Many recent draftees will be on the periphery of Round 1 selection in 2022, but some clubs will be keen – or have no choice but – to unleash their prized new recruits immediately.
West Coast’s final pick looms as the most likely opening-round debutant, while the match committee teams at Adelaide and Hawthorn could have early selection conundrums.
Foxfooty.com.au assesses every club’s draft haul and predicts the players most likely to debut in Round 1.
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A few options here for the Crows, headlined by top-six pick Josh Rachele. An uber-talented forward-midfielder blessed with goalkicking nous and an unwavering belief in his own ability, Rachele will be pushing for selection early in 2022, given most of his disposals end up on the scoreboard – either directly or indirectly. Rachele would be ahead of fellow Crows draftees Jake Soligo and Zac Taylor, but the latter two did have some exposure at VFL level for Richmond and Essendon respectively this year. The fact the Crows drafted three players 180cm and under suggests there won’t be room for all three of them early in 2022.
The Lions were after a mid-sized defender at the draft – and they got their man in Darcy Wilmot, who’d be the pick of the club’s crop as the most likely to play senior footy early in 2022. He’s a terrific, well-rounded back that reads the flight of the footy in the air superbly, yet he isn’t afraid to use his leg speed to rebound and gain territory for his team when he wins the ball back. If he can build his strength over the pre-season, Wilmot would be an outside chance for Round 1 just ahead of mercurial small forward Kai Lohmann.
Just the one national draft selection – and Jesse Motlop has all the potential to play Round 1, considering the Blues were previously thin in the small forward department. Motlop was promoted to the WAFL league level in 2021 and impressed, kicking a goal in seven of his eight matches as he showed off promising defensive pressure, terrific goal nous and an ability to push up the ground to play as a high half-forward.
Not only is Nick Daicos likely to play Round 1 next year, he could’ve played Round 1 this year – that’s how ready he is to step into the AFL world. One recruiter even told Foxfooty.com.au they wouldn’t be surprised if Daicos copped a tag from opposition teams during his debut AFL season. The other possible Round 1 bolter is Charlie Dean, who became the 15th consecutive VFL player to win the Fothergill-Round-Mitchell medal – awarded to the VFL’s best young player – then get drafted by an AFL club. A tall intercept defender, Dean will bring great energy to the Pies’ backline. South Australian duo Arlo Draper and Cooper Murley would be more likely to play senior footy later in the year.
The best pure inside midfielder and contested possession-winner in the 2021 draft class, Ben Hobbs is the definition of a ready-made draftee. The 183cm on-baller looms as a major asset for the Bombers due to his ability to clear stoppages and put teammates out into space via hand. Coach Ben Rutten might want to use that to his advantage as early as Round 1, 2022 – and you wouldn’t blame him. Left-field late draftee Garrett McDonagh is well conditioned to VFL-level footy and could be an outside chance to play early.
All the Dockers’ first three picks have the potential to push the club’s match committee for an opening-round debut. But perhaps Matt Johnson, who was snapped up by the Dockers at Pick 21 on the second draft night, might be the best chance, considering his speed, agility, composure and size (192cm) he possesses. Neil Erasmus is an exciting, powerful and shrewd forward-midfielder, but would probably need a big pre-season to push for a Round 1 gig considering his injury-interrupted 2021 campaign. The Dockers got their key forward in sharpshooter Jye Amiss, but would the Dockers be prepared to play him, Matt Taberner and Rory Lobb – and possibly Josh Treacy – all in the same side so early in 2022?
Of the five national draft selections and sole rookie pick, James Willis might be the most likely contender for an early debut. A strong-bodied midfielder that’s dynamic at the contest and around stoppages, Willis was one of four midfielders picked by the Cats in the national draft. Willis appears more likely to play senior footy before Mitch Knevitt, who’s an exciting midfield talent at 193cm but would need to develop his body first. Local ruck recruit Toby Conway will spend most of 2022 developing his game and frame at VFL level.
GOLD COAST SUNS
He fell out of favour at Geelong, but don’t be surprised if Charlie Constable is quickly in favour at the Suns. Despite his lack of exposure at AFL level, Constable was a picture of consistency across his nine VFL games for the Cats this year, ranking fifth in the competition for average disposals (32.7), while averaging 14.3 contested possessions and 7.2 clearances per match. Following Hugh Greenwood’s shock departure to North Melbourne in recent weeks, Constable has a good chance of donning a Suns jumper at AFL level early in 2022. Top pick Mac Andrew looms as a generational player if it clicks for him at the Suns, but expect the raw ruck to spend a lot of the 2022 season developing at VFL level.
Don’t be surprised if the Giants’ two first-round picks are right in the Round 1 mix. Finn Callaghan is a great size for the modern-day midfielder (191cm, 86kg) yet also has terrific composure and an efficient left foot. If he has a strong pre-season, he’ll be hard to ignore before Round 1 – as will first-round draft bolter Leek Aleer, who was the first mature-age player picked up in the draft. A 20-year-old 195cm key defender, Aleer rocketed up club draft boards as he impressed across 11 SANFL league games with his athleticism and high marking. The Giants specifically targeted a key defender to fill a need, so Aleer would have to be considered for Round 1. Medium defenders Josh Fahey and Cooper Hamilton can’t be discounted either – especially Hamilton, who’s a lovely size (184cm, 83kg) and possesses elite running capacity and overhead marking skills.
