The Top 10 AFL Draft Picks: A Fantasy Perspective (Part I)

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We are just a few weeks away from the much-anticipated 2018 AFL Draft and the smell of a new season, fresh beginnings and Callum Twomey is in the air.

Carlton, unless they trade their prized pick, will have the first selection on November 22nd, with Blues fans waiting with bated breath to see if Sam Walsh, or another of the Twomey-coined “Elite Eight” is the first cab off the ranks.

Whilst there are always notable ‘steals’ in the draft (Brayden Fiorini at pick 20! – watch this space), the cream of the crop tends to be found at the pointy end.

The number 1 pick traditionally returns roughly twice the Player Approximate Value (PAV) of pick 11, per James Coventry’s Footballistics (a must-read for all stat-loving footy fans… i.e. the entire fantasy community!).

But how about in our beloved fantasy drafts?

Just like in the real world, rookies are also worth their weight in gold in the fantasy world.

Whether it’s drafting a young gun in your keeper league who inevitably gets “ma boy” status or picking up that cheap option in your #offbrand salary cap season. Rookies, at one point or another, have probably been responsible for a make-or-break moment in your fantasy coaching careers.

Across two articles, we will delve into the recent history of AFL drafts to see just how valuable the top end of the draft has been from a fantasy perspective. Part I will be looking at the players careers as a whole – for your keeper and dynasty considerations. Part II explores the perspective of draftees first few years in the league – to better understand the glorious phenomenon known as the “breakout”.

PART I: Evaluating the Top 10 Draft Picks (1993 – 2006)

In Part I, we will focus on the draft classes from 1993-2006 – using a starting point of 1993, considered the first relatively uncompromised draft, per Footballistics, and a finishing point of 2006 to utilise a sample size “as large as possible, while excluding most players who are still active” (Footballistics pp. 170).

To greater understand the value of those top picks in your dynasty leagues and keeper redrafts, we will analyse the AFL Fantasy career averages of players drafted in the top 10 (SuperCoach data not available until 2005), along with their games played (including finals), to gauge the career-long fantasy value of top 10 draft picks in the modern game.

Thanks to Fanfooty, AFL Tables, Footywire and FinalSiren.com for providing data used to compile these numbers.

Please Note: many manual calculations were used and human error is possible.

#1 Picks (1993-2006)

Career AFL Fantasy Average: 78.18

Average Games Played: 241.64

Average Career-High Fantasy Season: 95.53

Best Career Average: Marc Murphy (95.87)

Best Single-Season Average: Brendon Goddard (113.4)

Other notable names: Nick Riewoldt, Bryce Gibbs, Luke Hodge, Brett Deledio, Adam Cooney

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Being the number 1 pick is a heavy burden to bear for any 18-19-year-old fresh out of high school. With the expectation to be the face of a (usually) struggling team; to lead it out of the doldrums of wooden spoon land and back into relevance.

However, the top dogs in the AFL draft have constantly been up to the task in recent years and have also come up big in our fantasy teams.

Within our sample size, the number 1 overall picks averaged nearly 80 fantasy points across the span of their careers while the average career games played (including finals) was over 240 games.

AFL legends Luke Hodge, Nick Riewoldt and Brendon Goddard were all selected with the prized 1st pick. However, it might come as a surprise to some that Carlton stalwart, Marc Murphy has been the best fantasy player of the star-studded bunch (followed closely by former teammate Bryce Gibbs (95.41)).

Murphy has been a somewhat underrated fantasy gem during his time at the Blues, being the face of the franchise throughout a topsy-turvy and ultimately unremarkable era at the club. Murphy handed over the captaincy at the end of 2018 to fresh-faced fantasy jets, Sam Docherty and Patrick Cripps, in the hope they can steer the Navy Blues to a brighter future. Unfortunately, many may have the same optimism as the AFL’s graphics department and their (possibly accidental) “abandon ship!” sentiment:

Perhaps indicative of improved scouting, or the quality of draft classes during this time, but remarkable nonetheless, is that every player in our sample drafted in the 2000’s (2000-2006) have already notched over 200 games (some are still playing) and averaged over 82 fantasy points throughout their careers. More impressive, is that 5 out of the 7 number 1 draftees during that time (Goddard, Gibbs, Murphy, Riewoldt and Deledio) have averaged over 110 fantasy points in their best career seasons (home & away only).

These sizeable averages can be attributed to a variety of factors that extend beyond just pure talent at the top end. From 1993-2006, the 1st overall selection had the highest proportion of midfielders drafted (50%) of any of the top 10 picks (aside from pick 8 which was an outlier at equal top) and as we know the midfield is the bread and butter of fantasy scoring.

In fact, the non-midfielders selected 1st during this time only averaged 68.62 fantasy points for their careers – an average that includes Riewoldt’s outrageous 93.12 career average as a forward.

From 2000-2018, there have only been six non-midfield players drafted with the number 1 overall pick: Nick Riewoldt (2000), Matthew Kruezer (2007), Jonathon Patton (2011), Tom Boyd (2013), Patrick McCartin (2014) and Jacob Weitering (2015).

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The 2018 draft looks set to be another midfielder coming through the ranks, with the highly touted disposal magnet and running machine, Sam Walsh, still thought (as of print time) to be selected with the prized first pick in the draft.

