2021 AFL draft: ESPN's first round analysis

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Rebuilding Hawks the early winners from the AFL Draft (2:04)

Champion Data's Christian Joly was full of praise for Hawthorn's draft selections on the ESPN Footy Podcast. Get the team's full breakdown wherever you stream your pods. (2:04)

Throughout 2021, ESPN's AFL draft expert Chris Doerre has cast his eye over the country's best junior footballers to give readers an early insight into the next generation of AFL stars.

While attending live games has yet again been a challenge in a COVID-affected year, Doerre has pored through match vision from this and last year, analysed the stats and talked to industry sources to ensure he can offer the most insightful draft analysis.

This is his analysis from Wednesday night's first round of the draft.


Pick 1, North Melbourne: Jason Horne-Francis
Doerre's Power Rankings: 1
Doerre says: Horne-Francis will greatly complement North Melbourne's list. They've added an influential difference maker who, both through the midfield and up forward, can change the complexion of games with his relentless pressure, tackling and how he imposes himself on games. Often winning the ball on the move at speed and proving difficult to contain aerially, one-on-one and at ground level inside 50, Horne-Francis is worthy of the pick one tag. Given North Melbourne's current strength and depth in the midfield, we can expect to see Horne-Francis to start his career across half-forward with some moments through the midfield and closer to goal as favourable matchups arise in games. A Round 1 debut is the expectation.
If I was North Melbourne list manager: No trade offer would sway me at this point. Jason Horne-Francis is the right pick as the best prospect in the draft. The addition of the. explosive South Australian from a marketing perspective will generate excitement, but as one of those players who influences winning in such a diverse number of ways, it's equally important of a play for North Melbourne's long term list build.

Pick 2, Western Bulldogs (matching bid): Sam Darcy (Father-Son)
Doerre's Power Rankings: 3
Doerre says: The Dogs by matching bids on Darcy add a second future star key forward in two years. Not being regarded as an early pick before the start of the season, Darcy has improved rapidly to the extent that some recruiters believe he is this draft's best prospect. Darcy has grown from 197cm in 2020 up to 205cm. Both the rapid football improvement and the late growth suggests substantial improvement to come. Possessing overhead marking gifts thanks to his height and reach, dexterity at ground level, clean skills and an excellent athletic profile for someone of his size, Darcy carries a mix of attributes that suggest he'll be a future star of the competition. There is scope for the son of Luke to play in defence or through the ruck, but with his talent and the difficulty clubs have finding quality key forwards, he should be developed in front of goal.
If I was Western Bulldogs list manager: As the Dogs did, I would trade away pick 23 for the most favourable return possible and match bids on Darcy as soon as a bid is placed. Once a bid is matched, I'd open discussions with rival clubs about what opportunities there are to get involved in the second round.

Pick 3, Greater Western Sydney: Finn Callaghan
Doerre's Power Rankings: 4
Doerre says: Callaghan will provide a much-needed contrast as a tall midfielder with rare speed, agility and evasion in traffic. The young star will still need to develop as a natural ball winner but preferring at this point to be more of a receiver, Callaghan would fit in well alongside the Giants' stronger-bodied ball winners. With Callaghan improving rapidly in recent years and still growing at 191cm after being a shorter midfielder in his younger years, his ceiling appears high and there is likely to be substantial improvement still to come.
If I was Greater Western Sydney list manager: With my view of the talent in this draft being that Jason Horne-Francis, Nick Daicos and Sam Darcy in that order are the three best in the pool, I would be placing bids on both Daicos and Darcy. As both Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs are positioned to match bids and neither will be joining the Giants, I would bid first on Darcy and second on Daicos. The reason for this approach is out of courtesy to Collingwood for no other reason than to maintain a positive trade relationship as the pick the Giants are using here was originally traded from Collingwood in a live trade during last year's draft. With the top-three talents in my view at least being clear-cut, I would make Collingwood pay the points required to match Pick 3. As Collingwood would match any bid on Daicos, Finn Callaghan would also be my eventual pick for the Giants. Callaghan after bids on the two father-sons is both the best available talent and someone who through the midfield importantly offers something both different and complementary.

