He’s one of the most hyped defenders of the preseason, but is it worthwhile excitement or just froth and bubble?

PLAYER PROFILE

Name: Alex Witherden
Age: 20
Club: Brisbane Lions
Position: Defender

2018 Highest Score: 
138 Vs Adelaide (AFLFantasy)
131 Vs Adelaide (SuperCoach)

2018 Average: 

88 (AFLFantasy)
83.8 (SuperCoach)

SuperCoach Price: $455,000
AFLFantasy Price: 
$639,000
AFLDreamTeam Price: 
$629,400

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WHY IS HE RELEVANT?

History suggests that the most common season a player has a ‘breakout’ into the premium territory as a fantasy player is in the third year in the AFL system. While there are always exceptions to any rule, it’s probably a fair enough call to suggest that Alex Witherden ‘broke out’ from the moment he entered into the AFL.

After making his debut in round 14 against the Giants in 2017, he didn’t miss a game playing nine games consecutively and scoring above 70 for AFLFantasy/DreamTeam and averaged 88. While in SuperCoach he posted 2 tons, didn’t score below 69 and averaged 87. Then last year he continued where his debut year left off. He played 21 games, posted 5 AFLFantasy/DreamTeam scores over 100 of those triple-figure scores his lowest was 116, a ceiling that not too many premium defenders can match. For SuperCoach he averaged 83 across the season with six matches him posting a century, and 4 of those were above 110. These averages include an injury-affected score of 15 in AFLFantasy & 13 in SuperCoach.

As promising as his fantasy development is, a look at his final ten games of the year (1/3 of his total career) is where fantasy coaches heading into 2019 start to get excited about the development. Over his final ten full games, his AFLFantasy/DreamTeam average was 99.6 while in SuperCoach it was 93.6. If Witho was to maintain that average point across the year that would place him currently as the #4 ranked defender in AFLFantasy/DreamTeam and 8th overall in SuperCoach

Even just based on natural development and the scoring trajectory the potential increase of scoring gets even better thanks to the new kick-in rules. Over the summer the AFL announced multiple rule changes, but one of them was that players no longer had to ‘kick to themselves’ to play on. Rather they could now just run the ball outside of the goal square and ‘play on’ would be called by the umpire. Champion Data announced recently that all kicks that are taken outside of the goal would be awarded as disposal, while any handball in or out of the square will also be recorded to the player.

In 2018 Alex Witherden took 50% of all kick in’s for the club and elected to play on close to 50% of the time. I’d expect given the current defensive structure of the Lions he should maintain the role in 2019. While in contrast to others the possible points boost is smaller given his already high play on percentage, this new scoring points avenue plus the projected natural development can only be a good sign for his scoring

MY TAKE

Yes, the new kick-in rules should mean that players who take this duty frequently should see a scoring increase. While for AFLFantasy/DreamTeam this is 100% the case, for SuperCoach it does present a potential concern. If disposal is deemed a clanger by champion data, they will do deduct points which could impact his (and other defenders) scoring potential. For what it’s worth Alex went to 78% disposal efficiencies in 2018 and 75% in 2017, so clangers and he are so not a big concern.

All signs point to a bump that makes him a premium defender, but the concern about him is can you in what defensive position you select him. Can you start him over the big boys like Rory Laird and Jake Lloyd especially in the limited trades of DreamTeam & SuperCoach? For me, I feel my defensive unit would be too shallow if I had him at D2 and if I had him at D4 your probably running the backline too deep. How coaches structure up the defensive 6 is a fascinating decision and will ultimately impact points and cash options in other lines. In our backline, we do possess plenty of value options we have in Brodie Smith, Pearce Hanley, Zac Williams & Dylan Roberton among others plus numerous strong cash cows. Therefore, in the limited trades that leaves him as a D3 and puts him squarely fighting for a spot with Kade Simpson, James Sicily, Connor Blakely, Lachie Whitfield, Shannon Hurn and Jack Crisp. I’m happy to pay the extra to get him in these formats and upgrade to him in season. I certainly wouldn’t talk anyone out of starting him as the likely scoring increase looks all but certainly based on all known variables.

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DRAFT DECISIONS

On current average he’s ranked as a top 10 defender in AFLFantasy/SuperCoach and I certainly think he’s in the top 10 heading into the new year. Based on that he’ll likely be an D1 in many leagues, that said I’d feel selecting him inside the top 20 overall selections feels a little too high for mine. In SuperCoach he’s currently ranked 26th so in those scoring leagues he’s a D2 at highest but ideally I’d be stocked to grab as my D3.

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