Who could your team be targeting in the 2023 AFL Draft?

The AFL trade period feels like a distant memory with most footy fans enjoying the downtime commonly associated with late November. List managers and recruiters for each AFL club haven’t switched off yet, with their sights squarely focused on the upcoming draft and their desired list of new prospects. Expert analysts predict that 50-55 picks will be made over the next week and all 18 franchises enter the draft period with their individualised goals, ambitions and preferred players they’d love to select. So, what/who is your club targeting in the 2023 draft? Let me educate you.

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Adelaide Crows

Draft picks: 10, 14, 20, 89
Thanks to their recent wheeling and dealing, the Crows own three selections inside the top 20 ahead of the 2023 draft. It’s no secret that they desire another intercepting tall defender, after losing Tom Doedee to the Lions and failing to lure Harrison Petty away from the Dees. As a result, we could see Adelaide trade up on Monday night in an effort to land Connor O’Sullivan with Geelong’s No. 8 selection a pick they could target. If they can’t find a way to move up the order to snag the Murray Bushrangers backman then James Leake or Riley Hardeman may also fit their needs – with at least one of the duo expected to be on the board when the Crows’ pick rolls around.

Outside of a key backman, Adelaide will want to start thinking about their next generation of midfielders, with Darcy Wilson a draftee that has been linked to the Crows. The line-breaking teen has also shown the ability to push forward and have an impact – making him a perfect addition to a centre-bounce rotation that will utilise Jake Soligo and Josh Rachele in years to come. While Adelaide will be focused on this year’s crop, they would be smart to think ahead and plan for the arrival of Tyler Welsh. The 17-year-old has already turned heads at the junior level and is expected to join the Crows in the 2024 offseason as a father-son prospect. All reports indicate that Welsh will be a top-5 draftee next summer, so trading one or more of their three early picks for future selections to cover a bid for Welsh would be wise.

Brisbane Lions

Draft picks: 30, 39, 51, 54, 67, 97
Brisbane has done an exceptional job building their playing list. Last season’s runners-up will enter the draft this year with very few list needs, which allows them to adopt a ‘best available player’ approach. That may lead to them to look at midfielder George Stevens, a tall talent such as Archer Reid or Wil Dawson or even an exciting small forward type like Phoenix Gothard. Despite the pending arrival of another father-son talent 12 months from now in Levi Ashcroft, the Lions are still expected to be active in this year’s draft and they have the luxury to take a punt on developmental players with a bunch of upside with their selections. 

Image from twitter.com

Carlton Blues

Draft picks: 22, 28, 70, 78, 96
In the finals campaign, we saw what the Blues are capable of when they put everything together – qualifying for their first preliminary final appearance since 2000. Carlton boasts depth at all the important positions and they can afford to let the first night of the draft unfold in front of them and pounce on the prospect they desire with the last pick of round one. By the time that selection rolls around, a lot of the top-tier talent will have already found an AFL home, however, there are a number of forwards who would intrigue me if I was making the pick for the Blues.

Ashton Moir stands out as a high-upside selection after injury issues derailed his final junior year, while another SA-born forward Jack Delean could tempt the Blues if Moir has already been picked. With their second draft pick, rebounding defender Tew Jiath, the younger brother of Hawthorn’s Changkuoth, looks like their preferred choice and he could eventually become Adam Saad’s successor on the half-back line. Should they manage to net Moir/Delean and Jiath then Blues fans deserve to feel chuffed.

Collingwood Magpies

Draft picks: 19, 33, 80, 98
Another club that possesses very few holes on their roster, the reigning premiers are poised to make a serious push at back-to-back flags. Landing Lachie Schultz in the trade period gives them another weapon inside 50, but they are still seeking another bullocking forward who can crash packs and kick bags (no offence Brody Mihocek). They could also look to enhance their ruck depth, making it clear that Collingwood would prefer to add players with size with their pair of top-35 picks. Tantalising rucks Will Green and Taylor Goad could be drafted with the Pies’ first choice, but personally, I’d love to see them target Mitch Edwards out of Peel Thunder instead. It’s possible the Magpies could wait until 33 to target a ruck and look at a versatile tall like Koltyn Tholstrup, Ashton Moir or even midfielder Harry DeMattia with their top pick. As long as they go tall with one or both of their selections I can’t see a way that Collingwood leaves the draft unhappy.

