Almanac Season Review: Top 50 AFL Players 2016

Top 50 AFL Players of 2016


Sorry for the delay, but it’s been a busy time since the end of the footy season because of year 12 exams. This is my best 50 players of 2016, with finals performances weighted highly. After all, Luke Hodge isn’t an all-time great for his home and away performances against Brisbane and Gold Coast. I have tried to use statistics sparingly, albeit when necessary, as they can sometimes be misleading, and are often thrown around with little recognition of the player’s impact on the game (*cough* David King *cough*). Those most unlucky to miss out were Easton Wood, the general of the Bulldogs defence, tackling machine Shane Mumford, Jackson Macrae, who hit targets with ease, but often without impacting the scoreboard, Carlton game-breaker Bryce Gibbs, and the prolific but ultimately disappointing Josh Jenkins.


N.B. I have classified the on-ball positions (rover, ruck-rover and centre) as “midfield”, as opposed to the wing. The player’s usual position comes first.


  1. Liam Picken (Western Bulldogs), half-forward flank/midfield

Stunning end to the season, setting up the win over West Coast, and sealing the other three finals wins with clutch goals, crashes and bashes. He even took a few screamers, often taking the pressure off the likes of Luke Dahlhaus and Tom Liberatore at ground level. He was just solid during the home and away games, but rivalled Josh Kennedy (Syd) for player of the finals.


  1. Tom Lynch (Adelaide), half-forward flank

The link in the deadly Crows chain, as they move the ball at pace from the midfield to that lethal forward line. He’s no Eddie Betts, but Lynch has a canny ability to be in the right place at the right time, seeing him kick 42 goals and feature near the top of the score assist charts.


  1. Shannon Hurn (West Coast), half-back flank

This will raise a few eyebrows, but Hurn is the best long kick in the game, especially when launching it out of the backline. Gets incredibly low, fast penetration on his kicks over a long distance, enabling him to hit targets 50m away with ease, without opportunity for interception. Also led his side very well, organising the zonal defence Luke Hodge style in the quarterback role.


  1. Luke Dahlhaus (Western Bulldogs), wing/midfield

The epitome of the Bulldogs game style – Dahlhaus is on the bottom of every pack, attacks the contest fearlessly, tackles, and runs all day. So smart with his handballs under pressure, you can barely see him win the ball before a teammate is running off with it. Missed a chunk of the season through injury, but managed to return to form with close to BOG performances against West Coast and GWS in the finals.


  1. Patrick Cripps (Carlton), midfield

Huge at the contest with remarkable clearance numbers for a third year player. Can sometimes be a bit fumbly, and his lack of pace shows when the ball clears the stoppage, but his bulk makes him virtually impossible to tackle, especially when paired with an elite footy brain. Also chipped in with a few goals from strong overhead marks.


  1. Rory Laird (Adelaide), half-back flank/back pocket

Such a reliable, consistent defender, Laird is strong at the contest, courageous, and reads the play beautifully. Missed a few games, but in the games he played, he was very important in setting up Crows attacks, while also excelling defensively.


  1. Stephen Coniglio (GWS), midfield

Has a tendency to hack-kick under pressure, and his dropped mark was costly in the preliminary final, but he still had a brilliant all-round season. After winning the ball at the coal face, Coniglio often stayed involved in GWS scoring chains, ranking fifth for score involvements and assists. He also tagged effectively at times, blanketing Paddy Dangerfield and Sam Mitchell.


  1. Jack Gunston (Hawthorn), centre-half forward

He seems to fly under the radar due to his unobtrusiveness, but rarely has a bad game. Carried the Hawks attack this year with no Roughead, kicking 51 goals with his usual exceptional accuracy, despite frequently leading up the ground. He even helped out in defence in patches, underlying his importance to the Hawks structure.


  1. Dylan Shiel (GWS), midfield/wing

Another who sums up his team’s game style. Shiel is key for the Giants with his dynamic run and carry and sharp foot skills. In a midfield with contested ball machines Callan Ward and Stephen Coniglio, Shiel is often the man who turns those clearances into scores by releasing the ball to the pacy Josh Kelly and Tom Scully on the outside. Would’ve been top 20 if not for a few shockers when he couldn’t hit his targets in the second half of the season.


