The Next Step – Part One

Recent AFL history is littered with remarkable stories of young players proving themselves on the big stage; of seizing the responsibility for their team and taking their games to new heights – often in the span of just 12 months. The Next Step will move the spotlight over each club to find one player who is ready to show the footballing world that they are ready to stand up and deliver. Not only is this good news for these players’ teams, but it is great news for our fantasy teams.

From Rocky’s outstanding third-year-breakout in 2011 to Hibbo’s leap forward in 2013 to the premium defender’s circle; and the dizzying heights of young pup Macrae in 2014 that saw him up his fantasy average by over 40 points per game – I’m here to run the gauntlet and try to predict those who are every chance of mirroring these feats; of climbing the ladder to fantasy relevance; and telling the football universe “I am here”. So to start this mini-series off, I’m going to run my eyes over the Crows, Suns, Dockers, Swans and Blues – here we go sports fans.

Adelaide Crows

Brad Crouch
Position: Midfielder
Age: 21
2014 Season: 92.55 average from 11 games
Years in AFL system: 2

Since being taken at #2 in the 2011 AFL Mini-Draft, Crouch has burst onto the scene like a bull at a gate. Having been forced to sit out his first year in Crows colours due to being just 17, Brad bided his time at West Adelaide; waiting for his chance to run out for the seniors. Since his debut, he has carved out 25 games in two years – showing maturity and a high standard that is extremely rare for such a young player. Seen as the future of the Crows’ midfield, Crouch is already well established as a Best 22 player who is leading the way this preseason – intent on playing a full season devoid of injury, with his work rate and elite training standards sure to be pleasing new coach Phil Walsh.

The Case For: The former-Ballarat Rebel played returned from injury with a vengeance in 2014, playing the final 9 games of the year – including an average of 101 between R15 and R22. With more pressure and increased speculation about the future of Crouch’s higher profiled teammates, the path is lined for the young gun to fly under the radar and break into the elite in just his third year.

Projected 2015 Output: I’m all over Brad Crouch to tear it up in 2015, and I fully expect him to push for a fantasy average of anywhere between 105 and 110 for the season; and more importantly – play out the year injury free. It’s definitely a risk picking a guy in that awkward price range, but in doing so you could be jumping on board the next Tom Rockliff. Mark my words, this guy is ready to take the next step – something that will come as soon as he steps out onto the field in Round 1.

Can Crouch take The Next Step in 2015?

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Gold Coast Suns

Tom J. Lynch
Position: Forward
Age: 22
2014 Season: 75.18 average from 22 games
Years in AFL system: 4

Instilled as one of four vice-captains for the 2014 season, the big #19 is one of the Gold Coast’s most important players. With his leadership, work-rate and vast improvement in arguably the toughest position on the field – the 101 kg centre-half-forward remains the (excuse the pun) Lynchpin of the maturing Suns side. He was named runner-up in the Suns’ Club Champion Award, and be a key factor in his club rising up the ladder in 2015.

The Case For: Lynch continued his upwards progression last season, turning out his best year yet – one that saw him play every game and average a healthy 75 in an encouraging but testing season for the young Suns. Perhaps most exciting is the fact that he finished the year with a last-four average of 96 – further displaying his leadership as he stood up in the absence of then-injured captain Gary Ablett Jnr. With another year under his belt, he should be able to improve on his impressive 46-goal-haul from 2014 – something that will come naturally as his consistency and ceiling naturally grows.

Projected 2015 Output: Coming into his 5th year in the AFL, Tom J. Lynch is ready to show us that he’s as a genuine fantasy option, a statement that comes with a projected 2015 average in the range of 85 and above. He should jump out of the gates with early games against Melbourne, St Kilda, GWS and Brisbane; then the sky is the limit from there.

Will Lynch lift his game this season?

