2017 AFL draft: Who are the real top 20?

Hindsight is always 20-20, and that's especially the case when you look back at previous AFL drafts and wonder 'what if?'

The draft is where list managers really earn their money. Nail the early picks and your club will be that much closer to a finals campaign or even a premiership tilt. But if you miss the mark, trouble awaits.

Of course every club has had its fair share of hits and misses in recent years but the endless question from each draft remains - who are the best players, and in what order? ESPN.com.au draft expert Chris Doerre has revisited the drafts from 2013 to 2017 and re-selected who he believes are the top 20 talents, based on career output so far and future potential.

Doerre has analysed every player available during that particular year's draft, with often completely overlooked players who were subsequently selected in following seasons ending up being among the best of their initial draft class.

This is Doerre's top 20 from 2017.

No. 1: Aaron Naughton
Where he was picked: pick 9 (Western Bulldogs)
Analysis: There are others with greater fanfare, but I feel Naughton can provide the greatest career value. With quality key position players scarce and typically needing three or four years to develop, it is rare for one to become a regular in their first season and play AFL-quality football. Naughton has enormous scope to improve and can become one of the competition's best key defenders. Already an effective intercept mark and accumulator, if Naughton continues his rapid development and becomes a more consistent kick and one-on-one defender, he can be one of the competition's premier key defenders.

No. 2: Cameron Rayner
Where he was picked: pick 1 (Brisbane)
Analysis: A powerful and explosive forward and midfielder. Out of all the midfielders and forwards from 2017, I feel Rayner is the most likely to become 2017's best, purely based on the combination of attributes he possesses and the impact he has on games. What makes Rayner special, as with a young Dustin Martin or Christian Petracca, is how unstoppable he is forward of centre. I favour Rayner over Dow as the more unstoppable player in the forward half, I even have him ahead of Stephenson for his more powerful frame and stronger contested game.

No. 3: Paddy Dow
Where he was picked: pick 3 (Carlton)
Analysis: A ball-winning midfielder with explosiveness and clean skills. Dow has the scope to become the draft crop's best midfielder and stoppage player as well as the most powerful and explosive ball winner. Many will prefer Rising Star Jaidyn Stephenson who had the more impressive first season, but I see greater scope to improve in Dow with the more advanced contested side to his game and arguably greater upside as a ball-winning midfielder.

No. 4: Jaidyn Stephenson
Where he was picked: pick 6 (Collingwood)
Analysis: Entering the 2017 draft with concerns surrounding his heart, Stephenson has put any doubts surrounding his long-term health behind him in his first season, playing all of Collingwood's 26 games. He is a speedy forward who had a terrific first season where his pace, endurance and forward pressure were all features. He also had the rare ability for a first year player to win his own ball and provide scoreboard impact. While Stephenson has established himself as a forward in his first season, expect him to play more wing/half-forward in a few years' time as his pace is his greatest weapon.

No. 5: Adam Cerra
Where he was picked: pick 5 (Fremantle)
Analysis: Cerra is a prolific ball-winning midfielder with clean skills who played with so much class and composure in his debut season, remarkable given he missed most of 2016 and 2017. When Cerra transitions from defence to a permanent midfield role, he has the scope to become the highest volume ball-winner and accumulator in the pool.

No. 6: Darcy Fogarty
Where he was picked: pick 12 (Adelaide)
Analysis: A powerful and explosive key position player who offers a physical edge and high impact per possession, something which immediately draws you to his game. Fogarty possesses the versatility to play anywhere and he also has scope to push up through the midfield as a ball winner. Fogarty is far from a finished product and will need to start finding the ball more often and more consistently, but impacting games the way he already has in glimpses, he is one who has the scope to be among the best in the pool.

No. 7: Andrew Brayshaw
Where he was picked: pick 2 (Fremantle)
Analysis: A quality well-rounded midfielder who plays both ways, pressures opponents, covers the ground, wins the ball and possesses good skills. His production should improve, and he can be competitive with the other top midfielders from the class. He lacks the impact offensively and weapons of some of the others which places him slightly below the draft's other top midfielders.

No. 8: Jack Higgins
Where he was picked: pick 17 (Richmond)
Analysis: Higgins is the standout prospect remaining and on immediate production would be rated much higher. A dangerous forward who wins the ball, provides excellent forward pressure and is a capable midfielder. Higgins, as a sub 180cm player, is likely closer to who he will be at his peak by contrast to those higher than him on this list, but is the standout of those remaining.