  1. Kade Simpson (Carlton), half-back flank

Incredible to have the best season of his career at the age of 32. Simmo is a stalwart of the club, always courageous and remarkably durable. This year he took his game to another level, intercepting with ease off half-back and pushing forward to provide score assists, albeit with lessened defensive duties.


  1. Dale Morris (Western Bulldogs), key back

What an incredible season from the veteran. His grand-final performance was simply inspirational – it seemed he was a magnet to the ball whenever the Swans kicked inside 50, and was ferocious in his attack on the footy and tackling efforts. Ranked the best in the competition for defensive one-on-one contests, despite regularly sparring against bigger, younger opponents. Only knock is little offensive impact.


  1. Dustin Martin (Richmond), midfield

Regarded by many as a top 20 player, Dusty wins more of the ball than most, but what does he actually do with it? His fend-offs are unbelievable, he wins plenty of hard ball and he carried his side over the line against Gold Coast in round 12, but he was the number one clanger culprit in the AFL. We also unfortunately saw a lot more short kicks off half-back from Dusty, and a lot fewer game-breaking goals that we had become so accustomed to marvelling at. Sellers might’ve gone a bit too far, but he was on the right track…


  1. Daniel Wells (North Melbourne), wing/midfield

The polar opposite to Dusty, Wells is the ultimate low quantity, high quality midfielder. He was stunning this year, using his poise under pressure to hit targets even after winning contested ball at stoppages. His importance was illustrated when injured from rounds 14-17 (missed two, then had the bye, and then played injured), with the Kangas being spanked in all three games. In round 18, Wells was back fit and firing – a breath of fresh air in an otherwise one-paced midfield. Guess who won.


  1. Matthew Boyd (Western Bulldogs), half-back flank

The definition of class. Boyd was super consistent this year at the tender age of 34, using his experience to read the play beautifully. One of the best interceptors in the competition, and his kicking is very reliable, although not exceptionally damaging. Had a superb finals series, especially in the big one.


  1. Matt Priddis (West Coast), midfield

Other than Sam Mitchell, Priddis was again the best handballer in the competition this year. He has such exceptional vision under pressure, it seems as though he’s got eyes in the back of his head. Outstanding defensively as well, averaging a whopping 8.5 tackles per game. A disappointing end to the season with an early finals exit, but still a solid year from the Brownlow medallist.


  1. Sam Docherty (Carlton), half-back flank

Came from nowhere to have a sublime season at a struggling club. The new Easton Wood, Docherty was one of the best intercept markers in the competition despite standing at just 185cm. Like Heath Shaw, Shannon Hurn, Matt Suckling and Bob Murphy, Docherty also has the ability to hit seemingly difficult targets off half-back with pinpoint accuracy.


  1. Scott Pendlebury (Collingwood), midfield/half-back flank

Unfortunately for Pendles, a rib injury derailed the start of his season. Even though he still used the ball well, his contested and defensive efforts were very limited, and he was forced to play a predominantly outside role off half-back.  As the season went on, he started to win more contested ball and use his sublime agility and kicking to impact on the scoreboard. However, he lacked huge team-lifting performances, with his best efforts often skewed towards the first quarter or junk time.


  1. Tom Scully (GWS), wing

A breakthrough year for the much-maligned number one draft pick. He’s no contested beast, but Scully was possibly the best two-way runner in 2016, using his superior fitness to kick 23 goals, while also applying defensive pressure. A neat kick of the footy, GWS wanted the ball in his hands, and it wasn’t unusual to see him gliding down the wing before creating a goal scoring opportunity.


  1. Dayne Zorko (Brisbane), half-forward flank/wing

The little pocket rocket put together the best season of his career, alleviating some of Brisbane’s woes. Quick, skilful and determined, Zorko was responsible for most Lions scores, as well as being hugely influential with his manic pressure acts.