There’s a few contenders here. Top pick Josh Ward was one of the best and most well-rounded midfielders of this year’s draft class due to his ability to find the ball both in both contested and uncontested situations. AFL talent manager Kevin Sheehan told Fox Footy he thought Ward could play straight away, while the midfielder himself declared to News Corp “it would be great to play Round 1”. Tough small forward-midfielder Sam Butler also appears primed to have an immediate impact at AFL level, due to his versatility and invaluable ability to swing the momentum of games. Midfielder Connor Macdonald could also play early, but Butler and, especially, Ward would be a few steps ahead of him.
Three great national draft selections for the Dees, but it’s going to be a tough task for all of them to break into the reigning premiers’ senior team early. Perhaps the best chance would be first-round selection Jacob Van Rooyen. The 193cm and 91kg utility, who played a few games at WAFL league level for Claremont this year, will walk into the Demons with a strong frame and the ability to play inside either 50m arc. The biggest obstacle, though, is there’ll be a few gun players – at either end of the field – in front of Van Rooyen. But a strong pre-season from the WA product should still put him in the mix.
Like Daicos, Jason Horne-Francis was ready to play AFL footy in Round 1 this year, let alone next year. The fact the star midfielder kicked three goals from 24 disposals, 18 contested possessions and 11 clearances in a SANFL league preliminary final proves just how prepared he is for the top level. Josh Goater had a glimpse of VFL level footy for Essendon this season but might take a little more time to adjust at AFL clubland. But if the versatile 190cm recruit gets a gig at senior level and it clicks for him, North supporters could have a new fan favourite.
Despite being the Power’s last pick in the national draft, father-son recruit Jase Burgoyne might be the most likely prospect of the club’s draft crop – although it would still be a slim chance. The running defender was given permission this year to play three SANFL league games for the Port Magpies, averaging 15.7 disposals per game. But Burgoyne is still lightly framed at 65kg, so might have to put on some size over pre-season before coming into consideration for AFL selection. First-round selection Josh Sinn is mightily quick and explosive, but his top priority will be having a strong pre-season after an injury-interrupted 2021 campaign. Obviously ex-Roo and new Port rookie Trent Dumont would be the natural choice here – he played 113 games in seven seasons for North – but this article is focusing on fresh faces to the AFL system, not recently delisted players that have been picked up.
A tough team to break into, but top Richmond selection Josh Gibcus has the potential to play Round 1. Gibcus surged into top-10 pick calculations as an athletic intercept defender, but the Tigers could start him with the forward group when he arrives at Punt Road for pre-season training. Fellow first-round pick Tom Brown would be an outside chance for early selection, but Gibcus is far more likely. Tyler Sonsie, who would’ve been a top-five pick if the draft was based purely on talent alone, will be given time to adjust considering his interrupted 2021 campaign. Of the three players the Tigers selected in the second round, goalsneak and small forward Judson Clarke might be the best hope.
Glenelg had a good look at Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera at SANFL league level this year, leading to four games late in the season. The Saints would love to add a player like Wanganeen-Milera – a silky wingman with exquisite disposal skills – to their senior team early, but the Glenelg recruit might have to put on some size before he genuinely comes under consideration at match committee. NGA prospect Mitchito Owens is a much-improved 190cm prospect that’ll be a great threat for the Saints at stoppages, but he’ll be given ample time to adjust to the demands of AFL clubland considering he was a late developer.
Matt Roberts was a draft slider, but a safe, reliable pick that has the potential to play senior footy early in 2022 due to his natural football ability. He might be slightly ahead of athletic wingman Corey Warner and first-round bolter Angus Sheldrick in the Swans pecking order at this stage. Although Warner handled himself well in the four WAFL league games he played in 2021, while Sheldrick is a strong, tough inside midfielder that stepped up in big games during his draft year.
WEST COAST EAGLES
One of the best stories of the draft could be injected into West Coast best 22 early. The Eagles on Thursday night used their final selection of the national draft to select Greg Clark – a tall (193cm), big-bodied inside midfielder that was the WAFL’s No. 1 tackler and seventh-best contested possession-winner in 2021. Clark told SEN WA on Friday: “My ambitions aren’t to come in and be an Eagles WAFL player, I want to take the chance at AFL level.” Of the 18-year-old draftees, Brady Hough might be a sneaky chance considering how he smoothly fit in at WAFL league level to kick one goal from 22 disposals and nine marks on debut. West Coast’s top pick, Campbell Chesser, has barely played in the past two years so will likely be given time to find his feet.
The Dogs again turned to mature-agers at the rookie draft, selecting tough midfielder Robbie McComb from their VFL affiliate Footscray after taking 193cm utility Charlie Parker from SANFL club Sturt. McComb, who was named in the 2021 VFL team of the year and won Footscray’s best and fairest after averaging 25.5 disposals, is the more likely recruit to feature early in the year – although it’d be a tough team to break into. Like Jamarra Ugle-Hagan that was picked 12 months before him, exciting top Dogs selection Sam Darcy is more likely to feature at AFL level later in the season, considering his raw frame (204cm, 73kg) and the fact the Dogs have a stacked forward line that just featured in a Grand Final.