Yarra Man: Watts is a worry; Dees should have taken Rich

By Tavis Perry

There’s been a plethora of recent media reports on Jack Watts, and why wouldn’t there be given the No.1 draft pick always creates more headlines than other drafted players? This is especially so because the No.1 pick is generally a shining light in an otherwise dim period for his club. Being a Demons fan myself, I’ve taken a particular interest in the lead-up to Watts becoming an AFL player, and I’ve kept a close eye on the how the other top 10 drafted players are faring.
I remember before the draft hoping that Melbourne would pick up either Jack Watts or Daniel Rich with the No.1 pick. I, like many others, saw Rich as a ready-made AFL footballer – the kind who could make an impact in his first year. Judging on his season thus far that prediction seems justified. Watts has shown in his first two games that he’s athletic, a good finisher and has an under-rated competitive streak. It can’t be denied, though, that he has looked out of place at the elite level, and he’s not sufficiently developed to handle the physicality of AFL football.
I find this bemusing and, as a Demons supporter, disappointing. Jack Watts has been touted for years as a potential AFL player, and even had to choose between football and basketball. He went through elite junior programs in both sports and would have had access to some of the most qualified coaches and conditioning staff in the land. I don’t understand why it’s taken until he has actually been drafted for him to start a weights program. Being mobile and 196 centimetres means he was always destined to play either as a key defender or key forward. I find it almost incomprehensible to think that at some stage he wouldn’t have been told the training requirements that are essential to becoming an elite athlete. This oversight looks to have stalled his development as a senior player and it’s slowed the progress of the Demons up the ladder.
Over-critical? Perhaps, but let’s compare him with Daniel Rich. Rich came into the AFL having completed at least two years of extensive strength work. His frame was at a stage where it was highly likely to be able to withstand the rigours of AFL football. This has helped him forge a regular spot in a formidable Lions midfield brigade.
Watts, to achieve Rich’s strength profile, needs at least two years of extensive strength work. In those two years, Rich will have potentially played another forty games, honing his craft under the tutelage of Michael Voss and with on-field guidance from stars like Simon Black and Luke Power. In that same period, it’s not unrealistic to project that Watts will be playing in the Casey VFL side and fighting for a spot in Melbourne’s senior side.
Watts’s advocates could mount an argument that Rich has already reached his developmental peak, whereas Watts still has a lot of natural development to come. They may also argue that it’s easier for a midfield player to cement a spot in a side compared to a key forward. Both have merit, but my point is that, uncharacteristically, the system has failed to adequately prepare Jack Watts for life as an elite athlete. By the time he is ready to “hit his straps” as an AFL player, the Melbourne footy club will have devoted a considerable amount of time and money in the hope that he will become the player they predict he will be.
There’s no doubt that he is a player of the future, but Daniel Rich was ready-made and he would have been the prudent option as the No.1 pick. Jack Watts may have the potential to reach a higher level, but the questions that Melbourne should have asked is, by the time he gets there will he be worth the investment? And why isn’t he closer to the mark by now?


  1. Tavis, I’d love to say I sympathise. But having never experienced the nervous joy of watching a No 1 pick step out for my team…. :)
    But I think you’re being a bit “glass half empty”.
    Rich is nearly a year older than Watts, and he’s been playing senior WAFL for 2 years. That’ll do a lot more for making you AFL-ready than Watts’ background. I don’t think it’s fair to say that “…uncharacteristically, the system has failed to adequately prepare Jack Watts for life as an elite athlete.” There’d be plenty of players, not just #1 picks, who enter their first season without being physically ready. In fact it could be argued that trying to put a “full AFL jacket” on a 17-18 year old body would not be the best thing for his medium term development.
    I guess as a Dees supporter you’ve got every right to be wanting young guns who are ready now, which might make Rich the “prudent option” but on the other hand – and for this we have to assume that the Melbourne recruiters got it right – a “Watts who is better than Rich in 2-3 years’ time” is going to be a better result for the club.
    Now, I haven’t seen enough of Watts – and I’ve hardly seen Rich at all – to make a call, except to say that I think he (Watts) looks like he “belongs out there” which is the first and onyl realistic thing you can say in praise of a player after 2 games. And I offer you the example of Nathan Bock. Similar physique, and impact, to Watts in his first year or 2. There was a body of thought among Crows supporters that he wouldn’t make it. If Watts = Bock, you’re on to a good thing!

