PREVIEW | The top 2021 AFL mid-season draft candidates

THE 2021 AFL mid-season draft finally arrives on Wednesday night, with around 15 players expected to find homes at the elite level after weeks of speculation and on-field auditions. A spill of overlooked talents from last year’s draft pool have staked their claims as worthy candidates through the elite talent pathways and state leagues, while mature-agers are also inevitably in the mix. We run you through the most likely draftees across both groups, with an insight into how they play and where they may end up.

THE NAB LEAGUERS

It is well known that Sandringham Dragons ruck-forward Jacob Edwards is likely to be snapped up by North Melbourne with pick one, having burst onto the scene this year. The Mentone Grammar student was pegged as a long-term prospect last year and quickly rose to prominence during pre-season in 2021, showing great signs during the Dragons’ intraclub match.

At 202cm, he is a terrific athlete who not only marks well, but is also quite mobile and offers the dual threat of forward and ruck craft. Edwards averaged 12 disposals, 14 hitouts, and booted five goals across three NAB League appearances this season. He turns 19 in December, so has plenty of development left and could well have been considered a first round chance for the National Draft.

There are plenty of other talls in the mix, with a bunch of clubs scrambling to bolster their ruck and key forward stocks. Oakleigh Chargers ruck Ned Moyle is another who has come on strongly in 2021, improving out of sight to also earn a VFL berth with Collingwood. There, he tussled with AFL-level rucks and showed he was not afraid to compete hard, before transferring his ruck craft learnings back to the NAB League in one final audition before Wednesday. With pick two, Hawthorn could be into Moyle, while Collingwood would also be a fitting home, and Gold Coast is desperate for ruck cover at pick five.

Max Heath, a teammate of Edwards at Sandringham who is also completing his Year 12 studies, will likely also attract a Victorian suitor. He has been linked with St Kilda, a team which potentially has plenty of spots to fill given its growing injury woes. The 204cm ruckman was deemed a chance to go in last year’s National Draft after imposing pre-season performances, but was eventually overlooked and made to prove his worth through the NAB League this year. His aggression and physicality are key strengths at the contest.

A region which could produce multiple mid-season draftees is Murray, with key forward Cameron McLeod, defender Patrick Parnell, and midfielder Zavier Maher all attracting interest. Carlton are said to be into McLeod and Maher, with the latter tied to the Blues’ VFL side having trained there during pre-season. Parnell is a dashing small defender who is being monitored by clubs like GWS, where he turned out for a single VFL outing this year. McLeod has impressed of late with his mobility as a leading target, booting a bag of four goals in his latest NAB League outing. Maher made his return in that same game, winning 30 disposals as an explosive midfielder who just needs to polish his disposal coming away from the contest.

Another top-ager on the Blues’ radar is Noah Gribble, a hard-running wingman who has been ultra consistent upon returning from an ACL tear in 2021. The Geelong Falcons product is one of many in this group to have turned out in the Victorian Young Guns game, and has little trouble finding the ball. His knocks have been speed and disposal in the past, but he is hard to deny as a genuine prospect.

Elsewhere, Cody Raak has been one of the better performed top-agers in the NAB League this season, even making the step up to VFL level for Footscray. He is also a Bulldogs Next Generation Academy (NGA) graduate, but his home side does not currently have a selection available. Raak, and Eastern Ranges forward-midfielder Corey Preston trained at Whitten Oval during pre-season, and while both missed out on a spot then, they could come into consideration for other clubs now.

Like Raak, Luke Cleary is a reliable intercept defender who sweeps across half-back with work both in the air and on the ground. He is likely to have impressed a number of clubs with his ability to set up play from the defence, and also earned a National Combine invite last year before being overlooked.

Also in the mix are Aiden Begg and Liam Podhajski, a couple of fast-developing rucks who can also play at either end of the ground. Begg, of the Eastern Ranges may be considered despite being injured during NAB League duties this year, and may suit a need at either end of the ground. Podhajski has turned out for Calder Cannons and the Northern Bullants, rotating forward through the ruck as a mobile type who can also impact with his marking.

