if North Melbourne holds Pick 1, Cadman could fill a chasm for the wooden spooners.
The GWV Rebels 194cm goalkicker solidified his spot at the pointy end of the draft with an excellent national championships campaign, booting 7.7 from his three games for Vic Country.
Cadman has since continued his excellent form at NAB League level, booting 16.10 and averaging 20 disposals and six marks from his past five games. Scouts were particularly impressed by his performances against Gippsland and Geelong, inspiring the Rebels to victory in the final two home and away games with big fourth-quarter displays.
A left-footer renowned for his goal sense, athleticism, swagger and ability to win the ball up the ground, it’s no wonder why Cadman has been compared to Geelong star Jeremy Cameron.
While the Kangaroos already have Nick Larkey and Cam Zurhaar inside their forward 50, another imposing presence like Cadman would be handy. Jacob Edwards and Charlie Comben have been drafted to the club in recent years, but they’re still developing. So adding Cadman to the list – especially after the club has targeted midfielders with early picks in recent years – would give Alastair Clarkson’s side an exciting dynamic.
If the Roos opt for an on-baller instead, it’s unlikely Cadman would be on the draft board for too long. Foxfooty.com.au understands the Giants and Bombers are already keeping close tabs on Cadman, while the Eagles will no doubt look at him closely too considering the retirement of Josh Kennedy and the lack of ‘go-home’ concerns with him.
Exciting Sandringham Dragons goalkicker Harry Sheezel is also in the top-five mix with Cadman. Rival clubs believe Essendon and Hawthorn, which both hold picks inside the top six, are keen.
Arguably the best pure hybrid forward prospect in the draft class at 184cm, Sheezel is a crafty, classy mover inside 50 that can conjure goals in many ways — be it from a set-shot, a ground-level crumb or a quick snap from nearly inside the arc — and set up teammates.
After some massive games against lower-ranked NAB League sides like the Northern Knights and Western Jets, scouts were pleased to see Sheezel have a big match against the Oakleigh Chargers in the final home and away round, booting 4.2 from 22 disposals, seven tackles. Geelong Falcons co-captain Jhye Clark and Sandringham Dragons on-baller Cam Mackenzie, who’ve both continued to perform well post-national championships, also remain in the top-five conversation.
Gippsland Power’s Bailey Humphrey, who one recruiter compared to Norm Smith Medallist Christian Petracca, looms as a top-10 bolter.
Prior to his knee injury earlier this year, the powerful midfielder was arguably on the cusp of first round calculations. Now he’s close to the top-10 mix after three eye-catching NAB League games, highlighted by his performance against the Northern Knights: 4.5 from 31 disposals, 12 marks and five tackles. A big game for Vic Country against Vic Metro in AFL Grand Final week could see Humphrey strengthen his top-10 case.
THE YEAR TO SPLIT PICKS?
This year’s AFL trade period looms as a busy one, with much more action expected compared to last year’s quieter affair.
It means club recruiters will more likely ramp up their interest in specific draftees after the trade period as ample picks are expected to change hands in deals.
Sydney, at this stage, is the only club with two first-round selections for the 2022 draft. But that list should grow.
For instance, it’s expected Adelaide will have to part with its first pick to secure Gold Coast’s Izak Rankine, which would give the Suns a second top-10 selection.
Meanwhile, Melbourne would almost certainly receive a first-rounder if it lost Luke Jackson – who’s highly likely to join Fremantle – although that pick could be on-traded to Collingwood as part of a possible Brodie Grundy deal.
Then there’s the Giants, who already hold Picks 3 and 21 but are set to add a few more selections to their arsenal with Jacob Hopper and Tim Taranto expected to join rival clubs.
Considering the depth of talent across the first two rounds of the 2022 draft, this could be the year some clubs opt to split their top pick into multiple selections – and rival recruiters believe both North Melbourne and West Coast would be open to it.
The Eagles, in particular, loom as a fascinating case at this year’s draft. They hold Pick 2, which is their first top-10 selection since 2010 when they took Andrew Gaff with Pick 4. But with so much Victorian-based talent near the top of the class yet several WA-based prospects in the mid to late first-round mix – such as Swan Districts on-baller Elijah Hewett and East Perth defender Judd Busslinger – the Eagles would surely be pondering the prospect of trading down the order and stocking up on talent as they begin their rebuild.
While the Suns and Giants are set to lose quality players during the trade period, they should hold strong hands that’ll give them flexibility ahead of November’s draft
While most prospects still have a month to push their AFL draft chances, several big names have already been sidelined due to injury.
Outside of Wardlaw, Murray Bushrangers forward Brayden George faces a lengthy recovery after suffering a serious knee injury on the weekend, while Woodville-West Torrens on-baller Mattaes Phillipou hasn’t been seen since early August. Phillipou is South Australia’s top prospect.
Highly-touted WA utility Sam Gilbey suffered a serious leg injury in a WAFL colts game this month that ended his 2022 season. Consequently, it’ll delay the start of his 2023 campaign as he’s not expected to begin running until December.
Fellow WA talent Busslinger has been sidelined since midway through the championships after he was booked in for season-ending shoulder surgery.
Outside of Ashcroft, several other father-son prospects have impressed in recent weeks.
Bombers fans should be excited about Alwyn Davey Jr, who could attract late first-round attention. He’s expected to nominate the Bombers as his preferred destination.
Davey, who’s eligible to be drafted as a father-son prospect by Essendon as his dad Alwyn Sr played 100 games exactly and kicked 120 goals, had a solid championships campaign for Vic Metro before lining up for the Bombers’ VFL side where he kicked a goal from seven touches. He then booted 1.1 from 26 disposals for Oakleigh against Sandringham in the NAB League.
Cooper Harvey, the son of North Melbourne legend and VFL/AFL games record-holder Brent Harvey, is also firming to attract a bid from a rival club during November’s national draft.
After suffering two arm injuries in close succession during the middle of the season, Harvey has starred since returning to the field in recent weeks. He was among the best players for Assumption College in a school game before pulling out two excellent NAB League performances for the Northern Knights, booting 1.1 from 30 touches against the Jets before kicking 1.1 from 23 disposals against the Rebels.
While scouts believe Harvey still has some work to do on his aerobic capacity, they love his power at stoppages – to the point where they wouldn’t be surprised if a rival club bid on him in the first half of the draft, although it’ll more likely be in the second half.
Should Harvey find his way onto North Melbourne’s list, he’d become the sixth father-son selection in the club’s history.
WHEN IS THE AFL DRAFT?
The 2022 AFL draft will again be held across two nights but take place later in November this year to allow the AFLW to have the spotlight for the season seven grand final.
Round 1 of the draft has been set for Monday November 28, with the rest of the selections to be held on Tuesday November 29. The pre-season and rookie drafts will then be held online the next day, starting at 3pm (AEST) on Wednesday November 30.