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AFL Draft 2018: Gun midfielder or front capstone? How to make effective use of early retrieval

By Cody Atkinson and Sean Lawson


November 22, 2018 06:27:44

In the AFL design class that has been considered the best in 15 years, there seems to be no way to lose if you choose number one.

But what do you do if you are Carlton tonight?

Whether the Blues go away with a safe choice from an elite runner in Victorian midfielder Sam Walsh, or whether they choose to "make or break" choose like South Australian star forward Jack Lukosius, who has been described as a potential "generation" player with the ability to see before play?

Has the benefit of seizing a game-changer for those who finished the bottom of last season's ladder more important than the cautionary tales of some of the top choices that are not suitable for the team in recent years?

In the last decade, half of number one choices have been key players: Jack Watts (2008), Jonathon Patton (2010), Tom Boyd (2013), Paddy McCartin (2014), and Jacob Weitering (2015).

Arguably, no one fulfills high expectations which comes with being the league's first overall design choice.

Height and talent curve

Players who fill key positions are of course high, even according to AFL standards (more than a third of them are above the average for young Australian men).

Thus, the collection of talents to be chosen has been reduced. And this presents a dilemma for the club in the draft.

Should they reach higher players in a position higher than their talent if they are not going to dictate, or should they be satisfied with a certain small midfielder?

We have analyzed each draft between 1993 and 2007 (excluding father-child, academy and scholarship selection), and assessed their career performance. We have done this using a metric called Player Approximate Value (PAV), which quantifies the contribution of attack, defense, and individual midfield to their team.

In general, the deeper the collection of talents at a certain height, the easier it is to choose success.

In a position to choose

By taking this step further, we have used PAV to rank everyone in our sample who has played at least one AFL match into six different "types". The categories are based on the player's height and the part of the land they contributed the most during their career.

The six types of players identified are: Key Position Defenders (KPDs); Key Position Forward (KPFs); Midfielder; Rucks; Public Defender; and public

Although they can oversimplify the role of soccer players in the modern era, this category is very helpful in identifying broad trends in player performance.

The midfielder is "the surest thing" at the top of the draft

Our first main finding is that midfielders selected in the top ten have better performance than other players taken in that range.

From 1993 to 2007, 42 of the 134 top-10 choices (31 percent) were midfielders. Nearly 70 percent of midfielders choosing in the top 10 produce more than 100 PAVs, which means their careers are among the top quarters of all players. More than 57 percent of the top 10 selected midfielders produced more than the average produced by selected players in the pick one (147 PAV careers).

This bodes well for the prospect of Walsh, but what about Lukosius?

As you can see in the graph above, the level of clicks to reach key long-term positions at the top of the design is far worse than for midfielders.

Of the 24 KPFs that entered the top ten in our sample, less than half (46 percent) produced more than 100 PAVs, and only three out of eight (38 percent) produced were equivalent to the one-select average.

We tend to remember success stories, while forgetting their failures. For each Lance Franklin and Jarryd Roughead, there are Mitch Thorp and Beau Dowler. The four were key forward positions designed by Hawthorn in the top ten between 2004 and 2006.

Other positional groups are generally more vulnerable than midfielders, with the exception of a few rucks taken at the pointed end of the draft.

In the rest of the draft, the success rate for all types of players has decreased almost uniformly. Smaller players (midfielders, general attackers and defenders) hold their value through the remaining 20, while the performance of key players really increases slightly.

The success rate of the front key dropped by half beyond the top ten, and the other half to the 20s, before actually rebounding a little later in the draft. The success rate for all types of players is quite uniform from around 40 minutes ahead.

And in the past few years?

To see whether this trend has been valid in the past few years (2008-2014), where most draft groups are still active, we can turn to comparing players with their peer group draft. We have scored each recipient in percentage, relative to the best of that year to date, wherever they are chosen.

The closer the aggregate score is to 100 percent, the better the draft group has done overall. We have also shown the 1993-2007 group in this case as a comparison.

The success rate for smaller players has spread to include front players and defenders, while the success of key positions chosen outside the top 10 has also increased slightly.

In short, the level of success of midfielders and forwards seems to be generally consistent with the 1993-2007 draft.

So where are the other key front positions?

For the analysis above, we have excluded the choice of father-child access, academics, and priorities, but the mechanism seems to have a disproportionate impact on the availability of the key ahead.

Because of the compromise in the concept pool, some names that were not available for the general talent pool included: Jeremy Cameron, Joe Daniher, Tom Hawkins, Travis Cloke, Jonathan Brown, Taylor Walker, Matthew Richardson, Jarrad Waite, Charlie Dixon, Lance Whitnall and Darcy Moore .

With a small number of key forward positions in each pool, this carve-out seems to have a major impact on the possibility of choosing a successful KPF prospect early.

Of the four main players in the 2018 All-Australian squad, one was chosen in the top ten (Franklin), one in the top 20 (Jack Riewoldt), while Ben Brown came in 47 and Hawkins joined the Cat as father-child selection.

Mixing player resources has been relatively consistent over the past decade. Players who are selected outside the general draft process regularly are among the most successful keys going forward each year.

In the future the key is hard to find, so that positional needs can encourage players to board the draft. Priority access has increased the key scarcity going forward, increasing the need to find it elsewhere. The club regularly pays premiums for large forward players.

They can do this through free trade or agents, but the opportunity to sign Franklin or Jesse Hogan or Tom Lynch is also quite rare.

Often, the only choice is to risk a high draft choice. And that is the core of the dilemma faced by recruiters who plan to enter the design period.

Good luck, Blues, history shows you might need it.


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