As the 2024 AFL Season approaches, so does the intrigue around Australia’s best young talent ready to put their name in the spotlight.

The AFL Draft in 2023 taught us that no one is guaranteed a spot on an AFL list, with some big names like Arie Schoenmaker and George Stevens taken extremely late in the draft, both touted as first-round prospects.

Inner Sanctum’s Craft of the Draft Podcast has kicked off its new season, analysing each Coates Talent League club within the Vic Metro region and their top five prospects to keep an eye on throughout 2024.

Calder Cannons

Jayden Nguyen – One of the best technical players in the competition and Calder’s Best and Fairest as a bottom-ager, Nguyen has some of the best wing craft, mirroring a Caleb Windsor from 2023. Nguyen reads the play well and generates drive with his running, a smart ball user who isn’t afraid to commit to changing things up moving forward.

Jayden Nguyen is set for an explosive 2024. (Photo: Craft of the Draft)

Nash King – Featuring in the U18 Vic Metro squad was an early display of how tough King is around the bigger bodies. A natural midfielder that plays on instinct, King has elite stoppage craft with an agile frame to move in and out of the contest. King executes the fundamentals well and his ball skills allow him to move with confidence within the stoppages.

Harry O’Farrell – Famously known for his winning goal after the siren at school level, the junior made forward has switched his focus to the backline where he found his groove during 2023. A strong aerial presence and contested capability hallmark O’Farrell’s game, able to generate movement out of defensive 50 with his turn of speed and strong spacial and game awareness.

Isaac Kako – There’s no denying Kako has X-Factor, and a shock to many he didn’t feature in Metro’s side in 2023. A dangerous small forward who understands when he needs to take his moments, Kako can impact at the drop of the ball or sit back in the contest and provide a marking presence. 2024 will see more midfield time for the small forward, a great opportunity to showcase his ability to impact up the ground. If you liked Nick Watson, you won’t find it hard to love Isaac Kako.

The Cannons have a lot of firepower underneath the big four, with the likes of Patrick Said providing scoreboard impact as a medium-sized midfield/forward option who works up the ground to aid transition.

Damon Hollow plays similarly to Pat Said, a mix of great power and speed, great below the knees and a great kick technically, he’ll develop more clarity with his ball use in 2024.

Dante Iacovone is one to keep your eyes on, has size that is severely lacking in this year’s draft crop, he will play a big role up forward with his contested capability and natural strength.

Dante Iacovone will lead Calder’s tall forwards in 2024. (Photo: Craft of the Draft)

Noah Scott – the boy from South Australia who moved over at 15 years old, has an explosiveness to his game as a smaller in-and-under midfielder who has great power and tenacity out of the stoppage with a will for defensive pressure.

Eastern Ranges

Josh Smillie – Likely to be considered at pick 1 for this year’s AFL Draft, a big inside mid with the capacity to move around the ground is going to be at the top of the power rankings for quite some time. Elite stoppage craft, and high footy IQ, Smillie is a great ball user who still has scope in his game. His contested game makes him a bull on the inside, his ball smarts a threat around the contest as well.

Christian Moraes – One of the most hard-working midfielders in the draft crop, Moraes is silky smooth out of the stoppages with an agile frame to produce flare in transition and keep the ball moving. He’s able to get forward and create some scoreboard impact but values his contest-to-contest work to provide an asset in the stoppages and run through the corridor.

Moraes is primed to continue his elite 2023 form. (Photo: Craft of the Draft)

The Ranges have good depth and a lot of boys who you should expect to rise throughout the year. Cody Anderson is a big-bodied midfielder on the smaller side, providing power in the stoppage and a kicking supplier moving in transition. Works hard on both ends of the ground, it’s his size that sets him the challenge of finding that weapon and outlier.

Jak Ryan may become a quick favourite among recruiters. His speed as a high half-forward is eye-catching and without a doubt, his impact further up the ground will be felt. Some more scoreboard impact for Ryan and he’ll find himself in a similar vein to what Port Adelaide draftee, Tom Anastasopoulos.

Seth Macdonald has come back to preseason in 2024 in ripping form, the craft wingman knows how to run his opponents down in transition and has football smarts to find the right option moving offensively.