GWS and Richmond could be among the clubs looking at Giants Academy product Tom Green, who recently turned out in charcoal and orange in the NAB League. The brother of Tom also has family ties to Richmond, and is a versatile type who can play as a tall midfielder, or marking forward target. He racked up 25 touches and a goal against the Swans Academy on Sunday.

STATE LEAGUERS

Among the younger crop of state league players in the mix, Tasmanian pair Oliver Davis and Jackson Callow have created plenty of buzz. The former is a ball winning midfielder who returned to his state’s NAB League program in 2021, before jetting off to Adelaide to join the Crows’ reserves side. He could be looked at by either South Australian team, while Callow would be a great fit for Collingwood. The contested marking beast tore apart AFL opposition for Norwood in the SANFL recently, and is a readymade key forward.

Jai Newcombe is one who, after being robbed of an over-age NAB League season last year, has been excellent for Box Hill in the VFL. He is a combative inside midfielder who Gippsland Power staff were very high on, and he has come on well once again to be in the box seat to be taken under special terms by Hawthorn.

Richmond VFL utility Sam Durham is another in the mix, potentially for the Tigers having shown steady development but terrific upside. He featured in the recent Young Guns showcase and built into the contest nicely. The former Murray Bushranger can play on a wing or off half-back, with potential to even run through the engine room as he fills out.

Of the state leaguers who haven’t yet experienced the top flight, Carlton VFL ruck Alex Mirkov is one poised to do so soon. While he has not gained much in the way of on-field exposure, the 210cm ex-volleyballer showcased his potential in two outings for the Blues this season. He could be in for a Navy Blue promotion, but Gold Coast is lurking with a pick beforehand and his upside is clear for others to pounce on.

In a similar vein, Essendon VFL gun Angus Baker could finally earn his own call-up having continued to return terrific state league form. The 2019 NEAFL Rising Star was in contention for a spot at the Bombers during pre-season and continues to knock on the door having been overlooked there. Essendon has covered the running half-back role well, but has a readymade prospect in Baker waiting in the wings.

The likes of Ash Johnson (Sturt, SANFL) and Tyrone Thorne (Peel Thunder, WAFL) are other exciting state leaguers to have thrown their hats in the ring. Johnson is a high-marking forward who hails from the prosperous Halls Creek region and has good ties to the elite level through his pedigree. While small in stature, Thorne has stood out as a zippy midfielder who has the potential to impact as a small forward at AFL level.

Of those who have already been drafted to the AFL level, Wylie Buzza seems destined for another shot. He has been linked with Gold Coast’s pick after Michael Knoll failed a medical at the Suns, with Carlton another potential suitor given the two clubs’ competing interests coming into the intake. Tyson Stengle could land at Richmond once again, with Collingwood also potentially in for the talented small forward.

Another former Crow, Riley Knight has been in terrific SANFL form and has St Kilda taking a look, while former Saint Nathan Freeman is becoming increasingly difficult to deny given his dominant VFL feats. Geelong NGA graduate Blake Schlensog is said to have matured greatly during his time in Western Australia, while Jarrod Garlett has nominated in hopes of finding a home – though neither West Coast or Fremantle have opened up a list spot as of yet.

NEED TO KNOWS

The mid-season draft order will be structured like the National Draft, following the reverse ladder order set at the conclusion of Round 11. 602 players nominated for the draft, with 18 rookie list spots currently available. Clubs have until 5:00pm on Tuesday June 1 to make any changes to their lists, as the draft is set to commence at 7:00pm the following evening in a virtual event.

Below are the current availabilities per the AFL, again, subject to change until 5:00pm on Tuesday June 1.

Adelaide: 1 selection
Brisbane Lions: 0 selections
Carlton: 2 selections
Collingwood: 2 selections
Essendon: 1 Selection
Fremantle: 0 selections
Geelong: 0 selections
Gold Coast: 2 selections
GWS: 1 selection
Hawthorn: 1 selection
Melbourne: 2 selections
North Melbourne: 2 selections
Port Adelaide: 1 selection
Richmond: 1 selection
St Kilda: 1 selection
Sydney: 1 selection
West Coast: 0 selections
Western Bulldogs: 0 selections

Image Credit: Solstice Digital

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