Deespicable’s 2021 Mid-Year Player Rankings
I almost didn't do the rankings this season.
I mean it's not like everyone has a markedly different view anymore - we all know why Goody rates some players highly and there's not a collection of hard-done by players being left out in favour of Oscar McDonald.
And team changes on Friday are almost a thing of a past - with injuries the only rational for most.
Tell me which player you aren't happy with getting a game now ... that's right, aside form the odd 'Melky is Goody's BFF' line, it's been almost complete silence.
We as a club have become so boring - boringly good that is ... at least until our Queen's Birthday loss.
Sure there will be odd change as a result and clearly our high-priced recruit Ben Brown will be back along with Jack Viney.
But it's been a pleasure to be a Dees supporter this year and there's been just so much to love about this season.
It makes such a difference when you have genuine stars of the game to go with all our role players.
This year Clayton Oliver has taken his game to a new level that makes him a competition heavyweight along with Max Gawn and last year's revelation Christian Petracca.
In fact I'd argue that you'd have to go back to West Coast of 2006 to find a better trio in the engine room - that threesome had Brownlow Medallists Ben Cousins and Christian Judd plus the best ruckman of the naughties in Dean Cox.
But with any side, it's not just the quality at the top, it's the depth of good players and their willingness to be selfless. And based on recent mid-year All-Australian rankings by many commentators that had up to nine Dees in the mix, then we have that covered.
The hard thing for me was deciding who out of our top three to give the No.1 this year and whilst I know he won't win the Brownlow, I have got to say Gawny again. His game in our abysmal loss to the Pies was typical of his year - when he had to lift, he found a way to do it.
It's too early to tell how far we will go this year and I'm sure I won't be the only Dee fan biting his nails this September.
Here's my annual list at mid-year. Links to my previous years are at the bottom.
2020: One to 44 – Rating our list (last year’s rank in brackets).
1 Max Gawn (1) There's no 'i' in Max, or Gawn for that matter, and that's been the message for the whole club this year. As our captain and most recognisable player (hard not to be when your are 208cm with a beard almost down to your knees), Max has a presence that goes way beyond the norm. In 30 years time Max will still be remembered by most AFL fans - and as such he's our brand. And it's not just what he says about our 'team first' philosophy which even comes through with the renaming of his Captain's Run podcast to the Gus and Gawny show (note which name comes first), it's more the way he is playing on the field. He's way keener this year to bring others into the game with a quick handball give or a shepherd or marking block. And his ground skills for such a big bloke are pretty damn good, invariably linking up with Olly or Trac with a one-two through the midfield. As for his snap goal against Lions, well that's a new one. You sense that he's accepted that he won't win a Brownlow, he'll just be happy to rack up the All-Aussie spots - he's on track for his fifth AA, which will see him join Garry Lyon as our highest ever - although I suspect RDB would have won seven or more if the honor was around in the 50s - it began in 1982.
2 Christian Petracca (2) What I like more than anything about Trac this year is that he seems to have more of a steely resolve in the big games. His second-half againt the Tigers was huge, he was on from the outset against the Cats making sure Olly was protected as well, he was ferocious against the Bulldogs nabbing Bont whenever he could and poor old McCluggage is probably still sore from Trac nailing him against the Lions. But his game versus the Lions was even more than that - he was all class and awareness - his third-quarter goal was one even Dusty would have applauded. I almost gave him the No.1 rank because of that Lions game such was his impact. He's also like a big brother to Olly, which is mega important as side's will spend more time now trying to negate their influence.
3 Clayton Oliver (4) Why is it that I still get frustrated by Olly? I mean he's cleaned up his “hot potato” act and is using his phenomenal pace to break lines like Chris Judd and he's now deservingly regarded as high-end elite as his Brownlow odds suggest. And yet I watched his facial expressions when he lined up for goal from about 40m against Brisbane and I knew he wanted to give it off, rather than own it. Eventually he was forced to have the shot and not surprisingly, given his fear, he made a meal of it. I think it's because with the close ups on TV we all see the emotion etched on his face. And his fraility came through big-time, just as it did when Matt deBoer tagged him in Rd 3 and he went into his shell. Trac helped him through against the Cats O'Connor the next week, but I bet he'll have a lot more tagging attention come finals and it's up to him to work his way through it - maturely. Maybe a chat with Juddy pre-finals about shrugging tags would be timely. And if he does learn to cope with the extra attention, then we win the flag - he's that important. Ask yourself which other player can win the hardball, then choose between a quick congestion give or a line-breaking run at such velocity.