  1. Corey Enright (Geelong), half-back flank

Probably the finest half-back in the modern era, Enright showed his class even in his final year. The game seemed to slow down when Enright claimed the footy, so calm and collected under pressure. Enright rarely missed a target, rarely let his opponent loose and used his experience to marshal the backline and lead the likes of Jake Kolodjashnij, Tom Ruggles and Jed Bews. It was only during Sydney’s rampage in the preliminary final that his speed of thought couldn’t overcome his lack of foot speed.


  1. Heath Shaw (GWS), half-back flank

Probably top 10 for the first half of the season, but well outside the 50 after that. Opposition sides realised tagging Shaw was vital to stopping GWS’ run off half-back, stifling his impact. The lasting memory from his season will be seeing Shaw scream at his teammates during an error prone preliminary final. Nevertheless, Shaw was still the best rebounder in 2016, bouncing more than anyone, intercepting well, and kicking beautifully until he copped the tag.


  1. Lachie Neale (Freo), midfield

Quantity over quality? With very few goals, assists or game breaking runs, the impact of Neale’s record breaking disposal figures has to be questioned. There’s no questioning his toughness though, as Neale carried the load in the Freo midfield, consistently dominating the clearances week after week.  Was also reliable with ball in hand, going at 73 % efficiency – high for a contested player.

  1. Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn), midfield

The best distributor of the footy in the AFL, Mitch is sublime with both feet and both hands. His chip kicks and long handballs through the corridor are unrivalled. Has amazing awareness as well, and like Pendlebury, time stands still when he has the ball. No goals in a year that lacked consistency, but he’d possibly get a game at a weaker team… maybe West Coast?


  1. Daniel Talia (Adelaide), key back

Had an outstanding defensive record until he was towelled up by Tom Hawkins and Josh Kennedy (WC) late in the season. Offered much more offensively this season, ranking highly for intercept marks, although his biggest games were in easy wins.


  1. Callan Ward (GWS), midfield

An absolute bull. Only averaged 23 disposals, but the majority were won at the coalface, and he still used the ball effectively. Ward often cut swathes through the opposition with his brilliant power and agility. Tied with a superb goal sense, astute kicking skills and impressive footy smarts, he was GWS’ most important midfielder in 2016.


  1. Jeremy Mcgovern (West Coast), key back

Possibly the best intercept marker in the modern game. Mcgovern has an incredible ability to read the flight of the ball, and his hands are like super glue. The only knock on Mcgovern is his accountability, as his attempts to intercept can sometimes leave his direct opponent unattended. Had a poor game in his only final, but the Eagles wouldn’t have been there without him.


  1. Toby Greene (GWS), half-forward flank

Stunning finals series, kicking five goals and setting up numerous others. Was less consistent during the home and away season, but still managed to top the assist charts. Greene is a clever footballer – his little flicks and chip kicks were the highlights of his season, along with 44 goals.


  1. Adam Treloar (Collingwood), midfield/wing

His kicking was sloppy at times, but the boom recruit is a game breaker. His bursts out of the clearances and goals on the run will be a joy to watch for years to come. Monumental in close games against Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn late in the year, almost carrying the Pies over the line on both occasions, thanks to his pace and work rate.


  1. Robbie Gray (Port Adelaide), midfield/half-forward flank

Only played 19 games, and two of them were shockers, but he was so brilliant in the other 17 that he deserves a top 25 spot. Has one of the best side-steps in the game and outstanding agility to evade tacklers. He is also one of few, including Toby Greene and of course Cyril Rioli, who have the awareness and skill to tap the ball to a teammate when under pressure, instead of taking possession. Gray kicked classy match-winning goals St Kilda and Gold Coast, and almost won the showdown for the Power with a dazzling snap from the pocket.


  1. Zach Merrett (Essendon), wing/midfield

The young gun was a bright spark in a season of darkness for the Bombers. Outstanding poise in congestion, and his ability to win the hard-ball was outstanding for a third year player. Also ranking top 20 for tackles, Merrett carried the Bombers midfield on his shoulders, and was rewarded for a brilliant end to the season with two wins in rounds 21 and 23. Superb in every aspect of his game except goal kicking, but got little help from his teammates.


