There was a four-year window in which Jack Billings was a popular consideration in our forward lines. Now, after a trade to the Melbourne Football Club, could Jack return to fantasy football relevance and be one of the best starting squad buys of 2024?
WHY IS HE RELEVANT?
Fortunes can change quickly in football. Just asking St Kilda fans, on the 18th of November in 2013, they selected Jack Billings with pick three in the AFL draft. On the night, they were thrilled with the outcome. Years later, the club will rue that Marcus Bontempelli went a pick later to the Bulldogs or that Brownlow Medalist Patrick Cripps went off the board just over a handful of selections later.
Over the first eight seasons at the Saints, Billings was a staple part of the Saints forward line. His speed, goal sense and ability to get himself into damaging areas in the front half of the ground were highlights of his game. However, poor luck with injuries and form meant he only played eleven games at AFL level over the past two seasons.
A late trade to the Melbourne Football Club during the 2023 trade period could be the career revival he needs personally while also providing the Demons with some much-needed fresh avenues to goal inside forward fifty. Should he find his way back to fitness and form at his new club, Billings could be a player with an undeniable major upside entering 2024.
His 2023 scoring is a long way skinny of what he’s got in his scoring history. From his three games last year, He managed to scrap his average of just over 60 across the formats, including a green-vested game against North Melbourne in round 19. His average of 60.6 in AFLFantasy/DreamTeam was a career low, while his 62.3 is his worst season of scoring since his debut year in 2014.
Contrast those scores and averages to what he delivered at his peak between 2017-2020. In those four seasons, he averaged 92.6, 80.6, 93.8 & 89 in SuperCoach. For AFLFantasy/DreamTeam, he averaged 94.5, 85.1, 98.5 and an adjusted average of 93.6 in 2020. Just as important during these four seasons was his game total. He missed just one match during that time, highlighting that while injuries have been part of his career, he’s shown that when he does have continuity in his body, he can score as a topline forward premium.
A scoring return to average 90+ is ideal, but given his price point, he doesn’t need to return that high on investment to become a worthwhile selection. It doesn’t need to go this high to return value. With him priced at 60 in AFLFantasy, 43 in SuperCoach and 42 in AFLDreamTeam, even a return near his averages of 2021-2022 should still provide enough upside. In these seasons, he averaged 83.2 and 75.3 in AFLFantasy/DreamTeam and 82.8 and 73.6 in SuperCoach. A return to these numbers would see him generate the cash baseline required to make him a relevant selection in our starting squads.Embed from Getty Images
After winning a breakthrough premiership in 2021, the Melbourne Football Club and its supporters will largely be disappointed with a pair of straight sets of finals. One of the core flaws in these years has been the inability to get the forward line functioning with any volume of predictability and consistency for each other. Melbourne believes they’ve been able to craft a forward line that, for 2024, should put some of those frustrations away.
The flying forward Shane McAdam will add some much-needed versatility as a marking presence and increase the pressure measurements inside forward 50. Even with his inclusion alone, that forward line feels much more dangerous. Harrison Petty and Jacob Van Rooyen have shown they can create headaches for opposition stalls; in his day, Bayley Fritsch can be one of the most damaging medium forwards in the league. Kade Chandler has shown his strong footy IQ in front of goals and preventing the ball from departing the Demon’s forward line with high pressure. Meanwhile, Kozzie Pickett can deliver things just out of this world.
Walking you through the Demons forwards might feel like, on the surface I’m going down a meaningless rabbit hole, but that’s far from the case. Instead, I’m building the base to explain why Melbourne has targeted Jack Billings and how he can become a regular and a staple of this forward line.
At Melbourne, I see him sliding into his preferred role as a high half-forward who can use his elite skills and decision-making to impact the scoreboard and see up his teammates. With him getting the ball in uncontested spaces, he’s a dangerous option, and I can see Melbourne’s midfield feeding the play through him.
I’m convinced there is a role vacancy and a need for a player with Billings’ skillset in the Melbourne forward line. That alone is enough reason to pick him, given his historical scoring pedigree in SuperCoach, AFLFantasy & DreamTeam. But the further upside is that you’re not paying for him near that premium price point he’s shown he can score.
Does the number 1,260,000 mean anything to you about Jack Billings? It should. That’s the number of results in Google when you search ‘Jack Billings injury.’ Just in the past 12 months alone, he’s been forced to recover from a broken leg, injured hamstring and a broken thumb. Over the past two seasons, it’s clear that injury has ruined his ability to get continuity and consistency both in his body and his football.
I’m not opposed to starting players with a recent injury history, especially when they’re priced with significant value within them. However, you cannot ignore a player’s history. History doesn’t always repeat itself, but it creates a variable you must factor into selection. Players with a history of injuries, like Billings, would tell you that with each game played, the percentage of injury only increases.
In fantasy, that means that the risk of trading into him and copping the injury is higher than the risk of starting him and landing said injury. As a result, the better approach is to start with him and bank the games he plays and the subsequent scores/cash generated. And then, should an injury occur, you’ve already maxed out the potential and pivoted away via trade.
