Top 50 AFL players 2017

Following Robbo’s attempt at a top 50, I’ve had a crack at it myself. Robbo’s favourites Gary Ablett (10) and Scott Pendlebury (12) were left out of mine completely, as they simply only had a handful of influential games. Both also suffered from injury, Michael Walters and Dayne Beams likewise. Forwards Tom Lynch (Adelaide) and Jeff Garlett (Melbourne) were the unluckiest to miss out. Lynch was solid but unspectacular, while Garlett was spectacular but inconsistent. Zac Williams, Luke Parker and Charlie Dixon were next in line.


Here is the link to last year’s list:

Almanac Season Review: Top 50 AFL Players 2016


  1. Dyson Heppell (Essendon), midfield/wing

Last year N/A

Somewhat forgotten amongst the frenzy surrounding Joe Daniher and Zach Merrett, but Heppell had another brilliant year. His class and silky skills are virtually unmatched, compensating for lowish disposal figures. His round one performance against Hawthorn was simply astonishing.


  1. Ollie Wines (Port-Adealide), midfield

Last year N/A

An absolute brute of a midfielder, outstanding both offensively and defensively at stoppages. Had a very consistent year, including a strong performance in their final, kicking two goals along with 17 contested possessions. Already a powerful, dynamic, goalkicking midfielder, he could become a star if he improves his kicking.


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

Last year 48

You simply cannot leave out the best kick in the competition. Keeps his spot from 2016 after another year of strong leadership, damaging kicking off half-back, and brilliant reading of the play. Was especially important in the finals, marshalling the troops in their historic victory against Port Adelaide, and putting up a fight against GWS.


  1. Steele Sidebottom (Collingwood), wing

Last year – N/A

The classy midfielder put a full season together for the first time since 2013, kicking 16 goals from midfield in a poor side. Makes the 50 ahead of Taylor Adams and Adam Treloar due to far superior kicking skills, while Scott Pendlebury missed too many games. “Sidebum” would be regarded as a superstar in a side with a functional forward line.


  1. Ben Brown (North Melbourne), full-forward

Last year N/A

A stunning rise from VFL to almost Coleman-medallist. He might be clumsy, he might be slow, and he might let defenders take too many intercept marks, but boy can he kick goals. Ripped apart some of the league’s best key defenders on the lead, and rarely missed set-shots.


  1. Luke Shuey (West Coast), midfield

Last year 18

Another Eagle who finished the season in fine fashion, and kicked the highest-pressure goal of the season. His burst from stoppages and two-way running was relentless all year, and his performances in big games sneak him into the 50.


  1. Sam Jacobs (Adelaide), ruck

Last year N/A

One of the competition’s most consistent ruckmen over the past five years, never ceasing to excel with his tap work. Added a stronger contested marking component to his game this year, which allowed him to beat Patrick Ryder in the showdown. Just lacks the ground level mobility to be a truly dominant ruckman.


  1. Dylan Roberton (St Kilda), half-back flank

Last year N/A

In All-Australian contention until he had a shocker in round 23. His run and dash off half-back was outstanding for a player of his height (192cm), consistently taking intercept marks and launching attacks with his powerful right boot in the same play.


  1. Shaun Higgins (North Melbourne), midfield/half-forward flank

Last year N/A

Nothing special statistically, but dynamic with ball in hand. It was an inspired move by Brad Scott to place Higgins in the midfield, where he could use his class and beautiful kicking to ease the pain of Boomer’s exit. Still managed to kick 18 goals from midfield, a brilliant effort in a poor team.


  1. Neville Jetta (Melbourne), back-pocket

Last year N/A

May seem surprising to most, but “Jet” was clearly the best lock-down defender in the competition. Although he adds little attacking verve, you just have to watch the last few minutes of Carlton-Melbourne (round 16) to see how vital he was to Melbourne’s finals charge. The little pacey dynamo never gives up, and even kicked a few classy goals along the way.


  1. Taylor Walker (Adelaide), centre-half forward

Last year N/A

Has to be in there as the fifth highest goalkicking and highest assisting key-forward. Inspirational when on-song, often kicking goals from well outside 50, which emanated a sense of momentum and confidence across the whole side. Disappointing finals series though.


  1. Seb Ross (St. Kilda), midfield/wing

Last year N/A

There’s a lot of Zach Merrett about the saint. Likes to take risks through the corridor, which was costly at times, but will hold him in good stead when he’s gained more experience. Only five goals for the year, but impacted the scoreboard through his hard running and brilliant clearance work.


