The biggest AFL Draft questions answered: Top prospects, unluckiest players and 2020's impact

Are the Swans the dark horse team of 2021? (3:51)

Rohan Connolly makes his ESPN Footy Podcast debut for 2021, making his case that Sydney could be a surprise finalist this season. (3:51)

ESPN's AFL Draft expert Chris Doerre is back to answer all the burning draft questions ahead of 2021, including who the standout prospects are, when the state leagues and junior competitions begin and the impact 2020 has had on this crop of players.

Who are the early contenders for pick No. 1?

Viewed as the front-runner for pick No. 1 is South Australian Jason Horne. A goalkicking midfielder who influences games both as a mid and forward, Horne plays with the class of a Gary Ablett Jnr. Taking on the game with his run, evading opponents with ease, hurting the opposition with his disposal and marking forward of centre, while securing his share of the ball are all qualities Horne possesses.

Other early contenders include Victorian's Josh Rachele, Tyler Sonsie, Josh Sinn and Nick Daicos, as well as South Australian Matthew Roberts.

Who were the unluckiest undrafted players from 2020?

A hulking key position player standing at 194cm and 101kg, Jackson Callow dominated the NAB League in 2019 as a key forward. Last season in the TSL, Callow showed against senior opposition he could adapt to playing key defence.

Winning 54 percent of his ball in contested situations, laying bone-crunching tackles, possessing explosive athleticism and having the scope to either play through the midfield or as a forward, Jackson Cardillo was extremely unlucky to go undrafted. Analysis of past drafts suggests that winning a high proportion of ball in contested situations leads to prospects having a high probability of success at AFL level. When this is combined with additional points of difference, as Cardillo possesses, this indicates his ceiling is potentially very high.

An explosive midfielder, Zavier Maher plays a high impact per possession game. He bursts out of stoppages at speed, has good skills and knows how to lower his eyes. The only knock on Maher's game is that he needs to find and win more of the football if he is to develop as a midfielder.

Talented and athletic forward, Max Pescud is a speedy, aerial specialist who is dangerous around goal and impacts games. A Gold Coast Academy product, Pescud possesses X-factor in spades. The next stage in Pescud's development will be getting stronger and bringing his teammates into the game on a more regular basis.

Tall, contested ball winning midfielder and strong tackler with elite endurance, Logan Young improved strongly in 2020. He won 60 percent of his ball in contested situations, and again, that's a great indicator that his game can translate to AFL play. With his rate of improvement added into those calculations, his future appears bright.

How is the 2021 draft shaping up?

What's unique to this draft is likely several draftable 18 and 19-year-olds from Victoria who were eligible to be drafted in 2020 but have had no or not enough opportunity to impress recruiters. AFL Clubs do have opportunities during the mid-season draft to secure these players, mature agers or previously delisted players, but there are sure to be some who blossom later in the year and add additional depth to the 2021 draft pool.

From a positional perspective, the strength of this draft appears to be the midfielders. Fewer talls are likely to feature inside the top-10 than we saw in 2020.

The hope among recruiters has been that this year's draft will be stronger than 2020. With no Under-18 Championships last year, and limited opportunity for Victorian prospects to develop -- with a reduced preseason and coaching cutbacks -- these prospects are unlikely to be as advanced as had been widely assumed. Victorians normally make up more than 50 percent of the draft pool, so with this being the case, there is a level of uncertainty as to how strong this year's draft will be.

How compromised is this year's draft?

2020 was a historic year with the number of players tied to clubs and drafted, between Academy, Next-Generation Academy and through the father-son. There were two pre-draft selections taken by Gold Coast, in Alex Davies and Joel Jeffrey, 12 taken in the national draft, three selected in the rookie draft and six category B rookies, for a total of 23 all-up. Heading into 2021 there appears to be another strong group of father-son, academy and next-generation prospects, though it is unlikely to be as large as last year.

What immediately stands out this year is the footballing pedigree of a lot of this year's eligible names.

Standing out from the crowd and in the mix to be taken early are father-son prospects Nick Daicos (son of Peter and eligible to join Collingwood) and Jase Burgoyne (son of Peter and younger brother of Trent) is eligible to join Port Adelaide. Hoping to return during the second half of the season from a foot injury, Tex Wanganeen (son of Gavin and eligible to join either Essendon or Port Adelaide) has also garnered early interest.

Through the academies, Austin Harris and Ned Stevens (Gold Coast) and Josh Fahey (GWS) are the most highly-touted. While next-generation academy prospects Jesse Motlop (the son of former North Melbourne and Port Adelaide forward Daniel Motlop is eligible to join the Dockers), Joseph Dib (Collingwood) and Blayne O'Loughlin (Adelaide nephew of former Sydney great Michael O'Loughlin) are the early standouts.

How much of an impact are funding cuts and coaching changes having on Victorian prospects?

Unfortunately, due to funding cuts, the NAB League has been hit hard. This will undoubtedly impact on the development of the Victorian prospects, not only this year, but in coming years, weakening the talent pool and compromising future drafts. Instead of having a dedicated boy's coach across all clubs, each club will now have one coach charged with coaching both the male and female prospects. With this change, both the boys and girls will be disadvantaged.

This has been made worse with training at most clubs commencing in February, much later than normal. The start was so late that the NAB League Girls season was already underway, leaving little time for coaches to give the boys the time they normally would during the preseason. With the boy's competition the later of the two to start, it has proven particularly difficult for the coaches to have much contact or time supporting the boys with their development.

In years past, there have been training camps for Vic Metro and Vic Country boys, however no such camps are on offer in 2021, placing the Victorian prospects further behind their South Australian and Western Australian counterparts. In South Australia, their camp featured 50 prospects and ran for three days, while the Western Australian camp was held over three days for 20 prospects.

NAB League clubs have also been required to cut back scouting resources, which will hurt their ability to identify the best talent to add into their programs.

With the combination of these cutbacks, the only winners are Victoria's private schools. This marks a moment in time where the gap and advantage between the draft chances of those in APS and AGSV private school football programs and the opportunities they receive relative to the rest of the state has never been greater.

Which clubs have the best draft hand at this stage?

Adelaide has an impressive draft hand heading into the 2021 season. While they moved their third-round pick, they added Melbourne's second round pick and Fremantle's fourth round pick during last year's trade period.

Brisbane is well positioned, moving their 2021 second and fourth round picks, but adding Melbourne's first and fourth round picks, West Coast's third round pick, and Collingwood's fourth round pick.

Gold Coast gave up their 2021 third round pick, but hold Carlton's third round choice, Melbourne's third round pick and Essendon's fourth round selection.

When do the junior competitions and state leagues begin?

Round 1 of the NAB League season will begin Saturday, March 27 with the Calder Cannons and Western Jets squaring off. All other opening round fixtures will be played Thursday, April 1 through Monday, April 5. Round 1 in the SANFL will begin Thursday, April 1, while the WAFL season commences Friday, April 2. The VFL commences a fortnight later, with Round 1 beginning Friday, April 16.