Recruitment of mature-age prospects from the state leagues has proven increasingly valuable over recent years. More clubs now look to fill their list weaknesses with ready-to-go state league talent; in fact each of the past seven premiership sides have possessed at least two players drafted out of the state leagues, underlining the importance of scouting the lower levels.
The recent success stories of those who bypassed the traditional junior systems to the AFL are plentiful. Third in Richmond's best and fairest count, Kane Lambert -- who hails from VFL club Williamstown -- shared in Richmond's premiership success with Nathan Broad, who was drafted from WAFL club Swan Districts.
The previous year, long-time Western Bulldogs champions Matthew Boyd and Dale Morris both tasted the ultimate success after finding their way into the AFL via VFL clubs Frankston and Werribee respectively. Former Swan Shane Biggs and Tory Dickson both hail from disbanded VFL club Bendigo.
Incredibly, Sam Mitchell, Josh Gibson (originally drafted by North Melbourne), Ben Stratton, Isaac Smith and Paul Puopolo were all drafted as mature-age prospects via state league clubs - they each played in all three of Hawthorn's premierships between 2013 and 2015.
Most years, mature-age prospects come into draft contention from around pick 40 onwards when the better portion of the most promising juniors have been selected. This year, the dynamic appears no different.
The following players may be considered by AFL recruiters through the second half of the national draft and the subsequent rookie draft.
This year, the leading state league prospect is South Fremantle midfielder Tim Kelly, who was one of two mature-age prospects to receive a national draft combine invite. The 23-year-old is an athletic, goalkicking midfielder who kicked 26 goals from 23 games. Kelly often wins the ball cleanly on the move, moves well through traffic and is also a damaging ball user. The highlight to Kelly's season was a 35-disposal, seven-goal performance in Round 11 against East Fremantle.
The other mature-age prospect to receive a national combine invite was Adam Sambono. The speedy 20-year-old forward showed promise in the NEAFL for Northern Territory Thunder, kicking 32 goals from 11 games. A late starter to football, Sambono, who won the NEAFL Rising Star Award, is super-talented and will appeal to AFL clubs due not only to his goalkicking instincts but his tackling pressure.
Starring at the WA state combine, Liam Ryan registered a 2.89 second 20m sprint and is arguably the best forward outside the AFL, kicking 73 goals from 23 games. The 21-year-old forward is a human highlight reel, playing an instinctive style of football. He has built a reputation for his high-flying heroics and kicking freakish goals.
Another of the talented forwards in this draft is Casey's Bayley Fritsch. Turning 21 in December, Fritsch was named to the VFL team of the year across half-forward. After enduring an injury plagued few years, Fritsch put together an impressive season kicking 42 goals from 19 games. There is a feeling that Fritsch is untapped and has the scope to develop into anything, maybe a half-back-flanker, with his long but damaging left foot kick, pace and contested marking among his weapons.
Winning the Sandover Medal ahead of South Fremantle teammate Tim Kelly, ex-Docker Haiden Schloithe elevated his game in 2017, gathering 624 disposals, 142 marks, 84 tackles and kicking 30 goals from 22 games while using the ball at 77 percent efficiency. Schloithe, a once talented forward, greatly enhanced his contested ball-winning capabilities in 2017 and may be the best midfielder outside the AFL.
Taking out the NEAFL MVP award, Jordan Keras -- soon-to-be the brother-in-law of Patrick Dangerfield -- is one of the other appealing midfield prospects. Keras, 23, averaged 35 disposals, 10 clearances and 16 contested possessions for Southport and is arguably the premier stoppage player outside the AFL. His endurance and work rate are also noteworthy and key strengths.
Geelong VFL co-captain and renowned tackling machine Tom Atkins over his last three matches registered a mind-boggling 52 tackles. His strongest performance through that run came against Collingwood's VFL side where he registered 25 disposals, 23 tackles and two goals in a best on ground performance. The 22-year-old midfielder from his 28 games over the past two seasons has kicked 23 goals, highlighting his danger around the big sticks.
One of this year's most exciting outside speedsters is overager Oskar Baker. Baker, previously cut from the Brisbane Academy, is one of the most exciting state league line-breakers. He takes the game on relentlessly and possesses outstanding pace and hurt factor. He also isn't shy taking shots on goal, kicking 17 goals from 15 games with 15 of those goals coming from his last nine games.
Arguably let go too soon, Blaine Johnson, in his second WAFL season since being delisted by Carlton stood out for South Fremantle kicking 59 goals from 23 games. The 22-year-old forward while a big-time goal kicker also critically pressures well, securing 74 tackles.
Winning Carlton's VFL best and fairest award convincingly and getting named to the VFL's team of the year at centre-half-back, ex-Port Adelaide defender Cameron O'Shea led the VFL with 111 marks from 18 games. The 25-year-old is a tall running defender who not only provides rebound but also can negate the influence of opposition forwards.
Of those in the draft mix, one of the best kicks outside the AFL belongs to left-footed half-back-flanker Brett Bewley. The 22-year-old is a clean, efficient, left-foot kick who racks up the ball off half-back. While not blessed with pace, he won the yo-yo endurance test at the Victorian state combine.
Turning 24 before this year's AFL draft, Alex Boyse at 190cm is one of the more intriguing forwards. He's a contested marking threat who works hard, pushing high up the ground and also possesses excellent speed and athleticism. Boyse kicked 31 goals from 16 VFL games.
After being viewed by many as unlucky not to be drafted in 2016, Ex-Collingwood rookie Jye Bolton again starred in the WAFL through the midfield. The 25-year-old midfielder played his best football through the second half of the season, gathering 344 disposals during his last 11 matches.
From South Australia, midfielder Patrick Wilson is one of the leading draft chances. Turning 23 before the end of the year, Wilson is a strong-bodied, contested ball-winning midfielder who also hits the scoreboard with 18 goals from 19 games.
Unlucky to be overlooked in 2016, Jordan Sweet as an overage ruckman played most of the season in the SANFL Reserves. His form has been strong, winning the hitout battle more weeks than not, finding the ball around the field and hitting the scoreboard for eight goals from his 17 games. Sweet also held his own in his two League opportunities where he was named one of the best players on ground on debut, kicking one goal in each of his two games.
The other South Australian to emerge on AFL draft radars is ex-Melbourne speedster Dominic Barry. Barry kicked 16 goals from his 18 games. It is Barry's speed and endurance that appeals to AFL clubs, giving him something few have.