Ten premiums in AFLFantasy with low ownership

Every preseason it happens in AFLFantasy. Certain premiums get all the love from the community, while others fade into the distance. Here are ten premiums with low ownership that have the potential to be among the best in their eligible lines.

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Isaac Cumming | Defender | 1.2% Ownership

I’ve long been a fan of Isaac Cumming. To me, he’s the perfect modern-day defender. He’s got the perfect combination of skills, speed, aerial ability and defensive smarts. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged north of 90.

However, a few considerations have potentially led to his ownership being where it is. First, Isaac has the monopoly of kick-in responsibilities. Last year he had 129 kick in’s and played 90% of the time. The next best was Harry Himmelberg with 56. If he has to split this or loses this role, his scoring will nose-dive drastically. Lachie Whitfield also appears to be returning to his preferred role as a halfback.

At $802,000, he needs to be someone that doesn’t just average 90. He needs to push this average towards 100 to make him a worthwhile selection, given what you’ll be opting out of instead of him. So many are choosing to go to Nick Daicos and Hayden Young or find the extra $ to get up towards the ‘safer’ Jordan Dawson or Sam Docherty. I’m unsure Isaac can get towards triple digits, so I understand the low ownership.

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Mitch Duncan | Defender | 2% Ownership

In 2022 Mitch Duncan averaged 92.5 across the season. That featured six tons which included 124 & 138. He also had three additional scores between 90-99 and had his scoring dip below 70 on just two occasions.

The primary concern behind the lack of selection is likely due to the Geelong ‘resting rotation.’ But in AFLFantasy, this is the format to take a gamble on such a player. We have approximately 50 trades over the season. That’s an unbelievable amount! Duncan could give you scoring separation and a ceiling that’s as good as any other premium defender.

He doesn’t need to be in your side for a long time, just a good time! He’s currently $157,000 cheaper than Sam Docherty. If Mitch can go 100+ over the first five weeks and play every week, it could take a minimal cash injection to jump up to who many think is the clear top defender this season.

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Callum Mills | Midfield | 4% Ownership

Last year Callum Mills 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. But the scoring upside isn’t the reason for the comparatively low ownership. It’s all about the role. As the 2022 season went on, we did see a diversity in the Swans midfield, specifically an increase in CBA’s for Tom Papley. These started to appear from round 15 until the end of the season. From here, Mills CBAs did start to slide, and from a fantasy perspective, his numbers align with a dip. Over the first 13 games, he averaged 113, but from round 15 onwards, he had a nine-week stretch that Mills averaged 107.

Barring John Longmire saying that Mills won’t be moved from the primary CBA role, I can’t see coaches in AFLFantasy having the confidence to start him. With an average of 111 behind him, you don’t want to get it wrong to start with it. So I understand the low ownership. However, with that said, if you like to live on the wild side, then Mills could be the perfect starter. He can be the #1 player in the game if he stays in the guts all season.

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Zach Merrett | Midfield | 6.4% Ownership

If you’ve played AFLFantasy for more than a minute, then you know about the scoring history of Zach Merrett. The new Essendon skipper last year averaged 107.1. That placed him seventh by midfielders by average and ninth across the whole format by average. He scored twelve times over 100, ten of which were over 110, six over 120 and two over 130, including his career-high 172. To go alongside this strong scoring ceiling is a high-scoring floor. He had an additional three scores between 90-99, and in two tagged games, he had just two under 80 all year.

Since 2016 Merrett has averaged over 100 and had four seasons averaging over 110. Over the past six years, Zach’s been one of if not the most reliable players to deliver a season average of 100+. However, as much as the tag historically has been and potentially will be again a challenge at times for him, I believe there’s a larger, more pertinent question at hand. Is that how the Essendon midfield manifests in 2023 under new coach Brad Scott?

In 2022 not only did we see the best scoring of Merrett, but we also saw the challenges of owning him when he got tagged out of games and barely scored like a cash cow. As much as nobody wants to receive premiums scoring poorly, Merrett’s ‘tag’ games only really hurt when you trade into these lower scores and have missed the big scoring games beforehand.

What’s the structure? They might not be the strongest options, but they have plenty of options. Alongside Merrett, Darcy Parish, Dylan Shiel & Jye Caldwell have been on regular rotations. Throw in the next generation of options like Ben Hobbs, Archie Perkins and the yet-to-debut Elijah Tsatas, who should all see increased opportunities. And lastly, guys like Andrew McGrath, Nick Martin, Jake Stringer, and Andrew McGrath have historically had moments and matches in the midfield. Thankfully as the preseason continues, clarity will eventuate.

If your wanting a premium that, over the totality of the season, will be someone in and around the mark of the top ten midfielders, then you could do worse than Merrett. If he pops a ton in the preseason, watch his ownership leap!

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Bailey Smith | Midfield | 6.3% Ownership

What makes Bailey Smith such a good footballer is his incredible endurance and workrate. These two elements create the base for his reliable field kicking, the exciting burst of speed, and the ability to win the footy, making him the complete modern-day midfielder.

He flew out of the blocks 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. But the hot start between rounds 1-10, when he averaged 118.4, has coaches excited.