Pick 4, Collingwood (matching bid): Nick Daicos (Father-Son)
Doerre's Power Rankings: 2
Doerre says: Good enough to be pick one just about any year, Daicos has done everything he possibly could to impress, averaging 36 disposals and two goals per game in the NAB League, and stepping up to the plate consistently with top-tier performances. Collingwood are draft winners by getting Daicos here. Expect the son of Peter and brother of Josh to play Round 1 for the Pies and hold his spot as a composed and consistent midfielder and forward.
If I was Collingwood list manager: By matching bids on Daicos and avoiding a pick deficit for next year -- the most important things for Collingwood -- my strategy as per Collingwood's idea in this draft would be before a bid comes from Gold Coast to trade away what picks I can for 2022 selections.

Pick 5, Gold Coast: Mac Andrew
Doerre's Power Rankings: 8
Doerre says: Andrew is a light-bodied ruckman and long-term project player who is likely to spend his early years developing as a key position player while he adds muscle to his light frame. What is breathtaking with Andrew is how high he leaps at centre bounces, often getting his waist above the head of rival rucks when he gets a clear jump at the ball. Andrew is a 'unicorn' at 201cm who can do a bit of everything. He moves with the fluidity of a midfielder, possesses good skills, is clean at ground level and can take marks at full stretch. At this stage, Andrew is the most talented remaining tall in the draft.
If I was Gold Coast list manager: My pick for the Suns here would be Josh Ward. Ward is the highest remaining player on my draft board and possesses the highest floor of the remaining prospects as someone who in the last month of the NAB League season was playing to a comparable standard to Nick Daicos. As Ward would likely still be available two picks from now, I would entertain trades with Adelaide and Hawthorn and take that as an opportunity to either move the Suns' second pick up or improve the club's already potent 2022 draft hand. With Gold Coast still in a rebuilding phase and unlikely to jump into contention for a while, they need not feel urgency to add to their tall stocks. With the good key position players and in particular key forwards tending to feature early in the draft, if the Suns continue missing the top eight, there should be plenty of opportunities over the next few years to continue to bolster this area.

Pick 6, Adelaide: Josh Rachele
Doerre's Power Rankings: 10
Doerre says: A talented forward and midfielder, Rachele is blessed with an arguably best in class level precision kick. He hits the scoreboard, sets up targets inside 50, is strong overhead, capable at ground level, but can also push up through the midfield and win first possession. At this point in the draft, Rachele stands out because he offers genuine dual position impact whereas the others remaining don't share the same dual forward/midfield impact potential.
If I was Adelaide list manager: With Josh Ward still available, he would have been my pick as the best available player and a midfielder good enough to become over the long term one of Adelaide's very best had he been selected. While Ward isn't as talented forward of centre as Rachele, the completeness of his midfield play in addition to a far greater rate of improvement makes Ward my preference.

Pick 7, Hawthorn: Josh Ward
Doerre's Power Rankings: 5
Doerre says: An excellent value get here, Ward is a low risk, ready-to-go midfielder with a season one ready game. Ward is one of the most complete midfielders in this draft with his combination of contested ball winning, sound skills, agility and endurance. His production and impact during the latter part of the NAB League season was comparable with the play of Nick Daicos. Expect to see lots of Ward in 2022 at AFL level.
If I was Hawthorn list manager: I would have done the same as Hawthorn here. Ward represents best available value as the best player remaining and someone who is highly likely to play a prominent role in Hawthorn's engine room for a long time.

