Why draft pick No. 56 is better than No. 6

The AFL National Draft gets underway in Sydney on Friday night, when dozens of teenagers who few people have heard of will dominate the AFL news cycle.

As inexact sciences go, AFL drafting is up there with economics and weather forecasting. Some duds get drafted in the top 10, while champions get overlooked until the third, fourth and fifth rounds.

Recruiters have clearly got much better over the years in identifying talent, but there have been times when you wonder if they wouldn't have done better with a blindfold and pin.

What the stats show is that after the top 10 picks - the standouts that Blind Freddy could see were champions-in-the-making - it's a bit of raffle. The guy picked at No.56 has as much chance of succeeding as the guy selected at No.16.

And that is actually true.

For some reason, pick No.56 - way back in the fourth round when some clubs have run out of selections - has produced an astonishing array of talent.

Matthew 'Doc' Clarke (1990) played 258 games with Brisbane; Lions teammate Daniel Bradshaw (1995) notched up 231 matches; Ryan O'Keefe (1999) featured in 286 contest with Sydney; Daniel Cross (2000) 249 games with the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne; Joel Patfull (2005) 220 clashes with Brisbane and so on.

Even the No.56 pick four years ago, Hawthorn's James Sicily, looks like continuing that trend and forging a 200-game career.

On Friday, Collingwood hold this coveted selection, so mark down a future Pies' star with whoever they choose.

Such has been the rich seam of talent at No.56 that players taken with that pick have actually played the 15th most games on the all-time draftees' list.

Pick No. 87 has also produced excellent results, which is remarkable when that name is generally called out in the dying minutes of the draft as club recruiting officers are clearing up their desk and heading out the door.

Gems taken at No. 87 include Damien Hardwick, James McDonald and Michael Barlow. Astonishingly, players taken at that number have played the 28th most games on the all-time draftees' list. This year the Kangaroos have the chance to continue that trend.

Yet for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

A close look at every draft pick over the past 30 years - and there have been more than 2500 of them - suggests you don't want No. 6, or selection 35. Traditionally, they've both been pretty useless.

Players taken at No. 6 have played an average of 53 games each (yet those chosen at No. 5 average 106 senior appearances), meaning they feature way down in 55th place on average games played.

Put another way, youngsters chosen at No. 56 and No. 87 in the draft over the past three decades have ended up playing significantly more senior games than those selected at No. 6. Work that out.

Reece Conca, Gary Rohan, Sam Petrevski-Seton and Caleb Marchbank - all No. 6s - might yet lift those paltry numbers but what these anomalies tell you is that luck has as much to do with unearthing the champions of tomorrow as any exhaustive scientific research.