Each year, a new crop of draft prospects take centre stage as the year creeps closer to November. While we hear about the top prospects quite frequently, what happens to the players that slip under the radar, who are the hidden gems that end up in the second and third rounds of the National Draft?
The Craft of the Draft podcast takes a comprehensive look at the under-the-radar prospects in the Vic Metro region.
Maybe the kid with the best step in the league, Harvey Johnston’s ability to zig-zag through traffic is eye-catching. His speed, cleanliness, and agility make him a catalyst in transition and dangerous in space.
Not only does Johnston have arguably the best-left foot at the Dragons, but he’s also more than handy on his right shoe. Johnston thrives off rhythm and once he starts going, he becomes a difficult target to chase down.
The other likeable aspect of Johnston is his versatility. A half-forward who hits the scoreboard, his ability to find space makes him a handy inside midfielder and he also has traits to play on the wing.
Also noteworthy is his leadership as a gluey character who would slot seamlessly into any team. His growth would be at times taking the easier option when it presents, for he can be guilty of occasionally doing too much, which can bring him undone, but all the ingredients are there.
After limited Talent League exposure last year, he’s settled well in 2023, averaging 18 touches from six games.
O’Leary is a predominant winger, with a flexible game style that allows him to start in centre stoppages and provide quick transition from the hit outs with his agility and evasiveness.
O’Leary’s work rate is his strong suit, running a two-kilometre time trial in less than 5:50 minutes, which translates into strong second halves and running out quarters well. His tank allows him to set teammates up and gather several possessions in the chain, while his kicking is also a strong suit.
With the ability to lace out kicks 30 to 40 metres away on 45-degree angles, O’Leary provides a dynamic style of offence that suits his running patterns, troubling his opposition on turnovers. O’Leary applies strong pressure around the contest and sticks his tackles.
When the Parkdale junior doesn’t find himself in a position to get involved with his kicking, his football smarts allow him to peel off his opponent down the corridor and create handball chains to streamline transition.
He played four games, mostly as a zippy forward last year for Sandy, with some questions around whether the 179cm prospect’s size will cut it at the next level, but he has played good senior footy at local level.
One who falls into the bracket of being extremely unlucky to miss Vic Metro, Lord’s rise has been meteoric. He went from being without a certain spot in a Talent League spot early in the preseason to grabbing his opportunity, capturing attention with strong footy in some practice matches, and translating that form into the season proper.
A midfielder who runs both ways perhaps better than anyone at the Dragons, his pressure is elite in a competition where offensive weapons are generally the focus. Is averaging 17 touches and more than six tackles in the first four games this season.
It’s what he does in the contest that stands out with the ball in hand, and he’ll have some more games after schoolboy footy to continue to press his claims for Sandy.
Visentini is a great example of the modern-day ruckman that has flexibility in movement across the ground and the ruck with his athletic capabilities. The ex-volleyballer has great tap craft and places his midfield in great stead across the stoppages.
Visentini’s versatility lies in his ability to run across the ground and become a focal point in transition. With a fine-tuned kicking style, he’s able to hit field kicks and spread the play and his work rate enables him to provide a target inside 50.
The Xavier College and Brighton Beach Football Club product played a big role as a bottom-aged ruck in Sandringham’s premiership side last year.
With Will Green likely to be preferred as the starter for Country, it will be interesting to see his forward craft against the best.
Docking ticks off a lot of likeable traits when it comes to outside midfielder craft. With great aerobic capacity, he’s able to spread the ground well and provide run and carry on the outside with space to work with.
Ultra-clean on the ground and efficient with his ball use, Docking also works around his surroundings with composure and evasiveness in the contest. Docking’s positioning ahead of the ball allows for effective inside 50 entries, which elevates his game to the next level.
The next step for Docking is his ability to make an impact across four quarters and his capacity to win contested footy.
