Sunday Herald Sun - - AFL - ELIZA SEWELL eliza.sewell@ news.com.au

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).

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