In each and every AFL draft, whether it be the National, Rookie or Pre-Season edition, there is value to be found.
Players who may not have excelled greatly in their top age junior season, those who take a little longer to mature or the ones who only really switch on once they are finally given the chance at the elite level.
Over the course of the last 20 years, all of the 18 AFL clubs have been able to unearth some hidden gems who have delivered plenty despite the trivial initial investment.
There are plenty of success stories to focus on so we’ve looked into the players who had/are having great careers despite being picked up late in a particular draft or even being held over as a rookie or pre-season selection.
Pick 58 for Dane Swan? Is that right?! Dylan Grimes, Bachar Houli and Eddie Betts in the Pre-Season Draft? Are you serious?! Jeremy McGovern a rookie? Yes he was.
These are the best value selections from the National and Rookie/Pre-Season drafts since the year 2000.
Pick 75, National Draft 2007
In 2007, the Crows used the very last pick (75) of the National Draft on a kid from Broken Hill named Taylor Walker. That’s a total of 74 selections that were made before him (including passes). ‘Tex’ would go on to lead the club, win the AFLPA’s best captain award twice and has kicked the second most amount of goals in Crows colours behind Tony Modra. Current skipper Rory Sloane was taken with pick 44 in 2008 in another clever piece of recruiting.
Pick 40, Rookie Draft 2002
Adelaide found an absolute bargain in the 2002 rookie draft in the form of Rutten at pick 40. After starting as a forward, he made his name as one of the best full-backs of his era. He played 229 games and was selected in the 2005 All-Australian side. Two-time All-Australian Rory Laird was taken by the Crows with pick 5 in the 2012 rookie draft - another superb value selection.
Pick 61, National Draft 2014
Harris Andrews looms as a future captain of Brisbane and is coming off an All-Australian season at just 23. The key defender was an Academy selection for the Lions, but given they were able to wait until the fourth round of the draft to scoop him up, clearly other clubs weren’t aware of what they were missing out on.
Pick 5, Pre-Season Draft 2009
Finding a future club captain outside of the National Draft is a huge win no matter which way you look at it. Tom Rockliff was a reliable ball accumulator for the Lions, winning two best and fairests and making the All-Australian side in 2014 across his 154 games for the club. He's since continued his good form at Port Adelaide.
Pick 45, National Draft 2002
Carlton was stripped of their top picks in the 2002 National Draft, but somehow managed to find a 300-gamer in the fourth round. Spending most of his career on the wing before settling across half-back, Kade Simpson has played 326 and remains one of the Blues’ most reliable players in 2020 despite recently turning 36.
Pick 3, Pre-Season Draft 2005
Carlton picked up Eddie Betts in the Pre-Season Draft with clubs overlooking him in part because of groin issues that plagued him throughout his junior years. It’s fair to say the risk paid off for the Blues, with Betts kicking 290 goals in 184 games for the club. He has now returned to the club for the 2020 season following a stint at the Crows.
Pick 58, National Draft 2001
The 2001 super draft was full of gems and one who slid to the fourth round was Brownlow Medallist Dane Swan. Swan’s resume speaks for itself – 258 games, three best and fairests (including in a premiership year), AFLPA MVP and five All-Australian selections in a row between 2009 and 2013.
Pick 15, Rookie Draft 2003
Collingwood found a future premiership captain in the Rookie Draft, which is pretty handy. The defensive leader made the 2009 All-Australian team, played 208 games for the Pies and was appointed captain of the club for the 2009 season. He may not be the biggest star on this list, but had a profound impact on the Magpies.
Pick 55, National Draft 2013
The 2013 draft remains one of the best in the past 20 years and for good reason – Marcus Bontempelli, Patrick Cripps and Josh Kelly were all taken in the top 20. But the 2013 draft is also known for its depth and one of those players is Fantasia, who was picked up with a speculative 55th pick. The 24-year-old may have struggled with injury of late but when fully fit, he’s shown just how good he can be at AFL level. His best season was in 2017 where he kicked 39 goals and was one of the League’s most damaging small forwards.
Pick 47, Rookie Draft 2012
The 33-year-old was recruited as a mature-ager with pick 47 in the 2012 Rookie Draft and gave his absolute all for the Bombers in his 134 games for the club. Essendon has had a few rookie successes in the past two decades –Damien Peverill, Heath Hocking and Ben Howlett spring to mind – but Baguley is the pick of the bunch due to his versatility and willingness to sacrifice himself for the betterment of his side.
Pick 58, National Draft 2011
While he may be a Brisbane Lions player now, Fremantle got genuine value by picking up the gun midfielder at pick 58 in the 2011 draft. Neale started relatively slowly at AFL level but from 2014, he’s exploded to become one of the league’s best midfielders. His first season at Brisbane was arguably his best year, playing in every game for his new club and averaging more than 30 touches.
