As stars exit the game and announce their retirement every year, whether, through the National Draft, mid-season draft, or other new emerging pathways, we welcome a new wave of talent into the AFL system each year.
87 players have made their AFL debut in season 2021, with many having a big impact and setting themselves up for a long and illustrious career.
The Inner Sanctum has put together a team of the year comprised of the best performing players from their first season at AFL level.
Criteria for selection: You have to have made your AFL debut to Round 15 and played at least three games this season.
Miles Bergman has cemented his place in the Power backline in their run to the finals, earning a rising star nomination after a run of consistent form.
Averaging 15 disposals across his first season and starting to find more of the football and sneak forward and kick some goals.
Denver Grainger-Barass has stepped into the Hawthorn backline and right from the moment he debuted against the Giants, didn’t look out of place at AFL level.
The key defender has been a rock in defence averaging two tackles a game and looms as a pillar for the Hawks long term.
Braeden Campbell is one of the young Swans who have driven the harbour city renaissance. Another one out of their acclaimed academy, Campbell’s kicking skills is what has made him stand out, as another rebounding weapon for the Swans.
Rhyan Mansell arrived at the Tigers on the eve of the season via the Pre-Season supplementary selections and has not taken a backward step since making his debut back in Round 4, playing 13 games.
Impressing with his attack on the footy and toughness, allowing more of Richmond’s attacking weapons to be released higher up the ground.
Tom Highmore has built a reputation as one of the better young intercepting defenders in his first season.
Lachie Bramble has been a revelation in his first year at Hawthorn.
Hand picked by Sam Mitchell to take his place on the senior list, Bramble has impressed many in his first season across half-back and the wing.
Averaging 18.3 disposals in his nine games so far, Bramble looms as a key piece to drive the Hawks forward with his penetrating kicking inside 50.
Caleb Poulter is one of many young Pies who have made their mark and started to establish himself as one of Collingwood’s players of the future.
The wingman has impressed with his run and ball use across the wing, averaging 15 disposals a week across his first season.
James Jordon is one of Melbourne’s success stories in their rise up the ladder, establishing himself in the Demon’s best side in his third season on the list.
Along with the stars Oliver and Petracca, Jordon is holding his own playing some big midfield minutes, averaging 17 disposals and 4.5 tackles a game.
Nik Cox has displayed flashes of brilliance in his first season in the AFL, bursting onto the scene as the 200cm rookie that could do it all.
While he has dropped off as the season has gone on, Essendon fans are excited about his all-round ability and adaptability.
Matt Flynn has waited longer than most to make his AFL career.
Six years on the list before breaking through for his debut and has impressed for the Giants.
Learning the craft under Shane Mumford, Flynn has averaged 18.3 hitouts in his 12 games this season before a shoulder injury ended his season.
Riley Collier-Dawkins is part of generation next at Tigerland, getting his opportunity after a spate of Richmond injuries this season.
Managing eight games and averaging 15 disposals a game and with Richmond poised to re-generate, he looms as a key cog moving forward at Tigerland.
Tom Powell is one of plenty of young Joeys forming an exciting nucleus of what the Kangaroos will become. The young midfielder has played 13 games in his first season and averaged 17 disposals this season.
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Errol Gulden has become one of the best small forwards in the competition in his first season.
Ranking elite on AFL Stats-Pro for kicks and above average for marks, disposals, and tackles, Gulden has made a real impression across the league.
His stunning performance on debut saw him record 19 disposals and three goals, and deservedly earned a NAB Rising Star nomination for his display.
Harrison Jones had a shaky start on debut against the Hawks but after that, didn’t take a backward step, becoming a deadeye and impressive target in Essendon’s forward 50.
Kicking 20 goals from 16 games before sustaining a stress reaction in his foot.
Anthony Scott arrived at the Dogs on the eve of the season via the Supplementary Selection Period and has been an impressive cog in the forward half in the Bulldogs well-oiled machine on their run to the finals.
James Rowe has brought his goal sense and forward craft he showed all last year for Woodville-West Torrens and has brought it to the AFL level.
The son of Stephen has played 18 games for the Crows in his first season, kicking 15 goals and hunting plenty of the ball as the season has gone on as he has pushed up the field.
Riley Thilthorpe burst onto the scene with five goals on debut against Hawthorn in Launceston and has continued to be a focal point in the Adelaide forward line.
Playing 13 games and kicking 17 goals and providing a serviceable relief ruck to Reilly O’Brien, Thilthorpe has continued to justify his number two draft selection with impressive performances in the second half of the season.
Beau McCreery has impressed with his speed and pressure in the front half in his first season at Collingwood.
Despite missing a chunk of the season to injury, McCreery has averaged 18 pressure acts a game across 2021 and kicked 11 goals from his 12 games, and looks set to partner with Jamie Elliott into a potent small forward brigade at the Pies.
Archie Perkins has shown his class and X-Factor since breaking into the Essendon team early in the season.
While he has only averaged the 11 disposals, Perkins has been impressing with his cleanliness with ball in hand and ability to keep his feet in traffic.
Jacob Koschitzke in his second year on the list has emerged as one of Hawthorn’s forwards for the future.
Recruited as a defender and moved down forward, impressing in a first-up forward performance against North Melbourne in the pre-season, Koschitzke has kicked 27 goals in his first year playing at AFL level and looms as a key piece of Sam Mitchell’s forward setup going forward.
Lachie Jones has battled injury in his first season at AFL level, arriving at Port via the Next Generation academy, but the big-bodied defender has racked up getting the ball and has looked at home at the level.
Averaging 13 disposals across his six games, Jones’ cult figure status is only set to grow as he looks more at home at AFL level.
Trent Bianco broke into the Collingwood side in Round 11 and has not missed a game since. The boyhood Pie fan has grown every week, impressing with his pinpoint kicking and strong hands.
Averaging 4.4 marks a game, Bianco has continued to show his class as the season has gone on.