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A first look at this year's intriguing draft crop


This time 12 months ago, Andy McGrath wouldn’t have been at the top of anyone’s draft board – and neither was his Sandringham Dragons teammate Tim Taranto, who ultimately went at No.2.

So who are the possible candidates for the No.1 pick this year as things stand?

Bendigo Pioneers duo Jarrod Brander and Lochie O’Brien are highly thought of, as is Eastern Ranges jumping-jack Jaidyn Stephenson, while teammate Adam Cerra has returned after a year out with injury and is already reminding everyone of the form he displayed as a 16-year-old.

Stephenson is a unique prospect. Inside forward 50 he can be unplayable, and scouts are eager to see him show his speed and tricks through midfield on a more regular basis. He is arguably the most talented individual in this draft, a real match-winner.

In South Australia, Darcy Fogarty has local track-watchers buzzing and looks the state’s best draft prospect at this early stage, however, Nathan Krueger’s potential also has some recruiters intrigued.

Up north, Connor Ballenden has been much-talked about over the past 12 months and Brisbane Lions fans will be watching his progress intently.

Every draft has its own character. Last year it was all about the midfielders — they were here, there and everywhere.

But while the 2017 doesn’t possess the same depth at this early stage, it has more balance.

Western’s Cameron Rayner — who reminds many of Richmond’s Dustin Martin, Murray's Charlie Spargo, Eastern’s Joel Garner, Oakleigh’s Jack Higgins, Dandenong pair Hunter Clark and Luke Davies-Uniacke, Northern duo Jack Petruccelle and Nick Coffield, Sandringham’s Charlie Constable and Andrew Brayshaw, Bendigo’s Paddy Dow and Geelong’s James Worpel are a few other midfielders to keep an eye on.

As for the talls, Calder’s athletic swingman Noah Balta, Dandenong goalkicker Tom De Koning, Oakleigh’s Toby Wooller are three more key forwards with talent, and at the other end, Oscar Clavarino from Dandenong has some nice traits.

Eastern Ranges ruckman Sam Hayes gets around the ground as well, but it is his decision-making and ball use that helps separate him from the rest.

It appears to be a thin year for Western Australia, which is a concern for some clubs.

A recent recommendation by the Boston Consulting Group to the WA Football Commission called for the Colts competition to revert to a TAC Cup-style six-team model.

It includes moving Colts games away from Saturday mornings to ensure the young talent are playing in the best conditions possible, but the change is facing some resistance from WAFL clubs.

As for the players, Jake Patmore has speed off half back and Aaron Naughton showed a bit last year in defence, but he hasn’t been a part of any elite junior program.

West Perth’s Oscar Allen is one of the few Sandgropers worth watching.

The 193cm athletic forward was named centre half forward in the 2016 Colts Team of the Year and was runner-up in the Falcons’ best and fairest. There is a buzz about him.

Perhaps the biggest talking point to come out of the early exchanges of the Under 18 season, however, is the strength of next year’s top-end prospects.

Even though we are only a few weeks into this season, recruiters have constantly found themselves looking down at the footy record when a player does something eye-catching, only to notice that he is a bottom-ager and therefore ineligible for this year’s drafts.

It was certainly the case at the MCG on Sunday, when the level one academy prospects (eligible for next year’s draft) shone brighter than those in level two (this year’s batch).

The King brothers at Sandringham – Max and Ben – would be included in the top tier of prospects this year, if they were eligible.

Max, as a key forward (he kicked four goals in the season opener), and Ben, as a key defender, already look two of the standouts for the 2018 draft.

Nick Blakey – son of ex-Fitzroy and North Melbourne defender John – also appears to be at the pointy end as well after some quality outings in the Division Two national championships that are already underway.

He is available to both clubs as a father-son selection, but also to Sydney Swans as part of its academy.

Woodville West Torrens utility Jack Lukosius is another who continues to impress at each level he runs out at.


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