A very watchable type with vice-like hands, Enders does what you want key forwards to do: take marks and kick goals. A Xavier College player in the APS competition, Enders is in his first year at Talent League level, and his size is the big question mark as a key forward.
As the season has progressed, his ability to get involved further up the chain and set teammates up has become more apparent, while he still generally impacts the scoreboard himself.
He also wins a majority of his possessions from lead-ups or contested marks; showcasing that he can pounce on loose balls and get involved in general play something that is a must for his size.
His game against Tassie was the best glimpse yet into the largely untapped potential of Calsher Dear. Dear is capable of crashing the contest deep inside 50 and has the reach and leap to take some strong contested marks overhead.
He wasn’t able to showcase that consistently in an ultra-strong Sandringham lineup prior to the break, but the public schooler now has the opportunity to be the man for Sandringham inside 50.
The son of Paul Dear, he might be on Hawthorn’s radar as a father-son prospect but will be hoping to play to his capacity for longer periods in the second half of the season.
There’s a lot to like about Harrop. He leads up, takes marks, makes the right call under pressure, has a high-end work rate and hits the scoreboard. He combined the latter two traits in round two against Calder to finish with four goals from the square when he ripped back and was the loose option in the square.
He spent some time in the Vic Metro game on the wing and halfback and perhaps that’s his route into the team; an attractive component to Harrop is his versatility. So too is his leadership – he leads Haileybury in the APS competition where he plays in the midfield, and those at Sandy regard his leadership, noting he probably missed out on an official position only because of cricket commitments in the preseason.
A fascinating player to keep an eye on, Murphy was unaccustomed to playing in defence prior to 2023 but has settled into the role nicely in the first month of the Talent League season.
A two-week stretch against the GWS Academy for Sandy and in the Vic Metro trials the following week showcased his best footy.
When the 200cm prospect is given the space to fly for the footy, he’s almost impossible to out mark. If he can continue to play with the confidence to take his intercepts as he did in that game, he’ll feature prominently on recruiters’ boards in November.
A rebounding defender who looks to break the game open with his leg speed, Badr plays a high-octane game full of confidence and dare. He sets up Oakleigh’s attack with his quick ball movement off halfback and complements teammate Nathan Philactides as well clearing defensive 50.
When Badr’s plays do come off, he is able to get involved multiple times, providing overlap and chaining possession to counterattack quickly for his team. His execution and cleanliness can sometimes let him down, but his acceleration can be harnessed into closing speed to make him a more complete player.
Averaging 19 touches a game this Talent League season and Badr will look to do the basics to an elite standard and showcase his weapons when he returns from schoolboy footy.
A gut running forward with the ability to move down the ground and provide as an asset in transition, Hicks has a strong football IQ that allows him to present himself in the forward line to make an impact on the scoreboard.
Hicks can read the play with confidence, often making himself a threat when the ball goes to ground, and can analyse the right moments to go up in the pack or capitalise on the loose ball.
The 188cm forward is strong in one-on-one contests and moves well inside forward 50 to present to his running midfielders. Hicks can push up to the middle of the ground, often providing great kicking inside 50 to lace out leading forwards.
Hicks’ game can be dampened by poor efficiency on the scoreboard, however, more often than not, he’s always finding himself in the right spots on the field. Consistent efficiency on the scoreboard would push Hicks up the ranks.
Watch out if he can put it together for a full four quarters. He’s a confident player who’s been likened to Jake Stringer internally.
Brayden La Planche
A finger injury punctuated the Eastern co-skipper’s beginning of the season but he has shown glimpses throughout. La Planche has twice kicked three goals and his average of fewer than three marks a game doesn’t do justice to how strong he can be overhead.
Played as the deepest forward against Brisbane and looked outstanding but will need to find another position if he’s to transition to the next level, given he measures at 189cm.
The low-possession, high-impact forward kicked five goals and averaged 10 touches from four games in 2022.
