Ranking every No. 1 AFL draft pick since 2000

Being selected with the No. 1 pick in an AFL Draft is a great honour for any player, but something which carries enormous expectation throughout a career. Some have relished and thrived off the pressure, while others have crumbled and turned out to be busts.

Ahead of the 2020 Draft, ESPN decided to look back at the last 20 No. 1 picks, dating back to 2000, and rank them as players from worst to best. In these rankings, we're not simply looking back on a career but also projecting how some of the more recent draftees will turn out.

So, without further ado, let's begin the countdown to the best No. 1 pick of the past two decades.


20. Paddy McCartin (2014)

So much potential as a key forward but ultimately cut down by persistent concussions and forced into an early retirement. McCartin was at the Saints for four years following his selection in the 2014 Draft and never managed to play more than 13 games in a season. He finished his career with just 35 games and 34 goals to his name, managing to play in only 10 wins for St Kilda. While his on-field career was a disappointment, McCartin has done brilliantly in becoming the poster boy for concussion awareness, proving much more needs to be done to protect the modern day player.

19. Jonathon Patton (2011)

Like McCartin, Patton entered the league with enormous wraps and superstar key forward potential. But, also like McCartin, it hasn't quite eventuated. Patton is still yet to crack the 100-game barrier, missing massive chunks of the 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2020 seasons through injury. When he was fit at the Giants, he was overshadowed by Jeremy Cameron, while at the Hawks ... well, he hasn't done much since making the move at the end of last season. Still just 27, there's time for Patton to turn things around but right now he has to be viewed as a bust of a pick No. 1.

18. Tom Scully (2009)

Yes, he's got elite endurance, but that doesn't automatically make you an elite footballer. Scully has been overrated since being taken by the Demons with the top selection in the 2009 AFL Draft. A big money move to the Giants was followed by a return to Melbourne to play for the Hawks. All three clubs haven't really seen anything to match the hype around Scully, and when you consider players like Dustin Martin, Nat Fyfe and Ben Cunnington were all available in 2009, it's pretty clear he really shouldn't have been a No. 1 pick. But, hindsight is a wonderful thing...

17. Tom Boyd (2013)

We're only four names into this list and we've already got a third key forward appearing. Selectors, take note! The pressure of delivering when you're a No. 1 pick is always going to be significant, but there's a little more expectation when you're a key forward. Boyd was never able to become the player many had predicted he could be and copped plenty of criticism after joining the Bulldogs on a mammoth contract in 2015. He would retire at the end of 2018, but not before playing a memorable role in the Dogs' 2016 Grand Final triumph over Sydney. Believe it or not, Boyd is one of just two former No. 1 picks since 2000 to have won a premiership medal.

16. Jack Watts (2008)

Talk about much-maligned players, few copped it as much as Watts during his career. Watts was hailed as Melbourne's saviour after being selected by the Dees in 2008 and famously making his debut on Queen's Birthday. However, he never quite hit the heights expected of him and was often compared to West Coast star ruck Nic Naitanui (who was taken with the second pick in that same Draft). After nine seasons and 153 games for the Demons, Watts made the move to Port Adelaide but struggled for a regular spot in the side, eventually calling time on his career at the end of last season.

15. Matthew Kreuzer (2007)

On his day, Kreuzer could mix it with the best ruckman in the competition, but unfortunately for Blues fans, injuries meant he was often sitting in the grandstands. Kreuzer missed at least 25 percent of Carlton's games in eight of his 13 seasons, retiring at the end of 2020 with 189 games and 94 goals to his name. The Blues always appeared to be a far stronger outfit when Kreuzer was on the field and it's little wonder he become a fan favourite at IKON Park. Had he not sustained injury after injury he would likely have cracked the top 10 in this list.

