Since 2016 Zach Merrett has been a durable and reliable premium across all game formats. After delivering his career-high scores last season, coaches should have some optimism that the 110+ averages should continue for more years to come.

PLAYER PROFILE

Name: Zach Merrett
Age: 26
Club: Essendon
Position: Midfield

2021 Highest Score: 
153 Vs Melbourne (AFLFantasy)
168 Vs Sydney (SuperCoach)

Career Highest Score: 
153 Vs Melbourne| AFLFantasy (2021)
168 Vs Sydney| SuperCoach (2021)

2021 Average: 
110.3 (AFLFantasy)
114.9 (SuperCoach)

SuperCoach Price: $625,700
AFLFantasy Price: 
$925,000
AFLDreamTeam Price: 
$940,700

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WHY IS HE RELEVANT?

Ever since the Essendon drug scandal of 2016, Zach Merrett has been one of the most dependable fantasy midfield premiums going around. What makes Merrett so damaging as a footballer, not just a fantasy prospect, is that he’s one of the hardest-working players in the league. Zach uses his workrate to get into space and create an option for his teammates in traffic. And when he gets the ball, he rarely wastes it.

Merrett ranks elite in multiple categories in the AFL. He’s top ten in the league for uncontested possessions per game, effective disposals, inside ’50s and disposals. Additionally, he’s ranked sixteenth for score involvements, further proof that when the ball is in his hands, it regularly turns into a good moment for the Bombers.

From twenty games last year, he delivered seventeen AFLFantasy/DreamTeam tons, seven of them were above 120, and three times he scored 140 or higher. That includes scoring his career-high 153 against the eventual premiers Melbourne. To go with this high ceiling is one of the safest top-end basement scores. Only in two games last year did he dip his scores below 80. By the close of 2021, he ranked ninth for total points, while his average of 110.3 leaves him also ranked ninth.

Over in SuperCoach, he also scored seventeen tons; eight of these were above 120, six over 130 and one was his career-high 168. In addition, in only two games did he drop his scores under 90. His average of 114.9 is ranked fourteenth, and he’s twelfth for points.

From his 16 games during 2020 in AFLFantasy/DreamTeam, he scored 7 tons, 3 of them over 120, including a 138 against the Crows. Remember, that’s with shorter quarters. He also had an additional three scores of 80+. He ended the year averaging 92 (or adjusted 115). He ranked 8th for total points concerning all other players, not bad for a guy who missed a game through suspension. Amongst midfielders, he ranked 4th by averages, but honestly, that stat line is misleading. One of those players is Luke Dunstan, who played one game. Another is Lachie Hunter, who played half the season. In reality, Lachie Neale was the only midfielder to average more than him.

2020 was a career-best average for Zach Merrett; he ended the year averaging 115. It consisted of 11 tons, 7 of which were over 120 and all year, his scoring dipped beneath 87 in the other two matches. He ranked 16th for total points and ended the year with the 7th highest average among all midfielders. Looking deeper at the season in greater analysis, you can see that as the season got better, so too did his scoring. In the opening eight matches, he averaged 87.5 (109) in AFLFantasy and 106.6 for SuperCoach. However, in the final eight games for AFLFantasy, he averaged 101.1 (126 adjusted average) and a monster 124.5 for SuperCoach. That’s a differential of 17 (adjusted) points per game in AFLFantasy and 18 in SuperCoach.

You can go back even further if you want, but the scoring trend is much the same. He’s one of the most reliable 110+ players across all game formats. Furthermore, to this scoring consistency, he’s missed just two matches over the past six seasons. However, these are not injury impacted games. Instead, both are suspensions. So, in reality, he’s much more like Jack Crisp, who has a near-faultless availability and durability.

Before selecting them, what are the key things you want to mark off the premium midfielder checklist?

  • Consistent High Scoring
  • Ceiling
  • Low Basement
  • Durability

Merrett has them all in spades and has done it over multiple seasons. So it won’t shock anyone; in fact, it’s expected that he backs up scoring like this yet again.

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MY TAKE

What makes Zach Merrett such a good fantasy performer? Simple, his diverse range of scoring avenues. He can win the ball on the inside and use his elite endurance to get into space outside. Equally, he applies strong defensive pressure without the ball.

Previously one of the great criticisms of his fantasy game had been how he’d be suspect to opposing teams tags. When over the past few seasons he got tagged his scoring flatlined. He’d certainly got better over time and worked through it, but I’m not convinced that this is the key tripping point for prospective Merrett owners. One of the biggest concerns is around the emergence of his teammates.

This was something that I touched only briefly in the Darcy Parish article and the podcast episode. The Essendon midfield is finally starting to take shape, and while Zac is clearly a formidable piece to the side’s success, he’s arguably one of the most versatile pieces. Last year he attended 80% of CBA’s, more than any other Essendon midfielder. With Jye Caldwell and Andrew McGrath back to full health, the bombers do have the option of one of the wider midfield rotations options available to them. Will that hurt Merrett’s scoring? Possibly. But what Zac has shown over the past few seasons is that he can score whether the bombers have the ball, or don’t. Whether he’s in space, or it’s tight at the contest.

At his price point, you’re starting him not just because you believe he’s set to be a topline premium midfielder, but because you also believe he’s a captaincy candidate most weeks. I think in AFLFantasy/DreamTeam there’s enough data to suggest that’s more than justified. But if you look at the trend, he’s much more regularly in the 100-115 range, than the 125+. While in SuperCoach, as good as he is, he doesn’t give me enough captaincy territory scores. A 120-125 score in SuperCoach isn’t a safe captaincy score. In reality, you need a 130 to put it beyond doubt. He gave coaches arguably six safe scores in this market.

I play all formats of fantasy footy and one of my favourites is the keeper league formats. In multiple keepers, I own Zac Merrett and have enjoyed him for years. So what I say next I deeply don’t want to admit. But call it an old fashioned gut instinct, bad pizza or whatever you want. I just don’t see the 115 in Zach this year, not if the health of the Bombers midfield is there. That ceiling I just see falling away marginally, meaning instead of being Mr 115, I think he regresses marginally to 110. Not much, not a big issue, but enough to cool me on starting him in my teams for 2022.

He could prove me wrong and fly out the gate with eight consecutive tons to start the year, just like he did in 2021? But even if he does repeat the same start, that’s still only an average of 112-113 across the formats. I’m happy to take him on to start and target him as an upgrade during the season.

DRAFT DECISION

Every format requires a different tiering of players and a different strategy. If drafting in AFLFantasy scoring format, Zach Merrett is a genuine M1 and will likely be gone in either the late first or second rounds. For me, it’s round two.

Those who draft in SuperCoach I have him pencilled in as an M2 and will be likely leaving draft boards somewhere between round 3-6. Why such a large range? Simple, it all depends on how heavy coaches go to secure top tier forwards and backs early.

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