Essendon Bombers

Draft picks: 9, 31, 35, 61, 88
This offseason, Essendon’s goal clearly revolved around adding established talent to their list and they were able to do so without losing any of their valuable draft picks. As a result, they are still armed with an early selection and who they target will be dictated slightly by the clubs that draft ahead of them. The age demographic in their engine room seems evenly spread so the Bombers would be smart to target someone that can help at either end of the ground. The best-case scenario would see them add Nate Caddy, a MID/FWD that would complement the likes of Peter Wright and Kyle Langford in front of goal. Should he be off the board, then key back Connor O’Sullivan also looms as a near-perfect replacement for Brandon Zerk-Thatcher. Should they want to add some outside speed to their list instead, then Darcy Wilson and Caleb Windsor are obvious fits as well.

Fremantle Dockers

Draft picks: 34, 46, 60, 64, 85
The Dockers will have to wait until midway through the second round to open their 2023 draft, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get bang for their buck late. With three first-rounders tied to the club in 2024, we may see Freo offload one of them to snag some local talent in the form of small forward Lance Collard, key utility Zane Zakostelsky or rebounding defender Riley Hardeman. That trio is expected to be gone by the time Fremantle are scheduled to draft, which means they will have to shift their priorities if they can’t move up. Given their tendency to select WA-born prospects, their focus will likely be on big-bodied MID Clay Hall or goalsneak Keon Sanchez. Either way, it seems like the Dockers are happy to swing for the fences and hope some of their late fliers in the draft eventuate into players who contribute to winning.

Geelong Cats

Draft picks: 8, 25, 76, 87, 94
One of the most interesting clubs heading into next week’s draft, Geelong have a plethora of options they can take. Sitting 8th overall, they can afford to wait and see which prospect is on the board when it’s their turn to draft and no one would be discouraged if they opted to select a premier talent such as Ryley Sanders or Nate Caddy. Sanders in particular is a natural fit given the Cats’ need for a young, consistent ball-winner although Daniel Curtin looms as another great addition. Curtin is widely expected to come off the board before they draft, which could pave the way for Geelong to trade the first selection. Teams like Adelaide and North Melbourne are best suited to flick two of their selections in the teens for No. 8 and 25 – giving the Cats multiple bites at the cherry inside the top 20 picks. If that is the case, then Geelong will surely have their sights on Charlie Edwards, James Leake and Ollie Murphy.

Gold Coast Suns

Draft picks: 24, 26, 27, 32, 36, 38, 66, 71, 74, 84
Gold Coast faced one of the toughest challenges this offseason, although they’re now well-positioned to pull off their desired moves after accruing the necessary draft picks. They own half a dozen selections inside the top 40 that will be swallowed up when the bids come for the four academy players they have in their sights – Jed Walter, Ethan Read, Jake Rodgers and Will Graham. I will be stunned if a bid for Walter doesn’t come from North Melbourne straight off the bat and you can expect ruckman Ethan Read to also attract attention within the initial 7-10 selections.

Should a pair of bids arrive at No. 2 and No. 7 respectively, most of the Suns’ draft capital would be snapped up although they should still have enough up their sleeve to land Jake Rogers in the mid-to-late teens and Will Graham at some point in the second round. If the Suns land the aforementioned quartet without having to pull off any other moves, then there will be plenty of optimism around the club ahead of Damian Hardwick’s first season in charge.

Greater Western Sydney Giants

Draft picks: 7, 16, 43, 59, 77, 79, 95
GWS will be full of confidence entering 2024 following the success they experienced under Adam Kingsley’s reign. The departure of Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper last offseason leaves them chasing midfield depth, however, the Giants aren’t in a desperate position to add at most positions. The majority of mock drafts and guesstimates on where players will land I’ve seen have Nate Caddy getting drafted to GWS with their first selection and there’s no doubt he would naturally fit into their forward line. If Caddy has already been snapped up then the Giants should be content landing an adaptable tall like James Leake or Connor O’Sullivan. If that’s the way they pivot, then Greater Western Sydney would be smart to address their need for midfield depth with their second pick and Harry DeMattia or Charlie Edwards shape up as ideal choices. 

