As we enter a new AFL season, existing keeper league coaches are entrenched in list management decisions. The trade decisions and delisting discussions have kept coaches busy over the summer. However, some keeper leagues are a brand new and exciting format of fantasy footy, and coaches have some significant decisions with the coveted first pick in the draft. Do they draft who’s dominating now? Invest in some potential future stars? Or somewhere in between? Drafting philosophies of keepers is something we’ll unpack over the preseason. But for now, here are the players I believe are in the mix for the number one pick for a brand-new keeper league.Embed from Getty Images
Sam Walsh is a genuine candidate for pick-one in a keeper league, even with off-season back surgery. The positive is that you will no longer have to pay the price for him there. Why? Simple, because you’re not just picking him for the 2023 season in isolation.
Over his first four seasons of AFL, he’s missed just two matches but has delivered seasonal averages of 92.3, 96.6 (adjusted), 108.9 & 103.3. To have achieved it before he was 23 is absurd. Walsh might never make it to the territory of the 115+ seasonal average, but he’s one of the safest 105 midfielders for the next eight seasons.
Had Walsh not had a stalled preseason and potentially missed the first few rounds of the season due to an injury, he’d be locked for a top-three selection. The upside here is people might be able to get him in the second round if people baulk at the few games he’ll miss.Embed from Getty Images
From the moment we saw Nick Daicos play at the elite level, we knew that the scoring capacity we’d seen junior level would eventually translate into AFL.
Last year he scored seven tons, three of them over 115, including his career-high 147 against the Crows. To go with those tons was five additional 80+. On top of these, he had six more scores over 80. Often first-year players see a scoring slide as the season goes along. However, that wasn’t the case for Daicos. In his first eleven games, he averaged 80 & in his final eleven games, he averaged 93.6.
Eventually, Nick will move into the midfield. But I expect his movement to be more gradual this year. The arrival of Tom Mitchell adds further depth to that midfield. Daicos became the general of that backline alongside Darcy Moore. For what the Pies might gain in the midfield by moving him up the ground more, they could lose just as much in their ball movement rebounding out of defence.
Regardless, his proven scoring output, elite junior numbers, and age make him a highly valuable acquisition for keepers.Embed from Getty Images
Clayton Oliver might never have a season where he’s the highest-averaging player in keepers. But that’s not why he should be in contention for the #1 pick. Instead, it’s his durability and consistency that make him so appealing.
Last year he scored a ton in 81% of matches. That’s seventeen triple-digit games, with seven ticking over the 120 markers. It included 136, 139, 146 & 151. Alongside this, he had two additional scores over 90, and just once all year did his scoring drop below 80 (68.) His average of 112.5 was the second highest in the format, with only Rory Laird going higher, and he finished seventh for total points. He was only 110 points from coming first. Had he played every game and scored an average, you’d be talking about Oliver holding the #1 points mantle.
Unbelievably he’s still only 25, so while he might not be the youngest on this list, he’s still got plenty of premier scoring over the next 5-6 seasons. After six consecutive seasons of averaging 100+ and coming off a career season, you’ll feel safe as houses if you land Clarry.Embed from Getty Images
The love for Andy Brayshaw in keeper leagues is obvious. This kid is already a star and arguably will only get better. He scored thirteen tons across the 2022 season; nine went over 120, and six were above 130. It featured 141, 144 & 181 as his three highest scores. Alongside this high volume and frequency of tons was a further four scores between 90-99, and his scoring dipped below 80 in just two matches all year. By the year’s conclusion, he had the third-highest average going at 112.3, and was ranked number one for points! A superb achievement.
2022 isn’t just an isolated one good season, he’s been building his scoring over the past three seasons, and in 2021 he gave you his first season where he averaged 100+ across all formats. During the 2021 season, he scored thirteen tons; five were above 120 and two higher than 135, including his best of 156. In addition, he had three more scores between 90-99. That’s 80% of his 90 or above scores last year. From a scoring basement, he had three scores under 70. All of these were when he copped a heavy tag. Closing out the season, he averaged 104.2
What makes Brayshaw such a good player is he scores in every column. He’s not dependent on just possessions or tackles to score well. Additionally, he has an elite workrate and endurance. This combination ensures he’s always in the game, even when the tags come. By the end of 2023, he’ll still be 23 and has eight years of topline performances. You can’t go wrong picking Brayshaw.Embed from Getty Images
Bailey Smith flew out of the blocks for keeper coaches last season with a 154 against the reigning premiers, Melbourne. By the time the 2022 season was done, he’d scored eleven tons from sixteen matches, including 131, 147 & the already mentioned 154. He also had two additional scores of 90+ and only fell under the 90 mark in just three games. In 81% of games last year, he scored 92 or above.