14. Cam Rayner (2017)

His career is still very young and Rayner has shown glimpses of being an A-grade player, but even he will admit he hasn't quite mastered consistency in his game. It might be critical given he's only been in the system for three years, but there appears to be a few from the 2017 Draft crop which would have been more worthy top choices - Andrew Brayshaw, Adam Cerra and Aaron Naughton all spring to mind. Still, Brisbane's mid-sized forward has kicked 57 goals in his 63 games and at this point, he's far from a bust.

13. David Swallow (2010)

Gold Coast's first ever draft pick has been a solid citizen for the club over the past decade and one of the more underrated and reliable midfielders in the competition. Swallow has played the second-most games in Suns history, behind only Jarrod Harbrow, and was the first Sun outside of Gary Ablett to win a club best and fairest (2014), to go along with his pair of runner-ups in 2017 and 2019. He may have only won one in four games during his career, but the co-captain has been as loyal as they come for Gold Coast in the first decade of its existence.

12. Bryce Gibbs (2006)

The Gibbs career was really a tale of two. Drafted to the Blues in 2006, he quickly became one of Carlton's best and most damaging players. Long-range goals and precise field kicking was what Gibbs did best until requesting a trade back to South Australia at the end of 2016. The move didn't eventuate immediately but the following year he made his way to the Crows, only to fall out of favour and struggle to break into the side. It became clear that 2020 would be his final season in the AFL and the Crows gifted Gibbs a late season game against the Blues as a farewell. In the end, a disappointing finish for such a talented player.

11. Andrew McGrath (2016)

If you look at McGrath's body of work in 2020, the potential to be an elite player of the competition certainly exists. Having started his career as a halfback, McGrath was thrown into the midfield with great effect this season, enjoying career high averages in disposals, contested possessions, clearances, inside 50s and tackles. Perhaps the only slight knock (and it's not even his fault) is the quality of the two players selected after him in 2016, Tim Taranto and Hugh McCluggage, who right now are ahead of him in terms of output. However, just like the 2001 Draft, there's plenty of time to catch up!

10. Brett Deledio (2004)

As good as the Deledio career was, a greater legacy probably could have been left behind had he not departed Richmond before its recent run of glory. The star Tiger toiled away at Punt Road for 12 years, rarely missing a game over the journey. But after 243 games, 182 goals, two All-Australian blazers, two Jack Dyer Medals and the Rising Star award, 'Lids' decided to leave the club and head north to GWS. Unfortunately, injuries meant he played fewer than 50 percent of games during his three years at the Giants. He would also miss the 2019 Grand Final, where the Tigers humiliated GWS.

9. Jacob Weitering (2015)

The only key defender since the turn of the century to be taken with a No. 1 Draft pick struggled early on at the Blues but in recent seasons has shown he has all the makings of an A-grade backman. Weitering, still just 23, has now been in the system for five years and has racked up 93 games for Carlton. After an impressive 2020, he now probably sits behind only Brisbane's Harris Andrews as the competition's best young defender. Weitering was also voted into the 22under22 team for the third time at the conclusion of this season, this time holding the vice-captaincy. You can expect him to be one of the league's best defenders for the next eight to 10 years.

8. Adam Cooney (2003)

It might seem a little harsh to have the only No. 1 Draft pick Brownlow Medal winner fail to crack the top seven but it probably says a little about how out-of-the-box Cooney's sensational 2008 season was. That year, particularly in the first half of the season, Cooney was insatiable for the Dogs. By Round 12 he was averaging 27 disposals and over 1.5 goals per game. He would eventually take home Charlie and earn a maiden All-Australian selection. However, he never quite repeated the dose. In fact, Cooney was never able to crack double figure Brownlow votes in any of the eight seasons which followed, though was hampered by knee injuries. He would retire as a Bomber at the end of 2016 with 250 games and 202 goals.