A hard-running winger who has hit form since the return from the community break, Windsor has a knack for finding himself in space and taking uncontested marks. He offers an outlet from defence and is often the player sending it inside 50 if not having a shot on goal.
Windsor has high-end breakaway speed which also stands out and helps him burn opponents. His standout game so far has been against Brisbane’s Academy where he stood up with both Nick Watson and Cam Nyko missing, racking up 31 touches, but the next step for his game is to add the finishing polish.
Played two games for Eastern last year when his brother, Vic Metro and now Box Hill-listed Kai, was with the Ranges.
Sruk sets the game up well from defence and was one whose output was highlighted in the Vic Metro trial game. Bites off difficult kicks to allow Eastern to move the ball fluidly when that’s the right option, with his decision-making also a strength.
With Vic Metro having such a strong halfback line, he was perhaps a little unlucky not to get a look in, with his size (180cm), perhaps putting a question mark on him. Regardless, his production for the Ranges has been an important asset, averaging 26 disposals this season after averaging a tick under 16 last year.
The tall intercept defender prides himself on effective ball reading, with a strong defensive presence that often breaks oppositions in transition and provides strong exits out of defensive 50. Tovey creates an aerial presence inside defensive 50 and can outmuscle his opponent in one-on-one situations and take strong contested marks.
With the ability to be clean with ground balls in dry and wet conditions, Tovey backs himself to leave his opponent and positions himself in space to guide transition out of the defensive zones. However, the element of risk in Tovey’s game playing off his man does create an issue against quality opposition at times, as seen against Logan Morris, who kicked four goals against him.
The intercepting defender put his name on recruiters’ radars with a ridiculous performance against Sandringham in round one which remains his best of the season. He proved that performance wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan by getting even more intercept marks in the first game after the community break against Brisbane’s Academy.
The big question mark is his size – can someone who measures 192cm play as a key lockdown defender? The optimistic lookout is that he plays above his size given his strength and read of the play.
The tall forward certainly knows how to impact the scoreboard, averaging two goals a game in his first five games of Talent League this season. Weatherill executes the fundamentals of a tall forward well, with his ability to get on the end of some strong contested marks, whether that be inside forward 50 or further up the ground.
For his size, he moves quite well, providing good run and burst out of stoppages inside 50, with a notable goal on the run from 50 metres out in the Vic Metro trials.
Even with an average of two goals per game, there’s still room for improvement in Weatherill’s accuracy. Weatherill has converted over 50 per cent of his scoring shots in only two out of five games.
Is noted at the Western Jets for his professionalism which has seen him contribute in the midfield and backline as a bottom-ager this season.
Grego is very accountable defensively and positions himself smartly around stoppages and impacts with ball in hand. After averaging 11 touches from six games last year, he’s increased that to 18 disposals and six tackles this season and has shown clear improvement.
There’s lots of time for things to change, but on his current trajectory, expect him to feature prominently in 2024.
Smith has played much more freely since the community break and it’s led to him impacting more games. In a sometimes shallow Jets engine room, he’s the one who is able to get first hands on it and feed it to runners to get it going his team’s way.
As well as what he does in and under, his work rate to get from stoppage to stoppage and apply pressure also stands out, and when he backs himself to use his left foot, it too is a real weapon. Smith found a lot of the football in the first month but has gone up another level since the break.
He perhaps lacks a little bit of exposure in other positions so starts outside Vic Metro, but has shown signs as an outside midfielder in the trial match indicating that he’s around the mark.
D’Arro has flair in his game with confidence in breaking the lines down the corridor, and a good balance in his decision-making moving forward in transition. D’Arro often leads the charge out of defensive 50 and has composure moving the ball forward, utilising his sharp foot skills to create linking handball chains moving forward as he continues his run.
Ranking in the top 20 in the Talent League for rebound 50s, D’Arro is comfortable in breaking loose from his opponent to create drive out of a stoppage and relieve pressure in the defensive half.