  1. Robbie Tarrant (Kangaroos), key back

Found the perfect balance between intercepting and stopping his opponent. Taz actually bettered Talia’s defensive record, his highlights being keeping Gunston (R13) and Buddy (R22) goalless. Yet he was still able win plenty of the ball, and was clean and effective both in the air and at ground level.


  1. Nick Riewoldt (St Kilda), centre-half forward/wing

What a legend. Just when it seemed he was losing his superstar status, a new role brought about his best season for some time. Leading up to the wing, Roo took a ridiculous number of marks due to his exceptional fitness and safe hands. Most significantly, he led a young side with passion, hard work and nous. A stunning season topped off with a stunning nine-goal haul in round 23.


  1. Luke Shuey (West Coast), midfield

The best Eagle in their final, Shuey dominated at the stoppages. With his ability to hit the contest at pace (and win a lot of sneaky/dodgy high tackles), Shuey was able to get into the clear and gain more ground than most inside midfielders. Not a huge accumulator, but his combination with Nic Naitinui’s ruck taps was deadly. This was epitomised by the round 21 win over GWS, which was salvaged by a BOG performance from Shuey, with the help of NicNat’s ruck work and last minute goal.


  1. Shaun Burgoyne (Hawthorn), half-back flank/midfield

Criminally underrated. Burgoyne is one of the best clutch players in the AFL, as illustrated by sensational last quarter performances in close games against Western Bulldogs (R3), Adelaide (R5), Sydney (R17), Collingwood (R23) and Geelong (qualifying final). He’s called Silk for a reason – Burgoyne is all class with the footy, evades tackles with ease, and never misses crucial shots at goal. He’s Mr. Fix it as well. He played in defence for most of the year, as he’s as tough as nails, but the Hawks looked to Burgoyne whenever they needed a match-winner in midfield or attack.


  1. Dan Hannebery (Sydney), wing/midfield

An outstanding runner and improved his inside game this year. Was also very consistent, other than two disappointing games in rounds 17 and 18. Hannerbery’s quick hands is one of his finest traits, allowing him to set up teammates and scoring opportunities before being tackled. Not a penetrating kick, but was usually reliable by foot.


  1. Joel Selwood (Geelong), midfield

Captain bandage hasn’t quite reclaimed his goalkicking and outside run of 2013-14, but Danger has certainly taken the pressure of Selwood at stoppages. His new mate has helped Selwood avoid the tag, and provide an option to run off with Selwood’s handball clearances. One of best captains as always, leading his side verbally and by example at the bottom of the packs.


  1. Jack Steven (St Kilda), midfield/wing

Despite his inconsistencies, no player single-handedly won more games for his side than Jacky Steven. It was inspirational stuff from the pocket rocket, bursting through the packs and kicking goals on the run. His pressure was ferocious as well, twice exceeding 10 tackles. His ability to break away at pace meant his kicks were in space, deep into the forward line and led to a plethora of goals,  which were vital in wins against Collingwood (R3), Essendon (R9 and 16), Freo (R10), Carlton (R12) and Western Bulldogs (R18).


  1. Josh Kennedy (West Coast), full-forward

The Coleman medallist once again, due to his brilliant leading and set-shot accuracy. There’s no denying he’s a home ground bully, but he somewhat proved his critics wrong in the last few rounds with strong performances against top eight sides. Doesn’t contribute much beyond kicking goals, but after all, that’s what we’re here for.


  1. Dane Rampe (Sydney), back-pocket

An incredible season from Rampe, who played against taller opponents, but was able to defend with solidity while still rebounding aggressively out of the backline. Sensational in the preliminary final, fighting off Geelong’s flailing attacks, which might’ve looked a bit more dangerous if not for Rampe. Would be top 10 if not for a quarter of Jeremy Cameron magic.