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Fremantle Dockers

Lachie Neale
Position: Midfielder
Age: 21
2014 Season: 82.29 average from 21 games
Years in AFL system: 3

In a team full of seasoned veterans and guys who simply know their role, I found it difficult to put my finger on someone at Freo – until I noticed Lachie Neale. The pint-sized midfielder from Glenelg built on his promising 2nd year to play all but one game in 2014, finishing with an average indicative of his vast improvement. He has quickly become one of the competition’s best up and coming midfielders. The best part? He shares a locker room with some of the competition’s elites in Mundy, Barlow and Fyfe – so he’s been able to ply his trade relatively unnoticed up to this point. With many of his older teammates facing the fact that their best may now be behind them, Neale is one of the few at the beginning of a fast rise to his peak – something I believe we’ll start to see in 2015.

The Case For: Lachie started 2014 with the inconsistency of a rookie, but finished the year like a man ready to demand attention – averaging 95 from his last 10 games. A common belief is held that momentum from the end of the previous year has a direct correlation between how you start a new season. So, if Neale’s end to 2014 is anything to go by, he’ll roll on into this new season full of confidence and ready to take on an increased responsibility in Fremantle’s midfield. With some big scores from last season under his belt (123, 124 and 123), we know he has the ceiling and ability – it’s just a matter of turning a few of his ordinary games into good ones. At this point, he will have arrived. And arrive he shall in 2015.

Projected 2015 Output: With the opportunity and capacity to take the next step for the Dockers, I’m predicting good things for Lachie Neale this upcoming season. Something in the vicinity of a 95-100 average is the likely outcome as he looks to move into the upper echelon of the competitions midfielders, and stand equal to his illustrious colleagues.

Is Neale ready to rise?

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Sydney Swans

bird-2 Craig Bird
Position: Forward/Midfielder
Age: 26
2014 Season: 83.3 average from 18 games
Years in AFL system: 7

Okay, so you’re probably thinking that Bird isn’t the conventional choice here – but whoever said this game was conventional and predictable? For years this man has been toiling away for the Swans as an unfashionable two-way runner, often tasked with restricting midfielders or attacking defenders. 2014 saw the Bird released from the cage, and boy did he fly! He shrugged injury at different times during the season to play out his best year yet – concluding with a 2 year contract extension as reward for his efforts. In a team with big names, Bird remains an important part of the Sydney set-up – as one of the few consistent contributors and able to play a multitude of roles at any given time.

The Case For: Now, I know you’re wondering why I’ve listed a 26-year-old ‘tagger’ in here. Well, let’s take a minute to look at Bird’s 2014 season in numbers. Taking out his vested Round 2 score and Round 21 injury-affected game, his average shoots up to 89.3, including 2 x huge pig-like scores of 130+. Despite the Swans using Bird in a negating role a few times throughout 2014, he still managed to find the ball during those few occasions – a 92-point showing in R16 and a 102 in R20 outlining his innate ability to play two-way footy with distinction.

Projected 2015 Output: At 26 years of age, and with a hunger to be a part of the Swans’ 2015 premiership push; and a growing midfield freedom – this season shapes as the perfect opportunity for Craig Bird to take the next step. With a clean bill of health from here until Round 1, I can see Bird slipping under the radar to become one of the best scorers of fantasy forwards. An average no less than 90 is on the cards as he looks to put his best foot forward and fly onto our radars in 2015.

Will Bird fly to new heights in 2015?

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Carlton Blues


Sam Docherty
Position: Defender
Age: 21
2014 Season: 78.75 average from 16 games
Years in AFL system: 3

2013 was a big year for Sammy Docherty. He made his AFL debut for the Lions after his first 12 months was plagued with injury; played 13 games; and – after a much talked about ‘go-home’ discussion – requested a trade to the club he supported as a kid: the Old Dark Navy Blues. 2014 started in a less-than positive fashion as an interrupted pre-season put him on the back foot from day one. This perhaps makes his season in review even more impressive as he played his first game for Carlton in Round 7. From there, he didn’t let up as he slotted in seamlessly to the side – not missing another game for the year. The former #12 pick has quickly established himself as a regular in the rejuvenated Blues outfit, and will be looking to build off his first full preseason and make a huge impact running off the half back and through the midfield in 2015.

