It’s a thrilling time of year for players, clubs and fans alike, all pinning their hopes on the outcome of the AFL draft.
For a crop of teenage footy players, it’s the chance to fulfill a dream and launch a career. For clubs and fans, it’s the never-ending hope that this young player — be he pick 1 or pick 60 — could be the next superstar of the AFL.
The countdown is well and truly on for the 2021 edition. Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s draft.
When is the AFL draft?
Split across several days, the draft begins at 7:10pm AEDT on Wednesday, November 24 when the first-round selections will be made.
The remainder of the national draft will be held the next day — Thursday, November 25 at 7:00pm AEDT — followed by the rookie and pre-season drafts on Friday, November 26 at 3:00pm AEDT.
The AFL has experimented with these multi-day drafts for a few years, returning to the format in 2021 after COVID restrictions made it impossible last year.
How does it work?
A draft order is set ahead of time, based initially on clubs’ finishing positions from the previous years — with the bottom-ranked team receiving the first pick — but then changed by the many swaps and trades that are processed throughout the off-season.
That means some clubs will have many more picks than others, and some high-finishing clubs still have early picks in this year’s draft.
Clubs make their selections one by one. Under recent changes, clubs can now trade places in the draft during the draft, creating a little bit of extra excitement if a team has its eye on one player in particular.
Any players not selected in the national draft on Wednesday and Thursday are then available to be taken in the rookie draft on Friday, the only difference being the status and value of the contracts they receive.
The pre-season draft is mostly an opportunity for older players, some of whom have been discarded by their previous clubs, to find new homes.
Who has the top pick this year?
North Melbourne will be the first team to make a selection at this year’s draft, courtesy of their wooden spoon in 2021.
The full top 10 is:
- 1.North Melbourne
- 3.Gold Coast
- 9.St Kilda
- 10.West Coast
This order will get distorted by teams matching bids on father-son prospects, and moving up the order as a result (but more on that later).
Who are the players to watch?
The top handful of picks look basically set in stone, with South Australian midfielder Jason Horne-Francis almost certain to be taken by North Melbourne with the first pick in the draft.
Nick Daicos, a midfielder with a surname you might recognise, is the other top-pick contender, and he will head to Collingwood thanks to the father-son rule (we’ll get there, I promise).
Also a father-son candidate, Sam Darcy, son of Luke, is an athletic tall forward destined for the Western Bulldogs.
Much of the rest of the top 10 is up for debate. Midfielders Finn Callaghan, Ben Hobbs, Josh Ward and Neil Erasmus are expected to go early, as are talls Josh Gibcus, Mac Andrew and Jye Amiss.
On the whole, outside of the top few picks this is an even draft, with plenty of bargains to be had.
So what is the go with the father-son rule and Next Generation Academies?
Basically, if your dad played 100 games with a club, that club gets first right of refusal on you in the draft.
The way this works is every pick in the draft has a certain points value attributed to it. Rival clubs can bid on a father-son candidate with any selection in the draft, at which point the aligned club can choose to match the value of that selection with a collection of its own picks.
For example, if GWS makes a bid for Daicos with the second pick in the draft — which is worth 2,517 points — Collingwood would need to use as many of their picks as it takes to reach that value. If they can’t, or choose not to, the player goes to the club that bid.
(That’s not going to happen for Daicos or Darcy. Both the Magpies and Bulldogs have based their entire off-season strategies on making sure they have enough points to snap up their guys).
The Next Generation Academy system is similar. Clubs have their own academies in which they can support and develop players from under-represented segments of the community.
The bidding system works the same as the father-son rule. However, the rules have been tweaked somewhat this year — the NGA bidding system only kicks in after pick 20.
So a player like Andrew, who is actually tied to Melbourne’s NGA, will probably not end up with the Demons as he is likely to be snapped up by a team well before the 20th selection.