WHILE the top end of the 2021 AFL Draft pool is shaping up nicely despite constant injuries to gun players, unexpected season intermissions, and the absence of an Under 19 National Championships, a massive bottleneck remains just outside of first round contention. Draft Central released its August Power Rankings update on Monday, which ranked the nation’s 25 best prospects, but had about 40 in contention for said honours.
With such an even crop forming around the 20-35 mark, we nominate a player from each national carnival region who could soon rise up the ranks to feature in future rankings, while also highlighting a bunch of other players to watch as regular season fixtures wind down. Some of the talents listed below were also spoken about in the latest Final Siren Podcast episode, where the Draft Central crew fielded your questions.
Zac Taylor (Calder Cannons)
31/01/2003 | 180cm/74kg | Midfielder
Arguably the 26th player in our August Rankings, Taylor may have already made a case for pushing into the top 25 come September’s edition. The small midfielder boasts excellent skills, vision, and decision making, which is exactly what you want from a player who finds the ball as much as he does. At 180cm, Taylor can also double as a pressure forward and utilise those reliable skills in the front half, but has really found a home as Calder’s primary ball winner of late. Over his last three NAB League outings, the 18-year-old has averaged 34 disposals, seven marks and six tackles en route to taking out the Round 15 Player of the Week. He is one of the form players of the draft pool right now, and is proving difficult to deny.
Ones to Watch:
There are plenty of Victorians in the mix as usual, with most already sneaking into the top 25 – like Tom Brown, Sam Butler, and Judson Clarke this past month. Arguably the next biggest riser has been St Kilda Next Generation Academy (NGA) hopeful Mitch Owens, a winger from the stacked Sandringham Dragons regions. The 190cm gloved goer has done plenty of growing over the last year and was a late call-up to last month’s Vic Metro side. He took his chance well, and was in fine form for the Dragons with 25 disposals, six marks, and seven tackles in their most recent outing.
Fellow Sandringham wingman Blake Howes has previously featured in our rankings and remains around the mark, with his athleticism and versatility boding well for a talent with incredible upside. Having rolled up to the wing from his usual forward post in 2021, the 190cm Vic Metro representative has added strings to his bow and booted two goals from 20 touches in his latest NAB League appearance.
Connor Macdonald and Jake Soligo are a couple of small midfielders with handy turns of speed who have no trouble finding the ball, and can also roll forward to impact the scoreboard. Collingwood NGA prospect Youseph Dib is another in that small category at 174cm, but has a mature body which stood up to the rigours of VFL football earlier in the year. He has stood up in midfield recently with his strength and speed around the contest, but is also able to play pressure roles at either end of the ground. Oakleigh teammate Lachlan Rankin is another to monitor; offering versatility, natural smarts, and clean skills in a range of roles.
At the taller end of the midfield scale, Geelong Falcons ball winner Mitch Knevitt has consistently been a standout for his region at the coalface. While he has plenty of room left for improvement, clubs will likely look at his speed, contested work and 193cm frame as traits which point towards workable upside. Fellow big-bodied mid Ned Long has been sidelined of late, but was in promising form at the start of the NAB League season.
There are a couple of defenders who have also impressed throughout the year to prove their potential, in Justin Davies and Oscar Morrison. Both represented Vic Country and have nice combinations of tall and small traits at just under 195cm. Meanwhile, Morrison’s Geelong Falcons teammate Toby Conway has firmed as one of the premier rucks available, standing at over 200cm with handy craft in that department and evolving influence around the ground.
Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera (Glenelg)
22/02/2003 | 188cm/70kg | Wing
A smooth-moving wingman with elite pedigree, Wanganeen-Milera is among one of the more eye-catching South Australian prospects. The nephew of Essendon and Port Adelaide champion, Gavin, he caught the eye last year with his speed and dare on the outer for Glenelg’s Under 18s, and has since plied his trade in the senior grades. After 11 Reserves outings, the 18-year-old earned a League berth with the Bays this season and was even a late addition to the AFL Academy squad in April. His skill and poise on the ball made him a standout in South Australia’s Under 19 trial game last month, and with his collection of high-level attributes as a tall and raw wingman, Wanganeen-Milera is certainly on the rise.
Ones to Watch:
After being considered among the top 10-20 prospects coming into 2021, Norwood midfielder-forward Cooper Murley was squeezed out of out latest top 25. It’s through no real fault of his own though, with the productive attacking runner first missing out on AFL Academy duties due to an ankle injury in April, before suffering a collarbone injury in the opening minutes of a SANFL Under 18s outing last month. With an extended run and some more senior action, he can quickly improve his stocks.
A trio of club-linked prospects have put themselves in contention with sustained form in 2021, particularly at Under 18s level. Port Adelaide father-son prospect Jase Burgoyne is quite highly regarded in his state, with versatility and clean foot skills among his best traits. While he is quite light-on, he enjoyed a steady three-game stint with Port’s SANFL outfit this season and has no trouble finding the ball.
Adelaide NGA products Blayne O’Loughlin and Isaiah Dudley are crafty smalls who will also come into consideration, and both have even managed to crack the Reserves grade. North Adelaide leader O’Loughlin is the nephew of Michael and loves to generate defensive rebound with his speed and kicking, while Centrals’ speedster Dudley also has good pedigree, with his high-level footy smarts boding well for a future in the small forward role.