4 Steven May (5) In 10 weeks time Maysie will win two honours - his first All-Australian top and his first finals gig. How lucky are we to have a decent key defender at last - one that you know will be up to any task and one who provides offence as well with his main weapon - his left-foot. His effort after halftime against the Lions when he got on top of Daniher and Hipwood and started taking marks was huge. And even better there's no frills about his play. Two more years like this and we may just have to decide if he's Melbourne's best full-back ever, even after less than 100 games. Sorry in advance to the relatives of the late 'Tassie' Johnson.
5 Jake Lever (7) A few commentators said recently it was time to start tagging Lever. But I just don't get how you do it. Firstly he does already man a tall forward, even if he sags off them a bit to cover the corridor, and it's not his run and dash that other side's need to negate. It's his smarts - his positioning is incredible as is his courage in the air which makes intercepts not just possible, but likely. So how do you tag that? All you can do is ask your forward to make him accountable in the air, just like Goody tried with Weid in his battle against Harris Andrews and Darcy Moore. But even then, I'd back in Lever nine times out of 10.
6 Ed Langdon (6) It took half a season for his teammates to figure out he was a viable panic release option for them last season and now everyone knows it, his stats are going through the roof. Sadly though, MCC members wouldn't know it because Lingers plays the far-side (non-interchange gate) wing as he does at every ground. That's largely because his coach knows that he doesn't need to come off - he's an everyready battery. As an MCC member, I'm a little peeved that I miss seeing his work close up but at least I can see it when I watch the Kayo replay. This year he's added goals to his repertoire (he only kicked two last year) and he thanks Chocco for improving his field kicking but the net result is that he's now being talked about as an AA.
7 Christian Salem (11) Finally Demonlanders have reached a consensus. No longer does every third DL request 'SayLo' to play through the middle. He's not the incredible hulk after all, his best asset is that he slices and dices with his left foot. He's not a thumper like Maysie, but he hits more targets than Arsenal did this season. He's also mega effective at shutting down his opponent and significantly was missing when we lost to the Crows. Richo and the club kept mum of the reason using the "general soreness' card but I suspect he may have a bit of groin tightness coming on and needs a week or two more off, which should happen now over the bye period.
8 Kysaiah Pickett (17) Most of us DL knew what lay ahead for him last year. But now every Tom, [censored] and Harry claims to have had an inkling what the competition's new Cyril can do. And how lucky are we to have a player who can turn a match with just nine touches, as he did against Brisbane. The draft swap with Freo that saw us also claim Rivers will go down as our best piece of recruiting since the days of Jim Cardwell. The value of Kozzy should not be unerestimated. His ability to lift the side when struggling against GWS (rd 3) and North (rd 7) and then against Brisbane (rd 12) is now the stuff of legend. In previous years we would have persisted with high and aimless forward entries and been unable to break through. Now we just dial up Kozzy and defenses crumble and goals happen.
9 Tom McDonald (18) OK, hands up if you wanted him out. Yep I was one. After a few injuries (turf toe/knee soreness) in recent years it seemed to me (and many others) that he was just too slow to have any hope of getting back to his 2018 days. But I suspect he was back to leading our 200m reps with ANB (Joel Smith would have ben injured) - apologies but I never saw those drills in my four trips pre-season to Casey. Tom’s never going to be a speed demon and as such I doubt the wing experiment would have worked, but he has a huge tank and his ability to continually work back and forward and his renewed confidence with his trickery (yes, he loves a baulk more than Bernie Quinlan) has seen him labelled as the AFL's comeback player of the year. As for the goal on the run against the Blues from a Kozzy pass, well you needed to be there to appreciate what it meant. Barring injury, he'll win our club goalkicking (sorry Fritter).