D’Arro at times lacks tackle pressure due to his smaller size for a midfielder, which makes him reliant on the ball coming out loose and pouncing on it to make an impact.
A key defender with a reasonable left foot, Mardini’s a key part of the Knights’ spine, often getting exposure on the opposition’s best forward.
Mardini is reliable one-on-one and when he wins the football, he’s able to clear the defensive area with his left foot. The 197cm prospect has also shown he’s capable of playing forward.
Packed with energy and excitement in every step he takes, Taha elevates his team to another level. Taha is a speedy midfielder that instinctively applies pressure to every centre stoppage with repeat efforts around the ground.
With a midfield craft that is heavily focused on dominating the in and under, Taha is effective with his quick hands out of the stoppage and can make an impact with his kicking in transition, although this can let him down at times.
Speed and burst out the front of stoppages were other areas he needed to address coming into the season but his performances this season have largely answered those question marks.
Taha can also become extremely effective and damaging moving inside 50. He’s proven he can hit the scoreboard, kicking two goals in three different performances.
Naim has an uncanny ability to find shots on goal inside Calder’s forward 50, kicking multiple goals in every game bar one, averaging five shots on goal per game. At times his conversion can let him down; has one bag of seven for the season against NT Thunder, but there have been a few times where he hasn’t taken full toll.
The Essendon Next Generation Academy prospect is only 186cm but has good reach to go with a ground-level game that can also hurt the opposition, given his pace and smarts. Naim still has areas of his game he needs to round off but his production at Talent League level makes him an exciting watch.
Another Essendon Next Generation Academy prospect, Eyre is effectively coming from a long way back due to three years in the wilderness with injury. With a good leap and confident kick Eyre’s been an important asset for Calder, he also backed himself to get up the ground and set Calder up going forward.
Falls into the same category as lots of defenders at this level in that his positioning and man-on-man defence can sometimes be sacrificed as he looks to show off his weapons. If he can add the purely defensive aspects to his game, he’ll be a much more complete player.
One of the top-end players to miss Vic Metro, the Assumption College prospect can either play off a wing or as a high-half-forward, looking especially dangerous for Calder in playing the latter.
Garcia has core strength that enables him to slip tackles and is dangerous in the forward half. Rarely makes a glaring error and was consistent across the first month averaging 16 touches before putting his best foot forward in the Vic Metro trial games with fierce competitiveness.
What he does off the ball is also noteworthy and he’s grown into the role he plays for his Talent League club, but at the moment seems a victim of there being too many of a similar type for Metro.
Penny must be one of the unluckiest players not to be on an AFL list currently, after just missing out on the Rookie Draft despite interest from lots of clubs, he was also overlooked in November last year, before just losing out to Oscar Steene as a preseason train-on at Collingwood.
Is 186cm but he can’t be measured in earth metrics because his leap is otherworldly and repeatedly makes himself a serious overhead threat. As well as having the best vertical leap in the competition, his speed off the mark adds to his athletic profile and makes him an excellent package as a rebounder
Plays his best footy off halfback but was given a run through the midfield to try something different. If he can get his hands on it in the second half of the season and make the right decision, a club would surely be tempted to give him a run.
The Western Bulldogs’ father-son prospect has proved himself as a reliable goalscorer, showcasing in the last three games of Talent League footy, just how dangerous of a threat he is on the scoreboard.
Croft’s athleticism elevates his forward craft to the next level, with strong hands that continue to add to his contested mark tally each week. If efficiency is an issue in modern-day AFL, Croft certainly has refined his kicking ability to make him an accurate option (63 per cent accuracy this season).
His most impressive performance was in the Young Guns Series against the Young Guns, where he kicked four goals from all types of angles on a wet and windy day at Trevor Barker Oval.
With some versatility at 200cm, he’s able to play as a second ruck across the ground making him a prospect the Dogs are unlikely to look past.
For more information on each of these prospects, make sure to tune into the Craft of the Draft podcast each Wednesday night.
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