Pick 8, Fremantle: Jye Amiss
Doerre's Power Rankings: 16
Doerre says: With the Dockers needing a key forward, Amiss was widely viewed as the obvious solution for them in this draft. A late bloomer with untapped upside, Amiss has this year become the dominant goalkicker in the junior ranks, kicking a WAFL Colts competition-high 51 goals from his 15 games. This was the highest across any of the junior competitions. Amiss converts reliably in front of goal and is a strong overhead mark who does his best work leading up at the football.
If I was Fremantle list manager: My best available at this point was Neil Erasmus who Fremantle wisely chose two selections later. While Fremantle's key forward stocks are thin and weak, the early part of the draft should be used to secure the best available talent, with late and rookie picks able to be used to fill needs in the list. My method towards securing Fremantle a key forward short term would be looking towards a mature age tall with Tyler Keitel and Matthew Hammelmann two serviceable options.

Pick 9, Richmond: Josh Gibcus
Doerre's Power Rankings: 15
Doerre says: Richmond had always planned to draft a key defender and they could have taken one with one of their other selections but decided to take the most highly touted option with their first pick. A high-flying key defender, Gibcus is at his best when he backs himself to read the ball in flight and launches for intercept marks. Also adept defensively, Gibcus can equally remain disciplined and negate the influence of opposition key forwards.
If I was Richmond list manager: Neil Erasmus is my best available player here and would be my choice. With Richmond's midfield lacking in the way of young star power, Erasmus could have been the answer. As for how to address Richmond's key defence problems, I would have targeted Leek Alleer ahead of Josh Gibcus as my preferred key defender. With the surprise selection by GWS in the first round of Alleer, the plan would in this scenario have shifted towards follow mature age key defenders Charlie Dean or Blake Schlensog as those next best options.

Pick 10, Fremantle: Neil Erasmus
Doerre's Power Rankings: 6
Doerre says: A fantastic value choice at this stage, Erasmus is a strong mark and elite ball reader. He has developed into a strong contested ball winner who can push forward and hit the scoreboard. With a late-year birthday and rapid rate of improvement, Erasmus is one of this year's high upside midfield choices. With David Mundy and Nat Fyfe in the twilight of their careers and Adam Cerra traded, Erasmus is the midfielder the Dockers needed to not only secure complement the future of their midfield.
If I was Fremantle list manager: Had I taken Erasmus at Pick 8, I would have selected a second Western Australian midfielder in Matthew Johnson to provide a classy complement as the next best available talent.

Pick 11, St Kilda: Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera
Doerre's Power Rankings: 14
Doerre says: A pure outside player, Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera is the son of Terry Milera and nephew of Gavin Wanganeen. What's special with Wanganeen-Milera is his precision kicking, agility, evasion and the ease with which he creates time and space for himself under pressure. With the Saints relatively lacking in the way of speed and skill through the midfield, Wanganeen-Milera here provides a point of contrast.
If I was St Kilda list manager: At this stage in the draft Matthew Johnson is my best available option. With the Saints around the ball having several slower players, Johnson would have been that perfect list fit as a tall midfielder with incredible skills and agility. Later in the draft if the Saints were looking for someone with similar capabilities on the outside to Wanganeen-Milera, having their eyes on Ronald Fejo Jr could have allowed the Saints to add Johnson here.

Pick 12, Port Adelaide: Josh Sinn
Doerre's Power Rankings: outside-20
Doerre says: Port Adelaide swapped picks with West Coast to avoid any chance of Essendon drafting Sinn who was firmly Port Adelaide's preferred player here. Sinn's strength is his line breaking speed out of defence. A rebounding defender who can also hurt opponents with his long, penetrating kicking, Sinn's method of impacting games is to break them open with the drive he generates across half-back. Some envisage Sinn developing as a midfielder, but based off 2021 play, his game seems to lend itself best to generating drive across half-back at this stage.
If I was Port Adelaide list manager: Matthew Johnson again would be my pick here. A best available and would be a meaningful get for Port Adelaide to help rejuvenate their midfield.