Seth Macdonald has come back in 2024 firing. (Photo: Craft of the Draft)

Riley White will provide a strong defensive presence for the Eastern Ranges, a selfless defender who has battled injury in preseason, and will look to be a main shutdown player for the Ranges.

Jack Baldwin provides an unselfish style of footy that provides movement across the ground, willing to impact the contest and sit on the outside and create chains moving forward.

Jordan Hider falls into the sneaky small forward’s category this year, he’s able to hit the scoreboard, it’s where else his presence will be felt.

Northern Knights

Zak Johnson – Johnson provides the defensive element of the game most midfielders lack, a composed ball user who has great strength around the ball, Johnson has a varied skillset compared to most midfielders in his crop. Well-known for his aerial capability as the extra string to his bow, he can dominate in the midfield as well as press forward and add an extra marking target.

Zak Johnson is ready for a solid 2024. (Photo: Craft of the Draft)

Jesse Dattoli – A player who is sneaky dangerous wherever he moves around the ground, we saw great glimpses of Dattoli in 2024, moved into the midfield group at times, he has great bounce around the stoppage, and has a nifty ability to move inside 50 quite unnoticed most time, with great footy smarts to find space. His next step is converting his opportunities in front of goal.

Lucas McInerney – An extremely classy wingman, McInerney will be up there with some of the strongest wingers in this year’s crop. Provides great movement in transition and terrific inside 50 efficiency by foot, he’s got great football smarts that allow him to drive his legs and impact around the ground.

Liam Farrar – Nearly exploded in the Under 17 Futures trial game in 2023, kicking 0.6, which on any other day would have his name talked about a bit more than what it is at the moment. Farrar plays above his height, with a great reach that allows him to match up quite well on any given opponent. A strong lead inside 50, he has a lot of scope most forwards don’t.
Kristian Lawson – Perfectly fits the under-the-radar category as Lawson provides a lot of undervalued elements on-field. His grunt work is exceptional around the contest, with a natural ability to drive through the corridor with confidence. He’s also not afraid to produce some moments going forward.

The Knights also have the likes of the versatile Ty Kitchell and livewire Adam Galgano to keep your eyes on throughout 2024.

Oakleigh Chargers

Jagga Smith – Electric and slick, Jagga is undeniably a top-five talent and his football does the talking for him. He’s got a smaller frame for a mid but works that to his advantage with his agility and bounce out of the stoppages. His vision on the inside is second nature and his general decision-making across the ground makes him a continual threat wherever he plays.

Finn O’Sullivan – Genuine difference maker. O’Sullivan has the ability to change the game with his style. He possesses power and composure across the ground the provide ease within contested scenarios that he’s able to guide through with ease. His kicking inside 50 is balanced and well-executed along with his general ball use. His overhead ability leaves that extra scope of possibility positionally as 2024 progresses.

Tom Gross – Gross is a demanding inside midfielder who knows how to provide an outlet, utilising his drive and power in the stoppages to move the ball forward. Gross can go forward and provide terrific scoreboard impact with the threat he provides as a roaming option. He’s a hard worker across the ground and you notice that in his running patterns and creativity in different moments.

Pat Retschko – If you haven’t heard this name, get accustomed to it. Retschko is eye-catching and came back from an ACL in 2023 with such tenacity and flare to his game, he sits extremely unlucky to not even make the Vic Metro Camp at the beginning of 2024. He’s a terrific defensive rebounder who loves to generate movement going forward, a terrific meters-gained player who utilises overlap play to his advantage with his transitional smarts. Forward threat is well within his range of capabilities in 2024.

Lucas Tovey – Will come into 2024 as one of the highly touted key defenders, Tovey has good size that allows him to match up well with a variety of opponents. Played well on 2023 draftee Archer Reid, he’s got a lot of experience on key forwards, a competitive one-on-one player who has a great capacity to take a contested mark.

Charlie Richardson – An old-school centre half-forward who loves to lead and take a strong contested mark, Richardson is a straight and accurate kick who capitalises on his opportunities. His growth from 2021 to 2023 has been marvelled upon by his coaches.

Doug Kerr – A Collingwood NGA Prospect, Kerr is a composed ball user through the middle of the ground, providing good movement in transition. He’ll get some positional flexibility in 2024 in the midfield, playing his footy as an intercept defender in 2023.