In 2023 there has yet to be a consensus over the topline midfielders. Most would agree that Rory Laird will be around that top five, but beyond that is fairly open. You could ask ten different ‘experts’ who’d be the top midfielders for the year, and you’ll probably be left with a compiled list of 30 names. It’s why Bailey might be the perfect under-the-radar premium. We have proven performances over a sustained period and an easily explained narrative that unpacks the late-season fade. He’s a low-risk pick and is someone that too many are sleeping on.

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Brad Crouch | Midfield | 0.4% Ownership

What if I told you you could own someone from the top twelve for averages and total points last year? In addition, this player scored thirteen tons and averaged 126.5 in the last four weeks of the season. Interested? Well, you probably do not once you know it’s Brad Crouch. Why? Because name value matters to many within the community.

The element that turns me away from considering Brad is the need for 120 scores. When you’re forking out 942k, he’s got to be a VC/C option, and historically Crouch isn’t that. Last year he went 120 or higher in just five games. And since becoming a Saint, he’s achieved it nine times in his forty-one matches. I love Brad as a person, draft option, and footballer. But in AFLFantasy classic as a starter, there’s a reason why he’s so lowly owned.

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Darcy Parish | Midfield | 3.2% Ownership

Darcy Parish broke out for us in 2021. From the final 17 games of the season, he scored eleven tons, seven of them over 120 and two over the monster mark of 150. In 2022 before his calf injury midway through the season, he scored at a similar rate to what we saw over 2/3 of the year prior. Between rounds 1-11, he averaged 108.4, including eight tons and two over 130.

Parish could be the perfect M2 or M3, depending on your midfield structure. On the upside, he’s got the clear, proven ability to run at an average of 110. Last year we had only five midfielders hit that range, while in 2021, it was ten. So full disclosure, he’s right in the mix for me. At best, he is a top-eight midfielder; at worst, he allows you to quickly pivot to the midfielder in the 90-100 range, starting the season on fire. After all, it could well be him.

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Reilly O’Brien | Ruck | 3.1% Ownership

What to do at R2? That is a common stumbling block for coaches as they look to build a starting squad of 30 that they’re happy with. With an ownership of 40%, most have settled on Rowan Marshall. What do they do around him? Do we ‘pay up’ for Tim English? Do we take a safe ‘premium’ approach and get Jarrod Witts? Can we trust Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy not to eat too much of each other’s scoring? Will Darcy Cameron be the perfect halfway house option? Or should we go all the way down to a Scott Lycett?

As I’m sure you’ve tried, the ruck division does create some headaches. One possible solution is to look at Reilly O’Brien. Last year he averaged 93 and scored eight tons, including a 159. But it’s not just the scoring appeal about ‘ROB.’ It’s the lack of concerns over role and ruck share. O’Brien is streets ahead of Kieran Strauhan, and with Riley Thilthorpe playing as a key position forward, he’s the perfect foil to provide a small ruck relief role.

He might never return to his 2020 scoring, where he averaged an adjusted 108. But I can’t forecast a world where he doesn’t at the least hold his scoring average. Given all the uncertainty around the rucks, a 93 might be close enough to one of the top rucks to save you from ever having to make a trade.

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Dylan Moore | Forward | 4.9% Ownership

Last year Dylan Moore was one of the most underrated stepping stones that popped into premium territory. He averaged 93 over the season, which featured nine tons, including 129 & 138. Interestingly, over the first seven weeks, he averaged 98, and in the final ten games where he started to pick up centre bounces, he averaged 100. So what happened in the middle? Well, he went at 76 over six weeks.

The challenge of starting with him in classic means that by selecting him, you’re favouring him over the vastly more popular Connor Rozee, Josh Dunkley, Tim Taranto and Stephen Conilgio. Why are they more popular? The popular consensus would be that they possess an arguably higher ceiling and are likely to have a more defined role within their side.

In my eyes, having Moore become a top-ten forward as a starting option isn’t sufficient. He needs to be in the top handful and push his average to a minimum of 100. Because if he doesn’t, the names listed above (and another about to be discussed) might leave you stuck in a fantasy no man’s land. He’ll be great for draft, but you’ll have to be bullish on the ton average to lock him away for round one. He doesn’t have to be a CBA midfielder to deliver it. The splits from earlier highlight that he can score well regardless of role.

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Zak Butters | MID/FWD | 6.5% Ownership

Zak Butters was one of the most hyped and highly-owned forwards in starting squads in 2022. Now in 2023, he’s certainly unique. He didn’t have a bad season in terms of scoring, but he did miss multiple weeks with injury and had a bunch of sub-80 scores. As a result, there’s an unconscious bias towards not picking him.

The reality is his 2022 season was solid. He posted six tons; two were above 120, while his scoring dipped below 80 in seven matches. He averaged in the mid 80’s last year; however, in the final seven games of the year, he averaged 101.1.

The forward line fascinates me. So many are trying to squeeze upwards of four premiums into their starting squad. And yet Butters is not in consideration despite having as much potential upside as others. The community is obviously hotter than others than him.

Another reason that might explain the low ownership is a recent injury setback. Over a week ago, he sustained a light sprain to his AC joint at training. While it doesn’t sound serious, it’s just another ‘flag’ to coaches that Zak keeps finding ways to get himself hurt.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Butters is a top-five forward by seasons end. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he had four different injury issues and played a dozen games.