  1. Lachie Neale (Fremantle), midfield

Last year 29

His versatility came to the fore in 2017, playing much of the season at half-forward, including four goals in a win against the dees (round 4). In fact, Neale took advantage of the big MCG ground against Richmond as well, when he and David Mundy broke Tigers fans’ hearts. Unfortunately fell away as Freo began to struggle, and Neale’s weaknesses became more prominent, such as size and poor penetration in his kicking.


  1. Tom Scully (GWS), wing

Last year 33

Anybody ever told you he’s got incredible stamina? Yes? 58 times? Oh, never mind. A constant outlet for the giants’ inside mids, especially boosting his value in high-pressure finals. Fall from last year accounted for by a nine-goal fall in output.


  1. Jeremy Howe (Collingwood), loose-back

Last year N/A

Jeremy HOWE!!!!… DID HE DO THAT? Almost a weekly event, justifying his place in the top 50. More than just spectacular though, ranking fourth for intercepts, improving his consistency in 2017. Could still work on his accountability, as well as his decision-making process between marking and spoiling.


  1. Elliott Yeo (West Coast), half-back flank/midfield

Last year N/A
The sight of Yeo bounding along was prevalent in a superb year from Mr. Fixit. Although more consistently effective when playing in the backline, making use of his powerful leap, Yeo gave the eagles some much needed pace in the midfield when required.


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

Last year 22

It’s ironic that a player so underrated in the past was probably overrated this year. Although he kicked 47 goals, led the league for assists (equal with Tex Walker) and provided numerous magical plays, almost all of his best performances were against struggling sides. Went missing in four games, of which three were close.


  1. Nat Fyfe (Fremantle), midfield

Last year N/A

Got his bounce back after round 15, using his trademark jump to dominate in the air and trademark power to burst out of the contest. Just misses out on the top 30 as affected by injury from rounds 6-15, but put in some huge efforts when the dockers were really struggling.


  1. Marc Murphy (Carlton), midfield/wing

Last year N/A

Many have forgotten how impressive the captain was in the first seven rounds, three of which were wins. Not the biggest body or best tackler, but used the ball beautifully, while using his pace to break away from the contest. Kicked a miracle goal in the wet against Essendon (round 3), in the one of the season’s best performances.


  1. Jack Lever (Adelaide), loose-back

Last year N/A

Well and truly worth two first-round draft picks, Lever is a star in the making. Not only did he lead the league for intercepts, but he was also (not so) eloquently named the best “fister” in the game by Brian Taylor, distinguishing him from the less reliable Jeremy Howe. Already dominant in the air with a slender frame, there is plenty of improvement left in him.


  1. Matthew Kreuzer (Carlton), ruck

Last year N/A

Virtually played as a midfielder, averaging a huge 9.8 contested possessions. This was evident when observing his matches, as he virtually forced the ball forwards at times, often pushing into the forward 50 to kick goals. Not as silky with his tap work as Sam Jacobs or Paddy Ryder, but had a bigger impact at ground level.


  1. Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs), midfield

Last year 3

Was almost the best player in the AFL after seven games, such was his impact late in close affairs. Clocked up 11 goals in those seven games, made every kick count, and his agility and balance under pressure were simply sublime. Unfortunately struggled to find the footy at times throughout the rest of the season, but still had some stunning games from rounds 17-20.


  1. Callan Ward (GWS), midfield

Last year – 26

Had a slow start to the season, but finished it in style with three performances amongst GWS’s best two or three players. Another player who prioritises quality over quantity – he simply gets the job done. Always hard at the ball, nails the goals he should kick, and cuts swathes through opposition midfields with his power and gliding running style.


  1. Michael Hibberd (Melbourne), half-back flank

Last year N/A

Almost a complete defender, and was simply a victim of missed games in these rankings. Probably his best ever year at a new club, showing unforeseen run and dash off half-back, averaging the second most rebound 50s, while also improving his ability to intercept opposition kicks.


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

Last year 35

Already outstanding in 2016, Docherty’s level of consistency was remarkable in 2017. A constant source of pace and drive from the back-line in a slow, defensive Carlton side, although his and Kade Simpson’s lack of accountability perhaps cost them at times.


  1. Jack Riewoldt (Richmond), full-forward

Last year N/A

Riewoldt was so crucial to Richmond that there’s no way they would’ve made finals without him. Not only kicked 54 goals, but was also a constant target, and almost a defensive forward at times, bringing the ball to ground for the mosquito fleet to pounce on. His pressure for a key forward was exceptional, put on display in the opening quarter of the grand final with an impressive chase-down.


  1. Zach Merrett (Essendon), midfield/wing

Last year 21

A deserved All-Australian, although arguably a year too late. Was more uncontested in 2017 without improving his kicking, but he must be given credit for his willingness to hit risky targets. Will form a game breaking combination with Dyson Heppell for years to come.