North Adelaide midfielders Hugh Jackson and James Willis have both thrown their hats in the ring as potential bolters, but offer quite different strengths. Jackson has clearly been the SANFL Under 18s’ top ball winner with an average of 31.7, while also leading the league for handballs and inside 50s. He has a handy turn of speed, as does the explosive Willis. While a touch more raw in his finished product, Willis certainly catches the eye with his power and agility in the engine room.
State Under 16 and Under 19 teammates Lewis Rayson and Morgan Ferres continue to be thereabouts too. Rayson’s drive and kick penetration on the outer has proven a consistent feature of his game, while Ferres booted 13 goals from a whopping 21 scoring shots in his two SANFL Under 18s outings this season. Both have earned Reserves berths, while Centrals midfielder-forward Shay Linke has broken through to the top flight this year and showed some promise.
Jesse Motlop (South Fremantle)
23/11/03 | 176cm/74kg | Small Forward
Fremantle staff and fans alike will be cursing a technicality in the NGA rules which may see Motlop snatched from their grasp. NGA products from metro regions in South and Western Australia are only eligible to join their aligned clubs with a bid past pick 40, and Motlop has certainly staked his claim to be taken well within that range. The speedy small forward has a terrific eye for goal and applies valuable pressure, which he showed in his WAFL League debut for South Fremantle last month. The son of former Port and North Melbourne forward, Daniel, has also featured at PSA level for Aquinas College and led the competition’s goalkicking as a Year 11 last year. He can also roll into midfield but will likely pique the most interest with his work inside attacking 50.
Ones to Watch:
Twin talls Jacob van Rooyen and Rhett Bazzo were highly touted coming into the season and while they have shown glimpses of top 25 potential thus far, may have fallen just outside that range. Claremont’s van Rooyen is a noted key forward who has shown his versatility this year with time in midfield and more recently, down back. A glandular fever diagnosis halted his initial run at League level. Bazzo, an Under 16 All Australian defender, has arced back to his intercept-marking roots of late after being trialled up forward earlier in the year. Both are AFL Academy members and will be key state Under 19s figures.
Among the recent League debutants are Corey Warner and Luke Polson, who are quite different prospects. Warner, the brother of Sydney’s Chad, is a real goer out on the wing while Polson is a mobile and versatile tall talent who is not afraid to run with the ball. Along with this pair, one of the state’s biggest risers has been West Coast NGA product Ethan Regan, out of East Perth. At 189cm, he is an explosive unit with terrific aerial prowess and the ability to cover good ground in transition.
It would be remiss not to mention some of WA’s top performers in the recent state Under 19s hitouts. Big-bodied midfielders Kade Dittmar and Angus Sheldrick have been superb across the three games, while Dittmar’s Royals teammate James Tunstill is a promising type. The likes of Jahmal Stretch and Kaden Harbour are lively small forwards entering the conversation, while Taj Woewodin should have Melbourne’s attention as a potential father-son pick-up. Meanwhile Lochlan Paton and Brady Hough have been solid across a few different roles for the Black Ducks.
Sam Banks (Tasmania Devils)
2/04/2003 | 187cm/73kg | Half-Back
Banks has long been on the radar as Tasmania’s standout draft prospect for 2021, having taken out Under 16 Division 2 MVP honours in 2019. He also made eight appearances for the Devils’ NAB League side in the same year and has turned out in the TSL for Clarence. While he was sighted up on a wing and through midfield in the past, Banks has played almost exclusively in defence this season upon battling injury. A broken wrist saw him miss out on representing the AFL Academy in April, but the 18-year-old made his NAB League return in Round 11 and has looked promising with his rebound running and skills by foot across half-back. He could be in for a boost with an extended run and some more showings of his potential in roles further afield.
Ones to Watch:
Banks’ fellow Tasmanians Oliver Davis and Sam Collins have gotten back on the horse after being overlooked last year. Hard-nosed midfielder Davis attracted mid-season draft interest and is currently part of Adelaide’s reserves squad, while Collins has moved up to Victoria and linked with reigning NAB League premier, Oakleigh Chargers, where he has featured in midfield upon returning from injury. Forward Jye Menzie is another in the top-age category, and recently snared a bag of goals in the Devils’ Under 17 vs. Under 19 clash.
There are plenty of Northern Academy prospects who their respective clubs will look at closely. Brisbane has seen the likes of Saxon Crozier, Tahj Abberley, Toby Triffett, Charlie Bowes, and Will Tasker take strides at state league level this year, having all remained in the Lions’ system as 19-year-old talents. Gold Coast has more 2003-born talents in the pipeline, including AFL Academy member Austin Harris. He, too has gained VFL experience along with defender Bodhi Uwland and twin talls Will Bella and Jack Johnston.
Elsewhere, Giants Academy member Josh Green (brother of Tom) trained with Richmond during preseason and may still have some interest, while Murray Bushrangers prospects Charlie Byrne and Cameron McLeod were among those to have some interest at the next level – both during preseason and in this year’s mid-season intake.