No. 9: Sam Taylor
Where he was picked: pick 28 (Greater Western Sydney)
Analysis: It's still early days but Taylor has shown immense promise in his eight senior games for GWS as well as playing exceptional football in the NEAFL where he has featured in the bests in three of his five matches and proved an elite intercept mark and ball winner. The key defender has been lauded for his work ethic, has shown maturity and taken giant strides in his first season, proving a steady contributor in defence. Expect greater production and for Taylor to become a more prolific interceptor at AFL level over the coming seasons. He can become one of the game's best key defenders if his rapid rate of development continues.

No. 10: Tim Kelly
Where he was picked: pick 24 (Geelong)
Analysis: Kelly is five years older than most of his peers but was the best performed first year player. He is a damaging midfielder/forward and explosive ball winner who impacts games most heavily when matches are there to be won. A rapid improver over the past two years, expect continued growth and greater midfield minutes in 2019.

No. 11: Luke Davies-Uniacke
Where he was picked: pick 4 (North Melbourne)
Analysis: It was surprising to see Davies-Uniacke struggle at AFL level in his first year after two performances against VFL opposition in 2017 where he looked like the standout prospect and most ready in the pool. With his acceleration, ball winning capabilities and the way he can isolate and win one-on-ones in the front half, Davis-Uniacke has yet to convert those strengths to AFL play, but should begin to over the coming seasons.

No. 12: Aidan Bonar
Where he was picked: pick 11 (Greater Western Sydney)
Analysis: Another speculative call, but I've enjoyed the glimpses he has shown in his limited minutes and feel he will develop. He is one of this draft's great characters having overcome two knee reconstructions as a junior and it still persevering. A powerfully built athlete, Bonar looks highly developable and is showing promising signs with his tackling and excellent forward pressure. With a few preseasons working on his endurance, he should evolve into a ball winning midfielder.

No. 13: James Worpel
Where he was picked: pick 45 (Hawthorn)
Analysis: To no surprise to anyone who watched Worpel as a junior, he fit in seamlessly at AFL level as a powerful midfielder. With Tom Mitchell expected to miss the entire 2019 season, Worpel's production, strength at stoppages and forceful tackles, is likely to be heavily relied upon by Alastair Clarkson. Remarkably, Worpel's kicking, which was inconsistent as a junior, has developed substantially over the past 12 months. He is now hitting targets inside 50m and around the ground with unexpected consistency at AFL level.

No. 14: Brayden Crossley (Gold Coast Academy)
Where he was picked: pick 52 (Gold Coast)
Analysis: Looking like one of the draft bargains after playing 10 games for Gold Coast as a key forward/ruckman. A powerful unit, Crossley is a strong tap ruckman who follows up and tackles exceptionally well. He is also capable of playing forward and has been primarily used by Gold Coast in the front half, though is best suited through the ruck. It will be interesting to see whether the Suns can continue awarding him opportunities in 2019 or whether in a few years he will feel the need to move in order to receive regular playing time.

No. 15: Charlie Ballard
Where he was picked: pick 42 (Gold Coast)
Analysis: Ballard played 11 games for Gold Coast in his first season and is one of the more intriguing choices who could become anything. The 195cm mobile utility, who can play on a wing, forward or in defence has already impressed, particularly in the backline a place he is likely to start at in 2019. In time he could become a tall winger or potential key forward. With his rate of improvement, he can be one of the draft's best talls.

No. 16: Ed Richards
Where he was picked: pick 16 (Western Bulldogs)
Analysis: Richards adds speed, clean skills and immediately performance. Richards will be a long-term piece and fixture in the Dogs' best side and is ideally suited to providing run and breaking the lines from defence or the wing.

No. 17: Nick Coffield
Where he was picked: pick 8 (St Kilda)
Analysis: Coffield is a high probability prospect and an already capable defender who has the scope in the future to push up through the midfield. He's athletic, evasive and has clean skills. If he develops the contested side to his game and the capacity to push through the midfield at AFL level, he can move up this list.

No. 18: Hunter Clark
Where he was picked: pick 7 (St Kilda)
Analysis: Clark finds the football and possesses the versatility to play through the midfield in an inside or outside role, or as a defender/forward. He is likely to hone his skills in the midfield but to move up this list he will need to develop a hurt-factor and be more than just an accumulator.

No. 19: Lachie Fogarty
Where he was picked: pick 22 (Geelong)
Analysis: A capable forward who provides heavy pressure and can win his own ball. To move up this list, Fogarty will need to improve his accuracy in front of goal and become more damaging offensively.

No. 20: Bailey Banfield
Where he was picked: rookie draft pick 5 (Fremantle)
Analysis: Drafted as an over-ager, Banfield is a genuine two-way midfielder with the versatility to play either as a ball winning midfielder, tagger or negating forward. If his numbers continue to rise and he can become more of a threat offensively, he can move up this list.