  1. Tom Lynch (Gold Coast), centre-half forward

Declared the best player in the AFL by Jonathon Brown, Lynch is a scary proposition for defenders in the coming years. He carried the Gold Coast attack, clunking pack marks and consistently kicking important goals, other than when he got the goal kicking yips in the last few rounds. Lynch was also a creative link-up forward, often setting up his teammates for goals, especially Peter Wright.


  1. Luke Parker (Sydney), midfield

Tough, courageous and reliable, having Parker is like investing in property. 25 goals for the year is a great return for a midfielder, as well as dominating at the stoppages most weeks. Massive in tight matches when the game was on the line, especially against Brisbane (R6) and Western Bulldogs (R15). Disappointed in the finals though, albeit restricted by injury.


  1. Eddie Betts (Adelaide), forward pocket

The little magician had his best ever year, dazzling fans across the country with miraculous goals at anytime, anywhere. Also regularly assisted his teammates and applied strong forward pressure. Eddie ran into a lot of open goals, but also nailed countless impossible shots from the boundary.


  1. Max Gawn (Melbourne), ruck

Big Maxy had close to the perfect season for a ruckman, bar two or three quiet games. Not as athletic at ground level as Nic Naitanui or Todd Goldstein, but he’s huge in the air and ranked first for hitouts to advantage. The best pack mark and goal kicking ruckman since Dean Cox, Gawn is a match-winner, and has an uncanny knack of lifting his side to victory.


  1. Josh Kennedy (Sydney), midfield

The contested beast was enormous in the finals, and would’ve won the Norm Smith with a bit more help from his teammates. A rampaging midfielder, who added a touch more class to his game in the second half of the season, goaling 14 times after round 9. Not always the best kick, but Kennedy lifts his side with his attack on the footy. He also courageously overcame concussion and injury issues to dominate in the finals, including three goals at crucial moments in the grand final, which single-handedly kept Sydney within striking distance of the Bulldogs.


  1. Cyril Rioli (Hawthorn), half-forward flank/forward pocket

Put the stats sheet away, Cyril is not overrated, but simply unrewarded by raw figures. Rioli is one of few players who are the best in the competition at several different attributes. He has the best side-step, the best weighted kick to a teammate running towards goal, the best forward pressure, and the best awareness of when to knock the ball to a teammate or take possession. In 2016, Rioli hit peak fitness, kicked 44 goals, was a match-winner, and his tackling was incredible.


  1. Rory Sloane (Adelaide), midfield

No finals side relied upon one midfielder more than Adelaide and Rory Sloane. He carried a young midfield on his shoulders, crashing the packs and usually ending up with the footy, while also staying accountable. He kicked accurately as well, both around the ground and in front of goal. A real terrier, and an old-fashioned footballer – not overly athletic, but skilled, tough and determined.


  1. Alex Rance (Richmond), key back

Didn’t actually have the best defensive record, and Buddy Franklin kicked 12 goals on him in two games, but that was due to no fault of his own. Without Rance, it would’ve been very ugly for the Tigers, with their 100 point losses possibly turning into 150 point deficits. Rance was heroic at times, spoiling in marking contests, before bouncing to his feet and bounding away from his opponent. His intercept marking was also superb, and he rarely missed a target by foot.


  1. Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs), midfield/wing

Only 21? This should only be of concern for opposition fans. The Bont had the magic touch when it came to close games, often kicking a crucial goal or executing a crucial pass. When he becomes more consistent, he’ll be an unstoppable combination of power, agility and guile. His grand final performance sums up his season – he was the only player on the field not to commit a clanger. He had just 22 disposals, but was still in the best two or three players, as every kick was sublime and well-weighted, while his third-man-up hitouts were highly effective.


  1. Lance Franklin (Sydney), full-forward

Buddy was back in 2016, and added a new element of brilliance to his game. Always a wonderful goal-kicker, Buddy’s field kicking was exceptional this year, and was the key component in their early lead over Geelong (preliminary final). He was consistent, and beat the best, smashing star defenders Talia and Rance. His tackling and physical presence is underrated too. Would’ve been a worthy number one if not for a freakish year from Dangerfield.