10 James Harmes (14) If not for a broken hand, which he played through, in rd 1, I reckon Harmsey would be challenging T-Mac for the comeback player of the year. He's just such a goer in the Liam Picken or Mitch Robinson mould. He's never going to be an All-Australian, but I've said every year that he'd be one of my first players picked. He just does the one percenters and team things so well and is a huge reason why Olly and Trac have been dominating. I get that Goody wanted to try him as a defender last season, but we all know now he's better suited to the midfield where his run and passion for the contest is first rate. How good was his first game back against the Swans or his game nullifying Libba? Even the most niggardly (nice way of saying stupid) of DLers now realise why he's in the side. Yes he'll get caught on occasions, yes he'll butcher the odd kick and yes he will be bringing the blue-collar work ethic to our side come finals. And I love it.
11 Jack Viney (3) It's easy to say we don't need him at the moment. But come finals, he's one I want almost more than anyone else. He's our raging bull and he'll run through anybody. The only difference is that this time when he comes back from injury he has to remember that his courage and hardness must be tempered by the fact that Batman and Robin (Trac and Olly) are the main act and he needs to get on board that structure. His role is to mix his desperate deeds with tackling, bumping and grinding the opposition midfielders. Ultimately I suspect we will have to get past the Cats, Dogs and Tigers and to do so we need him to form his own tandem negating act with Harmsey. And if one our gun trio of small forwards gets injured, then I'd play him in that role as well.
12 Angus Brayshaw (8) Last year I said that Gussy is the Ringo Starr of our Fab Four and that he's got to find a way to beat the drums at any venue or in any spot and that includes the wing. And based on his game against the Dogs he's done it. Go back and look at the replay and have a look at the ferocity and awareness of Gus every time the Doggies tried to go down his wing. It was super stuff and with SPE(Ed) on the other wing, we now have a stellar combination that is the envy of many sides. His aerial work is also top shelf. And I just have a sneaky feeling that he might go up another level come finals with 50m goals on the run part of his pressure equation. And it's great that he's taken on cricket's Nathan Lyon role with our club song.
13 Bayley Fritsch (13) Injuries early meant that for the first six weeks Fritter had to play as a tall and to his credit his leading and aerial work was as good as anyone's and does seem to be at home playing out of the goalsquare. Sure he still missed the odd set shot, but his six goal game against the Roos just showed how far he has come from the spindly Casey kid who could take a hanger. Being just 188cm, he's a three-quarter tall forward and in this current AFL era that's not an easy task. Aside from Liam Ryan, Toby Greene and Jake Stringer - name me another lead-up medium forward capable of having a regular impact in a game. In fact since Brad Johnson, they have been something of a dying breed with bigs and smalls the only way forward. That makes him an imprtant POD, but he has to remember that his role includes tackling and chasing. It's for that reason why Melky is no longer regarded as our goalsquare option.
14 Michael Hibberd (10) A late start to the season meant poor old Hibbo had to wait four weeks to get a go down back ad he was immediately at his attacking best against the Hawks. The following week though it was back to his down and dirty Frankston best, niggling and harassing Dusty and the ferocity of his tackling needed to be seen to be believed. Aside from stopping our opponent's best medium tall, Hibbo's left-foot is crucial for our balance. It's why we need to sign him up again for '22, or move heaven and earth to lure Hayden Young away from Fremantle.
15 Charlie Spargo (31) As someone who has been dubious about Charlie's tenure in the AFL for two years now, it was quite a surprise to see him dominate training pre-season. The 2021 version of Charlie is much stronger and his tackles now stick. He also seems more confident with kicks in the 40-45m category, not that that is where he's been doing his best work. It's his short slick passes of around 25-30m that have hit targets and done the damage. I've always said his smarts and skills were very apparent, but this year he's become a man - albeit a vertically challenged one. And he seems to be loving every bit of that challenge - his aerial tap to T-Mac as we charged back into the contest against Brisbane was worthy of six footers. He's now a lock in the side and if anything, this rank may still be doing him an injustice.