Luke Quaynor – Brother of 2023 AFL Premiership winner, Isaac, Luke has a lot of similar traits that would get Pies fans up and about. He’s part of the Collingwood NGA and would be eligible for the Pies given he lands after Pick 40, which is the likely area for Luke to land at this stage. He’s a smart rebounding half-back who doesn’t lose his one-on-ones. He provides good outlet kicking out of defensive 50, the question remains on what his weapon is outside of his contested capability.

Tadhg McCarthy – Under-16 All-Australian representative, McCarthy has since built size, with a great rebound capacity, able to read the ball well in flight. He’s a player ready to get and go and provide some run and carry moving out of the defensive 50.

Sandringham Dragons

Levi Ashcroft – A pure footballer and evidently it’s in the blood. Brother of Will Ashcroft and son of Marcus, Levi has already had experience within the Brisbane Lions system. If it wasn’t for his father-son bid, he would easily be considered in the pick 1 discussion. With a terrific running capacity and football IQ through the middle of the ground, Ashcroft’s stoppage and contest craft is elite, with the ability to push to the outside and take the game on himself. Lethal inside 50, he capitalises on his scoring opportunities. Critically, he lacks the defensive side of his game.

Ashcroft in action for the Sandringham Dragons. (Photo: Mark Shvartsman)

Murphy Reid – A crafty midfield/forward hybrid who has built a great reputation for his workrate, excellently displayed on AFL Grand Final Day in the Futures Game. Reid excels forward of centre with his creativity, able to read the drop of the ball well and hit the scoreboard. He was able to take on responsibility in the midfield throughout 2023, his smooth moving and cleanliness noticeable across the ground.

Reid in action for the Sandringham Dragons. (Photo: Mark Shvartsman)

Taj Hotton – Brother of St Kilda-listed Oli, Taj is an excitement machine and has only scratched the surface of his potential in 2024. An aerially gifted player who nearly took some marks worthy of a mark of the year in 2024. He got the opportunity at Vic Metro level as a bottom ager which saw some quick and crafty moments inside 50, however, lacked some polish and finish, which will be where he elevates in 2024.

Sam Marshall – Part of the Brisbane Lions Academy, Marshall will play his football in Victoria in the latter stages of 2024. He’s well known for his inside grunt work, an effective ball user with a strong work ethic across the ground with outside capability as well.

Luke Trainor – A dynamic half-back that has some good size, Trainor has aggressiveness to his game, willing to battle any key forward or smaller forward that comes his way. He impacts the contest aerially and is able to rebound well with a spring in his step, a good executor by foot to guide him out of defensive 50.

Harry Armstrong and Josh Dolan are two developing forwards. Dolan found himself cemented in the Dragons 2023 Premiership side, chosen over the likes of Vic Metro representatives who missed out in that side. Armstrong is a developing key forward who will look to impact consistently on the scoreboard.

Harrison Oliver is a slick ball user who loves to move the ball in transition, made easier by his strong positional awareness.

Jhett Haeata had some flashy moments in 2023, a dashing runner who moves well on the outside, a sound ball user who provides some grunt and toughness.

Western Jets

Lucca Grego – Grego is very accountable defensively and positions himself smartly around stoppages and impacts with ball in hand. After averaging 11 touches from six games in 2022, he’s increased that to 18 disposals and six tackles in 2023 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.

Grego is looking to elevate in 2024. (Photo: Craft of the Draft)

Keighton Matofai-Forbes – A power forward who has toughness around the footy, Matofai-Forbes has a lot of power over regular forwards. He’s applied his trade at local senior footy level, which proved to be a factor in 2023, taking contested marks and hitting the scoreboard, kicking three goals in two of his four games as a bottom-ager.

Massimo Raso – The smallest player in the competition, Raso knows how to impact with his size, elite with his ground balls and his ability to move the play through his quick thinking.

Daniel Snell will look to act as a medium-tall forward option for the Jets, acting as a good marking presence with the capability to hit the scoreboard.

Darcy Weeks provides a similar role to Grego with his overlap running and rebounding capabilities off half-back, one that offers strong chains in transition.

Taaj Assafiri has had a big off-season, part of the Bachar Houli Academy, he headed to Dubai for a training camp, placing him in good stead for 2024. He’ll take on the role of a strong shutdown defender able to impact the contest.

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