We all love a breakout. It’s the hype. Every player is crushing it, every team is set to play finals and there’s no-one who’s not getting a run in the midfield. Only, we know that’s bullshit. Coaches (and the media) talk up players ad nauseum to sell papers, hope, memberships and get clicks. We know there’s A teams and B teams and that’s a whole bunch of players from one club in the midfield. We know stars are being held out and some are on modified programs. However, one of the easiest (and historically successful) ways to look for breakouts is through vacated possessions. Be it role change, a trade or free agent move, or worse, a serious injury, these are the areas we should be looking at first and foremost for fantasy points and then deciding how valuable they are. It’s a better place than randomly suggesting a point increase for the sake of it. We can look at Darcy Parish’s uptick when Dylan Shiel was out of the side, the fantasy relevance of Blake Hardwick with Sicily out and James Worpel regressing when Tom Mitchell returned with a new leg.

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Gold Coast Midfield – As a lifelong Suns fan, it crushed me when our piss poor list management team were rightfully made to look like donkeys when Hugh Greenwood was poached by North Melbourne. The fantasy relevance is really interesting because Greenwood is incredibly strong in a couple of stat areas. He averaged the most tackles per game in 2021 and the 21st most contested possessions per game. Greenwood’s weakness is winning uncontested ball, so there’s not a whole heap of that on the table. When he was injured midway through 2021, he was replaced in the side by Brayden Fiorini who went out and did Fiorini things – namely, rack up fantasy points. Now, that can absolutely continue, we’ve seen it. The other likely candidates who get bulk mid time are Noah Anderson and Matt Rowell. If we look at the two, Rowell has been the better tackler and, perhaps surprisingly, Anderson gathered more contested possessions. Although, if we look back to Rowell’s first year, he was incredible in both the contested possession and tackle area. Now, that’s a small sample size and Greenwood wasn’t around. There is a world where all three of those players listed are really fantasy relevant and improve. We have also seen Gold Coast want to play a defensive mid, so don’t be shocked to see a Nick Holman type bob up. The other thing to consider in this area – Gold Coast were ranked 2nd for tackles – they might just be worse in that area.

Fremantle Midfield – So Adam Cerra was one of the high profile players to change club and he was fantasy relevant in 2021. Now, I’m kind of drawn to the Carlton side of things, but there’s an obvious opening on the Fremantle side and it’s interesting in that it seems hard to pick who wins. Cerra split time between the inside and outside – namely playing heavier inside when Nat Fyfe missed. He won on the outside with a high mark and uncontested possession tally. We’re looking at the wings, people. Now, we hear reports about Acres, Henry, O’Driscoll and Aish on the wings during the Freo preseason and that’s all well and good, but I want to think about this a second. Fyfe isn’t involved at the moment. Mundy isn’t involved at the moment. Those are the second and third highest CBA attendees from last year at Fremantle behind Caleb Serong. So if those guys are involved and shift some of the players currently enjoying some on ball time – do we have a different feel about maybe Tucker being out there? We know Tucker can win out the outside, can fill in inside – almost a like for like. Given we could say Cerra is a tough guy to replace, we’d most likely be looking to players with non-mid status to help our teams. It feels Hardwicky in that the obvious solution might not be in front of us right now. James Aish could certainly bob up but everyone loves youth so perhaps it’s Henry or someone else. I feel it’s a really interesting space to watch over the preseason and take a gamble on. Something for every fantasy format.

Sydney – I say Sydney without a position group, and arguably the defence is the area to target but let’s chat. George Hewett and Jordan Dawson are gone. That’s 10% of the Sydney tackles, disposals and marks out. Now, they are different in that Hewett is a defensive, very replaceable on the stats sheet player and Dawson is the luxury on the outside. Dawson split time between defence and the wing. Hewett was pushed from defence back into the midfield once Chad Warner was out. The players who look the part to benefit are the outside specialists. Oli Florent has been around a while yet without being super fantasy relevant and is mid only. Non mid options to potentially benefit who have the game style are Justin McInerney, Nick Blakey, Harry Cunningham and potentially Errol Gulden who could be anything. There’s a lot up for grabs and it will likely change over the season. Could we even see a Dylan Stephens crack it for a run? As usual with outside roles, it’s hard to get a big uptick feel for mid only status players.

North Melbourne Wings – Say what? No-one left North? Yeah, well, JAGs count in fantasy footy. In case you weren’t paying attention, and given it’s North you weren’t, Trent Dumont and Shaun Atley are out. Whilst it doesn’t seem like a big deal, these guys played the back half of the year together and stacked up 11 marks a game between them. Primo outside players. We’ve spoken about North’s increasingly deepening midfield, but the players we talk about aren’t the outside types. The real opportunity is on the wings. North were a heavy mark team like most bad teams in 2021. We’re talking the Suns, Collingwood, St Kilda and Geelong. Pathetic. Anyways, there’s some opportunity. Tom Powell is a player we love at DD HQ. Jaidyn Stephenson could continue to be a stud if he stays off bikes. Luke McDonald is a player in the AFL. Jared Polec is a person. sources tell me. They’re a team worth looking at as the better teams are taking fewer marks these days.

Collingwood Wings – In one of the more shocking developments of 2021, Chris Mayne was a fantasy stud. Averaging the seventh most marks in the league across his 17 games, Mayne just sucked up uncontested pill and found space. His 92 AF average making him very rosterable, even as a mid. That average, is ahead of even Adam Cerra. The variable at Collingwood is a new coach who may not employ such a mark heavy game plan. In fact, it may be a measure of a poor side in this day and age. Anyway, there’s a vacant wing role – names who fit the profile – Will Hoskin-Elliott already averaged a heap of marks and is a strong candidate, Caleb Poulter showed out with some big games that came on the back of heavy mark totals and perhaps a post-hype sleeper in Josh Daicos, who was tipped to break out in 2021 but had a nagging injury and regressed. We could also see more Sidebottom on the wing, but the hard part for the first three players is that they’re all mid only, so rising to a rosterable average will take quite a step up. At least two of them should feature for keeper teams.

Carlton Defence – So Carlton have lost from last year, one of the top spoils per game player in Liam Jones and, as it stands, Sam Docherty is dealing with some bigger issues than footy and of course, we hope he’s back healthy soon. However, from a fantasy output, there is almost 28 kicks, 13 marks and a heap of intercepts to go around. Now, we can probably put Nic Newman in the drivers seat for Docherty’s role, but Jones was a streamable SuperCoach defender who was defended the most 1 on 1’s at Carlton and had the best loss rate of their KPDs. In fact, he had easily the lowest loss rate of any player to defend over five 1 on 1s per game. So, it’s really a good look for the salary-cappers out there if there’s someone cheap coming through, but it also may mean Weitering isn’t as fantasy friendly this year if forced to defend (and help) more.

The next article we’ll look at the other side – muddled areas to be concerned about.