19 AFL Fantasy players you need to add to your watchlist for 2023

It’s getting close. If you’re like me, your year tends to revolve around certain events, with December usually the busiest month of all. There’s Christmas, the end of the work year in most circumstances, Spotify Wrapped is announced, and of course, the AFL Fantasy platform launches for a new season. It’s never too early to start brainstorming your side for the next fantasy footy campaign, and with the draft/trade period well and truly behind us, here are the names you need to remember for the 2023 quest. 

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Darcy Tucker, Kangaroos

Predicted Position: MID/FWD
2022 Numbers: 51.6 AVG from 12 AFL games; 100 AVG from 12 WAFL games
Estimated Price: $455K
Changing clubs in the offseason gives Darcy Tucker a chance to integrate himself in North’s best 22 and realise his fantasy potential. Tucker managed a dozen games at both AFL and WAFL level in 2022, however, his scoring output while rocking Fremantle colours was affected by the four games where he either started or ended the game as the substitute. As a member of Peel Thunder, Tucker thrived by averaging 22.5 touches, 5 marks and 4.5 tackles, and while we won’t expect those numbers during his time as a Roo, we could see the 25-year old find a home for himself on the wing/half-back line and provide coaches with a handy stepping stone to commence the year.

Tom Green, Giants

Predicted Position: MID
2022 Numbers: 84.9 AVG from 21 AFL games
Estimated Price: $748K
The departure of Jacob Hopper and Tim Taranto in GWS’ midfield means there’s a huge opportunity up for grabs for the players on their list. To absorb the loss of two ball-winning beasts, the Giants will need more than one player to step up, however, there’s reason to believe that Tom Green can thrive as a clearance specialist for the club. In fact, even with his former teammates around, Green led GWS in clearances per game (5.0) in 2022 which saw him produce the best fantasy numbers of his young career. After recording six scores of 100 or more, could we see the former top-10 pick take another leap next season?

Connor Rozee, Power

Predicted Position: MID/FWD
2022 Numbers: 88.1 AVG from 22 AFL games
Estimated Price: $776K
Cut from a very similar mould as Green, Connor Rozee has already had his breakout campaign in 2022, increasing his disposal output from 15.9 to 23.2 and his fantasy average from 67.6 to 88.1 culminating in a maiden All-Aus blazer. The personal accolades don’t stop there for Rozee, with Port’s young phenom crowned as their best and fairest winner during their recent vote count, narrowly beating Travis Boak out for the John Cahill Medal. If he can maintain FWD status then Rozee would be an appealing starting pick for some coaches, and there is optimism that he can go up another level and become a true star of the fantasy competition.

Lloyd Meek, Hawks

Predicted Position: RUC
2022 Numbers: 60.7 AVG from 6 AFL games; 104.1 from 15 WAFL games
Estimated Price: $470K
Time will tell whether Lloyd Meek is forced to share his time in the ruck or if Sam Mitchell gives him the lion’s share of the duties, but there’s no denying the fact that changing clubs gives him much more fantasy appeal. Stuck in a logjam behind Sean Darcy, then Rory Lobb and now Luke Jackson, it was clear that Meek needed to mix it up if he was going to find a regular AFL gig. The retirement of Ben ‘Big Boy’ McEvoy opens the door for someone to take the No. 1 ruck mantle, with Max Lynch and Ned Reeves the main competition for the former Docker. His cheap price tag will entice some, primarily if he performs well over the preseason, however, as a lot of Braydon Preuss owners found out this year, it’s important to have a backup plan.  

Matt Rowell, Suns

Predicted Position: MID
2022 Numbers: 75 AVG from 22 AFL games
Estimated Price: $660K
Can we still trust Matt Rowell? More than half of the fantasy faithful opted to pick a discounted Rowell last season, only to be disappointed with his output. Things looked great when he scored 117 points to start the season vs. West Coast, but that performance quickly looked like an anomaly with the former No. 1 overall pick hauling in just 27 marks for the entire year! Luckily, the Suns stud can still inflate his scores by tackling and accumulating touches, however, that might not be enough for a lot of coaches to take a chance on him next time around. His draft peer Noah Anderson looks like the real star on the Gold Coast and the fantasy community will be watching Rowell intently to see if he can catch his teammate and remain relevant.

Hayden Young, Dockers

Predicted Position: DEF
2022 Numbers: 87.6 AVG from 20 AFL games
Estimated Price: $772K
Another player who reached new heights last season, I’ve been high on Hayden Young for years now. If you include his two finals games, the damaging Docker averaged 96 fantasy points from his final seven games, looking at home in Freo’s backline while regularly chalking up +6’s. Increasing his average by almost 20 points, it’s fair to assume Young won’t expand his scoring by too much in 2023, but there’s a world where Fremantle regularly put the ball in his hands and his point totals flourish, having shown in the past that he can be lethal via foot. His asking price might make it a risky maneuver to start with Hayden Young, although, you’ll want to make sure you keep an eye on him during the preseason.