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

Last year 24

If only he could keep his discipline under control. Jumps one place from last year, as he was a matchwinner in almost half his games. His goal sense and creativity in the forward 50 was simply a joy to watch. However, ill-discipline cost his side against Richmond (round 18), and cost him six games of suspension.


  1. Joel Selwood (Geelong), midfield

Last year 15

Inspirational for much of the first half of the year, before succumbing to injuries and tags. Just six goals for the year, but was again crucial in creating clearances for Dangerfield. Unfortunately hampered by injury in finals when they needed him most.


  1. Clayton Oliver (Melbourne), midfield

Last year N/A

Almost Dangerfield-like at times with his bursts out of midfield. Very quick for such a contested player, who remarkably averaged the second most contested possessions in just his second year. Not a great kick, but mainly used it by hand to take advantage of his brilliant vision at close quarters.


  1. Michael Hurley (Essendon), key back

Last year N/A

A wonderful return to footy, incredibly leading the competition for rebound 50s as a key defender. Had a couple of error prone games when stitched up by Tex Walker (round 4) and against North Melbourne (round 18), but his occasional lack of accountability was made up for by his ability to turn defence into attack. Solid as a rock in marking contests.


  1. Eddie Betts (Adelaide), forward pocket

Last year 9

Not quite as prolific as last year, but what a magician. The miraculous goals continued, and it all could’ve been so different if he’d been paid that second-quarter free kick in the grand final, which he surely would’ve slotted for his second goal…


  1. Patrick Ryder (Port Adelaide), ruck

Last year N/A

A disappointing end to an outstanding year, his final game riddled with errors against the Eagles. Probably the most influential ruckman with his tap work, due to his ability to leap and hit targets from all angles, such as when setting up Robbie Gray’s famous goal on the buzzer. Also a brilliant contested mark and ground-ball winner thanks to his incredible athleticism.


  1. Mitch Duncan (Geelong), wing/midfield

Last year N/A

Topped off a fine season with an outstanding finals series, which included ripping Sydney to shreds. Technically brilliant by foot, and balanced his inside and outside game well in 2017. Was unlucky to miss out on the All-Australian squad, perhaps needing a second strong year to gain just recognition.


  1. Jeremy McGovern (West Coast), key back

Last year 25

We’re unlikely to see a better contested interceptor for some time, such is the strength and consistency of McGovern’s marking. Had a remarkable record in one-on-one contests, beaten just four times across the entire season. Kept West Coast in the elimination final with an incredible 15 marks.


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

Last year 45

The competition’s most reliable rebounder off half-back, balancing attack and defence better than most. Outstanding in marking contests for his height, strong in the contest, and rarely makes errors despite a willingness to take the game on. Showed his zip in the grand-final despite a lacklustre performance from many of his teammates.


  1. Trent Cotchin (Richmond), midfield

Last year N/A

Weak? Poor leadership? Too safe? These phrases often summed up Cotchin in the past, but he led by example in 2017 with his ferocious attack on the footy. A slight question mark remains on his kicking, but Cotch was brilliant defensively, especially throughout the finals series, and his goal against Geelong was spectacular.


  1. Dylan Shiel (GWS), midfield

Last year 42

Silky, sublime and speedy, Shiel has a dynamic sidestep, allowing him to clear traffic and send Josh Kelly or Tom Scully on their way, ranking 4th for total clearances. Shiel won a well-deserved All-Australian place after a consistent season.


  1. Josh Kennedy (Sydney), midfield

Last year 7

The man who just continues to perform year after year. A contested beast once again, heroic against Richmond (round 13), Essendon (14) and Adelaide (22) as captain. Only knock is missing three games, and struggling in another through injury.


  1. Rory Sloane (Adelaide), midfield

Last year 5

It was almost cruel. Up there with the best in the first half of the season, before being tagged like no one else in the competition. Even still, Sloane put his heart and soul into every contest, and was a tackling beast, whether he was winning the footy or not. One of the most complete players in the league when given freedom, with few other midfielders having such an influence in the air, in front of goals, and as a two-way runner.


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

Last year 13

Finally broke the flat-track bully tag, and would’ve been higher if not for injury troubles. Number one for goals per game once again, and superb in the Eagles’ battle to make finals.


  1. Matt Crouch (Adelaide), midfield

Last year N/A

A rise to stardom from the Tom Mitchell clone. A sensational finals series, perhaps only bettered by Dustin Martin and Alex Rance. After displaying poor kicking skills in the past, 2017 was a tremendous improvement, and his ability to spot out teammates by hand and launch attacks was virtually unmatched. Classy snap in the preliminary final was the cherry on top of a fine season.