16 Trent Rivers (25) I said last year that there’s a bit of Corey Enright in the way he goes about it and that early assessment is still on the money. He has great closing speed, is safe in the air, is a lovely kick and seems to be getting better with each game. My favourite thing about him is that he has the balls to run with it and take a bounce or two on occasions. And as for getting him with pick 32, that's just crazy stuff.
17 Luke Jackson (19) Browny and Riewoldt love raving about Dogga and there's no doubt he's developing well. But come on, let's get serious, he's still a fair way off being a star - just have a look at how many times he gets pushed off a ruck contest by a mature-bodied opponent. The good news is that he's got quite a good leap which means that, even at 199cm, down the track he may become a Brodie Grundy clone. With such a good work rate and willingness to try and win ground balls, he's already mega useful in that he allows Gawny to go forward and provide a mismatch. His third quarter against the Roos when Gawny was having an off day against Todd Goldstein and his effort against the Pies were highlights and so long as he keeps presenting when up forward, then I'm willing to excuse his mullet and his awful song playlist.
18 Alex Neal-Bullen (24) As with T-Mac, ANB was nearly shown the door at the end of last season. But rival clubs must have been reading all the disparaging remarks about him on DL and chose not to bite. Goody, in his Kozzy excitement, also seemed to have moved on. But a desire to go three talls, three 'hard-working' smalls and one hybrid meant that ANB was re-classified. As always he was among our best trainers pre-season and got another chance Rd 1 and some pretty handy games against the Saints and Cats, followed by a vote-catching display against the Tigers have seen him rack up the games with his 100th likely about Rd 20. At his best, he's like Robbie Gray, but I reckon he still needs a breakout game where he kicks five or sets up his talls like Spargo has been doing to secure his spot for the finals.
19 Adam Tomlinson (20) Big Tommo knew immediately the enormity of his knee injury - the second it happened down in Tassie. Finally after 160 games across 12 seasons, he had nailed down a spot. He'd taken on TomaHawk and Riewoldt and emerged with his repuatation enhanced and after six straight wins, was loving it at the Dees as our third tall defender. He's too nice a big bloke to not be cheering us on come finals, but you can tell it hurt. He'll be back next year though and at least now he knows he can play on the best and prevail.
20 Jayden Hunt (26) I said last year there was no more exciting time than when he used to springboard us off half-back in Roosy’s last season and Goody seemed to like him too initially before deciding that he wasn’t reliable enough with his kicking. As with Nibbler, he seemed on his way out and would have been had a club or two made more than a fleeting request. Thankfully the only coach who seemed keen on him as a defender was Chocco Williams. And so Jayden 2.0 has arrived. His renaissance also means that we have a player with the leg-speed to match the likes of Rioli and Castagna and that has really helped Say-Lo, who no longer has to chase the quickest small forward or be chased down by him. He's not the messiah, but he's been really good at closing down space, which is a role that often goes unappreciated. And as for excitement, there's been a couple of times where he and Lingers have been off to the 'handball races' on the far wing with devastating effect. One more thing, how many times have we heard opponents comment that the Dees are way quicker than we used to be. Wonder why!
21 James Jordon (NR) I still reckon he's a tad predicatable with his kicking and doesn't have any tricks to rave about but I'm warming to him. He's quick with the hands and he's a good tackler. His games against the Dogs and Lions were AFL-worthy and with Trac and Olly running the show, we need role players and he's one. What JJ's rise this year does show is that we have a much better development system than at any stage in the past. Credit Ben Matthews (2019-20) and Adem Yze (2021). After a lengthy Michael Tuck-style apprenticeship, he lined up in Round 1 and quickly showed his schooling in off-the-ball work and snagged a key goal in the third term against Freo. I'd still like to see him go back to the VFL and completely dominate a game before the finals, but I know I'm now in a minority on that score.
22 Harrison Petty (NR) After a year off with OP, it was nice to see Harry being settled back into defence and he was mega-impressive in the simulation matches that I saw at training. And as yet I've got to say he's been pretty ordinary in the real stuff compared with what I saw pre-season. His match against the Hawks lacked confidence and he's struggled pretty much since replacing Tommo in Round 8, although his game against the Dogs was promising. But he is only 21 and hopefully he's a slow burn as we need him to man the resting rucks and talls. There's really only two other options - sending T-Mac back there or our old mate Joel Smith, who is finally over injury .. at least until the next one. You could argue Majak could play there, but he hasn't trained there (yet) and ditto Mitch Brown.