Hawthorn Hawks

Draft picks: 4, 44, 47, 49, 62, 63, 83
A 16th-place finish doesn’t look good on paper, and yet, Hawthorn is in a strong position a season or two into their rebuild. With that being said, it’s clear that they don’t have all the pieces to vault up the ladder yet and nailing their selection at No. 4 would go a long way to setting up the Hawks for the future. They are somewhat spoilt for choice and what Hawthorn chooses to do will send ripple effects through the rest of the first round. They still have a need in the form of key position players after their failed pursuit of Ben McKay, which makes Daniel Curtin a tempting option. Standing at nearly 200cm, Curtin split his time between defence and the midfield for Claremont and WA in 2023 and he looms as a versatile player that Sam Mitchell would love to utilise.

Should they want a contributor at the other end of the ground then the freakishly talented Nick Watson is the standout pick. Losing small forwards like Tyler Brockman and potentially Chad Wingard makes Watson an obvious choice, even though they managed to trade for Jack Ginnivan a month ago. There are midfielders that intrigue too, although I wonder if the Hawks will prioritise other positions after drafting Cam Mackenzie (6th) and Josh Ward (7th) in recent drafts. Regardless of who they pick initially, father-son prospect Will McCabe is guaranteed to wind up at Waverley and the athletic tall will help bolster their defensive stocks.

Melbourne Demons

Draft picks: 6, 11, 42, 93
Even though Melbourne did everything in their power to bring Harley Reid to the club, they’ll have to concede that he’ll be drafted by the Eagles. The Dees reportedly put forth a respectable offer to West Coast (No. 6, 11, 42 and a 2024 1st rounder) although they still have the ability to net some premier talent with their two primary picks. Personally, if I was running the club I’d be bidding on players to drive up the price for rival clubs, but when it comes to addressing their own list Melbourne has a desperate desire to find someone who can help transition the ball inside 50 cleanly. That should mean Zane Duursma or Nate Caddy are in their sights, while outside talents such as Darcy Wilson or Caleb Windsor are perfect choices at No. 11. I can’t see gun MID Riley Sanders falling past the Hawks and Bulldogs, but if he does then Melbourne would certainly pounce with their opening pick.

North Melbourne Kangaroos

Draft picks: 2, 3, 15, 17, 18, 57, 82
For the second consecutive season, North Melbourne owns the 2nd and 3rd pick in the draft – a season after drafting prestigious teenagers Harry Sheezel and George Wardlaw. Owning five of the first 18 picks gives the Roos a wide range of paths they can take, although it seems inevitable that they will take midfield maestro Colby McKercher at some point. A bid for Jed Walter is also expected to come from North, but once that’s out of the way they can have their pick of the litter. Most people would be shocked if Zane Duursma didn’t join McKercher although the allure around Daniel Curtin’s versatility may see them surprise footy fans by taking the WA prospect on draft day.

With their picks in the teens, the Kangaroos are expected to chase a ruckman and a key forward. Obviously following Todd Goldstein’s departure they have to find their future hitout specialist and there are a number of tall talents that should entice such as Will Green, Arie Schoenmaker, Koltyn Tholstrup or Archer Reid. If they can land one of these players, then it’s also worth trying to package a pair of their picks and moving up the order. If they can do so (should they also pass on Curtin) Connor O’Sullivan is generating plenty of buzz as a favourite of the North Melbourne front office.

Port Adelaide Power

Draft picks: 73
This won’t take long. Smartly, the Power opted to trade the majority of their draft hand and bring proven players into their system as their premiership window starts to fade. Esava Ratugolea and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher will undoubtedly boost their backline while Jordan Sweet and Ivan Soldo help provide ruck depth following the retirement of Scott Lycett. That leaves Port Adelaide with just one pick in the draft and the powers at be will have a difficult task of finding a diamond in the rough next week. I think Port will try and stay local with Kobe Ryan, Kane McAuliffe or former SA captain Will Patton the favoured options.