Elijah Tsatas, Bombers

Predicted Position: MID
2022 Numbers: 115 AVG from 6 NAB League games
Estimated Price: $292K
I’ll admit it, I’m still a bit on the fence about Essendon selecting Elijah Tsatas 5th overall, but make no mistake, the former Oakleigh Charger screams fantasy star. His ability to play a role as an inside or outside midfielder should see the young Don score at a reasonable clip the moment he’s picked to play AFL footy, and there’s every possibility Essendon gives him that chance in Round 1. The newest Bomber did miss a big chunk of his final junior season with a fractured foot, although he quickly silenced any doubters by amassing 38 possessions (115 points) in his return match. Even with Tsatas’ scoring ceiling as a rookie impacted by where Essendon elects to play him, he’ll quickly prove himself to be a popular must-have in the fantasy community.

Tim Taranto, Tigers

Predicted Position: MID/FWD
2022 Numbers: 95.5 AVG from 16 AFL games
Estimated Price: $841K
Tim Taranto will enter the 2023 season as one of the most selected players in the entire game. Set to be 2023’s version of Josh Dunkley, Taranto’s FWD status will make him hot property as the new Tiger looks set to put his case forward as the No. 1 forward option. Joining Richmond in the offseason, Taranto will look to integrate himself permanently in their engine room, after seeing his magnet thrown around during his final few seasons with GWS. We’ve seen the versatile gun produce two seasons averaging 107+ in the past and there’s no reason why Taranto can’t reach those heights again next season and become one of the highest-scoring players in the game.

Dustin Martin, Tigers

Predicted Position: MID/FWD
2022 Numbers: 72.4 AVG from 8 AFL games
Estimated Price: $672K
It wouldn’t have taken much to sell you on Tim Taranto, can I now interest you in another Tiger? Dusty had a year from hell in 2022, with on and off the field issues restricting the Richmond great to just eight games and the worst fantasy season of his career. By all reports, Martin is ready to rip into pre-season training and put this difficult season in the rear vision mirror, however, fantasy coaches will have understandable scepticism following two injury-interrupted seasons. Still, priced in the low 70’s, it’s worth monitoring Dusty throughout the preseason as he may become a handy stepping stone to an elite FWD option.

Jack Bowes, Cats

Predicted Position: DEF
2022 Numbers: 80.6 AVG from 5 AFL games
Estimated Price: $603K
Jack Bowes’ biggest problem in recent times has been his inability to stay healthy. The former Gold Coast defender has had bright moments, only to have his fantasy potential curtailed by numerous injury issues. Arriving in Geelong could help to unlock his capabilities, with the 24-year-old still more than capable of slotting into this lineup and contributing. A lot has been made about the age of this list, but Bowes can step in and carve out a role for himself off the halfback line with the possibility he pushes into the midfield for small periods of time. I won’t be the only one who is intrigued to see how Geelong deploys their new weapon, but given his discounted starting price (priced at 68) there’s merit in picking Bowes for your initial squad.

Image from geelongcats.com.au

Aaron Hall, Kangaroos

Predicted Position: DEF
2022 Numbers: 90 AVG from 11 AFL games
Estimated Price: $793K
There are a lot of questions and queries surrounding Aaron Hall as we look towards the next fantasy campaign. Can he stay healthy? How will Alastair Clarkson utilise Hall? At 32 years old, are his days as a fantasy star over? Checking in as the 15th most expensive defender, Hall showed glimpses of his unbelievable 2021 form last season, producing four scores over 110 from his 11 matches. Previously used as North’s designated rebounder from the backline, Hall comes at a discount thanks to a pair of injury-affected scores, but he’s shaping up as the ultimate high-risk, high-reward defender. Monitor his preseason and act accordingly.

Will Ashcroft, Lions

Predicted Position: MID
2022 Numbers: 117.9 AVG from 14 NAB League games; 116.3 AVG from 3 VFL games
Estimated Price: $298K
You’ve heard all the hype around Will Ashcroft and you’ve probably seen the stats. Personally, I think the newest Lions cub is the most ready-made player we’ve seen in a long time, with his first year set to rival the likes of Sam Walsh and Nick Daicos. He may find it difficult to maintain an average that compares to those two former rookie stars, with Brisbane stacked full of talented players who will do their fair share of the scoring. There’s a world where opposing coaches are so focused on stopping the likes of Lachie Neale, Josh Dunkley and Hugh McCluggage that Ashcroft gets off the chain, and no matter what role he plays, Ashcroft will be one of the most popular players in 2023.