#2 Picks (1993-2006)

Career AFL Fantasy avg: 70.52

Average Games Played: 205

Average Career-High Fantasy Season: 87.25

Best Career Average: Luke Ball (87.43)

Best Single Season Average: Dale Thomas (102.9)

Other Notable Names: Nigel Lappin, Paul Haselby, Daniel Wells, Jarryd Roughead, Brad Ottens

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In the past couple of years, the number 2 pick has brought to us some shining future fantasy stars in Tim Taranto and Andrew Brayshaw.

While the 2018 draft could very well see a key position player taken at pick 2 (and potentially not the fantasy beast we’d be hoping for), in recent years the pick has produced some quality fantasy studs.

The career fantasy average of pick 2’s between 1993-2006 was a smidge over 70, nearly eight points shy of numero uno, while their career games played fell nearly 40 games short; still a very respectable mark at over 200 games.

Ironically, only two number 2’s averaged over 100 in their best season (Nigel Lappin and Daisy Thomas), meaning only 14% of the players drafted at pick 2 during this time had even one season averaging over 100 fantasy points. A mark far worse than the 1st overall picks – who had nearly 43% average over 100 in their best year.

However, the quality of second overall picks shines through when we unpack the data further and realise that 64% averaged over 90 fantasy points in their best career seasons. Aside from the number 1 overall pick, the best mark of any top 10 pick by more than 20%.

Along with Taranto and Brayshaw, the number 2 pick in 2013 could provide some significant assistance in boosting the numbers in this category should we revisit this in a few years. Josh Kelly is currently boasting a 91.13 career fantasy average in his 100 career games, with a career-best single season average of 112.9 in 2017.

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This year’s draft could see a host of players go here, including Walsh if the Blues pass on him or trade the pick to another team keener on South Aussie, Jack Lukosius. The 194cm forward is a hard-running, Jack Gunston type player, per draft guru Callum Twomey.

#3 Picks (1993-2006)

Career AFL Fantasy Average: 65.63

Average games played: 180.93

Average Career-High Fantasy Season: 82.29

Best Career Average: Chris Judd (86.37)

Best Single Season Average: Ryan Griffen (105.5)

Other Notable Names: Shannon Grant, Colin Sylvia, Jared Brennan, Alan Didak

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Football is so often being compared to basketball these days, doesn’t it get on your nerves!? Anyway, much like Michael Jordan in the NBA who went pick 3 back in 1984, it may very well end up being the case in the AFL that pick 3 was also host to the GOAT. I speak of course, of Hugh ‘The Suitcase’ McCluggage.

Pick 3 is also where the mighty Weagles (sorry, but #flagz) drafted Chris Judd, who went on to be an all-time great West Coast-Carlton player. While Judd led pick 3’s during this time in career fantasy average, he was more of a SuperCoach mammoth than an out-and-out fantasy gun (he averaged 131.7 SuperCoach points back in 2006 – that’s a lot right, Steve?).

Despite the career fantasy average of pick 3’s being a seemingly underwhelming 65.63, particularly considering an equal number of midfielders 43% were taken at pick 2. That number is still the 3rd highest average in the top 10, while players selected at pick 3 also provided solid fantasy value from a games-played perspective, with over 180 games played.

During this sample, aside from a couple great years from Ryan Griffen, a few respectable years from Shannon Grant and Colin Sylvia (RIP, sincerely), and the aforementioned Judd; pick 3 lacked a bit of ‘star power’ from a fantasy perspective.

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However, since 2013, the 3rd pick has provided us with some players with genuine star potential in the fantasy arena. Jack Billings (2013), Angus Brayshaw (2014), Callum Mills (2015), Hugh McCluggage (2016), and Paddy Pow (2017) are all sure to be prominent fixtures on our keeper decision-making radars for years to come. Is Izak Rankine the next in line? We’ll find out soon enough.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

After the big 3 in the draft, the numbers tend to drop off a tad – all bar pick 5 which had some extraordinary fantasy names across our sample (Scott Pendlebury – 102.17 career avg, Travis Boak – 89.16, Lance Franklin – 85.93, Luke Power – 82.46, all with over 240 games played, with 3 still playing), making pick 5 the only pick with seemingly similar top 3 value in career fantasy average, games played and career-high single season fantasy average.

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The value of the number 1 pick in the modern era is almost as crucial in fantasy football as it is in real life.

From 1993-2006, pick 1 recorded the highest fantasy career average, games played and career-high single season average, while recording the highest percentage of players to exceed both 90 and 100 fantasy points (86% and 43% respectively).

50% of the top 10 career averages belonged to pick 1’s, with the same percentage sitting in the top 10 for best single-season averages. Picking up that bona fide #1 stud gives you the best chance to change your dynasty franchise, or in a deep keeper league, to reinvigorate your list for years to come.

Our data, while certainly utilising far less complex and inevitably less accurate formulas than in Coventry’s Footballistics, doubles down on the real-life reality outlined in his book:

“There is a significant, real-world premium on holding early draft picks” (Footballistics, pp. 171).

2 comments on “The Top 10 AFL Draft Picks: A Fantasy Perspective (Part I)”

  1. Very interesting stuff for dynasty leagues of your tossing up between player A drafted at pick 5 and player B drafted at pick B

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