Melbourne (9th, 9-8)
2020 was an improvement on last year’s disaster, but still disappointing for a team that made a preliminary final two years ago. In 2018, Tom McDonald was a 50 goal forward and the Demons were a contender, he’s since fallen out of favour and should be on the trade table. Bayley Fritsch led their goalkicking this year, and Sam Weideman was the best tall with just 19 goals. Securing a Joe Daniher, Ben Brown, or Jeremy Cameron has to be their number one priority. They’ve identified a need for speed and skill, and been linked to Adam Saad who fits that bill and would be a more than handy addition. Regardless of their 17th placed finish last year, they’ve traded like they’re in the premiership window, and need to continue that. Unfortunately pick 23 is their highest draft selection, meaning they’ll have to put players on the table. Along with McDonald, it wouldn’t hurt to offload a James Harmes, Jayden Hunt, or Aaron vandenBerg, especially if it meant filling a desired area like effective speed or key forward post in return.
Greater Western Sydney (10th, 8-9)
The scars are most certainly real. Restricted free agent Aidan Corr is gone, whilst Zac Williams has a foot and three quarters out the door. Jeremy Cameron remains undecided on his future, the $1.5 million man and 2019 Coleman medalist suffered a significant fall from grace in 2020, kicking just 24 goals, and making his value near impossible to determine. GWS are facing a cap squeeze, and will be reluctant to throw the bank at Cameron after having to drop skipper Coniglio in the first year of his $7 million deal. With Sam Jacobs retiring, and Shane Mumford not the most durable, the Giants would like to add another ruckman to their list. Braydon Preuss is one that’s been linked, if that falls through they may have to call upon developing rucks Kieren Briggs and Matthew Flynn to shoulder the load. Unfortunately, it’s an all too familiar tale, and there appears to be more departures than arrivals on the cards. The ever-lasting talent drain is this year amplified by a weak draft hand, with pick 28 their highest. Making finals in 2021 is an uphill battle at this stage, and if they miss the eight, the alarm bells will be deafening.
Will he stay or go? Jezza's decision could shape the trade period
Carlton 11th (7-10)
There’s a lot of talk around Carlton missing finals again, but 15 months ago they were 1-10, and had won three of their last 33 matches. The rebuild appears on-track, but they need pace off half-back and through the middle – or an “inside-out” mid as put by David Teague – a big body to support Patrick Cripps, and ideally an a-grade small forward. Zac Williams appears a near-certainty to join the Blues, a big coup who will add much needed pace if coming to fruition. They’ve been linked to a raft of players including Adam Saad, Ollie Wines, Zach Merrett, Brad Crouch, and Jack Viney. Any of which would be great additions but most are unlikely. Wines could be a chance considering his management approached the club last year, and there's a lot of noise around Adam Saad. Teague believes most of the growth needs to come from “within” however, and it’s crucial they learn how to stop momentum this pre-season after conceding five-goal turnarounds became a normality.
Fremantle (12th, 7-10)
Justin Longmuir is ticking boxes and Freo are most certainly on the way up. Their list ranked 17th for experience, 18th for age, and wasn’t far off the eight. 19 year old Caleb Serong won the NAB Rising Star, 20 year olds Andrew Brayshaw and Adam Cerra starred. Brennan Cox and Sean Darcy are only 22, Luke Ryan just earnt his first All Australian blazer at 24. With seasoned campaigners Nat Fyfe, Michael Walters, David Mundy, Stephen Hill, Rory Lobb, and Matt Taberner to lead the way, the current list is very well placed to surge up the ladder in coming years. Their draft hand consists of pick 10, 29, and 98, so they have trade bait if need be, but will more than likely continue the steady flow of young talent into the club.
Essendon (13th, 6-1-10)
It’s safe to say the succession plan was a disaster. Former Richmond assistants Ben Rutten and Blake Caracella have their fingerprints all over a flailing game plan. The Bombers rank 18th for opposition defensive 50 to score chains, 14th for points for, 15th for point against, 15th in pressure, and 15th in contested possession differential. You have to give credit where it’s due however, like Richmond, handballing is Essendon’s strength and they produce some lethal chains that get them in brilliant positions. For Rutten’s plan to come to fruition, they need to turn those handball chains into goals more often, and drastically lift their pressure at the very least. The futures of Joe Daniher, Adam Saad, Orazio Fantasia, and Zach Merrett are all clouded. Losing those four would be crippling, especially considering Conor McKenna has already retired to return to Ireland. The Bombers only draft selection in the top 40 is pick 6, and Rutten has to make a realistic decision on where the club is at. Does he have the personnel to win a premiership? If he does, then it’s time to walk the talk and get “ruthless”, starting with the trade period. The decisions of the four aforementioned players will dictate Essendon’s moves, but assuming at least two leave, they’ve got to play hardball. One trap they must also avoid, is like-for-like downgrades. Say they lose Saad along with McKenna, they’re not going to get the same burst off the half-back flank, so bring in half-backs with a different skill set that have their own strengths. On the other hand, if Rutten doesn’t believe he has the personnel for a premiership, he has an opportunity to hit the draft hard. Players are either in or they’re out, if they’re out, turn them into draft picks.