One caveat in the injury narrative to factor in is this. When a player has a poor recent history, if they suffer any setbacks in the preseason, you need to move away from them as a consideration. While a new season provides a clean slate, the moment you see that injury history appear, you must take the signals and fade interest before it costs you a ‘trade.’
One of the more interesting conversations/opinions I’m seeing in the community for the 2024 season is around the forward lines. With people sprouting, ‘You’ve got to pick someone, so why not player x.’ It’s used specifically in paying up for players who could perform/are expected to be premium players. While I understand that sentiment, one of the things that could be improved in the process is the need to understand what the conversation should be about. That is the surplus of potential value in our forward lines, both in the midrange and cash cow regions.
Already in the fifty most relevant, we’ve looked at two players, Zac Fisher and Connor Macdonald. But there is a mountain of other names in similar price ranges. You can throw in a few more, like Taylor Adams, Josh Rachele, Tom Lynch, and Nat Fyfe, depending on the format, who have all got the narrative that they could be a huge upside play in 2024. Throw in the cash cows of Shaun Mannagh, Chris Burgess, Harley Reid, Zane Duursma, Tom Emmett, Fin Macrae, Jai Culley, Jed Walter, Darcy Wilson, and Nate Caddy, who are just some of the names I expect will get plenty of games early.
When you look and see the volume of value that the forward line does present, It becomes a viable structure to avoid paying for ‘questionable’ or ‘high risk’ forwards in the starting squad when we’ve got comparable upside and lower price point risk. Jack Billings has a history of multiple 90+ seasons and is priced at 60 in AFLFantasy, 43 in SuperCoach and 42 in AFLDreamTeam. Alongside this are plenty of pathway avenues to allow a variety of parachutes.
- Option One: Billings scores over 90 for the season and becomes a premium to hold for the season
- Option Two: Scores with 5-10 points per game of the top-line forwards and becomes someone you hold until Melbourne’s bye in round 14.
- Option Three: Becomes an early rounds trade asset sideways to the midrange forward that is delivering high-end scoring
- Option Four: Become the pathway you trade down into the cash cow you missed without forcing a restructure.
- Option Five: Due to Melbourne’s round-six bye, he can become the trade pathway to get into the forward you want, but have some concerns over role and scoring. For example, you can easily move Billings into Sam Flanders after the Suns’ round-three bye.
- Option Six: Suffers an injury that forces you to use a trade. Depending on when this happens in season, he can be easily moved to a premium, breakout, or cash cow as needed.
The opening round is one of the unique elements of fantasy football this year. The result is we’ll have the opportunity to see eight teams play in a match that counts for AFL points before having to lock any players away into our teams. This means we’ll see significant player ownership variation between the end of the opening round and when the lockout takes effect.
For Jack to be seriously considered, he must have an outstanding match first in the opening round. Not just for his confidence but for his fantasy relevance. A sub-80 score for him and another midrange forward popping will immediately remove him from the starting squad considerations.
As a result of the opening round, his Demons will have the round six bye, meaning that in SuperCoach & DreamTeam, he’ll have only three price cycle movements. Will that be enough money generated to justify the trade-out at this point? Prior history would say no, but all it would take for him to generate significant coin is a few strong scores at the right round, and you can fly.
Over the years, Melbourne has been a fantasy-friendly scoring team. Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca, Max Gawn, and, in spurts, Angus Brayshaw have all been high-scoring and high-owned. But the reality is the top consistent scorers for the Demons come from players present at stoppages. Yes, they have forwards capable of putting on tons, but they hit their basement scores in the 50s the next week. So, for Billings to pop for us, we’ll need him to deliver a strong 4-6 weeks of consistent scoring with some ceiling for him to become a worthwhile selection.
The key thing to hold here is that Billings’s relevance here won’t just be about what he scores. But also about what the other forwards in this price range achieve early. This, as much as anything else, will determine his future.
If you start with him at best, you have a player with a historical pedigree who can score at the premium levels in a forward line with a low volume of top-end options. At worst, you spend a single trade and make the corrective move options right for you. For now, those decisions aren’t required. You can act on creating room on your watchlist for Jack and consider how he might enable you to succeed in 2024.Embed from Getty Images
There’s a world where Jack Billings pushes the conversation for a top ten forward in 2024. As a result, he is worth a flying selection in the front part of the draft. Conversely, I see him scoring an average in the 70s and still being fieldable, but not a bonafide breakout pick. For those reasons, I’d be targeting selecting him with a selection now higher than F3, knowing that he’s got the potential to move either side of those variables.
With the forward line so unpredictable, I’d rather bank not just on the upside of Billings by going early on him. Rather, if he’s at the right spot for more, I’d happily take a few speculative options in the draft, hoping to jag one or two that pop.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
WANT EARLY ACCESS?
Want access 24 hours early to the 50 Most Relevant podcasts? Join our Patreon and get ahead of the crowd here.