Who are the contenders for the number one pick?

WE’RE a month into the season and yet we are no closer to having a clear best player in the 2017 draft pool. This time last year Andrew McGrath wasn’t on the radar as a possible number one draft pick, however with a thinner draft pool this year it would be unlikely to see someone bolt as high as McGrath did.

Here are 10 players who could contend for the number one selection.

Connor Ballenden
Brisbane Lions Academy/Allies
Key Position Forward
199cm | 95kg

Brisbane Lions Academy member Connor Ballenden has had a slow start to season 2017. He jumped onto the scene with an outstanding trial game against Vic Country at Ikon Park in 2016, where he clunked nine marks and booted two goals. The AFL Academy member hasn’t hit the scoreboard as much as he would’ve hoped this season and was even thrown back into defence in his latest hit out against VFL opposition on Saturday against the Northern Blues. The tall forward is a strong mark overhead and has a great set shot routine. Whilst he is tied to the Lions Academy and eligible to be selected after a matching a bid in November’s draft – he’s unlikely to be the number one pick, but he certainly has some traits that would no doubt mean clubs have him in their top handful of players.

Noah Balta
?Calder Cannons/Vic Metro
Key Position Utility
194cm | 90kg

More of a speculative pick after Noah Balta finished 2016 off well for the Calder Cannons. Balta’s athletic traits are what will draw clubs to him, as a utility that can play in any position. So far this season Balta has rucked and played up forward for the Cannons – but his moving patterns up forward have made him look a bit out of whack. For the AFL Academy he played in defence and a move to centre half back might be good for Balta to find a permanent position this season. He possesses a rare combo of elite speed and agility for a tall player and is one that could challenge for the number one selection with strong performances.

Jarrod Brander
Bendigo Pioneers/Allies
Key Position Utility
195cm | 90kg

Key Position player Jarrod Brander is one of the clear early favourites for the number one pick. He can play at either end and reads the flight of the ball as well as anyone in the draft pool. With the AFL removing him from the GWS Giants zone, he is open to be selected by any club. He’ll likely spend his time mixed between forward and back at Geelong Grammar, GWS Academy and Allies. Went goalless in his only game for the GWS Academy so far, but impressed with some good marks. He moves well for a tall and is a clean kick of the football. Spent both AFL Academy games playing mostly in defence and he may be one outstanding game (forward or back) away from strengthening his ties to the number one selection.

Adam Cerra
?Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro
Balanced Midfielder
186cm | 85kg

In 2016 – the AFL Academy missed out on Pick 1 Andrew McGrath, Pick 2 Tim Taranto and Pick 3 Hugh McCluggage was a late addition to the program. Adam Cerra missed most of 2016 with a meniscus injury to his knee and missed the AFL Academy intake. His start to the season has been outstanding for the Eastern Ranges with 26, 26 and 29 disposals in the opening three games. He wins the ball on the inside averaging half of these contested, along with averaging seven clearances per game. A clean kick on his right foot and he covers the ground well. In Friday’s Vic Metro trial, Cerra had 29 disposals at 86 per cent as one of the best players on the day. If he continues his form in the Under 18 Championships for Vic Metro, he may emerge as a top five candidate if he isn’t already.

Luke Davies-Uniacke
Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country
Inside Midfielder
187cm | 85kg

Injuries have held Luke Davies-Uniacke back – but hopefully Saturday’s AFL Academy game is the kickstarter of a big season. After collecting 30 disposals and nine clearances in Round 1 of the TAC Cup, a foot injury kept him out for three weeks before returning with 22 disposals, six clearances and five marks against Northern Blues VFL team as one of his teams best players. The 188cm strong inside midfielder is built like a bull and isn’t afraid of contact, winning the ball in the contested situations. He performed well for Vic Country in their final game at Simonds Stadium last year and performances like that will continue to push his name into the top handful.

Darcy Fogarty
Glenelg/South Australia
192cm | 88kg

Arguably the best interstate contender for the number one pick. Darcy Fogarty was close to selection in the Under 18 All Australian team last year after a strong performance up forward for South Australia in the Under 18 Championships. Fogarty is strongly built and can play through the midfield using his strong frame. What has been impressive has been his games in defence at centre half back in the first half of the SANFL Under 18 trial and the AFL Academy games. Whilst his long term goal will be more midfield minutes, it will be interesting to see where he plays for Glenelg and for South Australia. The South Australian prospect was the named the Ben Mitchell medallist for the 2016/17 NAB AFL Academy intake as the player who best represents the program’s values.

Joel Garner
Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro
Balanced Midfielder
183cm | 81kg

Speedy Vic Metro midfielder Joel Garner plays well on both the inside & the outside, using the ball well off his left boot. The Eastern Ranges prospect started the season well at TAC Cup level, continuing to hit targets on the run when streaming inside 50. His handballing in close is another another strength and he is able to clear the ball from a stoppage with ease. He had two quiet AFL Academy games, collecting nine disposals against the Northern Blues at 100 per cent efficiency. Running forward he possesses a great amount of X-Factor and is hard to miss in his bright yellow boots.

Lochie O’Brien
Bendigo Pioneers/Vic Country
Outside Midfielder
184cm | 75kg

If there is one word that sums up Lochie O’Brien – it’s classy. The Bendigo Pioneers midfielder is one of the better uses of the ball in the 2017 draft pool. The left footer has a clean kick and a good burst of speed from the stoppages which can separate him from opponents. He impressed last year for Vic Country as a bottom-ager playing on the wing, a position that allows for him to be a receiver on the outside where he can clear the ball via a pinpoint left foot pass. Plays in a mould similar to Nick Dal Santo. Last year he was superb in the NAB AFL Under 17 All Stars game at Punt Road on Grand Final day, gathering 20 disposals and kicking two goals. A good decision maker that is someone you want to have the ball is their hands.

Cameron Rayner
Western Jets/Vic Metro
Medium Forward/Inside Midfielder
187cm | 88kg

Cameron Rayner’s two outstanding AFL Academy games is what continues to throw the ‘Robbie Gray styled’ player into the number one pick conversation. Rayner had 23 disposals and three goals in the first game at the MCG, before he backed it up with a strong first half against the Northern Blues finishing with 12 disposals, four marks and three tackles. His power and explosiveness going forward gives him a difference to the other players in the draft. His contested marking overhead is another strength, along with his leap which means he can play as a third tall up forward or even has been deployed playing out of the goal square at TAC Cup and AGS school football level. What may hold him back is his endurance – running an 11.10 beep test at TAC Cup testing earlier this season and it will be an area that will need to be addressed if he is to be selected as a top selection.

Jaidyn Stephenson
?Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro
Medium Forward
189cm | 76kg

Despite standing at just 189cm, Stephenson has the ability to play as a tall marking option inside 50. His big wingspan sees him pluck the ball from above his opponents reach making him a dangerous player. Up forward he converts his chances after jumping onto the scene as an Under 16 in the TAC Cup Finals series in 2015 for the Eastern Ranges. He has pushed further up the ground at times, but he plays his best inside 50. Long term where he fits in at AFL level may be a question, but his marking ability makes him one of the best forwards in the draft. He moves well, with a great endurance base to match his superb closing speed.

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