Finlay Macrae, Magpies

Predicted Position: MID/FWD
2022 Numbers: 22.5 AVG from 2 AFL games; 91.8 AVG from 17 VFL games
Estimated Price: $251K
Could next year finally be the Fin Macrae breakout? Originally drafted in 2020, Macrae has been forced to hone his craft in the state competition, averaging 23.7 disposals for Collingwood’s VFL side. There is a path to success for the young Magpie next year though, despite Tom Mitchell joining the crusade, although Macrae may be forced to start games in the substitute vest, which obviously damages his fantasy potential. Priced around $250K, it’s at least worth considering Macrae for one of your last on field spots, or adding him to your watchlist as a downgrade target throughout the season.

Rowan Marshall, Saints

Predicted Position: RUC
2022 Numbers: 91.3 AVG from 21 AFL games
Estimated Price: $804K
Max King’s latest injury setback could see Rowan Marshall spend more time forward initially in 2023, but there’s a blueprint for the Saints’ big man to be the best fantasy ruckman. His 47 points in Round 23 left a bad taste in coaches’ mouths, but Marshall still managed to end last year on an absolute tear, averaging 109.2 points from his last nine games! Part of the reason he excelled to close the year was due to the fact St Kilda utilised him as their primary/sole ruck, and the fantasy community will be eager to see how Ross Lyon plans to deploy Marshall. If he’s given a license to roam and feature primarily as a solo ruckman, then expect his ownership percentage to skyrocket.

Image from standard.net.au

Jy Simpkin, Kangaroos

Predicted Position: MID
2022 Numbers: 95.5 AVG from 21 AFL games
Estimated Price: $841K
I’m extremely bullish on Jy Simpkin ahead of next season. North Melbourne’s future captain-in-waiting produced virtually identical seasons in the last two campaigns, scoring in the mid 90’s and doing a lot of heavy lifting in the midfield for the Kangaroos. With Alastair Clarkson at the helm, don’t be shocked if he helps Simpkin realise his potential and we see the North midfielder push his average closer to the 105-110 mark. There are bound to be a handful of fantasy MID’s that fall into the similar bracket as Simpkin, capable of inflating their average 10 or so points to crack triple-figures, but I remain confident that the ascending Roo will be the one you want on your team.

Christian Salem, Demons

Predicted Position: DEF
2022 Numbers: 73.8 AVG from 11 AFL games
Estimated Price: $650K
2022 was a year to forget for Christian Salem, with the Dees defender injuring his knee just minutes into the season opener vs. the Bulldogs. He returned to average 80.9 points from the final 10 games, but it was clear that Salem wasn’t operating at the same level that we’ve come to expect. Over the past few seasons, we’ve become accustomed to Salem scoring in the high 80’s/low 90’s and with a clean bill of health, hopefully, he can reach those same heights next year. Due to his injury woes, the premiership Demon will enter the new fantasy season underpriced, which may entice some coaches to put him in their starting DEF group.

Darcy Wilmot, Lions

Predicted Position: DEF
2022 Numbers: 65.1 AVG from 18 VFL games; 54.7 AVG in 3 AFL Finals
Estimated Price: $200K
Thanks to Darcy Wilmot debuting in the AFL Finals, he’ll enter next season as a basement-priced rookie. There are no guarantees that Wilmot will keep his spot in Brisbane’s senior side, but he didn’t look out of place during September action, producing scores of 52, 61 and 51 in three games. While playing for the Lions’ VFL side earlier in the year, the rookie defender averaged a consistent 65 points through 18 games and even if he’s forced to bide his time again at the state level, Wilmot looms as an important DEF cash cow to watch next season.

Jason Horne-Francis, Kangaroos Power

Predicted Position: MID/FWD
2022 Numbers: 62.4 AVG from 17 AFL games; 104 AVG from 2 VFL games
Estimated Price: $549K
A fresh start with Port Adelaide could help JHF recapture the form that made him look like the most damaging player in the 2021 draft class. Things did not go according to plan during his brief stint with the Kangaroos, although there were moments on the footy field where Horne-Francis looked like the star we expected him to be. After undergoing offseason surgery to decompress the arteries behind his knees, Power and fantasy fans alike are hoping that we can see Horne-Francis catch fire and produce a fantasy average closer to 80. There’s some risk associated with picking JHF, however, there’s also plenty of upside on offer if Port’s newest rising star can find his mojo.

Tom Mitchell, Magpies

Predicted Position: MID
2022 Numbers: 96.3 AVG from 21 AFL games
Estimated Price: $847K
Lock and load. Tom Mitchell enters the new fantasy season at a supreme discount after a strange year with Hawthorn. There were moments when he looked like the fantasy megastar we all know and love (120 points in Rd. 10 vs. Lions, 119 points in Rd. 16 vs. Giants), but Mitchell didn’t perform at the level we’ve become accustomed to expecting from the Brownlow Medalist. Landing at Collingwood should see him thrust straight back into the midfield where he’ll shoulder a huge workload for the Magpies, and as a result, his fantasy scores should benefit. He has shown a tendency to be handball-happy in recent seasons and some will be worried off following his 2022 campaign. I won’t fall into that basket though, and Mitchell will be one of the first players selected for me with every chance he pushes his average back around the 110 mark.

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