It was what he did between rounds 1-10, where he averaged 118.4, that has keeper coaches the most excited. At just 22 with scoring potential like that, he’s already got the capacity to be one of the best premium picks in the game. Throw in that he’s got the opportunity to take on a greater inside midfielder role with the departure of Josh Dunkley, and it’s seemingly all upside.
Last year Bailey gained forward status, and if you played using AFLFantasy or Sportdeck as your drafting platform, you got an absolute bonus getting a guy with top-eight midfield potential. You might get lucky and see it again in 2023 or another year.Embed from Getty Images
Not many players have the proven scoring of being able to go back to back in averaging 110 or higher. Callum Mills is one of those players. At 25 years of age
Last year he was exceptional. His average of 111 was the fourth highest in the format. Higher than Touk Miller, Jack Steele and Zach Merrett. While he ranked second overall for total points. He was a mere 30 points off dethroning Andrew Brayshaw. He scored fourteen tons over the season, seven over 120, five over 130 and his two top scores of the season were 156 & 162. Alongside this elite, scoring was a phenomenal basement with just three scores under 80 all season and just one under 75.
This was done coming off the back of 2021, where he also averaged over 110. if he can hold his role as a primary centre-bounce midfielder, then Mills has shown the scoring potential to be the best player in the game.Embed from Getty Images
One of the key things I always look for when picking early in keeper leagues isn’t just for players with a high ceiling or a low-scoring floor. I am looking for someone who has the capacity for both. This is the appeal with Jack Steele. Jack isn’t dependent on a high volume of possessions or even marks to score well. Instead, his reliable basement of tackles provides the framework for his strong weekly scores.
Despite an injury setback last year, Steele’s overall season performance was still strong. He scored fourteen tons four his eighteen games. That was a ton in 77.7% of matches last year. Additionally, he delivered five scores over 120, including 121, 124, 130, 139 & 154. Alongside these tons were two additional scores of 90+, and in just two matches, did his scoring fails to get above that 90 marker. He finished the season with an average of 110.4, leaving him ranked as the fifth-best player in the game.
It’s more of a ‘now’ play, given Steele is 27 years old, but remember, a premiership in the first two seasons of a keeper league still counts. Don’t get so infatuated with ‘future’ success when you can still have it now.Embed from Getty Images
In the vein of Steele above, the selection of Touk Miller with your first pick is placing your keeper side with the focus of being in premiership contention from the leagues commencement.
In 2022 he averaged 109.8, comprising fifteen tons and nine scores over 120. They include 132, 133, 134, 140 & 147. Alongside this are three additional scores of 90+, and only once last season did he drop his scoring below 80. As a result, he ended the season with the seventh-best average in the entire format. And speaking of ending the season over the final ten games, he went at an average of 112.
In 2021, the potential of Touk was fulfilled. He ranked first by average in AFLFantasy/DreamTeam and third for total points. Good for a guy that missed a match. He scored seventeen tons; thirteen were above 120, while a monster six were over 140. His season in SuperCoach was arguably even better. He scored eighteen tons from his twenty-one matches; an insane thirteen were above 120, ten over 130 and seven scores of 140+. He was one of the most dependable VC/C options in 2021. He had sixteen consecutive tons to end the year and was ranked sixth for total points.
If you believe Touk will score closer to what he did in 2021 and the back half of 2022, then he needs to be in consideration for the top pick of a keeper league. If you think he’ll hold his scoring, let alone regress, he’s someone to look at either later in the first round or hope he gets back to you on the turn.
Only two players in this top ten list have position eligibility other than an exclusive midfield. One is Nick Daicos, and the other is Josh Dunkley. Throughout the preseason, I’ve advocated for Dunks to be the #1 guy picked in seasonal drafts. However, given his MID/FWD status will only last for this year, I can understand the sentiment behind picking him at one for a keeper league.
Last season he scored eighteen tons. That’s four games all year that he didn’t hit triple digits. Six of those tons were 120 or higher, including five over 130. He had just two scores below 80 all year on his way to averaging 108.7. He ranked eighth for averages and sixth for points
Josh should get a 65% MID-FWD, but he doesn’t have to be that high to be a top score. What’s great about Dunkley is he can skip bulk CBAs to score well anyway. For example, in round seven against Essendon last year, he attended only 23% of centre bounces but still posted a 130+ score across the formats. Two weeks later, he scored over 110 with just 24% CBAs, and a further two weeks beyond that, he scored over 135 and attended just 32% of centre bounces.
Choosing Dunkley is a ‘now’ pick, not because of his age, but because you’re valuing his positional allocation that might not be there in coming seasons.
During the offseason, Kane & I ranked the top 50 players for keeper leagues into eight different tiers. For just a couple of dollars a month, you can access these podcasts & a ton of other great content.