Richmond Tigers

Draft picks: 29, 41, 65, 68, 86
Last summer the Tigers rolled the dice on GWS duo Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper in the trade period and as a result, their first pick won’t come until the 30+ mark. Richmond would love to find a key forward for the future, however it’s going to be hard to address that need given the lean draft hand they have at their disposal. Undersized forward Logan Morris has been linked to the Tigers in the past few weeks and it’s expected that he’ll be around when it’s their turn to draft. For me, Archer Reid could do wonders for the Tigers and it’s not impossible that he’s lurking on the board when it’s time to lock in their first choice. If they can’t find the presence they want up forward, then they could opt to add to their engine room by drafting Clay Hall or Cooper Simpson.

Image from central.rookieme.com

St Kilda Saints

Draft picks: 13, 21, 40, 92
Entering the 2023 draft, St Kilda are in a decent position to climb up the ladder naturally. Ross Lyon’s return to Moorabbin didn’t equate to a ton of finals success, although if they can hit on their pair of early picks then there is a lot to like about the Saints moving forward. I won’t be surprised if they pull a swift move on draft night and select Lance Collard out of Subiaco with their first, or ideally second pick. After losing Jade Gresham in free agency a classy operator in the front half would thrive for St Kilda and there’s no doubt that Collard ticks those boxes. They can afford to see if a touted talent falls down the order and Darcy Wilson should be near the top of their wish list. It would be foolish to pass on Koltyn Tholstrup, Nate Caddy or Harry DeMatia if they’re available when the Saints are on the clock and a ruckman may also be in their sights to help ease the load on Rowan Marshall.

Sydney Swans

Draft picks: 12, 45, 55, 91
You could make the argument that Sydney won the trade period after they aggressively went after players at positions of need. James Jordon, Joel Hamling, Brodie Grundy and Taylor Adams are all expected to feature for the Swans next season, although they would love to add another best-22 calibre player with their first-round selection. Knowing the way that Sydney has operated in previous drafts, I’d be surprised if they didn’t place a bid on Jordan Croft, Jake Rogers or even Will McCabe to force the Dogs, Suns or Hawks respectively to pay up.

Once that’s out of the way though, they will surely consider adding depth to their backline and linebreaking Swan Districts DEF Riley Hardeman would be a logical choice. I feel like I mention Connor O’Sullivan as an option for every team and Sydney would also be stoked if he slid to them at No. 12. If he and Hardeman are off the board then the Swans may also set their sights on James Leake or Vic Metro’s MVP Ollie Murphy. You can expect to see NGA prospect Caiden Cleary join the club one way or another, with a bid potentially coming in the second round.

West Coast Eagles

Draft picks: 1, 23, 37, 58, 81
The offers have come in thick and fast for West Coast’s No. 1 pick this offseason and the footy community remains divided over the best course of action. Trading the valuable asset to give them multiple first-rounders this season does appeal somewhat, however, it’s clear that the Eagles have a need for Reid and pouncing on the Dustin Martin clone is the smartest course of action. I can’t see them shocking the footy world and dealing away the pick with Harley Reid set to join a budding midfield group that already features Reuben Ginbey and Elijah Hewett.

Given the position their list is in, the Eagles may try and trade future assets to climb the board and there’s no denying they’d LOVE to find a way to snare Daniel Curtin. There aren’t many clubs at the top of the order who would willingly give up their top-5 selection, which means West Coast may have to shift their focus to clubs with selections in the teens. If they can find a trade partner, then look for the club to make a strong play for crafty forward Lance Collard, clean halfback Archie Roberts or even mercurial forward-half talent Ashton Moir.

Western Bulldogs

Draft picks: 5, 48, 50, 52, 53, 56, 69, 72, 75, 90
There are two primary objectives for the Bulldogs in this draft – add a difference-maker at the top of the order and land father-son prospect Jordan Croft whenever a bid comes. There’s no doubt that a team in the back half of round one is going to make a play for the robust key forward in Croft and after negotiating their way into a hefty number of late draft picks, matching a bid will be a straightforward move. Who they earmark at No. 5 will be interesting and a few days out it appears as though the Dogs are splitting hairs between Nick Watson and Ryley Sanders. While Watson could become an excellent partner in crime for Cody Weightman up forward, I expect Bevo and Co to target the competitive inside midfielder Sanders instead. Bringing Croft and Sanders/Watson to the Kennel this offseason would certainly help aid their quest for a return to finals action in 2024.

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