23 Ben Brown (NR) Wow. If you believe the rumours he's fuming at his lack of chances and is considering a trade already. While he presented well against the Swans, I suspect a couple of errant handball gives against Carlton hurt his case and warranted the swap with the Weid, who has better mobility and ground work. But the Pies loss changed things. Brown is a marking presence and draws defenders and he's now had a few more weeks to get comfortable with his knee injury and improve his ground work. He also needs to mix up his long run-up kicking skills with the occasional quick link-up. And if he plays finals, then the trade talk is sure to bite the dust anyway.
24 Jake Melksham (12) Melky will turn 30 just before the finals. If everyone is available, does he get a guernsey ahead of JJ or ANB? Here's the thing. Melky has a weapon - he can thump the ball 60m to break a line and come finals that will be way more important than ever. Against that is the fact that as many DLers state, he's not working hard enough without the ball. And that's why his likely return to the VFL next week will be super important. He has to change his ways a little, show he still has the desire to make it and rack up the tackles.
25 Sam Weideman (9) After a breakout year last season, the Weid has had a few setbacks this season with a stress-related hip injury ruining his pre-season, making him a late starter. And with T-Mac on fire and Ben Brown initially preferred he had to do time in the VFL. A few big bags made it nigh on impossible to select him, but three goals in five AFL games since his recall is hardly making a statement, although to be fair, he's been a nearly-man every week. He gets his hands to it but just can't quite clunk it. So too his kicking. One positive is that he's still pretty handy at ground level, but his failure to stop Darcy Moore marking on Monday means he will surely be back in the VFL in rd 14. Then it's a race to see if he can get back in vogue for the finals. After last year he knows he can do it. The issue is whether it's at the Pies next year or with us in September.
26 Tom Sparrow (29) It was nice to see our VFL game against North televised and it gave all of us a chance to see how much Tommy Sparrow has improved. He's kicked a couple of good goals at AFL level now, so he's getting comfortable with the step up and he does have the tools to make it being a good kick and pretty quick. But he'll have to keep working his butt off, because right now he's probably about our 25th player when picking our side for the finals.
27 Nathan Jones (22) You have to hand it to the club for the way they got Jonesy to 300 this year and quickly made a call that even after playing in seven successive wins, that may be it. He's been a great and loyal servant and who knows he may yet get another chance as I'm sure his VFL form will be super impressive when the comp resumes. I won't make a call on the AFL finals, but I will say this, if Jonesy, Vanders, Melky, Jetta, Lockhardt and Joel Smith are all available, then we will win the VFL granny this year.
28 Jay Lockhart (16) Early indication were that Jay was going to play Rd 1, but his pelvic injury against the Dogs in the AAMI series cost him the spot. And by the time he was fit and raring to go again, Hibbo, Hunt and Rivers had established themselves as our running defenders. He's a huge plus for Casey, but with Jake Bowey aslo waiting in the wings for the role, it means we may already have seen the last of Jay at AFL level. Which is a shame because I reckon he offered a lot and I'd be pleased if we offered him another year.
29 Jake Bowey (NR) In previous years Jake would have five or six games up already. And just for a tick after our loss pre-season to the Dogs - a game in which he won a few useful touches - he looked a prospect even for Rd 1. But Goody stayed loyal to his senior players this year and it's paid dividends. And that means our pick No.21 has had to wait in the wings. I reckon he would have played when Salem was injured in rd 10, but he hurt his ankle in that week's VFL game, meaning Nev got the spot. He's a nice mover and disposer but he's a tad on the small side at 176cm, so he probably needs another year to develop his physique anyway. And he's a redhead which usually means one thing - he's tough as nails.
30 Aaron vandenBerg (15) The longer quarters this season would have gone against Vanders. Given that when's he's fit he can still only train a couple of times a week, it makes it hard to justify playing him for his gruntwork. And except for the Pies game, we've been the intimidators, although I'd certainly like Viney back before the finals. As I said with Jonesy, I really hope he finishes up the year on a good note, with a very deserving VFL flag.