Pick 33, Rookie Draft 2002
There’s a case to be made that Sandilands redefined the ruck position during his heyday so it’s hard to believe that Fremantle picked him up with pick 33 in the 2002 Rookie Draft. He didn’t take too long to get going at AFL level – playing 19 games in his debut year. While injuries may have curbed the influence of the 211cm big man in his final years at AFL level, Sandilands remains of the best players in Fremantle history.
Pick 40, National Draft 2016
Tom Stewart was running around playing under Cats great Matthew Scarlett for South Barwon in the Geelong Football League back in 2015 before he got serious and had a crack at the VFL the following year. It was the insistence of Scarlett that he should try his luck at a higher level. Fast forward to today and the unassuming defender has already played 69 AFL matches and been selected in the past two All-Australian sides. A fantastic return for a mature-age pick 40.
Pick 54, Rookie Draft 2012
A former steeplechaser runner, Blicavs has proved a shrewd acquisition via the Rookie Draft. Blicavs’ versatility and aerobic strength has seen him play a number of roles that’s made him an indispensable member of Geelong’s side. He’s a two-time best and fairest winner and was rewarded with five-year contract extension in 2018.
Pick 88, National Draft 2011
The 26-year old remains one of Gold Coast’s most underrated players. Sexton was taken at just pick 88 in the 2011 draft and has already played 119 games for the Suns in eight years. The key forward kicked 39 goals in 2019, including hauls of four in rounds one and two last year.
Pick 67, Rookie Draft 2016
Gold Coast’s success in the Rookie Draft has been limited but they did find Joyce with pick 67 in the 2016 Rookie Draft. The versatile defender has already played 64 games and proven himself to be a solid player at senior level.
Matt De Boer
Pick 58, National Draft 2016
Rewind five years and the Giants made a shrewd call in handing an AFL lifeline to De Boer. He had just been delisted by Fremantle when GWS used pick 58 on him in the 2016 National Draft. In orange and charcoal, De Boer has become one of the AFL’s elite run-with players, helping the Giants reach the finals in each of this three years with the club to date. Another nice piece of recruiting was the selection of Jeremy Finlayson at 85 in 2014.
Pick 55, Rookie Draft 2013
The Giants unearthed an absolute gem when they called the name of Zac Williams at pick 55 in the 2013 Rookie Draft. He became the expansion club’s first Academy graduate and quickly vindicated the selection by getting 11 senior games under his belt in his debut season. Fast forward seven years and he has played 102 games and is regarded as one of GWS’ top handful of elite players.
Pick 36, National Draft 2001
Very hard to go past the third-round selection a player who would go on to be a four-time premiership midfielder, premiership captain, Brownlow Medallist, three-time All-Australian and five-time best and fairest. Many clubs overlooked Mitchell but the Hawks acted in 2001 and boy did their punt pay handsome dividends. He will be remembered as one of the most important players throughout their recent dominance of the competition. Reigning best and fairest James Worpel (45 in 2017) and promising defender James Sicily (56 in 2013) could both prove to be very shrewd acquisitions.
Pick 47, Rookie Draft 2009
The Hawks picked up a skilful small forward from country New South Wales in the 2009 Rookie Draft (pick 47) without too much fuss. It would take Breust more than two years to make his senior debut but he has since gone on to kick 395 goals in 208 games while winning three flags, two All-Australian selections and two leading goalkicker awards. Only eight players have kicked more goals in the brown and gold which is a fabulous return for a tiny investment.
Pick 34, National Draft 2009
Now the captain of the Demons, life at AFL level wasn’t always so easy for the ruckman picked up with pick 34 in the 2009 draft. After battling early injury troubles, Gawn has become of the best ruckmen in the league, having been named in the All-Australian team on three separate occasions. Melbourne did extremely well to pick up a future captain in the third round of a National Draft.
Pick 3, Rookie Draft 2004
Melbourne has done well out of the Rookie Draft in the past 20 years – including big men Mark Jamar and Darren Jolly – but its best recruit is Davey, who was pick three in the 2004 Rookie Draft. Davey was a highly valued member of a side that largely struggled throughout his time at the club. In a career that spanned 178 games, winning the best and fairest award in 2009 remains a clear standout for a player that deserved more team success during his career. After playing 20 games in 2013, Davey announced that season would be his last.
Pick 47, National Draft 2013
No player in the AFL has kicked more goals across the last three seasons than Brown, who has become an incredibly reliable key forward option. Drafted in the fourth round out of Tasmania, the Kangaroos found a player to build their forward line around. Brown continues to get better with every passing year.
Pick 10, Rookie Draft 2003
Firrito was as reliable a defender as any across the 2000s after being picked up by the Roos out of the VFL. He played 275 games between 2003 and 2016 and while he doesn’t have the accolades as some on this list, he was a lock in the North Melbourne backline for a long period of time.