7. Marc Murphy (2005)

At one point in his career, Murphy had put himself in the elite midfielders bracket. Between 2008 and 2015, he polled 92 Brownlow Medal votes, but it was in 2011 and 2012 where his game went up a gear. Over those two seasons, Murphy averaged 28 disposals, five clearances, four tackles and almost a goal per game. However, after colliding with Patrick Dangerfield in Round 8, 2012, and missing eight weeks with a left shoulder injury, Murphy was never quite the same player. With that said, his drop off was far from catastrophic and Murphy has remained a solid player for the Blues, having notched 285 games, an All-Australian jacket and two club best and fairest awards throughout his career so far.

6. Sam Walsh (2018)

Few players have come into the league and had such a profound and immediate impact as Walsh did for the Blues in 2019. As an 18-year-old, Walsh played every game in his rookie year, finishing the season with an average of 25 disposals, 10 contested possessions, three tackles, three clearances and three inside 50s per game, winning the Rising Star Award by the length of the Flemington straight. Blessed with elite endurance, Walsh has all the makings of a 300-plus game champion for Carlton and could very well turn out to be one of the club's best ever draft choices, in what is already proving to be a strong class.

5. Brendon Goddard (2002)

The 334-game Goddard was one of the competition's most durable players over the past two decades. Versatile, tough and a fearless competitor, Goddard played a key role in St Kilda's run to three Grand Finals in two years, earning All Australian selection in both 2009 and 2010. Perhaps his most famous moment on a football field came in the first of two 2010 Grand Finals, when he launched himself over Heritier Lumumba and clunked one of the marks of the season. He turned around and slotted the set shot to put the Saints in front. After a decade at St Kilda, Goddard joined the Bombers and played a further six seasons, winning the club's best and fairest award in 2013.

4. Lachie Whitfield (2012)

I think it's safe to say Whitfield is the best ball user to ever be drafted with pick No. 1. The speedy Giant is lethal on both sides of his body, doing his best work off half back and through the midfield. Across his 150 games, Whitfield has averaged 23 disposals, while also contributed 61 goals. The 26-year-old is also a two-time GWS best and fairest winner and was selected in the 2018 All Australian team. Few would be surprised to see him reach the 300-game mark in his career and when it's all said and done could very well retire as a top two or three Giant in club history.

3. Matt Rowell (2019)

It might seem utterly crazy to rank a five-game player as the third best No. 1 Draft pick of the past two decades, but as mentioned from the outset, predicting the potential output of a player has been taken into consideration here. Statistically, Rowell produced the best first four games of any player in the sport's history and would have been a lock for the Rising Star Award had he not suffered a shoulder injury in game five. The young Sun averaged 22 disposals and almost two goals per games in those first four outings and looks set to be one of the game's absolute elite midfielders for the next decade and a half. If this guy doesn't win a Brownlow Medal in his career, something will have gone seriously wrong.

2. Nick Riewoldt (2000)

The fearless St Kilda leader takes second spot after a superb career spanning from 2001-2017 in which he played 336 games and kicked 718 goals. Riewoldt's playing days were epitomised by loyalty to the Saints and a disregard for his own safety (you know the mark I'm talking about!). He finished his career as the 21st most successful goalkicker in the sport's history and third best at St Kilda behind forward icons Tony Lockett and Bill Mohr. It's a shame Riewoldt never landed a premiership as many would likely rate him among the all-time greats, if he's not there already. Regardless, Riewoldt is one of the best players to have played the game in the past two decades.

1. Luke Hodge (2001)

Mr. September himself. The Hawthorn champion will not only go down as one of the best finals players the sport has ever seen, having won two Norm Smith Medals from his five Grand Final appearances, but also one of the game's toughest and fiercest competitors. Hodge played 305 games for the Hawks, captaining the side between 2011 and 2016, before moving to Brisbane at the beginning of 2018 and spending two seasons there reshaping the club's culture and on-field standards. Throughout his career, Hodge won just about every accolade on offer and it's only fitting he is viewed as the top No. 1 draft pick since the turn of the century.