PICKING the big improvers is one of football’s great off-season games — and it can be played at the individual level as well.
Another year under the belt, another pre-season, more exposure to “the system” means several players will take a massive leap this year. Some of them are obvious — some less so.
With the help of Champion Data, we’ve picked five players who are poised for a breakout season.
Collingwood bigman Brodie Grundy was ranked No. 1 ruckman under 24 last season. He shone in 2016, finishing fourth in the Magpies’ best and fairest, averaging the most disposals per game of any ruckman.
And he’s already showing signs he can get even better this year, after being a standout during Collingwood’s pre-season camp at Mt Hotham, especially in the 7km time-trial at altitude.
“Grundy’s a really evolving ruckman,” Collingwood’s new assistant coach Brenton Sanderson said.
“I think he’s going to be a really important player.”
St Kilda’s Jade Gresham is still only 19 and preparing for just his second season, but he’s already a standout.
He rated above average for disposals last season and could well be in the elite category by the end of 2017 with more midfield time.
“To be honest, he couldn’t have had a more impressive start to his career,” St Kilda coach Alan Richardson said. “He predominantly played as a forward, he pinch hit from time to time as a midfielder.
“That’s where he’ll end up, we need him to become a midfielder, a really dynamic inside mid that can create opportunities with his lateral movement and with his skills — that’s going to be the focus of his pre-season.” Ben Brown made an impact in 2016 but with the loss of Drew Petrie, he’ll certainly be the centre of attention in attack for the Kangaroos in 2017. He rated elite for contested marks and was above average for marks inside 50. “His pre-season will be based around getting stronger and quicker while working on his one-on-one work because he’ll be playing on the better players again,” North Melbourne assistant coach Leigh Tudor said. “We need him to go to another level because 41 goals isn’t easy and we need him to do that and more. “He’s up for the challenge and he’s really keen to take on the best defenders in the competition.” Geelong wanted Josh Caddy to stay and for good reason. The new Tiger was the fifth-ranked midforward last season and is expected to blossom with more midfield time. “We love what Josh is going to bring to our team, he’s a big-bodied, aggressive midfielder that can run, win the contested footy, and also kick goals,” Richmond talent boss Dan Richardson said. “At 24 years of age, his best football is still in front of him, and that’s really exciting for us.” Hawthorn’s new Mitchell — the former Swan Tom — has been building to this. He rated above average for disposals, contested possessions and score involvements last season at Sydney and now he’s a midfield top dog, he’ll have his hands on the ball more this year. “I just want to come in and earn the respect of my teammates through the way I train,” Mitchell said. “(I’ll) predominantly play in the midfield and a little bit in the forward line.”
Our five big AFL improvers (clockwise from main picture) Josh Caddy (Richmond), Tom Mitchell (Hawthorn), Jade Gresham (St Kilda), Ben Brown (North Melbourne) and Brodie Grundy (Collingwood).