Over the next two nights the dreams of a few dozen young men will be realised when their names are read out at the 2022 AFL Draft.
Years of hard work and training will finally pay off as they get to don the colours of their new clubs.
Fans of all stripes across the country will learn new names to pin their premiership hopes on, as the future of the AFL shifts evermore.
Usually the first pick goes to the club who finished last the season before, but North Melbourne traded the pick to GWS, scoring picks two and three in return.
It’s the first time pick one has been traded since 2001 — when Hawthorn was able to acquire premiership captain Luke Hodge in a trade with Fremantle.
Every off-season, fans and pundits across the land speculate about which of these young men will land at which club.
ABC Sport has collected and compiled these predictions to try to best work out who your club will select on each of the days of the draft.
These are the key storylines heading into the 2022 AFL Draft.
The race for pick one
This year is the fourth time in their short history that GWS holds the number one pick heading into the draft, more than all but two other clubs. But there’s a chance that they won’t end up with the player they select first.
The choice for the first pick seems to be coalescing around two options — Gold Coast born and raised midfielder Will Ashcroft and Aaron Cadman, the big man from Darley, Victoria.
Even if the Giants pick Ashcroft, it’s extremely unlikely that the dominant midfielder ends up anywhere other than at the Brisbane Lions. That’s because Will is the son of three-time Lions premiership player Marcus Ashcroft, and is available to the club under the father-son rule.
That gives Brisbane the right to match any selection on Ashcroft the younger, using the AFL’s Draft Value Index system.
It is increasingly likely that the Lions are preparing for Ashcroft to slide past pick one, and potentially even picks two and three.
That would be similar to the “fall” of Collingwood father-son player Nick Daicos, touted as the most talented player in last year’s draft crop.
A good guide for working out who may bid on a highly rated father-son or academy player, or not, is looking at recent trades between clubs. The Lions have worked out trades with both GWS and North Melbourne this trade period.
The Lions have traded out a later pick in this draft in exchange for a pick in next year’s draft — indicating that they won’t need as much draft value to match Ashcroft and their other father-son prospect, Jaspa Fletcher.
If either or both players slide, look for Brisbane to continue to trade picks down and into next year’s draft.
Cadman would be far more than just a consolation prize for the Giants — indeed other clubs were making attempts to trade up the draft order to pick the tall.
He has a rare ability to find himself in open space in the chaos of modern footy, with his speed and endurance major attributes at the junior levels.
His vision is stellar on the field, able to read the play and find himself in space. He is slightly undersized for a modern tall forward, but has shown some ability to outwork nearly any opponent. The Giants might see more than a passing resemblance to the play of their former stalwart Jeremy Cameron in Cadman.
By contrast, Ashcroft is a do-it-all player, able to dominate games in the middle and contribute in other roles around the ground. He was the standout player at the under-18 National Championships this year, taking home the Larke Medal.
He can both win hard ball on the inside of contests and use it effectively on the outside. Ashcroft might not be able to break the formidable Lions midfield from day 1, but shapes as likely to get games in his first season.
The first tier and beyond
This year a group of four prospects have seemingly separated themselves at the top of the draft order, with mid-sized forward Harry Sheezel and physical midfielder George Wardlaw joining Cadman and Ashcroft at the top.
From there the spread widens. Essendon and Hawthorn’s calls at picks five and seven respectively look like shaping the top ten, with Mattaes Phillipou from Adelaide and Elijah Tsatas from Melbourne the two that Essendon is tabbed to take, but both could potentially slide a few picks if not selected there.
Due to the sheer amount of football cancelled by COVID, significant uncertainty exists about the composition of this draft class.
This year’s crop is heavier on midfielders and smaller players, and a little lighter on taller talents. Cadman is the only tall slated to go inside the top 10, with only four talls likely to go in the draft’s first round.
Another way of sorting through the uncertainty is to look at the player linked most often to a club by draft experts.
This helps identify islands of certainty. The earliest example is a Geelong Falcons player, Jhye Clark, who is linked to the Cats. The Geelong-to-Geelong link is not a new one.
Twice in the last three years a player from the Geelong system has been the first one called by the Cats. In the last six seasons, 40 per cent of their national draft picks have been locals — but usually later picks.
Further along, Carlton are heavily linked to Oliver Hollands, Melbourne to key forward Matthew Jefferson, and Sydney to defender Josh Weddle.
The most locked in players are those tied to clubs via the father-son or academy processes.
There are expected to be between three and five father-son players chosen in the first 30 picks. The Bombers, holding pick 22, will be sweating on whether they can “double-dip” and sneak in with a live selection ahead of a call on Alwyn Davey Jr shortly afterwards.
A particularly interesting case is that of St Kilda’s Next Generation Academy prospect Cameron Mackenzie, who can only be matched by St Kilda with a pick after 40 — long after he should be tabbed by a club.
The consensus is that the Saints are a real chance to pick him up with their “natural” pick at 10, locking down the tied talent.
The draft could also be a short one, with clubs expecting to pass on several picks as they increasingly value the flexibility of an open list spot heading into the summer pre-season and the supplementary signing period, which lasts until March.
This draft is also viewed as a little shallower in depth than how next year’ s draft is shaping up. That assessment has seen several clubs looking to load up on multiple picks for 2023, at the expense of four teams who brought in big name recruits in this bumper trade period.
Whatever happens, the future of the game will likely be shaped over the next two nights.
What time is the AFL Draft?
The 2022 AFL Draft will be held across two days — starting tonight and finishing tomorrow night — with coverage beginning at 7pm AEDT on Fox Footy and Kayo Sports. The first round of the draft will be held tonight, before the rest of the picks are made on Tuesday.