  1. Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong), midfield

What more can be said about Danger? Superb offensively, a bull at stoppages, a huge leap, exhilarating pace, and he even fixed up his goal-kicking. A virtually flawless season, and was duly rewarded by the media, players and umpires. Perhaps just as significant in Geelong’s rise was his impact on Joel Selwood, whose work load was eased by the arrival of Dangerfield, and the two formed a deadly combo at stoppages.


Check out The Doggies Almanac 2016 – order now.

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  1. Paddy Grindlay says

    Nice one!
    I agree in part with Dusty’s place at 39 – he is a clanger machine and doesn’t actually have a massive impact – but I’d still have him in the top twenty at least.
    I would’ve also had Coniglio higher, as well as Luke Parker,
    Very good piece.

  2. Liam Picken has to be higher on the strength of being on the cover of The Doggies Almanac – and his performance across the finals. Three huge games and one solid one. Check out The Doggies Almanac:

  3. kath presdee says

    Lots of interesting decisions in your choices and overall it’s hard to find someone that shouldn’t be there.

    I’m a little perplexed, however, that the team that finished 4th and were two kicks away from the Grand Final can’t get a player in the Top 20. This suggests to me that you’ve not watched many GWS games this year – I’m not criticizing, it’s an observation – because it looks like you’ve gained your views more from stats and the finals than from a sustained viewing of games over the season.

    Both Cogs and Scully should be rated higher in comparison to their GWS team-mates Ward, Shaw and Shiel. Both had a significant impact over the course of the season; even Shaw wasn’t as dominant in the team as he was last year (and Zac Williams took advantage of the Shaw tag a lot!)

    That said, if we can only manage six players in the Top 50 and none in the Top 20 after a break-out year, that says an awful lot about how good the Giants are as a team… and I’m more than happy with that.

  4. Paddy: Thanks for the positive feedback. Dusty was always going to divide opinion, but I just feel like Richmond’s downfall was in part due to Dusty and Cotchin’s lack of offensive impact and leadership. Parker could easily have been higher, and was certainly top 6 before the finals.

    John: It all depends on the balance between home and away and finals. Would Picken have been top 100 before finals? Probably not. But there’s no doubting he and Kennedy were the best two in the finals.

    Kath: I think it’s no coincidence that GWS have no standout players, yet made the preliminary final. Generally the teams with the best depth are successful in finals, and that’s why GWS should win the premiership next year. It’s incredible that Hopper, a tough, competitive midfielder, was GWS’ 22nd picked player.
    I find it odd that you say I’ve gained my views from stats, yet say that Coniglio should be higher relative to Shiel and Ward. Statistically Coniglio was better, but I felt Ward and Shiel were vital to GWS’ run and carry and high scores.

  5. Hey mate,

    I wonder if Tim Membrey needs a few more years to be nominated to be your top 50 player? He’s done very well in the 2016 season and is whom I admire as a St Kilda supporter.

    And Marcus Bontempelli is the ripper. He’s a great player!



  6. Cheers Yoshi, the Bont is a gun. If Membrey had played every game, he would’ve been in contention. Probably needs to kick more goals against top sides though before he makes it.

  7. Dusty had a lot of clangers this year because he had to find the ball, beat guys and then hit targets that weren’t moving, while all around him nobody tackled or shepherded or provided any options.

    best player in the comp if he had support. will win a norm smith and a coleman, as well as the inevitable Brownlow

  8. Peter: It is true that Dusty didn’t have a lot of support. However, that is not an excuse for turning the ball over. Zach Merrett and Daniel Wells were in similar situations where forward line movement was scarce, yet they still had the poise, skill and awareness to hit targets under pressure.

  9. Yeah. what he saud!

    “Dusty had a lot of clangers this year because he had to find the ball, beat guys and then hit targets that weren’t moving, while all around him nobody tackled or shepherded or provided any options.

    best player in the comp if he had support. will win a norm smith and a coleman, as well as the inevitable Brownlow”

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