The #1 Draft Pick Fallacy

In a little over a week, the AFL world will be lauding the latest number one draft pick. The Brisbane Lions hold the pick this year and are already considering how to use it. At the same time, they will be hoping it will bring the dawning of a new area rather than being a poisoned chalice. To some, the gaining of the number one draft pick is a chance to obtain greatness, but history shows that isn’t always the case.


AFL/VFL history is littered with failures – admittedly most from the era when drafting was a very inexact science. But names like Richard Lounder (Richmond, 1987), Anthony Banik (Richmond, 1988), Stephen Hooper (Geelong, 1990) and John Hutton (Brisbane, 1991) never reached the highest of expectations that came with the pick.


On the other hand, Nick Reiwoldt (St Kilda, 2000), Luke Hodge (Hawthorn, 2001), Brendon Goddard (St Kilda, 2002), Adam Cooney (Western Bulldogs, 2003), Brett Deledio (Richmond, 2004) and Marc Murphy (Carlton, 2005) have gone on to be revered names in the game.


Yet, the title of number one draft pick remains an elusive, at times enigmatic ideal. It is proven that players develop at different rates. A player who peaks at age 18 may never reach the rarefied heights of one that is anonymous as a teenager yet forges a great carer later. This happens for all manner of reasons.


It makes the entire mythology of the No.1 pick almost as unpredictable as the Melbourne Cup. The favourite may cross the line first, or be beaten by the bolter.


A look back at the last 10 drafts highlights this. For the sake of the story, each year looks at the #1 pick, other stars inside the top 30 and then bolters outside the top 30. It is interesting reading.


2016 – Andy McGrath (Essendon). A super first season and on track to be a superstar, but way too early to call and harder to tell if he will be cream of the crop. That might yet go to Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide #19) or Sam Petrevski- Seton (Carlton #6) or even Brandon Parfitt (Geelong #26). But there were gems later with Melbourne snaring Mitch Hannan (#46) whilst Jack Graham (Richmond #53) became a premiership hero.


2015 – Jacob Weitering (Carlton). Has quickly become the cornerstone of Carlton’s defence and can also pinch-hit up forward. Too early to call, but was a super selection. However, Ryan Burton (Hawthorn #19) and Jade Gresham (St Kilda #18) are hot on his tail, as is Daniel Rioli (Richmond #15) with a premiership medallion. Later picks in Rhys Mathieson (Brisbane #39) and Jack Silvagni (Carlton Father & Son #53) could yet catch the others.


2014 – Patrick McCartin (St Kilda). Has tey to live up to the hype that went with his selection. Illness, injury, concussion and indifferent form have stalled McCartin’s development. Sydney’s Isaac Heeney (academy pick #18) might yet be the best of this batch, though Conor Blakely (Fremantle #34) and Mitch McGovern (Adelaide #43) are making great progress.


2013 – Tom Boyd (GWS). Now at the Western Bulldogs on a massive contract, Boyd might be a premiership player, but has yet to set the world on fire. Yet Josh Kelly (GWS #2), Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs #4) and Patrick Cripps (Carlton #13) are already enjoying stellar careers. Add to that George Hewett (Sydney #32) who’s stocks are rising, Toby Nankervis (Sydney #35) now a Richmond premiership player, Ben Brown (North Melbourne #47) rapidly becoming a cult favourite and Orazio Fantasia (Essendon #55) and Boyd has some serious pressure to be the best of that year.


2012 – Lachie Whitfield (GWS). Despite his controversial drug related ban, Whitfield has been an excellent player for GWS. But the jury is still out as to whether he is a better player that Ollie Wines (Prt Adelaide #7) or Joe Daniher (Essendon #10 Father & Son). There is also some argument for Tim Membrey (Sydney #46) now at St Kilda, Marty Gleeson (Essendon #53) or even Rory Atkins (Adelaide #81).


2011 – Jonathon Patton (GWS). Undoubtedly a huge talent, especially with knee injuries behind him, but Patton has challengers. Chad Wingard (Port Adelaide #6), Toby Greene (GWS #11) and even Seb Ross (St Kilda #25) have forged great careers also. But further down the list is the brilliant Lachie Neale (Fremantle #58) and even a small nod to Alex Sexton (Gold Coast Suns #88).


2010 – David Swallow (Gold Coast). Has been a solid, if unspectacular, player for the Suns and helped develop the fledgling club. But Andrew Gaff (West Coast #4) and Dyson Heppell (Essendon #11) may already claim better careers to date. Cam Guthrie (Geelong #23) is also a top shelf player now. Later, Jeremy Howe (Melbourne #33), Luke Parker (Sydney #40) and Alex Fasolo (Collingwood #45) round out a very impressive list to challenge the #1 pick.


2009 – Tom Scully (Melbourne). Blossoming now at his second club (GWS) Scully endured much controversy and high expectation that held back his development somewhat. He also has to endure the fact that Dustin Martin (Richmond #3) and Nat Fyfe (Fremantle #20) have both won Brownlow Medals. Later picks included Max Gawn (Melbourne #34), Ben Stratton (Hawthorn #46) and even Dylan Roberton (Fremantle #49) now with a new lease of life at St Kilda.


2008 – Jack Watts (Melbourne). Well, this is possibly the most prominent and debated example of a player yet to fulfil potential as a #1 pick. And it I unfair in the sense that he didn’t nominate himself for that title, yet has to live up to it. Nic Naitanui (West Coast #2), Michael Hurley (Essendon #5) and Jack Ziebell (North Melbourne) have all excelled at the highest levels in different ways – All-Australians, Captains, best & fairests – leaving Watts in their wake. But even later picks compound this with Daniel Hannaberry (Sydney #30), Steven Motlop (Geelong #39), Rory Sloane (Adelaide #44), Neville Jetta (Melbourne #51) and Michael Walters (Fremantle #53) making their own marks as well.


2007 – Matthew Kreuzer (Carlton). A fine ruckman and one of Carlton’s best over the past decade. But is always locked in debate in a draft that saw Trent Cotchin (Richmond #2), Patrick Dangerfield (Adelaide #10), Cyril Rioli (Hawthorn #12) and Alex Rance (Richmond #18) all worthy of having been #1. Later picks also add to the debate with Jack Steven (St Kilda #42), Easton Wood (Western Bulldogs #43), Cale Hooker (Eseendon #54) and Taylor Walker (Adelaide #75).


History tells us that some players succeed, some don’t. Some #1 picks become greats, but so do picks from all positions in a draft. We also know that clubs pick on needs as much as reputation, which skews the results.


So if we know anything going into next Friday’s National Draft it is that Brisbane could land a superstar and potential legend with their #1 picks, However, so could Essendon which comes in with their first pick at #48. Essentially, we know nothing other than every kid drafted can play footy and a huge range of factors will determine their careers after draft day.


What we do know is that the number one pick being the best player of that year is a fallacy – mostly.

About Wesley Hull

Passionate lover of Australian Rules football. Have played and coached the game and now spend my time writing about the game I love and introducing young people to the game through school coaching. Will try and give back to the game what it has given me for more that 40 years.


  1. Great research Wesley. Not a bad draft that 2007 list, eh?

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