Pick 13, Essendon: Ben Hobbs
Doerre's Power Rankings: 13
Doerre says: A dominant contested ball winner and tackler, Hobbs looms as one of the most ready-made midfielders in this draft. He plays a consistent brand of football and impacts games with his ferocious attack on the ball and defensive effort. Hobbs here is viewed as a relative slider given there was interest displayed by both Fremantle and Richmond inside the top 10.
If I was Essendon list manager: My preferred midfielder here and best available is Matthew Johnson. The two are about as contrasting as they come, with Hobbs the hard ball winner and Johnson a tall, classy accumulator with a much less commonly found mix of capabilities by comparison with his skills and agility his greater edge.

Pick 14, West Coast: Campbell Chesser
Doerre's Power Rankings: outside-20
Doerre says: An outside midfielder and half-back flanker, Chesser does his best work taking on the game with his run and finding targets by foot. Chesser has endured a frustrating season with niggling knee injuries getting in the way of him being able to produce his best football this season. West Coast have over the years shown a tendency to draft players with storied junior careers and Chesser continues that trend. The addition of Chesser was made with a view towards providing West Coast with more outside run, as an ingredient they have long lacked.
If I was West Coast list manager: Local talent Matthew Johnson would have been my pick here as a best available player and someone the Eagles -- with their aging midfield -- would have benefitted from adding just as much from a list need perspective. Generally good outside midfielders or outside runners can be secured later in the draft, with very little variation in quality with those picked earlier on. If after some outside spark, Zac Taylor in the second round is the player I would have targeted in the Eagles' situation as a higher volume accumulator and an even more skilful alternative to Chesser. Ronald Fejo Jr later on also would have been a capable alternative.

Pick 15, Greater Western Sydney: Leek Alleer
Doerre's Power Rankings: 9
Doerre says: A surprise to see Alleer feature this soon as the first big surprise of the draft. Rapidly developing, Alleer has become an intercept marking force in the SANFL at League level with his leap, his ability to read the ball in flight and how aggressively he attacks the ball aerially and in one-on-one situations. Creating a new record in the running vertical jump at this year's combine -- although Alleer is two years older than his peers -- his scope to develop is enormous based on his already rapid rate of improvement. The upside is there for Alleer to become the next Aliir Aliir and while the pick is undoubtedly surprising with the youngster widely viewed as a second-round prospect in this year's draft, the Giants may have found a long term key defence partner for Sam Taylor.
If I was Greater Western Sydney list manager: While Matthew Johnson is my best available player here, I would do the very same here as the Giants and select Leek Alleer. The Giants are strong through the midfield and with the addition of Callaghan earlier in the draft, looking at the Giants' best-22, there is no clear path towards a best-22 position. In defence on the other hand, the Giants are relatively lacking in the way of strong youth and in need of a long-term key defence partner for Sam Taylor, making Alleer the ideal fit.

Pick 16, Brisbane: Darcy Wilmot
Doerre's Power Rankings: outside-20
Doerre says: A rebounding defender, Wilmot generates drive from defence with his line-breaking run and aggressive work by foot. Playing a competitive brand of football, Wilmot was born on December 31 and will be the youngest drafted this year. He is a selection with plenty of upside.
If I was Brisbane list manager: Matthew Johnson would be my selection here for Brisbane as the best available player. Brisbane is desperately in need of some additional capable general defenders, though historically, many of the good ones have been secured later in the draft or as rookies, with a first round premium not normally needing to be paid. Casey Voss (the son of Michael) enjoyed a breakout SANFL season in defence and would have been a fantastic father-son selection later in the draft as a smart, competitive and rapidly improving defender with a well-rounded game.