The Case For: It didn’t take Docherty long to make his mark in his new colours – scoring 2 x tons in his first four games for the Blues, with a total of 3 for the season. Considering where he started 2014, his consistency; performances throughout the year; and pure numbers really stuck out – with one number more than any: zero. That’s right, none – nada – nil – zilch. Sammy Doc didn’t see a vest of any kind once last season at all – something that clearly shows how much Coach Mick Malthouse rates the young defender/midfielder. With 63% of his scores above 75, and 44% above 85 – he’s already scoring well more often than not. So what happens when we add the following together?

  • Fourth year player
  • 78 average from interrupted start to 2014
  • Best 22 status and not likely to see a vest
  • Enjoying first full preseason

Projected 2015 Output: I can easily see ‘Doc’ playing every game in 2015 for an average of 85-90, with his ability to find the ball and play out the four quarters ensuring that he’ll rarely be ‘out of the game’. Still only 21, his fourth year should see Sam truly make his mark in the AFL. Everything is telling me that he’s ready to step up his game and launch himself into the limelight as a premium fantasy backman. For me, there’s really no question whether he’s ready to take that next step.

Is Docherty the next premium fantasy defender?

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Until Next Week

Cheers for hanging out and reading my first edition of The Next Step, and don’t forget to come back this time next week for Part Two as I run my eye over a few more clubs to see who else is putting their hand up to put their best foot forward.


Tell me your thoughts below, and give me some feedback on Twitter @McRathDT or help spread the word by using the hashtag #TheNextStep


  • Epic read, Matty! This will be a brilliant series!

  • Cheers mate! Clear that many are only interested in Crouchy, but all of these guys should have fantastic years. These players (in the series) will be especially prevalent in the Draft Formats… I wonder if the DT Shiva boys are reading…

  • Brilliant read. Most informative of the entire pre-season so far, particularly as I’ve had my eye on all of them. I’m expecting the likes of Langford and Caddy to make later editions too. Well done mate!

    • Much appreciated Sammy. Looking at others from Hawks/Cats atm but those are definitely on the shortlist. Caddy being mid-only may put him behind others though. Cheers for the support.

  • What are your thoughts on steven motlop i think he could lift his average this year as last year was affected by injury and with geelongs need for another explosive midfielder i believe this year he may just go bang. THOUGHTS???

    • Motlop is one who could easily step up in 2015. Geelong’s midfield is an open field at the moment… I’ve got my eye on a few from the Cats – but you may not see them feature until Part 4… guess you’ll have to keep tuning in ;)

  • Great article :)
    Any thoughts on some young West Coast guns?
    I know we’ve got a fair few coming through but not sure if any are fantasy relevant.

    • Cheers Matt – got a few interesting ones in line for the Weagles’ pick. Could go either way for them… look out for them next week.

  • I like he look of Sam Docherty, I may take a punt on him in the draft leagues however I think he needs one more year in the system

  • Great work mate, excellent concept, definitely keen on Crouch and Neale. For future articles, would it be possible to include the players starting price as well?

  • Great work McRath. Most interested in Docherty. He looks like he has everything he needs to elevate his fantasy game to the next level. I’ll be trying to find the cash to squeeze him in this year.

    • Cheers JR – Doc is a favourite of mine and will aim for him to be part of my team in all formats this year.

  • Top article thanks McRath. Look forward to the next one. Brad Crouch – lock.

  • Thoughts on bontempelli taking the next step? Added some kg over the preseason, could be a nice POD

  • I agree Crouch is going to be a big thing, just think there is another year to his story. Hasn’t played enough consistent football to take that step, I think 22 weeks will find him out at the end of this year and he’ll average 95’s. Next year look for the break out. 50 games under his belt and Scott Thompson and Damgerfield might be leaving the midfield, 2016 will be Brad’s year.

  • Im all over P Cripps for Carlton. He has already gotten some attention from people which I am spewing about, but Mick will have to play some of the kids and he is a ball magnet