Dan Nielson (Eastern Ranges)
Height: 193 cm
Weight: 90 kg
Position: Key Back
Strengths: Spoiling, reading of the play, athletic
Areas of improvement: Versatility, ball getting
Player comparison: Cale Hooker
Dan Nielson is one of the most underrated players in this years’ draft. Rarely beaten, the undersized key defender consistently reads the play and gains plenty of metre-age from his kicks off half back.
He isn’t one to get into an arm wrestle, because more often than not against AFL-hardened forwards he’d get beaten. What he does use to his advantage is his athleticism and his ability to read the play incredibly well to predict the ball drop and position himself so his opponent can’t mark the ball.
Nielson will never get the highlight reel that teammate Christian Petracca will have, but internally he’d be rated up there with the best at the club. Likewise, he’s not going to be a defender who racks up 30 disposals and has plenty of fantasy coaches licking their lips.
Nielson in fact has not topped 17 disposals this season, nor has he kicked a goal. The latter is due to his importance in the back line for Eastern, but also because he is much more suited as a defender than a forward. This could hurt his draft chances as we saw James Toohey go in the rookie draft last year who was able to play at both ends and had similar attributes. This year, Hugh Beasley is another one who can get it done at both ends. Nielson is that reliable key defender, nothing less, nothing more.
He has won plenty of admirers the way he courageously flys in from the side of a marking contest to stop what seemed like a certain forward 50 mark. He isn’t afraid to run and carry, although he tends to hold up play to size up his options before making a decision. While his kicking efficiency is 64 per cent, he is much more likely to hit a target than not.
One doesn’t need to look much further than his game against Calder to understand the kind of player Dan Nielson is. 14 disposals, seven marks and three tackles. Nothing that screams ultra-impressive, but he was Eastern’s best on that day despite a 31-point loss.
Another game which doesn’t reflect his true influence was against the Geelong Falcons in horrific conditions at Avalon Airport Oval. 14 disposals, two marks and two tackles and named in the best. Most people who don’t know him will wonder how someone with those statistics could earn votes. What he does best – 1 per centers, shepherds, blocks, taps to advantage – won’t ever be recorded on a TAC Cup score sheet, but instead on an Eastern Ranges key performance indicators board.
Dan Nielson has curved the influence of a number of key forwards including Oakleigh’s Darcy Moore by zoning off when required, but keeping a sharp eye on him in crisis situations. He is like a general in the backline and helps organise the troops so they can be best set up when defending and rebounding.
He might not pop up in high draft calculations, but Dan Nielson has plenty of credentials that should interest AFL clubs. At worst he should be given a rookie spot and allowed time to develop because he has plenty of footy nous and that could see him succeed at the highest level.