Captains Confidential: Best umpires, worst sledges and more

The modern AFL footballer is always on the record - at press conferences, on the field, or at training, so we at ESPN thought we'd talk to them confidentially about a number of topics ahead of the 2021 season.

We posed five off-the-record questions to a number of skippers at the AFL Captains Days held around the country, with their confidential answers below.

Note: While it's not all hard-hitting, all players provided answers on the condition of anonymity.

Which club will surprise the rest of the competition the most in 2021?

"Probably the Bulldogs. Huge midfield numbers and their best is really dangerous."

"There's probably a couple. Maybe Fremantle. I like their midfield group and they've got quality players on all lines."

"I'm going to say the Bluebaggers. I just think we're going to see the development of someone like Sam Walsh lift his game. They flogged Adam Saad off the Bombers so he's going to give them some good rebound off defence, and Patty Cripps is just a weapon."

"I would say St Kilda. It's probably not too big of a surprise, but they're quick, dynamic and their age profile is good."

"Can we say ourselves? Nah, I think Carlton. I think they'll play finals this year. They've added a few pieces to the puzzle this year and they'll be hard to beat."

"I think Fremantle. They play a really good brand of football and have some star players. I actually think they'll slip into the eight, too."

"I reckon the Blues."

"Collingwood. I think people are probably writing them off but they won't be as bad as what everyone's thinking."

"Carlton, because of who they recruited - some very exciting and attacking players. I think they're very capable of surprising a few teams this year."

Who is the best umpire in the game?

"Matty Stevic, he's my man ... He's given me a few cheeky frees along the line too, which I've been wrapped about."

"I don't even know [half of them]. They all try hard, haha. I don't have any favourites."

"(long pause) ... Footey - Nick Foote."

"I like Razor Ray, he's entertaining - adds a bit of colour to the game."

"Matty Stevic is always pretty even I'd say."

"I think Jacob Mollison is the best umpire in the game."

"Matt Stevic."

"Nick Foote. He can bounce the ball well, and he hasn't given too many frees away against me."

"That's a tough question, I don't like any! Maybe Razor Ray, he's got a bit of a personality and there's always good banter with him."

Is betting, alcohol or drugs the biggest issue facing the modern player?

"I think a combination of all three to be honest, in different aspects. There's also a few other things out there that are threatening, but those three are the main ones. One is not more important than the other I think."

"I would say given what's happening in society, maybe drugs. Gambling's pretty bad, too."

"For me it's probably betting. I think when guys band together ... it can get quite dangerous. We need to be careful of it."

"Betting. Could say all three though."

"I think all of them. They all tie in with mental health issues and stuff. They're very dangerous for players but it's good we have the AFL and the AFLPA to assist us if needed."

"Drugs."

"It's all dependent on the player. They're [all] a problem in wider society - there's no real one that stands out [in footy]."

"Betting, mainly because of the income for a young player, how in your face it is and how targeted young players are. It's a strong culture in old school AFL clubs to be in a syndicate."

"They're all vices at different points. They all need an equal amount of attention to be honest."

What's the best sledge or heckle you've received from the stands?

"When I had long hair I copped some good ones... 'worm head', that sort of thing."

"I'm not quite sure. I get a few about my hairline, so maybe a few along those lines haha!"

"No specific ones come to mind."

"I ignore most of them to be honest!"

"This isn't from the stands, but it was from [player X] when I was standing in as captain. He told me I was the worst captain to ever play the game. The next year he got recruited to our club. I told him he wasn't playing in the first week."

"There have been a few boys who copped a few good ones. [Player X] used to get them all the time for having a big gut. He copped a few 'sausage roll' calls, but he used to fire a few back which was good banter."

"The fans aren't as witty as some of the players. I cop a lot of words I probably can't say but I don't think I'm alone."

"'Get a haircut', plenty of times."

"Probably 'you're a weak ----' ... you probably can't use that though. It's amazing in the heat of the moment you don't often notice the fans. It's always nice when you kick one though, you can look over and give them a little 'how you going'?"

Which player in the league would you have kicking for your life from 50m out, directly in front?

"I think Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. He's a dead-eye and will make the distance for sure."

"The Tomahawk."

"Tom Hawkins is pretty accurate from out there."

"Shaun Burgoyne doesn't make too many mistakes."

"Josh Caddy."

"Buddy. Without a doubt."

"This is really left-field but Sam Weideman. Got a beautiful action and will make the distance."

"Tim Membrey is one of the best kicks in the league when he's on. So I hope he's on kicking for my life."

"From 50, Zach Tuohy's pretty good isn't he? Maybe him."