31 Joel Smith (27) Am I now the only member left of the SOS fan club. Well here's something that will surprise you, I reckon Joel is still a big chance to be playing finals for us this year. Yep our No.1 rehab group member, only needs an injury to one of our defensive talls, Rivers or Hibbo and he's in. Don't be surprised if you see his name read out as an inclusion in the next few weeks in his own rights. Don't worry DLers, a more likely scenario is that he will be back in the rehab goup before the finals. Read my comments from last year and you'll know why I rate him.
32 Kade Chandler (NR) There's been two memorable moments so far for KC this year. The first was his breakout game against Richmond pre-season including a check-side banana goal on the run. The other was the Gatorade soap bath he copped when he played in his first win for the club - against Carlton - thankfully Trac stepped in to save him but his eyes would have been stinging that night. It wasn't his finest day - he'd earlier inadvertently spoilt Weid near the goalsquare. But he's shown enough this season to warrant another year and he'll be a key player in the VFL grand final.
33 Mitch Brown (32) He again showed what a reliable player he is when called up to replace Fritter against the Hawks. But ultimately he plays the same sort of hard-running lead-up role as T-Mac. And right now T-Mac is king. So that doesn't leave much room and at 31 by season's end, it's time to use his spot on a young project forward.
34 Neville Jetta (23) I was a little surprised when we kept Lord Nev on this year, but he's such a man of honor and integrity – that I reckon the club felt having him around was worthwhile. And Nev did get to play the first four weeks for four wins and a fifth game against the Crows, so it's hardly been a wasted extra season for him either. As I said last year, a great story of perseverance and credit to Roosy for saving him from an early exit in 2014.
35 Oskar Baker (17) Our other everyready battery got a chance to show his stuff pre-season and had a proper chance to stamp his name on the wing spot against North Melbourne in Hobart, and while he didn't do anything wrong, he just didn't do anything that was so classy you had to keep picking him. He's got good toe (but he's not electric like Jayden) and his skills are solid, but I suspect after four years it's probably time's up at season's end.
36 Bailey Laurie (NR) He looked pretty classy in the sessions I saw pre-season but needs a year of muscle before we can make a judgment. Whether he can put on bulk, given his dad was pencil-thin during his career at Fitzroy, is the big question. A fractured eye-socket kept him out of most of our VFL games, but he should be right to go next week when the comp resumes (hopefully).
37 Toby Bedford (34) I know there's a few DL'ers who love Toby, but I'm a little more reserved on his abilities - I mean his work ethic is good, but Spargo and ANB have better application, and I've been more impressed with Chandler's development than Toby's. IMO, he'd have to play out of his skin in the VFL finals to justify another year.
38 Majak Daw (NR) A good supplemental rookie selection, especially given we had a tall shortage at the time and he has experience in all three key big positions. We haven't need him yet, but he has offered good security and is a bonus for Casey. But as with Mitch Brown, I can't see us keeping a 30-year-old on the list.
39 Deakyn Smith (NR) As an NGA academy member from last year, we gave him a go pre-season and he looked quite classy in his role as a small defender, so we rookied him. The issue is that we now have a host of defensive smalls, so there's a lengthy queue. But the VFL finals will be a good chance to see if he can take his game up to another level.
40 Fraser Rosman (NR) Our super tall, super fit, long-kicking left-foot wingman looked the part at training throughout summer, prompting excitement by most observers, but the reality is he's very raw and will need a couple more years to make it.
41 Austin Bradtke (NR) I've seen enough of him at training now to know he's a tad slow and he's too nice a guy to make it, so I reckon he needs to drop the footy now and pick up the basketball again. With all his weight work, it may not be too late for him to play in the paint for United or Phoenix.
Marty Hore (NR) His unlucky run continued this year when he ruptured his ACL joint, but he's back running and some say he could even be back in time for the VFL finals.
Aaron Nietschke (NR) He again looked handy in December and again his season was over by February with his third ACL. As with Marty Hore, it's hard to justify another year when you can now just wait and draft them mid-season if their back playing VFL and prospering.