  1. Lance Franklin (Sydney), centre-half forward

Last year 2

Between his goals from the boundary, goals on the run, and goals from Mars, there was plenty to like about Buddy’s season. He might’ve kicked most of his goals against poor sides, but you only have to watch his goal against poor Daniel Talia to know Buddy makes the top 10. Pips Kennedy (WC) due to superior influence around the ground and a bit of Buddy magic.


  1. Joe Daniher (Essendon), centre-half forward

Last year N/A

Possibly an underrated season, as the statistics don’t accurately reflect his influence. Simply carried the Bombers to victory so often, most notably on ANZAC Day, and almost against the bulldogs (round 19), in one of this season’s most dominant performances (six goals and five contested marks). Impossible to stop his incredible leap, athleticism and powerful kicking when on-song.


  1. Tom Mitchell (Hawthorn), midfield

Last year N/A

Record disposal numbers from the Hawk, whose impact has been hotly debated. Pace deficiencies might leave him somewhat one-dimensional, but there’s no doubting his quality with ball in hand. Has superb spatial awareness, and consistently slotted team-lifting goals in the second-half of the season.


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

Last year 32

A meteoric rise from rookie to superstar. Every aspect of his game radiates sheer brilliance, whether it’s his goalkicking, game-breaking runs or unmatched defensive pressure. All this, at the bottom team.


  1. Alex Rance (Richmond), key back

Last year 4

Had some nervous moments throughout the year, namely against Jackson Trengove and Harry Taylor (in the home-and-away season), but regained form to have a finals series for the ages. A brick wall against Taylor and Patton, before towelling up Jenkins in the granny, while providing drive of half-back with his pace and power.


  1. Josh Kelly (GWS), midfield/wing

Last year N/A

Probably the most consistent player throughout 2017, demonstrating his elite skill and poise under all circumstances. When GWS were on the ropes in the second half of the season, Kelly played closer to the contest before showing his class late in games, especially when nailing a clutch goal against Fremantle (round 19). Few players execute the money kick inside 50 better than Josh Kelly.


  1. Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong), midfield

Last year 1

Arguably the better big-game performer in the home-and-away season, but overtaken by Dusty in the finals.  Played some monumental games, at times carrying his side, thanks to his herculean efforts in contested situations and unstoppable marking ability. Unfortunately, poor disposal let him down under pressure in two finals, but could easily take back his crown in 2018.


  1. Dustin Martin (Richmond), midfield

Last year – 39

Conqueror of all medals and the biggest trophy of them all. A remarkable turn-around from clanger king in 2016 to a player with poise and superb lateral vision in 2017, especially in the back-half of the year. A 23-goal improvement says it all, underpinning a stunning season of exhilarating power, fend-offs and big-game performances.



  1. Jennifer Muirden says

    Love this Top 50, Luke!

    My faves include: dynamic and determined Dylan Roberton, successful Saints 2017 Trevor Barker Award recipient Seb Ross, picture perfect Rancey, Jumping Jack Flash Riewoldt, tenacious tigerific Trent Cotchin, Lusty Dusty Martin (!!!), Eveready energizer Eddie Betts, robustly reckless Rory Sloane, silky smooth Selwood, palpably played Paddy Dangerfield, lighting bolt Lance Buddy Franklin, bagging a bunch of goals Benny Brown, devastatingly dynamic Dyson Heppell, jaunty Joe Daniher, naturally nimble Neville Jetta and childlike Cinderella Clayton Oliver.

  2. steve todorovic says

    Pretty much on the ball, Lucas. I’m a mad tiger fan so would quibble that Rance gets #3 ahead of Kelly but that’s about it.

  3. Disappointed no Talia, Atkins, Jenkins and jacobs is too low

  4. Thoughtful list Lucas. Good comments that make for interesting reader about each player. Top 5 implies 3 per club on average. As a keen Eagles follower I reckon only McGovern and Kennedy are genuine A Graders. I am wondering how we will use them in 2018. McGovern is a very instinctive player, who looks lost away from defence where he can anticipate and read the play. Inclined to think he could play forward or on the ball – but it will take a season of learning to adapt. As for JK I never thought he was a flat track bully, but I am wondering if the days of the dominant big forward are behind us. Richmond and Bulldogs won flags without one. I can see JK as a roaming CHF next year. Marking forwards are too easy to shut down in an era of massed defences.
    Yeo is a work in progress who made great strides in 2017. Disposal is erratic and still needs to work out his best position. Reckon he can become a big midfielder more than a roaming defender.
    Shuey had his best year, but still needs to be more consistent. Goes missing for weeks at a time. Lacks support in a weak Eagles midfield, which is why I would use Yeo there more without Priddis and Mitchell. Hurn is a solid citizen and reliable, but I don’t reckon he is an A Grader. Plays more of a mop-up role as teams make him accountable to counter his rebound out of defence. I would make JK captain to take the pressure off him.