Pick 17, Richmond: Tom Brown
Doerre's Power Rankings: outside-20
Doerre says: The son of Paul Brown, Tom does his best work as a line-breaking defender. He possesses great speed and agility, often running around opponents like they're traffic cones, while intercepting well and defensively holding his own. The assumption here was that Richmond would select a high-end midfielder after already taking Gibcus early, though the Tigers instead chose to prioritise the addition of a rebounding defender with a view towards finding someone who can fill the shoes of the now retired Bachar Houli.
If I was Richmond list manager: Matthew Johnson is the best available player here and would be my selection. With Richmond's midfield lacking in the way of young star power, Johnson could be one of those long-term pieces the Tigers could build around. The time and place I would have sprung into action in Richmond's situation for a Bachar Houli replacement would be with securing Alistair Lord with one of their three successive second round selections, with Lord being arguably this draft's most talented rebounding defender.

Pick 18, Sydney: Angus Sheldrick
Doerre's Power Rankings: 11
Doerre says: A surprise selection this early, but a great choice by the Swans. Sheldrick can be Sydney's Lachie Neale equivalent as an ultra-competitive midfielder and arguably the hardest and more competitive in this draft. Winning a head-to-head midfield matchup against Jason Horne-Francis, Sheldrick relegated the top pick to playing as a forward instead during the first Under 19 Championships match. One of this year's most advanced midfielders, Sheldrick is a strong ball winner who shrugs tackles, hits the scoreboard and possesses an explosive burst of speed.
If I was Sydney list manager: I'm a massive Sheldrick fan as indicated by my rankings, but Matthew Johnson is arguably the slightly better midfielder and would be my choice here. Sheldrick has Johnson comfortably covered as a first possession winner and has the superior burst of speed out of the contest, but Johnson is by far and away the more skilful and composed with ball in hand. While Sheldrick finished off the season strongly with strong WAFL Colts finals and Under 19 Championships play, Johnson was even more impressive during the carnival, but also during the WAFL Reserves finals. When you can secure a taller midfielder who is slightly outperforming the a shorter midfielder, the pick should be a clear one.

Pick 19, Melbourne: Jacob Van Rooyen
Doerre's Power Rankings: outside-20
Doerre says: Of the key position players available at this stage, Van Rooyen is a clear best available choice. Spending much of the year up forward and providing a commanding marking target with his leap and aerial strength, Van Rooyen's play when utilised in defence has arguably been even better. Van Rooyen in defence takes intercept marks at will and with his one-on-one capabilities has proven difficult to beat. In Melbourne's situation, they get the bonus of choosing which end they would like to develop him.
If I was Melbourne list manager: With Melbourne's midfield relatively speaking missing a touch of class, Matthew Johnson would have been my pick as a midfielder who would be a perfect midfield addition and someone who would have gelled nicely alongside Simon Goodwin's strong ball winning midfielders. With a slight lack of quality key position players this year in the junior ranks, I would have gone the mature age route in Melbourne's situation, with a view towards targeting Charlie Dean or Blake Schlensog later on as potential value additions.

Pick 20, Brisbane: Kai Lohmann
Doerre's Power Rankings: outside-20
Doerre says: The third and final surprise selection from the first night of the draft was Kai Lohmann. Lohmann, along with Alleer and Sheldrick, was viewed as someone who would come under draft consideration from the second round onwards. A lively and crafty forward, Lohmann possesses great speed and endurance and plays a high impact per possession style of game. A strong contested mark for a smaller type and able to take the game on, Lohmann could just as easily be developed in defence.
If I was Brisbane list manager: Matthew Johnson would be my selection here for Brisbane as the best available player. Had I selected Johnson at 16, Zac Taylor here would have been my selection as another strong value get who is too good to pass up and looks to now be a second-round steal. Taylor is a high production smaller midfielder with speed, evasion, a precise and damaging kick and ball winning capabilities. With Lohmann targeted as a small forward, Lachlan Paton and Lachlan Rankin are two who would have posed solid alternatives with Paton the best option for someone who applies forward pressure to a high level or Rankin who is the more natural crumber and talent around goal.