  2. lincoln Clayton says

    Im thinking that melbourne supporters may be feeling a little short changed after seeing Watts in the last few weeks, the members/supporters are crying out for a player to come in and make an impact. With the expectations on a number 1 pick are high, Watts is not the player at the moment who will tear games apart, kick 10 goals and win you games, hes a skinny kid still at school. He may be a 10 year player at the club, but with the dees struggling big time, i wouldnt have thought rich, hill or anyone else would be an instant success at the dees, put watts in the cats or saints line up…interesting?

  3. Steve Healy says

    Travis, as a fellow Melbourne supporter I agree with you. But Rich is nearly a year older than Watts, so he has had a lot more valuable football experience. Key position players take longer to develop, like Nick Riewoldt and Jonathon Brown did(at least 1-2 years)
    Watts definitley needs to add more strength to his game if he wants to be a centre half/full forward. Thats why he will be played a lot more on flanks and wings in his first couple of seasons.

  4. Clint Youlden says

    Richard and Steve, I think you both would agree that Daniel Rich is far more than “1 year of senior football experience” better off than Jack Watts. Tavis makes a top point in questioning why Watts has never seen the inside of a weight room prior to turning 18. Having played Basketball in America as an 18 year old- I had 2 years of weights under my belt already. I was impressed to see 17 year old kids lifting 300+ pounds in the gym. These guys (especially footballers) lift weights from years 9 onwards. 4 years of lifting experience before they leave high school- and that was the rule as an athlete, not the exception, every team member did it not just the guys destined for a higher level.
    I look at Daniel Rich and see an individual who took it upon himself to see what was required, physically and skillfully to become an AFL footballer, and developed (probably on his own) the work habits to achieve that. He, has since, turned himself into a ready made footballer for the elite level at age 19 and highlights the standards that every other future draftee should aspire to. In my opinion, Rich shouldn’t have surprised anyone at all with his impact, contribution or physical ability, he has simply showed the work ethic and qualities that should be present in all first-round draft picks.
    On the other hand I look at Jack Watts and I see problems (keep in mind all these thoughts are hypothetical and I don’t know Jack Watts personally). I see character traits of someone who is a great athlete and has been at the top of every sport he has played. His talent was always good enough to beat anyone he came across at his age. Where are the aspirations to get better? By his lack of weight training (which is required for any elite sport in the world really) you can assume he has never developed the work ethic to match the level he may aspire to and maybe assumed the AFL would be easy and no different (a common mistake by most juniors). Here lies the problem, you may assume he will eventually get to the top of the AFL, but how long will it take? Rich will already have 4 years+ as a top player and along with that, more confidence and more time to learn the technical parts of the game without ever trying to catch up physically. He may also be too overwhelmed with the expectation and feel he can’t keep up fast enough and maybe quit altogether. Hopefully it never comes to that and Watts turns into a champion of the competition. The point is, as a No.1 pick, he should already be nearly there.
    If anything, both Daniel Rich and Jack Watts highlight the polar problems of the future stars of the AFL, or perhaps the flaws of the development system. Rich’s current level should not be the exception of all first round picks, he should be the rule and Watts’ current level should be the exception, not the rule. Too often teams are forced to ‘gamble’ on picks and in a multi-million dollar business, why should they? I put the onus back onto the draftee’s and the development system and blame them for not training hard enough, teaching and developing these young athletes for senior football.

  5. Mick Hill says

    Hey Tav….I’ve only just become aware of this site and some of your articles. Almost a year on from this article some of your points seem to be well justified, especially more so with the development of big Nic Nat this year. Your arguments certainly have more merit than some of the media types that are happy to brand Watts a bad pick already. Being a dees man also it may be more blind faith and hope that I still see Watts with a bright future for the demons. With Scully and Trengove coming in, added to other midfield types such as Grimes and McKenzie as well as the potential of Blease, Strauss, Gysberts I believe that as good as Rich has proven to be in his first year that Melbourne are more than covered in this area. I would also point to a ‘slight’ dip in Rich’s output thus far in his second year (understandable) and maybe his development physically has reached it’s peak. I think Nic Nat may be the guy that demons fans watch with envy, but as has been proven with the Judd/Hodge debate many years ago, another 2-3 years will tell the full story.

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