  5. Given that I’ve been listing my post and pre-season Top 50 AFL players for years, I selected my top 50 AFL players for 2017 for my website

    I posted the following list of players the day after this year’s Grand Final.

    1. Dustin Martin (Richmond)

    2. Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong)

    3. Lance Franklin (Sydney)

    4. Alex Rance (Richmond)

    5. Joe Daniher (Essendon)

    6. Josh Kennedy (West Coast)

    7. Josh Kelly (Greater Western Sydney)

    8. Tom Mitchell (Hawthorn)

    9. Dayne Zorko (Brisbane)

    10. Josh Kennedy (Sydney)

    11. Zach Merrett (Essendon)

    12. Matt Crouch (Adelaide)

    13. Ben Brown (North Melbourne)

    14. Robbie Gray (Port Adelaide)

    15. Trent Cotchin (Richmond)

    16. Seb Ross (St Kilda)

    17. Dylan Shiel (Greater Western Sydney)

    18. Dayne Beams (Brisbane)

    19. Rory Sloane (Adelaide)

    20. Joel Selwood (Geelong)

    21. Clayton Oliver (Melbourne)

    22. Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs)

    23. Eddie Betts (Adelaide)

    24. Tom Lynch (Adelaide)

    25. Adam Treloar (Collingwood)

    26. Mitch Duncan (Geelong)

    27. Jack Riewoldt (Richmond)

    28. Toby Greene (Greater Western Sydney)

    29. Shaun Higgins (North Melbourne)

    30. Luke Shuey (West Coast)

    31. Andrew Gaff (West Coast)

    32. Taylor Adams (Collingwood)

    33. Marc Murphy (Carlton)

    34. Luke Parker (Sydney)

    35. Bryce Gibbs (Carlton)

    36. Ollie Wines (Port Adelaide)

    37. Brad Ebert (Port Adelaide)

    38. Michael Hurley (Essendon)

    39. Jeremy Howe (Collingwood)

    40. Jeremy McGovern (West Coast)

    41. Tom Scully (Greater Western Sydney)

    42. Rory Laird (Adelaide)

    43. Sam Docherty (Carlton)

    44. Michael Hibberd (Melbourne)

    45. Elliot Yeo (West Coast)

    46. Steele Sidebottom (Collingwood)

    47. Zach Tuohy (Geelong)

    48. Sam Jacobs (Adelaide)

    49. Matthew Kreuzer (Carlton)

    50. Paddy Ryder (Port Adelaide)

  6. My Dog's Name is Richo says

    First, full disclosure: I’m a Tigers man, and this bloke probably doesn’t belong on this list. But …
    Dylan Grimes might be the most under-rated player in the competition. At one point this year he went six games without a goal being kicked on him – getting the best small forward every week , or being asked to play tall – then kept Robbie Gray (#34 on this list) to 1.3 … a week after Gray kicked 5 against the Pies.
    In the finals, Grimes kept Toby Greene to 0.1 in the prelim, then his man Eddie Betts (#19 on this list) kicked 1.2 in the GF (the goal thanks to a Vlastuin mistake).
    His kicking has improved, his speed is excellent, and he finished 5th in a premiership-winning team’s B&F. No, he doesn’t get it much, but I guarantee he was amongst the first picked in a team which won 11 of its last 12 matches, and three finals by 8, 6 and 8 goals.
    Just flying the flag for the anti-accumulators.

  7. Jennifer Muirden says

    My Dog’s Name us Richo, my Tigers supporting brother Richo says “yeah, the winery owner has been fantastic since he got over his constant hammy issues and has been out there for the season. Our best #2 in forever”

    I, too, am a keen observer of the no fuss and no show-pony antics of Grimesy. Huge fan of the towering number 2!

  8. Rory Sloane and Tom Mitchell both should be higher.

  9. Jennifer: Love the comments! Excitement everywhere.

    Peter_B: I can see West Coast falling in 2018 after a few outs, but rising again pretty quickly with plenty of young, developing players.

    Mark: Interesting to see a different perspective. Be wary underrating those half-backs like Laird, Hibberd and Docherty. Super important in the modern game.

    Dog’s name is Richo: Tend to agree, Grimes is a great defender. Maybe next best after Jetta amongst lock-down small defenders.

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