Pick 55, National Draft 2006
Port Adelaide struck gold when selecting Gray with its fourth pick in the 2006 draft. A bona fide star of the AFL and one of the Power’s greatest players, Gray is a four-time All-Australian, triple best and fairest winner and five-time Showdown medallist. The silky-skilled midfielder/forward is second behind Warren Tredrea on Port Adelaide’s list of all-time leading goalkickers in the AFL era.
Pick 16, Rookie Draft 2011
Jonas was rookied by Port Adelaide in 2011 and upgraded to the senior list a year later. Since the elevation, the dogged defender has become a defensive mainstay for the Power. Jonas was named co-captain alongside Ollie Wines in 2019 and now holds the mantle solely for the 2020 season. He follows Gavin Wanganeen, Matthew Primus, Warren Tredrea, Dom Cassisi and Travis Boak in donning the prestigious No. 1 jumper.
Pick 55, National Draft 2000
Two decades previous to now, Richmond would use pick 55 on Chris Newman. He didn’t become a first-choice Tiger until 2003 but from then on he was a cherished favourite. Many revere his leadership so much so that they feel he left a legacy strong enough to help inspire the drought-breaking 2017 premiership. Captained the club for four years and played 268 games.
Pick 2, Pre-Season Draft 2010
The Rookie Draft has been a happy hunting ground for the Tigers, particularly in recent years when you think about the success of players such as Kane Lambert, Jason Castagna and Jayden Short. But one of their best value selections came in the 2010 Pre-Season Draft in the form of Grimes. It took a while for him to get going (five seasons to get past 30 games) but he has now become one of the top few defenders in the competition. A two-time premiership player and All-Australian, similar to Bachar Houli who was taken in the 2011 Pre-Season Draft after being discarded by Essendon. Both brilliant pieces of recruiting by the Tiges.
Pick 37, National Draft 2001
A member of the star-studded 2001 ‘super draft’, St Kilda selected Montagna with its fifth selection. The midfielder overcame a slow start to finish on 287 games across 16 seasons in the red, white and black. Montagna is a dual All-Australian and finished top three in St Kilda’s best and fairest on five occasions.
Pick 23, Rookie Draft 2000
Milne proved an inspired rookie selection by St Kilda in 2000. Recruited from Essendon reserves, the small forward kicked 574 goals for the Saints, is a two-time All-Australian and won the club’s goalkicking award three times. Milne held the record for the most games by a rookie before he was surpassed by West Coast ruckman Dean Cox.
Pick 40, National Draft 2010
Parker and Sydney are a perfect match. Parker has developed into an elite midfielder who thrives on the contest – a characteristic synonymous with the Swans. Named co-captain in 2019, Parker has plenty of time to add to his premiership, All-Australian blazer and two best and fairest awards in an already impressive career.
Pick 58, Rookie Draft 2005
The son of rugby league legend Garry, Jack carved out an excellent 13-year AFL career. Promoted off the rookie list in 2007, Jack skippered Sydney from 2013 to 2016, won a premiership in 2012, was named All-Australian twice and added a best and fairest to his CV in 2010. Jack sits equal eighth on the all-time rookie games list and embodied the famous ‘Bloods Culture’ at the Swans.
Pick 37, National Draft 2004
The Eagles have a few worthy nominations for this particular position but the nod must go to LeCras. For pick 37 (2004 National Draft) you would expect a decent player but what he achieved no doubt exceeded expectations. He won a best and fairest, two leading goalkicker awards, one All-Australian selection and the 2018 premiership in his final season. LeCras sits third on West Coast’s all-time goalkicking list with 441. Only Josh Kennedy and Peter Sumich are in front of him.
Pick 44, Rookie Draft 2011
Pick 44 of a Rookie Draft. No senior AFL footy until the age of 22. It’s not often the recipe for a future four-time All-Australian. But the Eagles found a gem when they picked up McGovern in the 2011 Rookie Draft. He didn’t debut until 2014 but then quickly came of age once he got a taste for the big time. Four successive All-Australian selections, a premiership, 127 games and counting and one of the very elite intercept defenders in the game. Bargain basement price for supreme quality. Very honourable mention to 2014 Brownlow Medallist Matt Priddis who was picked up at 31 in the 2006 rookie draft.
Pick 71, National Draft 2001
The Western Bulldogs found a 200-game full-back at the very end of the draft. Lake was a key part of some very strong teams early in his career and made the All-Australian side in 2009 and 2010. He would, of course, finish his career at Hawthorn, winning three consecutive premierships and a Norm Smith Medal in 2013.
Pick 23, Rookie Draft 2002
Boyd was not taken in the 2001 super draft, instead slipping into the rookie pool before the Dogs picked him up. He went on to be among the best players from that draft, playing 292 games, making three All-Australian teams, winning three best and fairests, captaining the side between 2011 and 2013, and playing his role in the drought-breaking 2016 premiership team.