Gold Coast (14th, 5-1-11)
An improvement on previous years, but the serial fast-starters provided another false dawn. Over the last five years, the Suns are 14-11 from their first five games, and 1-24 from their last five games. That needs addressing, but this season was the most promising of their short history. Their percentage jumped from 60.5 to 90.6, and it appears we’ve seen the last of their ever-hindering player exodus. Brandon Ellis and Hugh Greenwood were handy additions, and they’ve got a bright crop of young talent headlined by ready-made star Matt Rowell. They hold picks 5, 24, 36, plus some late selections in the upcoming draft. They’ll be keen to bring in more young talent and it’s unlikely they’ll trade those. The Suns now have a very solid core, and will continue to improve as their list – ranked 18th for experience and 17th for age – gains experience.
Hawthorn (15th, 5-12)
They have the 3rd most experienced and 3rd oldest list, the other teams in the top four of age and experience are Collingwood, West Coast, and Geelong. It’s a gross overestimation. After a three-peat, you’re probably afforded a misstep or two though. They don’t need a full scale rebuild, but Clarko should be hitting the draft as hard as he has in a long time. Paul Puopolo, Ben Stratton, Conor Glass, and Ricky Henderson all retired, but the club kept 37 year old Shaun Burgoyne in a confusing move. With Breust, Gunston, Scully, Mitchell, Wingard, Frost, Patton, O’Meara, and Sicily there’s enough talent, getting them all on the park at once appears to be the challenge. James Cosuins, Jack Scrimshaw, James Worpel, and Will Day are very promising youngsters. The priority this off-season should be injecting more youth through the draft considering their demographic – they hold picks 4 and 21 plus a raft of late selections – but Clarko's Hawks are never far off bouncing back up the ladder.
Sydney (16th, 5-12)
Sydney’s 16th placed finish was on par with the list’s age and experience. They have solid seasoned talent, and an abundance of promising youth, headlined by James Rowbottom and Nick Blakey. Isaac Heeney, Tom Papley, Jordan Dawson, and Callum Mills are all just 23 years old, and still have their prime ahead of them. One area of the Swans list that needs strengthening is talls, across every line. You can barely expect half a season from Buddy, in fact nearly all the Swans talls have battled injury. Their round 18 side consisted of Lewis Melican and Aliir Aliir in defence; Callum Sinclair in the ruck; Sam Reid, Tom McCartin and Nick Blakey up forward. Blakey has all the hallmarks of a future star, but is still young, same with McCartin. Melican and Aliir are both solid second options, likewise Reid. An a-grade tall or two, plus some extra depth in that department would be beneficial. Two names that have been floated are Jeremy Cameron and Braydon Preuss. Preuss would add solid ruck depth. The prospect of Franklin, Cameron, and Blakey lining up in the same forward line is tantalising. The Swans luring Jeremy Cameron could well be too good to be true, but if they bolster their tall stocks along with the natural progression of their list, they’ll be climbing up the ladder in coming years. Not to mention they hold pick 3 in this year’s draft.
North Melbourne (17th, 3-14)
Buckle up North fans, the tedious process of a full-scale rebuild has begun. Rhys Shaw had a tough induction to senior coaching, and frankly, not much went right. There’s been talk about potentially bringing in a coaching director of sorts to guide Shaw, that wouldn’t be a bad move. Their list was eighth for experience and sixth for age, so it needs some rejigging. The Kangaroos have realised that with 11 delistings, including Majak Daw, Mason Wood, Jasper Pittard, and Marley Williams. Ben Brown has been told to find a new home, it’s likely Shaun Higgins will leave, and they’re accepting offers for Jared Polec. They look to have secured Aidan Corr, and landing one of the many big fish they’ve been linked to would be beneficial, but their record there is abysmal. As with any rebuilding club, their key focus over the next few years will be the draft, their 2020 hand includes pick 2, 9, and 25. The wheels fell off this season, they won one game after round two, and lost their identity. It’s going to be a long few years for North, they need to draft well, secure a long-awaited big fish, and Shaw needs to reinstill that ‘shinboner’ brand that saw them go 7-5 under him as caretaker.
Adelaide (18th, 3-14)
0-17 was a serious possibility at one stage. Signs of improvement started to show, and when the wheel turned, it turned fast. Winning three in a row was a highlight, and they managed to knock off finals contenders in GWS and Carlton. Just when it appeared the scars of the pre-season camp were finally healing, another off-field controversy has hampered the club, with significant trade period ramifications. Brad Crouch was expected to leave the Crows, but he along with Tyson Stengle were caught in possession of illicit substances. This will no doubt hurt Crouch’s market value, and deter potential suitors. Adelaide were hoping to receive pick 2 as compensation for Crouch, what happens now is anyone’s guess. Rory Atkins has confirmed he’ll be exploring free agency, and Daniel Talia is another player touted to leave. Aged 26 and 28 respectively, it wouldn’t be ideal losing those two. But if they can enhance their current draft hand which includes picks 1, 8, 20, and 31 in return, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. 25 year olds Matt Scharenberg, and Orazio Fantasia have been tipped to return to South Australia, and either of those players would be a good pick up. The Crows have also been linked to 19 year old Giants young gun Jackson Hately, who would be a very valuable addition. As with any rebuilding side, their priority will be the draft however.